Archive for August, 2009

People, Not Politicians, Working To End The Israeli Occupation

August 17, 2009

People, Not Politicians, Working To End The Israeli Occupation,,,


Three Groups Working to Liberate Palestine from the Israeli Occupation

August 13, 2009

When the world looks at the future of Palestine these days, the principal question is unfortunately “What will Obama do?”  How far will he go in putting pressure on the new right-wing Israeli government, and how will they react?  Yet, our “messiah complex” which credits politicians with being able to solve everything single-handedly allows the world to forget about the action that is going on on the ground inside Israel/Palestine by both Israelis and Palestinians against the occupation, and the struggles they encounter.
The Palestinian town of Anata is part of Jerusalem, yet is literally a world away.  A wall and checkpoint separate it from the rest of the city to which most residents of Anata never have access; and unlike the Western part of Jerusalem, there is no mail, trash collection, or sidewalks.  Grime piles up on the side of the road or burns on the hills as residents are unsure what to do with their daily waste.   This is where the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) recently hosted their annual two-week home reconstruction camp in which they rebuilt two Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israeli government against international law.  This year the project is being funded by the Spanish government – who consequently was accused of funding anti-Israeli NGOs and meddling in Israel’s internal affairs – in which 60 volunteers from all over the world took part.  One of the reconstructed homes is being rebuilt by ICAHD for the third time and the other for the first time; ironically, both houses are adjacent to a section of the wall splitting up Palestinian East Jerusalem that was completed just last week.  As a group organizing Israeli-Palestinian solidarity activities since its foundation five years ago, to say that ICAHD has developed a bad reputation in Israeli society is to put it lightly.  Having rebuilt over 165 houses for Arabs left homeless by house demolitions in the West Bank, ICAHD has been characterized by the Netanyahu government and the mainstream Israeli press as a radical left-wing organization that supports terrorists by illegally rebuilding houses that were destroyed for security purposes.  However, ICAHD maintains that “Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes [24,000 since 1967] has nothing whatsoever to do with security [but is] purely political: to confine the 3.8 million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small enclaves, thus effectively foreclosing any viable Palestinian state and ensuring Israeli control.”
On the ride from posh West Jerusalem down to Anata with Jeff Halper, the head of ICAHD, the evidence of the injustice and contradiction passes visibly by through the car window.  We pick up a young American reporter writing about the camp for the Jerusalem Post who made Aliyah just two years ago.  After a few questions it becomes clear that agreement on the conflict will not be easy, as he is initially unsure of the differences between Area A, B, and C, and is interested in “the similarity between illegal settlement construction by Israeli settlers and ICAHD’s reconstruction of demolished homes.”  “They are both equally illegal and putting ‘facts on the ground’ on land that is disputed,” he says.  The end of the car ride was relatively quiet.
Arriving at the camp, Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians are working on a house with an incredible view of the wall winding its way through Palestinian neighborhoods, separating them from one another.  Both sides are technically Jerusalem, yet most Palestinians on the Anata side, like all West Bankers, are prohibited from ever visiting Palestinians on the other side.  “How can this wall be about security when there are Palestinians on both sides?” Halper asks.  The journalist readies his equipment and presses record on his camera; he notifies Halper, “You have thirty seconds to answer this question: Why do you support terrorism?”

Another Israeli group working to end the occupation is Ta’ayush, Arabic for “life in common.”  A self-proclaimed grassroots movement of Arab and Jewish Israelis, Ta’ayush strives to break down the walls of extreme racism and segregation in the state of Israel and the occupied territories by constructing an Arab-Jewish partnership.  While Ta’ayush is involved in many different activities and is open to a diversity of tactics in ending the occupation, on the particular day I worked with Ta’ayush they accompanied shepherds in the desert near the Karmel settlement in south Hebron, not far from the Dead Sea.  This part of the southern West Bank is a difficult zone where settlers have created illegal outposts that divide Palestinian towns from one another and introduce a permanent army presence.  Even when Palestinian children walk to school in the morning to a neighboring town, international volunteers from Christian Peacemakers Team must accompany them as protection from rock-throwing settlers.
Ahmed, Hussein and Tarek are brothers and young shepherds between the ages of 11 and 16 who live between two settler beef farms not far from Karmel settlement.  Though they maintain a modest herd of roughly 250 sheep and goats in a very arid zone of the West Bank, settlers do not allow their animals to graze on the hills surrounding the settlement built just a few years ago.  Ahmed said that they occasionally come out shooting and screaming “go away!” and “forbidden!”  More often the police or the army come to tell them to leave the area, this being the case at least once a week Ahmed tells me.  Even with the presence of a dozen or so Israelis with a few international activists, the army arrives to tell the shepherds that they cannot let their animals graze on the hilltops as it is a security threat.  The soldiers tell Ta’ayush the animals are only allowed to graze in the valley.  Yet, the problem is that there are no plants in the valley for animals to eat.  No other solutions for the shepherds are offered, and it appears the vicious cycle will continue in the future.

Tarek, 11, with his goats and sheepSettler beef farm perched on a hill.  Palestinian animals are not even allowed to graze on neighboring hills as it is a "security threat"Soldiers arrive with their big guns and tell the activists and shepherds to get off the hill.Ta'ayush activists try to reason with soldiers in Hebrew.  To no avail.  They are first and foremost there to "protect the settlers."Palestinian shepherd next to Israeli soldier
Like Americans working against the war in Iraq from within the empire, Israelis must stand up to the incredible injustices imposed by their government on the occupied Palestinian people.  However, in the wake of anti-colonial struggles throughout the 20th century, Palestinians, like Iraqis, understand that the struggle for liberation is ultimately their own.  Mousa Abu Maria founded the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) in the summer of 2006 in the village of Beit Ommar as a movement dedicated to opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land through non-violent direct action.  PSP is not only dedicated to supporting Palestinian communities resisting the occupation, but is interested in Palestinian unity by working with all people and building a movement for all of Palestine.  “Our goal is not for Beit Ommar, but for all of Palestine,” Abu Maria says.  By demonstrating against the continuing construction of the Apartheid Wall, Israeli-only roads, Israeli settlements, removing illegal roadblocks and other structures which intentionally separate Palestinian communities, and working with people most affected by settler and army violence in the area, PSP attempts to address the most pressing aspects of the occupation for Palestinian society.  “It is very important for activists to be non-violent in Palestine because we want people from all over the world to come here and understand the checkpoints, the wall, the settlements, and problems related to imprisonment and refugees,” Abu Maria stresses.  Yet, like in past colonial and Apartheid states, heavy burdens are placed on resisters from the oppressed group by the colonizers.  Like 40% of Palestinian men, Abu Maria has experienced imprisonment and torture, spending a total of 5.5 years in prison on three different occasions since 1999.  His last release was just this past month.
During the month I’ve spent at PSP the emphasis has been placed on keeping Palestinians on their land.  PSP activists have worked with farmers attacked and threatened by settlers, and attempted to raise awareness around issues concerning land, water, and settlement expansion threatening the village on three sides.  While Abu Maria understands the hopes placed on newly elected leaders in reaching a regional peace deal, the most important thing for him is continuing to engage Palestinians in the struggle for their land which is being stolen from them at an ever-increasing pace.  “People here must work for justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians because right now it only exists for Israelis,” he adds.  For PSP, “peace and security are rights not just for some of us, but for all the people of the world. Controlling another person’s life, possessions, future, and thoughts is a crime and a humiliation. We have dreams and hopes of freedom, so we are inviting all the people of the world to stand with us and share in our struggle for freedom.”

View of Beit Ommar, home to PSPAhmed, a young activist and cameraman for PSP holds a flag in front of soldiersTwo international activists were arrested at this action in mid-August after soldiers became violent, shoving people out of the zone

The Worst of the Occupation: Collective Punishment and Humiliation

August 11, 2009


Palestinians have wasted millions of hours of their lives waiting in line at checkpoints like Qalandia to enter Jerusalem from Ramallah.  On this day the line was short, but young giggly Israeli soldiers decided to take 1.5 hours for 50 people to pass through.Fences like the one at this checkpoint near Bethlehem are often busted up.  Fires burn below them to melt the metal.

Imprisonment and Torture

Ismail runs a cafe in Hebron since 2.5 years ago.  He has been imprisoned 7 times for political activism, spending over 5 years of his life in Israeli jails.  Tortured, mistreated and beaten on many occasions, he will live the rest of his live with chronic headaches, ticks, and irreparable broken bones.


Israel/Palestine is a dry place.  Yet, when the water runs low only the Palestinians get turned off.  While Beit Ommar has around two days a week with NO running water, Israeli Dead Sea desert resorts like this one remain green.

Olive Trees

The Israeli army often cuts Palestinian olive trees for reasons of "security."  Thousands and thousands of trees have been cut or replanted in and around settlements

Land Confiscation and Poverty

Forced away from their traditional lifestyle by the Israeli state, many Bedouins in the Judean desert live in shanties on the outskirts of Israeli settlements

Friday Demonstration in Ni’lin

August 9, 2009

On Friday, August 7th at 1pm, approximately 30 international activists joined roughly 120 residents of Ni’lin on their weekly demonstration against the illegal Apartheid wall which Israel constructed on Ni’lin land.  The protesters walked through the olive grove on the southern side of the village towards the wall and settlements surrounding Ni’lin on three sides, reaching the fence around 1:30pm, many brandishing Palestinian flags.  Soldiers immediately began to shoot tear gas, sound grenades, and smelly chemical water known in Arabic as “khara” or “shit”.  Fortunately for activists, the wind blew the gas and chemicals away from them.  Many protesters threw rocks on the security road preventing army jeeps from easily accessing the demonstrators.  When security vehicles passed, they were pummeled with stones by the shebab, the soldiers jumping quickly in and out of their jeeps to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets.  After the second soldier invasion on the Palestinian side of the fence, protesters dispersed and returned to the village shortly after 3pm.  One member of the press was injured on the leg by a tear gas canister.
In 1948, the village of Ni’lin had 58,000 dunnums of land; today there remain only 7,300 dunnums.  In the latest round of land confiscation by the separation barrier, nearly 3,000 dunnums were taken including 200 for a tunnel to be built under the segregated settler-only road 446, closing the current entrance to the village.  The tunnel will close the road to Palestinian vehicles, and is designed to give Israeli occupation forces control over the movement of Palestinian residents by allowing the village to be blocked with a single military vehicle.  Ni’lin will be split into two parts, upper and lower, as the road runs through the village.

In total, 38 people have been shot by Israeli forces with live ammunition in Ni’lin: nine were shot with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and 29 were shot with 0.22 caliber live ammunition.  To date, Israeli occupation forces have killed five Palestinians and critically injured one international activist during the unarmed demonstrations.  The last use of live ammunition against Ni’lin protesters was on June 5th, 2009 in which five Palestinians were shot, including one fatality –

The procession of roughly 120 Palestinians and 30 internationals marches through olive fields down to the separation barrier after Friday prayerUnlike in Bi'lin where the protesters stay together on one road leading to the fence, Ni'lin protesters scatter across an olive grove along the fence and pelt army vehicles with rocksThrowing stones on the military ring road along the separation fence to make soldier access more difficultThere was a large military presence.  Soldiers launched dangerously high-velocity tear gas projectiles, toxic chemicals called "shit" in Arabic and rubber bullets.  Soldiers invaded the Palestinian side of the fence twice during the demo

Farmers Harvest Remaining Crops after Earlier Destruction by Bat Ayin Settlers

August 5, 2009

Abu Jabber, Yousef, Mahmoud and Mohammed on the tractorThe military waits for us at the top of the hill at the entrance to the villageThree army jeeps with around fifteen soldiers exit and approach the group with their M-16s

On Tuesday, August 4th at 8am, eight international activists and members of the Palestine Solidarity Project committee accompanied Abu Jabber Soleiby and his family to his land in Saffa near the Bat Ayin settlement. While the farmers had enough time to harvest a small amount of the year’s first grapes, the international activists were forced to make a detour around a small group of Israeli soldiers at the edge of the built-up area in Saffa before they joined the Palestinians in the valley. After the farmers had been in the valley for more than an hour, one Israeli military jeep arrived between the settlement and the Palestinian agricultural land. The farmers, satisfied with their small collection of grapes, decided to head back to the village.

After returning to near the edge of the Palestinian village, well away from the right-wing Israeli settlement that has been the source of violence in the area, the group of Palestinians and internationals were stopped by approximately 15 Israeli soldiers who blocked their return to into Saffa. Soldiers asked what the internationals were doing with the farmers in the valley, insisting that soldiers were always there to protect the farmers when the Bat Ayin settlers came to harrass them in the past. Abu Jabber Soleiby showed his bruises and scars from settler attacks in rebuttal and insisted that when settlers and soldiers were both present during past attacks, soldiers protected the settlers. The soldiers let the farmers and their supporters past, after threatening two activists with arrest and 20 minutes of negotiation.

Just over three weeks ago, settlers set fire to roughly 160 dunnums of land, including hundreds of valuable fruit and olive trees. Combined with the cutting of over 125 trees in June, and an earlier fire, in the last 2 months settlers from Bat Ayin settlement have destroyed nearly all of the land that provides income for 125 extended family members of Abu Jabber, Hamad, and Abdullah Soleiby. Dozens of Israeli and international solidarity activists have been arrested since May while attempting to accompany the farmers in Saffa against brutal settler attacks. Two weeks ago, 3 teen-agers were reportedly arrested by Israeli police for ’disturbing the peace’ though police said only 1 settler was arrested after threatening a police officer.

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Fanatic Settlers in Hebron

August 3, 2009

Hebron is simultaneously the largest and the scariest Palestinian city in the West Bank.  While other cities have their own problems – the wall in Bethlehem and Ramallah, night invasions and checkpoints in and around Nablus, and threats of home demolitions and expulsions toward the Palestinian majority in East Jerusalem – Hebron’s mix of hard-line ideological settlers that live in and control the majority of the old city give it the most tense atmosphere.

View of old city, HebronHebron old cityThe city has an estimated 1000 Israeli settlers who do their best to make life miserable for the 150,000 Palestinian residents.  Famous image of trash thrown from settler houses above onto net protecting Arab souk below9 settler families live in this building in the middle of the Palestinian old city.  The earliest settlements here were established as recently as the 1970s Shuhada street, formerly one of the most bustling streets in the old city where 11,000 shops are now closed; a Palestinian main street now closed to Palestinians, only setters have access and can be seen walking around in small groups with M-16s strapped over their shoulders.Like everywhere in the West Bank, settler presence necessitates ’army protection.’  This large army base takes up an entire square in the old city.The army has also taken over several rooftops of Palestinian homes to surveil the neighborhood.The intermixing of soldiers and settlers is one of the most disturbing aspects of the occupation in Hebron.  Settlers frequently and violently attack Palestinians and get away with their crimes as the soldiers main job is to ’protect the settlers.’Inside the terrifying Ibrahimi Synagogue where settlers give classes to soldiers on JudaismNawal runs a women’s embroidery co-operative in the old city.  Despite the city’s initiative to give Palestinians free rent and utilities to move back in, people remain too scared.

Weekly Protest in Bil’in

August 2, 2009

Over the last few weeks, the residents of Bilin have been subjected to constant night raids by the Israeli military, in retaliation to their weekly nonviolent demonstrations, now in their fifth year, against the Apartheid Wall, which has stolen over half of their land.  So far, 17 youths have been arrested, some as young as 16 years of age, usually for their participation in the demonstrations.  Many of the boys will not see their family again for months.

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The procession of several hundred march toward the separation fence around 2pmSoldiers at an army base on the other side of the barrierAfter protesters pried open the gate, the army brought a truck that sprayed a stinky green chemical substance all over the crowd.  Then they got out the tear gas and the protest ended with everyone running and screaming in pain.