Archive for the ‘Iraq War’ Category

Occupation and Colonization in the West Bank, 2009

December 9, 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

Northern West Bank: Nablus and Jenin

July 19, 2009

“[At the end of the second intifada in 2002] Israel committed daily war crimes during that invasion, but the pit of the horror was in Jenin.  The Jenin refugee camp and the Casbah [old town] in Nablus were considered by the Israeli army to be the toughest areas to conquer… Nablus and Jenin were the only places where the Palestinians showed a real, stubborn resistance to Israel’s invading army.  In Nablus, the Israeli army used the same methods as in Jenin – heavy shelling and bulldozing that sowed destruction in the old Casbah and killed seventy-five people, many of whom were civilians… On April 9, 2002 – the seventh day of fierce fighting in Jenin – thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in battle.  The military reaction was a decision to erase the entire center of the camp even though many of the residents were still hiding in their homes.”
– From Tanya Reinhart’s “Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948” on the second intifada.

Jenin refugee campBullet-riddled building, Jenin refugee campPhotos of Emad Awaad, before he was beaten and badly handicapped by Israeli soldiers, Jenin refugee campPicture on wall of Awaad house, Jenin refugee campMartyrs in Jenin refugee campSign with martyrs in Jenin refugee camp"Chaheed" poster, Jenin refugee campHamas graffiti, Jenin refugee campCircus Behind the Wall, Freedom Theater, Jenin refugee campGiant Knafeh at Nablus Shopping FestivalCrowd at Nablus Shopping FestivalRemaider of the crowd and flattened knafeh tableDabkeh dancers on stageSquare in Nablus old town where Israeli army camped during post-intifada siegeStore in Nablus old town where Israeli army camped and murdered the owner when he came to open his shopPlaque commemorating the massacre of a family in a house in Nablus old town during Israeli siege in 2002Poster in Nablus old townHole in house on street in Balata refugee camp, Nablus.  As Balata's streets are too narrow and dangerous for soldiers to navigate, they blast walls in the buildings and move house to house.Wall of martyr posters in Balata refugee camp, NablusBalata refugee camp, Nablus

In the Balata refugee camp in Nablus I met a cool young graphic and comic book artist named Ahmed who was eager to share his art with the world.  I gave Ahmed my email address and told him about  He wrote to me: “ah iam so glad today that you game me that site it makes me contact with a great comic that soon will come to the city ..waw”
To check out his art visit: and watch his short film at

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

March 14, 2009

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

Also posted at:

The Money is the Matter – published Fall 2007

March 11, 2009

Note: This article was written shortly after a strike led by Students for a Democratic Society that attempted to shut down Macalester College for the Iraq War Moratorium.

Following the strike a couple Fridays ago, I was listening to WMCN [the college radio] and a kid was talking about what a success the strike was but simultaneously how he just didn’t understand why students at Macalester would strike.  He used the analogy of having an expensive magazine subscription and then just throwing out one of the issues in protest, to make the point that not going to a(n expensive) class at Macalester for the strike is just like throwing money away.  There we find a deeply rooted problem.  Time and education are seen in an apolitical light, in terms of the cents per moment, hundreds of dollars per hour, thousands of dollars per week that we pay for the privilege of educating ourselves at an elite private American college.  We are not here to make demands, we are not here to think about what things are done or how they are done, but rather, we are here to be grateful that we are granted private access – one of the select few to have a guaranteed future as a certified “global citizen-leader.”

Shift to France: In the last few weeks thousands of students have taken to the streets, shutting down classes, occupying buildings, massively resisting recent reforms by the newly elected right-wing government to begin privatization of the university system there.  Currently, the higher education system is almost fully funded by the state, open to all and almost universally free.  Students, teachers, and the supporters around the country have come out en masse to resist the new threats toward education as a public space – the educational commons.  Direct democracy, they claim, is a central tenet of the system that allows people to maintain their capacity to make demands, raise complaints, and demand educational justice to their government.

The new Pécresse laws which will massively reduce government funding to universities thereby encouraging private corporations to fill the gap (à la the American system), threaten this openness.  By allowing private corporations to pay for education instead of the public, universities will begin large scale competition with one another to attract the most lucrative offers.  Consequences include the institution of tuition fees, a significant decrease in access to all who seek education, a downsizing of departments considered less marketable, and a large gap emerging between funding for select Parisian schools and universities elsewhere in France.  In effect, there would be a fracturing effect in which access would emerge for a select few while leaving the rest of the population behind.

Yet, this system is not yet in place and thousands are mobilizing against it.  During the peak period of strike activity, a majority of France’s 84 universities were striking with students occupying and blockading more than two dozen.  High school students around the country are also mobilizing to resist measures rendering their futures more precarious.  In one of the hundreds of videos posted on the internet, thousands of high school and university students march and occupy the streets of Toulouse chanting “Students, Workers, Solidarity!” referring to the rail union strikes taking place around the country; however, through the American gaze, it seems as if they are highlighting their very possibility of solidarity with workers throughout the country.  This explicitly stated solidarity – and its tangible scale – is something unimaginable between students and workers in this country.  The ubiquitous democracy in the social and political resistance movements in France are obvious to anyone who cares to look.

Back in America, our education system is already fully and pervasively privatized and we are currently waging a disastrous war and occupation on a foreign country for the 5th year.  Yet, opposing the latter (or the former) seems an entirely overwhelming task – who do we talk to?  What do we do without a democratic means to express our discontent?  It is at this point that we begin to see the intersection of all of our problems.  If the French system facilitates democratic intervention on a mass scale against the beginning of privatizations, while our system allows an illegal war to begin and continue with ne’er a peep, how can we begin to sort out where one problem starts and another ends?  For one, realizing that STRIKING and stopping business as usual by disrupting your daily life in solidarity with millions of others around the country on the day of the Moratorium is more important than “wasting a couple hundred dollars,” is a start.

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms – Photos of Protests

March 11, 2009

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Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09

My friend Pierrick calls me Tuesday afternoon with the news that the general assembly of students at his university voted for an occupation and blockade of academic buildings in reaction to the recent application of the Pécresse Law.  When we got to the auditorium of IEP (Institute of Political Studies, in Toulouse), students were mulling about, talking, chain-smoking and preparing the chains and barricades of tables and chairs for when the last classes of the day let out.  As soon as that happens, everything gets thrown up against the exits closing the institution off from the outside world while politicized students rule the halls of the interior, debating, holding meetings, eating and drinking as life goes on as normal on the outside.  According to Pierrick, this is only the third time that his university has ever been occupied – as it is adjacent to the right-wing law school – the previous time being in reaction to the passage of the Pécresse law last year when half of the universities in France were occupied and shut down by mobilized students for a period ranging from weeks to months.  Therefore, this is a movement that effectively began last year when the law was voted, went into a brief hibernation, and is now being revived in conjunction with the law’s application by the right-wing Sarkozy government’s minister of higher education Valéry Pécresse.  

Generally speaking, French universities are meticulously organized and highly democratic places.  For example, during mobilizations last year in only a two week period, there were over 48 general assemblies organized around the country with the vast majority having over 500 students in attendance.  Such massive organization of young people and ideas toward political ends is something that is unparalled in “public” institutions in the United States for example.  While the realization of such mobilization is largely due to the very open and militantly public and popular – in the literal sense – nature of French institutions of higher learning (in fact an often heard chant in protests is “For a critical and popular university”), many denigrate the fact that some French universities risk being blockaded for several months out of the year by certain ‘leftists’ preventing others from being able to attend their classes and actually get an education in the formal sense.  Yet the fact is that these occupations are organized and enacted democratically giving French students the possibility to understand how democracy works, take part in their system, and feel like they have a say in not only the democratic process that is higher education, but in the application of government policy as well; in other words, the experience is very educational.

This all may change however as the French government’s application of the Pécresse Law threatens the very root of these ideas.  In fact, the most amazing and scary thing is how strikingly American the changes appear.  Under the rubric of “Autonomy” and “Professionalization,” the Sarkozy government intends to liberalize the functioning of university administration and funding.  In terms of “Autonomy” the law calls for less funding from the state while pushing universities to take ownership of their own individual properties, and create foundations through which private money can fund or develop programs, which essentially means that the hand of the private sector will firmly take control of the current public system of education; and of course, these private funders could not go unrewarded.  By restructuring the university administration, diminishing the power of professors in choosing administrators and replacing these decision-making bodies with corporate board-like entities, the private sector interests will easily gain their foot in the door to affect not only the functioning of the institution but also curriculum.  This moves perfectly into the government’s “Professionalization” theme which strives to provide students with “orientation and professional insertion;” in other words, an education that will provide them with direct professional insertion into the marketplace, and preventing them from studying “unproductive” subjects like history or the humanities.  In fact, not only will there be large budget cuts in which less “useful” department and faculty will be axed, but there will be an increase in inscription fees, tuition, as well as increased competition between universities to create the best educational brand in order to attract the most desirable students.  All of this seems to foreshadow leaving the French in precisely the same predicament in which the American university exists today as even so-called public American universities are, on average, only 30% financed by the state with the rest coming from quintuple digit tuition for students, and “investments” from private corporations pushing their own research goals and profit interests, killing all possibility for an education that takes into account the situation of the society, its history and the collective interests that its individual citizens within it represent.  For me, the last few years has made this more and more clear.

Two years ago, while in the throes of the Bush administration and some of the worst moments of the war on and occupation of Iraq I wrote an article for an independent publication on the differences between American and French university protest movements entitled, “The Money is the Matter” (you can read the whole article up there ^), I was intensely frustrated by the insane discrepancy between the massive movement in France concerning the passage of a law that would begin privatizing the higher education system there, and the total lack of any movement within the already fully privatized higher education system in the United States after seven years of a bloody, imperialist and illegal war in Iraq.  However, the point of the article not only connected those two dots but argued that it was precisely this privatization and the social deformations that it engendered that allowed such exhorbatantly absurd atrocities to be committed without the slightest reaction.  The two went hand in hand; and in fact, no American universities were occupied due to the war. 

Nevertheless, the French seem to understand the American model and fortunately can learn from it – or rather, to avoid it.  The head of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris recently wrote that “professionalizing higher education would be devastating.  Adapting to the needs of private corporations is not a good solution, because in a world of perpetual change, the needs of corporations are always changing thus leading to an education that after only a short time is outdated and useless.”  A major French newspaper Libération also recently ran an article in which four French professors with experience working in America commented on the neo-liberal American model and its application in France.  They write that such a system “claims to have confidence in the market but instead only serves to reinforce hierarchy.  The current reform, in reality, impoverishes the forms of solidarity that are effective in our societies.”  Thus, while the left is holding firm on the claim that the government should revoke the new law without any conditions, Sarkozy and his ministers are working to split the movement by seducing professors with compromises in an attempt to isolate the student movement.  While such backhanded efforts have succeeded in forcing past legislation and repressing popular dissent, the current atmosphere appears positive as more and more universities are erecting the barricades against the imported neo-liberal policies that strive to kill the very possibility to collectively organize to express dissent.



Original Quotations: ; The President of the Sorbonne:
« professionnaliser les études initiales serait dévastateur. S’adapter aux besoins des entreprises en travaillant à leur fournir une main-d’oeuvre hyperspécialisée n’est pas la bonne solution, parce que dans notre monde en perpétuel changement, les besoins des entreprises évoluent très vite, vouant à très court terme toute formation hypertechnique à être périmée. »
Quatre enseignants-chercheurs français travaillant en Amérique proposent leur regard sur le « modèle libéral »; « il prétend faire confiance au marché alors qu’il ne fait que renforcer la hiérarchie. La réforme actuelle entérine en réalité la paupérisation générale des formes de solidarité qui affectent nos sociétés. »