September4, 2010

Fascism is already here: Haaretz

If protesters didn’t exist, Netanyahu, Livnat and Sa’ar would have to invent them. After all, these figures are the last living proof of a democratic regime in Israel.
By Yossi Sarid
Israeli democracy is mainly for decoration, like a tree grown for its beauty, not to bear fruit. Few people actually use it or the rights it affords. Many are merely happy that they can vote in the Knesset elections, and even this number is getting smaller.

Does Israel’s civic passivity stem from laziness or apathy or despair? That feeling that there’s no way they can influence or change anything? And if governments suffice with running countries, this government is adamant about dictating the policies of the opposition – with an opposition comprised of such figures as Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz and Tzachi Hanegbi, this is certainly possible. A democracy that is atrophying, that is not utilized on a daily basis, becomes an unnecessary tool.

But here we find a paradox: Those who fight against democracy in order to destroy it, to set up an alternative state in its place, are the very people who know how to exploit it to the full. The settlers know, as do the rabbis, who teach their students how their “Jewish state” will look. During the past few months it appears as if fascism has already arrived here and is waiting just behind the wall. And even the genius of our times – for whom everything has been turned inside out – knows, judging by his weekly hot-air emissions. They use democracy in order to toss it out.

Here and there a few, the few who were lost in the desert, renounce them, but then immediately pounce on them to scare them and shut them up – the government and the rabble alike. And what can a person who wants to protest do when his soul has despaired of those who kill and those who are killed? When his soul is fed up with the occupation, and all he wants is that it should not manage to occupy his desires? Someone seeking salvation for his soul and ours – what is left for him to do?

If he participates in the popular struggle against the separation fence, he will be buried outside the fence of the cemetery; if he demonstrates in Sheikh Jarrah, he will feel the heavy hand of the police; if he is a university lecturer, they’ll send the watchdogs after him in the name of Zionism; if he belongs to a theater troupe, someone who can still see the Green Line in his mind’s eye, they will threaten the source of his income; if he is a school principal who tries not just to support settlements but to inculcate them, they will look for a different institution for him because that is not how we do things; if he is a judge who dares deny that security is of the utmost importance, they will blame him for bloodshed; if he is a journalist who refuses to join in the chorus, there will be cries to boycott his newspaper; if he is a citizen who wishes to protect a child being threatened with expulsion from the country, he too will be blacklisted as an enemy of the people; and a long list remains.

What a foolish government. If such people hadn’t been around to break through the fences and hold their own, Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat and Gideon Sa’ar would’ve had to invite them to do so, to find a special clause in the budget to support them. After all, these figures are their alibis and the last living proof of a democratic regime in Israel.

Without them, this government would be left with only the inflated Eli Yishai and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who is constantly letting out hot air but, heaven forbid, should not be denounced as the national skunk. The prime minister pretends he can’t hear and all the ministers keep mum just like him. How simple it is to condemn left-wing artists at the start of the cabinet meeting, to threaten to turn out the lights on their stage.

Next week the president will make his annual pilgrimage to the rabbi, to wish him a happy new year, a year in which all his wishes and desires will be fulfilled.

Rocket fired from Gaza hits Israel: The Independent

Militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel today, two days after the start of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, causing no injuries or damage, the Israeli military said.

The cross-border rocket fire was the first since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Washington to relaunch peace negotiations.

Hamas Islamists routed forces loyal to Abbas to take over the Gaza Strip in 2007. The group rejects Abbas’ peace moves and has vowed to continue attacks against Israel.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for two shooting attacks in the past week in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, including one that killed four Israelis.

EDITOR: This needs to be seen in context

This is of course very good – at last Israeli academics have noticed the occupation… After more than four decades, 150 academics, out of more than 10,000, are writing against West Bank settlements. One cannot resist the thought that this would have been even better, has it taken place some four decades ago…

Many of those academics are now boycotting so as not to be boycotted themselves, of course! Still, one mustn’t grumble, let them go forth and multiply…

Israeli academics boycott West Bank settlements: BBC

An arts centre in Ariel, one of the West Bank’s largest settlements, is to open in November
More than 150 Israeli academics say they will no longer lecture or work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In a letter, they said they supported the recent decision by a group of actors and others not to take part in cultural activity there.

The academics said that acceptance of the settlements caused “critical” damage to Israel’s chances of achieving peace with the Palestinians.

The actors were criticised for refusing to perform at a new cultural centre.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the last thing Israel needed as it resumed direct peace talks was a boycott from within.

‘Stupid behaviour’
In a letter published on Sunday, the academics said they would no longer take part in any kind of cultural activity, or lecture in any kind of academic setting, in settlements built on land occupied following the Middle East war – demarcated by what is commonly known as the “Green Line”.

They explained that they wanted to show support and solidarity for the 53 actors, writers and directors who last week said they would not take part in performances at the new cultural centre built in Ariel.

“We’d like to remind the Israeli public that, like all settlements, Ariel is also in occupied territory,” the academics said.

“If a future peace agreement with the Palestinian authorities puts Ariel within Israel’s borders, then it will be treated like any other Israeli town.”

“Legitimatisation and acceptance of the settler enterprise cause critical damage to Israel’s chances of achieving a peace accord with its Palestinian neighbours.”

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

A separate letter, signed by a number of well-known Israeli authors and artists, is expected to be published in the coming days.

Yigal Cohen-Orgad, the chancellor of the Ariel University Centre, told Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday that “stupid behaviour seems to attract academic stupidity”.

Several right-wing politicians have criticised the actors, saying they are subsidised by the Israeli state and should have their funds withdrawn if they refuse to work in any settlements.

Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinian schoolgirl: The Guardian

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian – 1 Sept 2010
An Israeli army officer who fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was acquitted on all charges by a military court yesterday.
The soldier, who has only been identified as “Captain R”, was charged with relatively minor offences for the killing of Iman al-Hams who was shot 17 times as she ventured near an Israeli army post near Rafah refugee camp in Gaza a year ago.
The manner of Iman’s killing, and the revelation of a tape recording in which the captain is warned that she was just a child who was “scared to death”, made the shooting one of the most controversial since the Palestinian intifada erupted five years ago even though hundreds of other children have also died.
After the verdict, Iman’s father, Samir al-Hams, said the army never intended to hold the soldier accountable.
“They did not charge him with Iman’s murder, only with small offences, and now they say he is innocent of those even though he shot my daughter so many times,” he said. “This was the cold-blooded murder of a girl. The soldier murdered her once and the court has murdered her again. What is the message? They are telling their soldiers to kill Palestinian children.”
The military court cleared the soldier of illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and perverting the course of justice by asking soldiers under his command to alter their accounts of the incident.
Capt R’s lawyers argued that the “confirmation of the kill” after a suspect is shot was a standard Israeli military practice to eliminate terrorist threats.
Following the verdict, Capt R burst into tears, turned to the public benches and said: “I told you I was innocent.”
The army’s official account said that Iman was shot for crossing into a security zone carrying her schoolbag which soldiers feared might contain a bomb. It is still not known why the girl ventured into the area but witnesses described her as at least 100 yards from the military post which was in any case well protected.
A recording of radio exchanges between Capt R and his troops obtained by Israeli television revealed that from the beginning soldiers identified Iman as a child.
In the recording, a soldier in a watchtower radioed a colleague in the army post’s operations room and describes Iman as “a little girl” who was “scared to death”. After soldiers first opened fire, she dropped her schoolbag which was then hit by several bullets establishing that it did not contain explosive. At that point she was no longer carrying the bag and, the tape revealed, was heading away from the army post when she was shot.
Although the military speculated that Iman might have been trying to “lure” the soldiers out of their base so they could be attacked by accomplices, Capt R made the decision to lead some of his troops into the open. Shortly afterwards he can be heard on the recording saying that he has shot the girl and, believing her dead, then “confirmed the kill”.
“I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the kill. Over,” he said.
Palestinian witnesses said they saw the captain shoot Iman twice in the head, walk away, turn back and fire a stream of bullets into her body.
On the tape, Capt R then “clarifies” to the soldiers under his command why he killed Iman: “This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the [security] zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed.”
At no point did the Israeli troops come under attack.
The prosecution case was damaged when a soldier who initially said he had seen Capt R point his weapon at the girl’s body and open fire later told the court he had fabricated the story.
Capt R claimed that he had not fired the shots at the girl but near her. However, Dr Mohammed al-Hams, who inspected the child’s body at Rafah hospital, counted numerous wounds. “She has at least 17 bullets in several parts of the body, all along the chest, hands, arms, legs,” he told the Guardian shortly afterwards. “The bullets were large and shot from a close distance. The most serious injuries were to her head. She had three bullets in the head. One bullet was shot from the right side of the face beside the ear. It had a big impact on the whole face.”
The army’s initial investigation concluded that the captain had “not acted unethically”. But after some of the soldiers under his command went to the Israeli press to give a different version, the military police launched a separate investigation after which he was charged.
Capt R claimed that the soldiers under his command were out to get him because they are Jewish and he is Druze.
The transcript
The following is a recording of a three-way conversation that took place between a soldier in a watchtower, an army operations room and Capt R, who shot the girl
From the watchtower [three-way conversation between watchtower soldier, the operations room in another location, and finally, Captain R, the officer on the ground near watchtower “It’s a little girl. She’s running defensively eastward.” “Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?” “A girl about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death.” “I think that one of the positions took her out.” “I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the kill. Over.”
From the operations room “Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?”
Watchtower “A girl about 10, she’s behind the embankment, scared to death.”
A few minutes later, Iman is shot from one of the army posts
Watchtower “I think that one of the positions took her out.”
Captain R “I and another soldier … are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill … Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her … I also confirmed the kill. Over.”
Capt R then “clarifies” why he killed Iman
“This is commander. Anything that’s mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over.”
• This article was amended on 1 September 2010, to make explicit that the opening watchtower conversation is between three participants.

We’re dividing. Finally: Haaretz

The right wing’s self-righteousness that flooded the media did not succeed in blurring the clear fact: Ariel is a settlement, not an Israeli community.
By Yitzhak Laor

Here are some characteristics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s theater and the farce called “National Unity.” His government carefully respects the difference between Ariel and Kfar Sava. The winks from the stars of his comedy don’t confuse anyone. This government, just like all its predecessors, has never dared to abolish the difference between Ariel and Kfar Sava. They are there and we are here.

But nobody is forbidding them to get into their cars, start the motor and come to a play in Tel Aviv, just as they come to work here. As opposed to their Palestinian neighbors, whose lands and water they took away, the settlers of Ariel at least have freedom of movement.

Netanyahu is still riding on the wave of the flotilla: Not only is the entire world against us, he tells the players – as if it were not his policies that have set the entire world against us – but now actors Yossi Pollak, Itay Tiran and Anat Gov are also coming and “dividing the nation.” Anyone who reads the prologue to the cabinet meeting carefully will see that since the days when he whispered a jingle into Rabbi Kedouri’s ear against “those leftists,” our leader has not changed much. What has changed is the tragic dimensions of the comedy: namely, the pale supporting actors surrounding the prime minister – Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the other puppets.

And yet, the burst of self-righteousness that flooded the media (and frightened even some of the signers of the manifesto ) did not succeed in blurring the clear fact: Ariel is a settlement, not an Israeli community. Let’s put aside both Israeli law and international law – which is also always against us, and never takes our special needs into account. Let’s make do with this simple fact: If Ariel were not a settlement, its patrons would not have found NIS 40 million in order to build a cultural center for 18,000 settlers. What community within the borders of the State of Israel, of the same size or even larger, has found such sums in order to built a magnificent theater?

So let us sadly regard the marionettes surrounding the prime minister, and listen to the silence that has seized Labor ministers Avishay Braverman and Isaac Herzog. Let’s cast a sorrowful glance at bashful Kadima leader Tzipi Livni at the back of the stage. Was this the opposition leader whom Anat Gov, one of the manifesto’s signers, hoped for when she called on Meretz voters to vote for Livni and Kadima members Tzachi Hanegbi and Shaul Mofaz? In short, this is vaudeville. Maybe not for a cultural center costing NIS 40 million, but certainly a repertory for a traveling troupe.

This government, like all Israeli governments, knows how to remind cultural institutions of who they work for – though this government always does so with its characteristic extra measure of crudeness, whether we’re talking about Shas leader Eli Yishai or Likud MK Limor Livnat. Artistic independence? Don’t make our politicians laugh. Who knows better than they how they are courted? Who didn’t see the fawning tribute to President Shimon Peres at the Cameri Theater? Who in the corridors of power doesn’t know how to buy silence and how to buy consent? Who is not familiar with the ceremonies in which they give out prizes for obedience?

That’s why the theater actors did well to remind the government that artists have to believe in order to act. Acting is not narration. The text of a play is not a teleprompter, and Tel Aviv and Kfar Sava, in order to be Tel Aviv and Kfar Sava, need a border – including a border against swinish behavior.

The border against such behavior is the Green Line. Thus anyone who wants to defend Hebrew culture should stay away from Ariel, in the name of securing this very border.

Pressing Netanyahu is the key to success in Mideast peace talks: LA Times

The Israeli leader is not entering the Mideast peace talks in good faith. If he can derail the talks, he will.
By Ahmad Tibi
September 3, 2010
It is unfortunate that the direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that got underway this week are saddled with an Israeli prime minister who has made clear his unwillingness to reach an equitable two-state solution.

Nine years ago, in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, Benjamin Netanyahu was secretly recorded voicing his opinions of the Oslo accords reached during negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in 1993. “They asked me before the election if I’d honor [the Oslo accords],” he said. “I said I would, but … I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the 1967 borders.” The result according to Netanyahu? “I de facto put an end to the Oslo accords.”

This kind of talk is consistent with Netanyahu’s actions when he was last prime minister during the late 1990s. Challenged by then-President Clinton to make peace, Netanyahu instead upended the Oslo talks by exploiting every loophole he could find.

The prime minister did not enter negotiations then, nor does he enter them now, in good faith. If he can derail the talks, he will. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton surely knows his history.

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I am not alone in being pessimistic. Most Palestinians are. Young people in particular have been betrayed. A whole generation of Palestinians has grown up watching as talks failed. They have seen deepening colonization rather than freedom.

To succeed this time, the international community, and the U.S. most particularly, will have to press Netanyahu. Despite a good start to his presidency, Obama has spent the last few months complying with the demands of right-wing Israelis. His recent rhetoric and actions indicate he lacks the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Netanyahu. And, were he to unexpectedly challenge the prime minister on settlements, as he did early in his administration, he would be excoriated by members of the U.S. Congress who tolerate little opposition to Israeli policy.

The direct talks are likely to falter quickly. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already written to Obama that a resumption of settlement activity by the Israelis will doom these negotiations. Abbas was very clear: “If Israel resumes settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, we cannot continue negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s right flank continues to assert its determination to get back to colonizing the West Bank. A minimal moratorium on new settlement construction is set to end later this month, and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau has declared his support for new construction. “Everyone will build as he wants to and needs to,” he said in a radio interview.

Unless Netanyahu bucks his base and extends the moratorium, direct talks are likely to be abruptly stopped.

Assuming talks fail, Netanyahu will undoubtedly pin the blame on stubborn Palestinian negotiators, Palestinian rhetoric or violent Palestinian resistance to decades of subjugation. In the short run, he and his expansionist outlook will prevail.

But what comes tomorrow, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem are so filled with entrenched settlements that no Israeli leader will dare to pull settlers out from their illegally established strongholds? Then Israel will rue the day it did not seize the opportunity to negotiate a two-state solution that was honorable and just for Palestinians and Israelis alike. This possibility will not be there forever.

For successful negotiations, Israeli leaders must move away from “divide and conquer” strategies and treat Palestinians, both in Israel and the territories, as equals. Negotiations that split the West Bank from East Jerusalem will fail. So too will negotiations that divide the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. Finally, no Palestinian negotiator I know of will bow before the Israeli demand — put forward only recently, but increasingly adamantly — that Israel be recognized as an exclusively Jewish state.

This is an unreasonable demand, as it requires Palestinian negotiators to relegate more than 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel to an inferior standing. Already, there are more than 30 Israeli laws that serve to discriminate against Palestinians. Abbas cannot be expected to sign off on such an injustice. Not only would he be consigning Palestinian citizens of Israel to second-class citizenship, he would be stripping away the right of return from Palestinian refugees who long to return to homes and farms stolen from them 62 years ago.

The only way out of the impasse is for Jews to recognize Palestinians as their equals and negotiate with them on that basis. A fair two-state solution requires the abrogation of all laws, both in Israel and the occupied territories, that raise Jews above Palestinians. This is a point the United States, notwithstanding the recent dangerous demagoguery of some of its politicians in seeking to elevate Christian and Jewish religious rights over those held by Muslim Americans, should still understand.

Whether in the United States, Israel or the occupied territories, equal rights before the law is a powerful and crucial concept. And it is one that should be at the forefront of the next round of talks. Obama is a marvelous American choice to deliver the message to an Israeli “democracy” decades late in implementing fundamental legal equality.

Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and is deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Hamas official: Israeli settlers are a legitimate military target: Haaretz

Member of Hamas’ politburo says settlers posses more than half a million automatic weapons, as well as being regularly supported by IDF troops.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank are legitimate targets since they are an army in every sense of the word, a senior Hamas official told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Saturday, adding that Palestinians were still committed to an armed struggle against Israel.

The comment by Ezzat al-Rashk, a member of Hamas’s political office, came in the wake of recent attacks against Israeli citizens in the West Bank.

On Tuesday, four Israelis were killed when unknown assailants opened fire at a vehicle they were traveling in near the West Bank city of Hebron. The following night, two Israelis were wounded in a similar shooting attack at the Rimonim Junction near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Earlier Thursday, Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the Palestinian security forces had apprehended two Hamas-affiliated Hebron residents suspected to have been involved in the deadly shooting attack on Tuesday.

The attacks coincided with the launch of U.S.-sponsored direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington. The Islamist Palestinian group Hamas has come out vocally against the talks. Claiming responsibility for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s shootings, Hamas vowed to carry out further attacks.

“Attacking settlers is a natural thing,” al-Rashk told Al-Hayat on Saturday, saying the “Zionist settlers are the occupation’s first reserve military force.”

“They are now a real army in every sense of the word, with more than 500,000 automatic weapons at their disposal, on top of the basic protection by the [Israel Defense Forces],” the Hamas official said.

Al-Rashk also referred to the ongoing attempt to relaunch talks between Israel and the PA, saying they were noting more “than a media circus through which the U.S. administration wants to market its policy.”

Another Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s Lebanon spokesperson, told the London-based newspaper that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was willing to forfeit “99 percent of the Palestinians’ rights, saying negotiations were over before they even began.

The comments by the two Hamas strongmen came as a Qassam rocket was fired by militants from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, exploding in an open field in the western Negev. No injuries were reported.

Walking in Palestine: The Guardian

Palestine is synonymous with violence, but politics takes a back seat on this extraordinary new walking route where the people are welcoming and the countryside stunning

Field day … a farmer reaps wheat by hand near Douma, above the Jordan Valley. Photograph: Kevin Rushby for the Guardian
There was a moment of silence. Then the Palestinian youngsters marched in front of us and I thought to myself, this is where they sing about being martyrs and dying glorious deaths. A gentle breeze swayed the mulberry tree. On the far ridges of the mountains around Nablus, the lights of the illegal Israeli settlements twinkled. This village, I knew, had seen 2,000 acres of olive groves taken by those settlers, plus several lives. An older girl called the group to order then, in English, they launched into their chant.

“I’m a red tomato, you’re a green tomato. You’re a little cucumber…”

Everyone started to laugh. A walking holiday in Palestine. You’ve got to laugh really. I laughed a lot on that walk. And this in a part of the world where something horrible is always happening, be it shootings in Hebron, attacks on aid flotillas, or separation walls and rocket attacks. In the middle of such madness, laughter is the most unexpected and valuable pleasure, one that people seize at every opportunity.

It was perhaps appropriate that I started my hike in the far north of the West Bank, within a few miles of a hill called Megiddo, where Pharoah Thutmose III overwhelmed the Canaanite king Durusha in about 1457BC, thus beginning the legend of Armageddon, the site of the Last Battle. With my guide Hejazi, I walked through peaceful fields of wheat past other ancient sites, exploring Roman tombs lost in undergrowth and watching storks circling overhead on their migration north. Our first major stopping point was Jenin, a town whose name is tied inextricably to violence and death. Despite its reputation, however, Jenin turned out to be a friendly market town of Palestinian farmers, a place to gorge on strawberries and almonds, washed down with carob juice sold from huge ornamental brass urns.

I walked around the souk in a bit of a daze. How could reality be so different from expectations? Certainly, the walls were pockmarked with bullet holes from the second intifada, but the martyrdom posters were all faded by the sunshine and people wanted to shake hands. The carob-juice seller adjusted his Ray-Bans and grinned: “Why not join me on Facebook?”

There are several long distance footpaths in Palestine, but the one I was following was the Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil – literally Path of Abraham the Friend of God, simply the Masar for short. This new route stretches across the Middle East, starting at Abraham’s birthplace in Sanliurfa, south-east Turkey, and winds south through Syria, Jordan and Israel. Eventually, it could stretch all the way to Mecca, linking existing paths associated with Abraham, and new routes. Its purpose is to promote understanding between different faiths and cultures; it’s also intended “as a catalyst for sustainable tourism and economic development”. In places the path barely exists yet, in others it is well-worn, but everywhere it needs a guide. Hejazi was my man in Palestine, a person of unending cheerfulness and optimism.

For a Muslim, Hejazi tells me, the idea of a path named after Abraham is attractive since the great patriarch is revered as the “father of hospitality”. To Jews and Christians, he is equally important – the starting point for monotheistic worship. The Masar, I discovered, is not some do-gooder peace initiative, but simply a great way to see the landscape and meet people.

The path makes no attempt to follow Abraham’s original route, even if such a path could be discovered; rather it links sites that bear legends and folk tales about the man. Our first major site was south of Jenin at Jebel Gerazim, a mountain that stands above the ancient town of Nablus and affords astonishing views west to the Mediterranean and east to the hills of Jordan.

On the summit of the mountain is a tower built by Saladin and some fine, if neglected, Byzantine mosaics guarded by a group of Israeli teenage soldiers. Further down the hillside, we could see the houses of that renowned Jewish sect the Samaritans, a group that still has more than 700 followers.

“The reason the Samaritans revere this place,” Hejazi explained, “is because they believe Abraham came here and built his first altar in Canaan.”

It was a well-chosen spot to view what Abraham wanted: territory. “Unto thy seed,” said his God, “will I give this land.” And that was very generous of the Lord, all things considered. Except, of course, that all things had not been considered: previous inhabitants and the sheer fertility of Abraham’s seed, which includes not only the 12 tribes of Israel but the prophet Muhammad via Ishmael, fruit of Abraham’s union with the serving wench Hagar. And what about all those cousins from Noah’s brothers? If Abe’s God had spent a few moments considering, he might have foreseen problems.

That evening we stayed in Awata, a village near Nablus where the children sang about red tomatoes. There were tales of horror and violence too – there is no escaping the bloodied history in this land – but it never became overwhelming, as I’d expected. Hassan, our host, was keen to enthuse about the Masar: “It was like a light coming on here,” he said. “We got connected to the outside world and that makes us feel hope. Everyone in the village is always asking about when the next walkers are coming.”

Like most Palestinian villages, Awata has long since burst out of its ancient walled settlement and sprawled along the hill. But what is fascinating is that, amid the concrete and graffiti, there are sudden glimpses of an ancient world. When we chatted about water resources, Hassan jumped up and hauled open a trapdoor under our feet. Below us was a vast echoing cavern. “It’s a Roman water tank,” he explained. “We’ve got three of them.”

After a huge feast of chicken, freshly made bread, pickles, salads and yoghurt, Hejazi and I bedded down on mattresses in the living room and slept.

Next morning we started out at 8am, meandering through olive groves and wheat fields. Scents of Persian thyme, wild sage and oregano drifted up from beneath our tramping feet. We stopped at a spring to drink delicious clear water, then pressed on, meeting other walkers as we climbed through meadows of scarlet poppies and butterflies to Jabal Aurma, a bronze age fortress. One of the shocks of doing this path is that the countryside is lovely. Travellers have been returning from the Holy Land with scornful appraisals of its beauty for many centuries. Herman Melville is typically bleak: “Bleached-leprosy-encrustations of curses-old cheese-bones of rocks,” he wrote. The image of an ill-fated land has proven hard to budge.

On top of Jabal Aurma we discovered six vast underground storage rooms carved from solid rock, presumably to supply the fort during prolonged sieges. There is never any doubt in Palestine that this land has been a chaotic crossroads for civilisations, armies and tribes for a very long time – that is what makes it fascinating and worth exploring.

Later that day, we emerged on the edge of a grand escarpment looking down to the Jordan Valley, around 800ft below sea level. The wheat fields around us were tiny rocky terraces splashed with the yellow of wild dill. It’s a difficult place to farm, and we came across Shakir Murshid with his wife and six children busily harvesting wheat by hand. On a sage bush nearby was the complete shed skin of a viper.

That night we stayed in Douma, a cluster of old stone dwellings long since overgrown by the straggling concrete of modernity. Rural life, however, was pretty much the same as ever: woodpeckers tapped at the trees, wheat fields surrounded the houses and men rode past on donkeys. We spent the evening by a campfire listening to locals sing and play homemade flutes. The patch of flat ground where we had built our fire turned out to be a Roman wine press, empty sadly. Once again we slept in someone’s living room, under the eyes of family martyrs.

Our third day took us further south near the springs of Ain Samiya, now a water source for Jerusalem. We spotted chameleons in the bushes, whistling rock hyraxes and huge flightless crickets, then clambered up a delightful gorge, taking narrow shepherds’ trails along the cliff face. By evening we approached the village of Kufer Malik, a place that was to hold perhaps the biggest surprises. The first came at a huge hacienda-style house, where the whole family came out to invite us in for coffee. “Do you speak Spanish?” asked the husband. “I learned it in Columbia.”

Kufer Malik, bizarrely, is a little enclave of Latin America in Palestine. When we found our hosts for the night, the old man of the family, Hosni al-Qaq, explained: “In the 30s when times were hard here, my uncle decided to seek his fortune in America. He ended up selling shirts in Columbia, then got a shop and then a supermarket. He became very rich.” Hosni smiled ruefully. “My father on the other hand stayed behind and was killed in the first intifada.”

“And did other men go?”

“Oh yes, lots and lots, and then they spread out into other countries. There are now more than 800 descendants of this village in Brazil alone.”

The effect of this exposure to the outside world on Kufer Malik has been electrifying. The men are hard-working and ambitious; the women assertive and independent-minded. Hiba, our hostess, had been to the Côte d’Azur to see what it was like. “We camped on the beach in Nice,” she said proudly. “It was lovely.”

So was her cooking: roast chicken, rice, vegetables and musahn, a flat bread cooked with sumac and onions.

“What would you do if a Jewish person came to stay?” I asked.

“No problem,” they all said eagerly. “We’ve had one Jewish lady from America already and another from Brazil. Everyone is welcome here.”

After dinner, the men sat out in the yard smoking shisha pipes. When they spoke Spanish, they looked like pure Columbians to me: all macho body language and grand gestures. When they spoke Arabic, they were Palestinian farmers again.

Our fourth day took us to Abu Taybah, home to the West Bank’s only brewery – owned and run by a Palestinian Christian family (there are around 55,000 Palestinian Christians). After a glass of deliciously cold lager we moved on, walking down Wadi Qult to the marvellous fourth-century cliff-side monastery of St George, then on to Jericho.

The end of the Masar comes in Hebron, whose old city has been a dangerous flashpoint over the years. Zionist settlers have seized buildings in the market area – which has to be roofed with netting now to prevent rocks and rubbish raining down on shoppers. All of Abraham’s progeny want a piece of the action here and the mosque has been forcibly divided to create a Muslim and a Jewish section. On one side, I found Indian Muslims praying and taking photos; on the other Jews from New York and Tel Aviv were doing the same. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, of course, looks pretty similar from either angle, though neither community, sadly, ever gets to see that fact.

Out in the street a shopkeeper invited me to have coffee. He was sitting with Micha, a former Israeli soldier turned peace activist, a young freckle-faced man with a friendly smile. What had convinced him to adopt what many Israelis see as a traitorous approach?

“Small things. It started when I was a soldier, talking at checkpoints to Palestinians, seeing what the settlers were doing, and what we were doing to protect them.”

At that moment a Palestinian lady came over. They introduced themselves. “So now you work for peace?” she asked. “But I have to ask: did you kill any Palestinians?”

Around the shopfront where people were taking coffee and chatting, everyone froze. There was a long silence while Micha considered his reply. “I’d rather not say.”

“I think you should,” the woman said. “For any reconciliation, you have to.”

A murmur of agreement passed through the small crowd. Micha thought again. “The truth is, I don’t know. At Abu Sinaina we did shoot, but it was from far away.”

“At Abu Sinaina? Then you killed at least five.”

There was a pause and then Micha nodded. The Palestinian lady smiled. “You are welcome at my house. You must come for lunch.”

They exchanged addresses and Micha promised that he would visit.

What is remarkable about the Masar walk is that religion and politics mostly take a back seat, allowing ordinary people to climb out of the foxholes of prejudice and suspicion. When that happens, Palestine becomes so much more than a brief and violent television news clip. I saw gazelles running on hillsides, tasted the local cuisine and enjoyed conversation on everyday topics. I climbed down inside bronze age burial chambers, tracked hyenas into their lairs inside Roman tombs and lay on the benches in Nablus’s marvellous Turkish baths, discussing the best way to pickle olives. The problems of Israel’s land-grabbing tactics remain: the wall is still standing and unsmiling teenage soldiers at checkpoints demand to see passports.

The Masar is not for those who want private rooms or special treatment. It is intense and sometimes emotionally draining. There were moments when I felt rage about the injuries and injustices. But, more than anything, this was a life-affirming and exhilarating experience that will stay with me like few others.

Boycotts are legitimate: YNet

Op-ed: Boycotts are the Jewish way, so why all the fuss over Ariel theater embargo?
Gideon Eshet
The Ariel boycott announced by artists, authors, and professors provoked great commotion around here. As if a grave crime had been committed. Some argued that boycotts are wholly illegitimate and, heaven forbid, constitute a Diasporic custom. The more cautious ones argued that those who enjoy public funding – theaters and universities, for example – must not boycott other Israelis, whoever they may be.

Boycotts are a legitimate means anywhere in the world and a vital political weapon. The Americans and Indians imposed a boycott on British products when they fought against the English occupier. Anti-slavery Americans boycotted US manufacturers who used slaves. Many states boycotted South African products while the country was under racial segregation.

Elsewhere, the US boycotted the Olympics in Moscow, while the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Labor unions and consumers also boycotted lettuce and grapes in the wake of a labor dispute between American farm workers and farmers. Boycotts are the way of the world.

And also the way of the Jews. Indeed, the Jews imposed a boycott on other Jews, known as Samaritans. This was not done because the latter were sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, but rather, because these Samaritans believe that Mount Gerizim is a holy site, while Jerusalem is not.

The fact that the Samaritans read and believe in the Torah, while largely discounting the rest of the Bible (which is very common among current-day haredim) made no difference. The fact that they uphold the mitzvahs to a much greater extent than the average secular Jew made no difference. Just because of their political (religious) views, Orthodox Jews imposed a boycott on them, with the State of Israel doing the same. A major boycott.

Not to mention the Jewish boycott against Ford vehicles. Today, there are plenty of Fords in Israel. Yet in the 1920s, the Jews imposed a boycott on Ford. Why? It doesn’t really matter. What’s interesting about the story is that it was one of the more successful boycotts, like the one imposed against South Africa. The car manufacturer eventually shunned the anti-Semitic writings of the corporation’s founder.

Elsewhere, “Zionist” Jews in Eretz Yisrael imposed a boycott on products produced by other Jews, who employed Arab workers.

And what about boycotts imposed by those funded by the State of Israel? There are plenty of those. All Orthodox Jewish institutions, which are state-funded, nonetheless boycott Reform and Conservative Jews. Meanwhile, haredi Jews in Israel impose a boycott on stores that sell non-kosher food next to kosher food – something that haredi Jews in London would never dare do. All of this is done via government-funded bodies, often yeshivas and “Torah” institutions.

Yet when it comes to the politics of religion, Limor Livnat and Benjamin Netanyahu (who are now preaching their views about state-funded boycotts) do not utter a word.

Nonsensical condemnations
The European Union imposed a boycott on settlement products and did not recognize them as Israeli-made, thereby charging customs fees. So what did the Israeli government, which comprised Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, and Limor Livnat do? It agreed to cooperate with the boycott, and Ariel products are no longer recognized as Israeli-made.

Finally, the Israeli government does not recognize the Ariel College. The Higher Education Council legislation does not apply in Ariel, and when officials tried to apply it, the Council resisted. Hence, the college is recognized via a decree issued by a military governor, Jordan’s replacement at the occupied area. That is, the boycott against Ariel was started by the government, Limor Livnat as head of the Higher Education Council was a full party to it, and she continues with it. Everything was done with public funds.

So why do actor Dror Keren and author David Grossman deserve all the nonsensical condemnations? For acting like Jews and their governments had been acting for many generations? For doing what any freedom fighter who objects to discrimination and oppression would do?

Lifta’s legacy under threat: The Electronic Intifada

Antoine Raffoul,  1 September 2010

There are few villages in historic Palestine which invoke the memories of the Nakba (the 1948 dispossession of the Palestinian people) as does Lifta. Beautifully built and dressed in crafted Jerusalem stone, Lifta hugs the slopes straddling the highway leading from west Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Its remaining houses look like jewels of a necklace, neglected by time and polished by the wind of history.

However, Lifta’s architectural legacy is under threat as Israel moves to Judaize the formerly pluralistic Palestinian village.

Lifta dates back about 4,000 years, and overlooks Wadi Salman and Wadi al-Shami which, in their heyday, provided it with its main water supply essential for its agricultural produce. Believed to have been built on the site of Mey Neftoach, a source of water near Jerusalem, Lifta is still blessed today by a running creek and a small peaceful pond in its midst.

Back in 1596, Lifta had a population of 396 residents which by 1945 increased to 2,550 Palestinians the majority of whom were Muslims owning 7,780 dunums (one dunum is approximately 1,000 square meters). Official records indicate that in 1931, the number of houses stood at 410, most of which were built by Lifta’s Palestinian residents using the famous Jerusalem stone from nearby quarries. Some of these houses stand at two and three stories high and display the cubist forms against the rolling hillside. They represent today some of the finest examples of Palestinian craftsmanship and architectural design.

During the 1940s and leading up to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948, Lifta expanded markedly eastward and northward linking with the buildings of the Rumayma neighborhood just west of Jerusalem. Its economic ties with Jerusalem became strong as nearly half of Lifta’s cultivated land was planted with cereal, wheat, barley, olives and various fruits.

Prior to the tragic events of 1948, Lifta’s ethnic mix was made up predominantly of the Muslims with a colored mix of Christian and Jewish minorities. This resulted in a strong sense of community life with a well-knit social bonding which was particular to Lifta. Documents describe some of the grand houses in Lifta as being shared by Jewish and Muslim families who, on occasions, would exchange local produce such as cheese and milk in addition to other products which would be sold in the local market. Also, the children of Lifta families from different backgrounds frequented the same village schools and enjoyed their time out in the same playgrounds. Lifta enjoyed an intricate web of woven streets, bustling with markets, coffee houses, a bakery and a pharmacy. Lifta residents had free access to the neighboring Jewish eye hospital. Community life in Lifta was, therefore, inclusive rather exclusive.

It is also known that Lifta residents celebrated their religious festivities together in the main square. Local mosques became the hub centers for discussions of social and cultural issues of the day.

The ethnic cleansing of Lifta

Lifta’s tranquility and social harmony were tragically ended when, on the heels of UN Resolution 181 of November 1947, and as part of the Zionist Plan Dalet for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the Jewish armed militia Stern Gang entered Lifta on 28 December 1947, made their way to the local coffee house in the center of the village and gunned down six residents and injured seven others. Within 10 days, Lifta was turned into a ghost town with all 2,960 terrorized inhabitants being driven out and trucked to East Jerusalem where most of them remained. Quite a number of the village houses and the two elementary schools were demolished. Only after last desperate pleas by local dignitaries were most of the houses standing today saved from total destruction.

The uprooting of Lifta was a tragedy for all its mutli-ethnic population. The Nakba of Lifta was a catastrophe for Muslims, Christians and Jews. It has been told that the Jewish Hilo tribe which lived in the upper hills of Lifta were given the option by the advancing Jewish militia, the Stern Gang, to remain in Lifta, but they decided to join the Liftawis in their exodus, and left.

In the years since their expulsion, most of the Lifta refugees and their descendants ended up in Jerusalem, Ramallah, the rest of the West Bank, Jordan and the US where they formed a tightly-knit and active community in Chicago, Illinois.

Lifta’s architectural legacy
Until recently, the remaining houses of Lifta attracted an inquisitive number of locals and professionals mesmerized by the haunting elegance of their design, their original forms and the majesty of their setting. Tourists from abroad would arrive on organized tours led by one of Lifta’s original residents, Yacoub Odeh, who would painfully yet proudly narrate to them the village history and its eventual demise pointing in particular to the house where his family lived and which he himself as a child helped to construct. Until recently, some Liftawis would arrive from Jerusalem to venture down the winding rubble path to the main open square of the village. They would sit by the pool and fill their bottles with the pure spring water while exchanging memorable stories with those willing to listen. Until recently, the magnificent Lifta houses displayed one of the most beautiful forms of Arabic architecture: the dome. The cubic forms of the houses contrasted beautifully with the elegant curves of the domed roofs.

It is told that all the builders of Lifta did not use mortar or cement to bond their stones together. The dry construction process was made possible through the exacting techniques employed by the local stonemasons. They chiseled pristine and fine forms in stone to build their arches, square angles, external corners, quadrants, double and stepped arches. Most of the windows in these houses were sheltered by these fine arches and displayed perfect and well-proportioned rectangles of the type only modern architects can produce on their computers.

Until recently, Lifta’s heart was beating and its heartbeat was sustained by the visits of its original inhabitants. However, extremist Jewish settlers began to move in, while the original Liftawi visitors were blocked out. In a last attempt at architectural rape, and to ensure that the remaining Lifta houses would never be inhabited again, the settlers began to demolish some of the elegant domes thus exposing the living spaces below them to the external elements. Slowly, the tourists stopped coming down the hillside to visit Lifta and their tour guides had to be content with looking down at the village from the main roadside higher up the slopes. Then more Jewish settlers arrived and became the new hippie “squatters.” Occasional “religious seminars” were initiated by them to give their activity a sense of legitimacy.

Lifta today remains a ghost town suspended in time. Yet its elegance remains defiant and a symbol of the destruction of the Palestinian village during the Zionist military sweep in 1948. Lifta has become a symbol of the Palestinian Nakba. In its present state, it shouts at us for recognition and for attention.

Israel’s plans for Lifta
In June 2004, the Jerusalem Municipality Planning Committee, with the help of two architectural offices, G. Kartas/S Grueg and S Ahronson (in collaboration with Ze’ev Temkin of TIK Projects), produced a redevelopment project (Plan No. 6036) to turn Lifta into an exclusively Jewish luxury residential/commercial neighborhood. This plan, originally launched in April 1984 under the name “Plan 2351″ but never implemented, had the intriguing title of “The Spring of National.” It was later approved by a regional planning committee. Under the misleading cover title of a preservation project, the plan called for the building of some 245 luxury housing units, a big shopping mall, a tourist resort, a museum and a luxury 120-room hotel. Most of the existing Lifta houses would be destroyed to erase any lingering memory of a once thriving Palestinian community. Even the Palestinian cemetery nearby does not figure in the new plan. Not only have the present Liftawis not been featured or consulted, but the memory and physical presence of their dead ancestors would now be erased.

This attempt at architectural and cultural erasure in the Israeli proposals for reshaping Lifta has its equivalent in the present day work by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a Museum of Tolerance over part of the Muslim Cemetery in Mamilla not far from Lifta. In a shameful acknowledgment of the existing fabric of the village, the redevelopment project for Lifta attempts to “preserve” a few houses which would be renovated but only for use by rich Jews from the Diaspora. A few existing trees would be left and some existing landscaping elements such as the spring and the terracing would be given a makeover in a gesture full of pastiche and borrowed imagery.

The history of the Palestinian community that flourished in Lifta does not feature in the new renovation plans. There is no record of Lifta’s Palestinian history as would normally be required of any renovation/preservation project, to link the present with the past. Even Lifta’s original mosque would be destined for removal to be replaced by a synagogue. If the plan is carried out, it would be nothing but a flagrant attempt to Judaize Lifta.

Saving Lifta
Lifta must be preserved and rebuilt by/for its original owners to raise awareness about the history of 1948. Lifta, in its new image, should pave the way for establishing a determined campaign for truth and reconciliation between two historic peoples. Lifta, in our view, represents the traceable genealogy which gives insight into the origins of the conflict. Peeling the layers of conflict would lead to an acknowledgment of the tragedy and an understanding of its implication on people’s identity.

Placing Lifta on the international architectural agenda has been the first objective and the primary aim of one of the most active professional groups involved on behalf of Lifta. This group is The Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territories (FAST), an architectural and planning group based in Amsterdam. Together with Zochrot (“remembering”), a body of Israeli professionals based in Tel Aviv working to raise awareness of the Nakba, they have argued passionately against the renovation plans submitted by the State of Israel, and have called, like FAST, for the right of return of the Liftawis to their homes. It is crucial that this campaign should lead to a change in the Israeli planning policies which are presently based on segregation and discrimination, and to opt for an alternative vision to achieve equality and long-term sustainability. A vision which promotes the idea of a place for Lifta, a sense of belonging for the Liftawis and reconciliation for the region.

Supplementing this campaign, we, at 1948.Lest.We.Forget, launched last year on our website ( a Petition To Save Lifta which attracted more than 2,400 international signatures by people from all walks of life including high profile personalities in academia, architecture and literature. This petition has now closed and will be included as part of our application to the World Monuments Watch to declare Lifta a place of special character.

Moreover, as we believe that Lifta remains a symbol of reconciliation and hope in a region of continued conflict and tragedy, it is our intention to launch an International Architectural Competition with an open-ended brief, and to invite registered planners and architects from all over the world to contribute ideas and to produce schemes for one of the Lifta houses still standing.

The competition results will be exhibited in major capitals of the world, the first of which will be London where, over a period of four weeks, seminars, films, audio-visual presentations and debates will be held.

Antoine Raffoul is a Palestinian-born chartered architect living and working in London. He is also the coordinator of]the group 1948: Lest We Forget.

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