January 8, 2011

EDITOR: The lies continue! Having caused the death of a female bystander at a peaceful protest in the West Bank (not for the first time) by tear gas, the IOF is doing its best to harm and hurt her family, by publishing lies:

Israeli military and Palestinians clash over death of West Bank woman: The Guardian

The death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, who collapsed after inhaling teargas has sparked a war of words, threatening a controversy akin in scale to 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura’s death in 2000

Mourners carry Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman who died overnight after being teargassed by Israeli troops at a West Bank protest Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Mourners carry Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman who died overnight after being teargassed by Israeli troops at a West Bank protest Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images The death of a Palestinian woman following a West Bank village protest in which teargas was fired by Israeli soldiers has become a battleground of competing narratives between the victim’s family, Israeli military sources and advocates on both sides of the conflict. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma last weekend as an “Israeli crime carried out by the occupation army against our helpless nation”. In contrast, unnamed Israeli military sources told Yedioth Ahronoth, a mass circulation newspaper: “This is the new Muhammad al-Dura story and an attempt to delegitimise Israel.” Al-Dura was the 12-year-old boy shot dead in Gaza in 2000 while cowering behind his father, who tried to shield him during a gunbattle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. Images of the terrified boy became a symbol of the Second Intifada.

Abu Rahma, 36, died on Saturday after collapsing as she watched a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in Bil’in. Youths had begun throwing stones at soldiers who responded by firing CS gas canisters. According to witnesses, Abu Rahma began vomiting, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. She died in hospital in Ramallah the next day. Her death has afforded extra potency as it followed that of her brother, Bassem, who was killed 20 months earlier after being hit by a high-velocity teargas projectile during a similar protest. Another brother, Ashraf, was injured in the foot in July 2008 in the village of Na’alin after an Israeli soldier fired a rubber-coated steel bullet at point-blank range. The incident was captured on video. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, branded Abu Rahma’s death a “war crime”. Hundreds of people joined a protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, at which 11 activists were arrested. The Israeli Defence Force opened an investigation into Abu Rahma’s death. But on Monday, during anonymous briefings to Israeli journalists, military sources questioned accounts from the family, witnesses and the medical authorities. “We did not kill her, there is no proof,” senior officers in the IDF Central Command told Yedioth Ahronoth. “This entire story is very strange.

The Palestinian reports are full of contradictions. The medical reports were fabricated and withheld from us. We believe she suffered from cancer and that she took unusually high doses of medication.” The military sources suggested Abu Rahma may not have been present at the protest and that she suffered from a pre-existing condition likely to have caused her death. The family’s supporters issued a detailed rebuttal of the IDF claims, backed by documentation, and said the military was waging a smear campaign. None of the witnesses to the incident claimed Abu Rahma took part in Friday’s demonstration, but that she had watched from a distance. Her mother, Soubhiya, has said she was with her daughter on a hill at the edge of the village when they were enveloped in teargas. “Soon after that she vomited and collapsed,” she said in a statement to the Popular Struggle Co-ordination Committee. “We took her to the nearest road, and from there she was evacuated by ambulance to the hospital where she remained until her death. ” Islam Abu Rahma, a family member who was with Jawaher, also gave testimony: “The wind moved the gas in our direction, making our eyes itch and tear up. After that [Jawaher] began to cough and foam at the mouth. Soon after that she became weak and lay down on the ground … She became terribly weak, vomited violently and foamed at the mouth. She was having difficulty breathing and lost her sense of direction.”

The IDF has questioned the hospital records concerning Abu Rahma’s treatment. One medical report said a blood sample was taken at 2.45pm, but a separate form said she was only admitted at 3.20pm, they said. According to the family, the sample was taken in the hospital emergency room before her admission shortly afterwards to intensive care. The military’s claims that Abu Rahma was suffering from asthma and leukaemia, which could have caused or contributed to her death, have been vigorously disputed. Mohammed Eidh, the director of the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah where Abu Rahma was taken, said she “died from lung failure caused by teargas inhalation, leading to a heart attack”. An official report, signed by Eidh and two other doctors, logged her symptoms and vital signs following “unknown gas inhalation”. She had “no history of chronic disease”, it said. Abu Rahma’s family and doctors said she recently had an inner-ear infection, for which she was given a CT scan, the results of which were normal. The IDF said the gas used in last Friday’s demonstration was identical to that used in previous protests, and is considered non-lethal in an open-air environment. According to Mohammed Khatib, a member of Bil’in’s Popular Co-ordinating Committee which organises the weekly protests against the barrier, the Israeli army was “trying to evade its responsibility for Jawaher’s death with lies and invented narratives that have no basis”.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing the Abu Rahma family, said the IDF had committed a “cowardly act by anonymously spreading lies without any evidence”. He said he had no confidence that an internal military inquiry, based solely on the testimony of soldiers, would establish the truth of the circumstances of Abu Rahma’s death. “This is a proven way to whitewash what happened.” The IDF issued an official statement on Wednesday saying the inquiry into Abu Rahma’s death had yet to be completed. It added: “The initial information raises questions as to the reliability of Palestinian reports. The medical reports received from the Palestinians also raise many questions and doubts. A number of scenarios have been posited, among them the possibility that Abu Rahma’s death was entirely unrelated to the demonstration last Friday.” An army spokesman told the Guardian: “There’s something weird about the whole situation and there are many questions about the circumstances of her death.” He said he had “no idea” how long the inquiry would take “but we hope for answers as soon as possible”.

Twelve-year-old martyr

On 30 September 2000, on the second day of the second intifada, Muhammad al-Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, was caught up in gunfire in the Gaza Strip and killed as he cowered against a wall. His father, Jamal, who was also struck by several bullets, tried to protect his son as they sought cover. The shooting and the child’s evident distress were filmed by Talal Abu Rahma, a Palestinian cameraman freelancing for a French TV station, and were broadcast around the world. At the end of the clip, Dura is seen slumped over his father’s legs. The Arab world hailed the boy as a martyr. His image appeared on stamps and streets were named after him. The Israeli army initially apologised for the killing, but then backtracked after conducting a controversial investigation in which it cleared itself and blamed Palestinian gunfire for the deaths. Despite claims by some pro-Israel groups that the child is still alive and the incident was staged by the Palestinians, Dura’s death remains an abiding symbol in the Arab world and beyond.

From Bilin to Tel Aviv, outrage at killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah: The Electronic Intifada

Joseph Dana, 3 January 2011

A photograph of Jawaher Abu Rahmah hangs at her funeral on 1 January. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

“I am in shock, we are in shock,” Hamde Abu Rahmah told me as we stood outside the small cemetery in Bilin where 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahmah was buried on Saturday. One day earlier, on 31 December, Jawaher was killed after inhaling US-made tear-gas fired by Israeli soldiers at demonstrators in the occupied West Bank village. Jawaher’s brother Bassem was killed by Israeli occupation forces in a similar manner in 2009. “We simply did not think that this would happen. We deal with tear-gas on a regular basis but the amount that they used and the strength was something we have not yet seen,” continued Hamde, Jawaher’s cousin who has reported on and photographed Bilin’s regular demonstrations against Israel’s wall and occupation since 2008.

Friday’s demonstration, on New Year’s Eve, was enormous. Over 1,000 people — Palestinians, Israelis and internationals — joined villagers in Bilin to call for an end to Israel’s wall. Israel tried to stop the demonstration before it even began by creating a ring of military checkpoints on roads encircling the village to prevent non-villagers from attending. However, their strategy failed as hundreds of activists trekked through the rolling hills to reach the village. Even prime minister of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, briefly joined the demonstration leading from the village center to the area of the wall. How Fayyad reached the village and why he left so quickly was unclear to everyone, some joked that the soldiers let him through the checkpoints because they consider him a Zionist. Once the demonstration reached the village’s agricultural lands, which are bisected by the wall, Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas in every direction including directly at protesters. Wave after wave of tear-gas surrounded demonstrators leaving nearly everyone gasping for air.

One of the demonstrators was Jawaher Abu Rahmah, who lost consciousness from gas inhalation and never recovered. Jawaher was a veteran of the Bilin demonstrations attending every one for the past four years, even after Israel shot and injured her handcuffed and bound brother Ashraf in the neighboring village of Nilin with rubber-coated steel bullets in July 2008, and her other brother Bassem was shot and killed with a tear-gas canister in April 2009. Bassem was killed when an Israeli soldier fired a high velocity tear-gas canister directly at his chest at one of the weekly demonstrations in Bilin. Despite clear video documentation of the murder taken on three different cameras, justice has yet to come for the Abu Rahmah family for Bassem’s death and Israeli soldiers have repeated their deadly repression of occupied Palestinians in Bilin with impunity. Now, an already grieving family has had to bury another one of their relatives after Jawaher’s shocking death on Friday.

Israeli soldiers firing tear-gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at protesters in Bilin on the day Jawaher Abu Rahmah was killed, 31 December. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Violent repression of unarmed demonstrators Unarmed resistance to Israeli occupation in West Bank villages like Bilin, whose land Israel is stealing to build the wall, has almost always been met with violent repression by the Israeli military. Since 2005, 21 unarmed demonstrators, 10 of whom were children, have been killed in demonstrations throughout the occupied West Bank (“Under Repression,” Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee, September 2010). Israel has developed a three-pronged strategy of military repression of Palestinian non-violence which includes the negligent use of firearms such as in the case in Bassem’s killing, cover up of criminal misconduct, and the use of the occupation’s legal system to crush Palestinian freedom of expression as in the case of Bilin leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah who has been sentenced to a year in jail for his role in organizing non-violent demonstrations. The US-based company, Combined Systems, INC, is the leading American supplier of tear-gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinian protesters. Israel uses a type of tear-gas called CS, which has been blamed for a number of deaths and serious injuries, according to Haaretz (“Protester death shows IDF may be using most dangerous type of tear gas,” 3 January 2011). The Israeli army has often responded to claims of negligent use of tear gas with repeated statements that the demonstration was violent because of stone throwing. They claim that the protesters “provoked” the use of the gas. However, such a claim cannot be made about Friday’s demonstration since Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas from the moment protestors entered their sight. It is obvious that for the army, the mere presence of unarmed demonstrators is reason enough to use chemical weapons against them.

Israeli police make arrests at a protest in Tel Aviv against the army's killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 1 January. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Israeli solidarity with Bilin In response to Jawaher’s murder, on 1 January hundreds of people demonstrated across the street from Israel’s ministry of defense in Tel Aviv. Protesters chanted “Israel is a police state” and called for an end to the occupation. For more than one hour, protesters successfully blocked a main street in Tel Aviv beside the ministry by sitting in it and blocking traffic. Eight protesters were arrested in the demonstration including Mossi Raz, a former member of the Israeli Parliament. All were later released without charge. Later that evening, Israeli activists descended on the home of the US ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, in the northern Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. The activists “returned” loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in Bilin by throwing them into the ambassador’s front yard. They also chanted, waking up neighbors, to demand a halt in US military aid to Israel. Eleven demonstrators were arrested, including two women over the age of 60. They have been charged with illegal arms possession and will remain in jail until their hearing on 4 January. More actions are being planned by Israeli activists in response to the army’s killing of Jawaher and in solidarity with Bilin.

The mother of Jawaher Abu Rahmah (center) mourns during her daughter's funeral on 1 January. On the right is a poster of Bassem Abu Rahmah, her other son who was killed in 2009. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

A symbol of resistance Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death is the latest evidence of Israel’s full-scale war against the defenseless Palestinian people living under occupation. Bilin has become an international symbol of Palestinian nonviolent resistance because of its six-year struggle against the Israeli wall in the West Bank. In 2007, villagers celebrated a small victory when the Israeli high court ruled that the route of the wall in Bilin was illegal and requested the army to change its path. However, the wall’s route has not been changed and as a result the protests have continued. In 2009, leader of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bilin, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was arrested in his Ramallah home. Despite his recognition by the European Union as a “human rights defender,” the Israeli occupation’s legal system found him guilty of “incitement” and “illegal protest.” Abdallah has served his one year sentence in full, yet still sits in an Israeli jail cell because the state has filed an appeal asking for a harsher sentence. The judge has not given a date for his verdict on the appeal. The sadness caused by yet another victim of Israel’s occupation lingered in the air in Bilin on Saturday. However, the determination to continue the struggle was visible in the eyes of villagers as Jawaher Abu Rahmah was placed in the earth next to her brother. Leaders of various other popular committees in occupied West Bank villages like Budrus, Nabi Saleh and Nilin, attended the funeral in a show of support and unified solidarity to continue the demonstrations. They vowed that the unarmed protests will continue despite knowing that the violent repression of the Israeli military will continue as well. The protesters of Bilin and other villages understand that both history and justice are on their side. They have embraced the tactic of unarmed resistance and have opened their struggle to any one willing to join in respect and solidarity, even to an increasing number Israeli Jews. Their moral clarity should be a model for international civil society, which now more than ever needs to support the popular Palestinian struggle. Joseph Dana is a Media Coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Palestinians: Silwan riots broke out after police lost crate of ammunition: Haaretz

Residents and police exchange projectiles and accusations of whose contingent initiated the violent incidents in the eastern Jerusalem-area village Friday night. Violent conflict broke out between Israel Police and Border Police and Palestinian residents of the village of Silwan, in the eastern area of greater Jerusalem on Friday night, lasting for several hours. In the clashes, some ammunition belonging to the police was abandoned, and apparently retrieved by Palestinian youths. Reinforcements arrived to reacquire the ammunition, resulting in injuries and arrests. According to Palestinian sources, the incidents occurred when a number of Border Police officers tried to enter one of the houses in the village, apparently in order to reach a post located on the roof of the building, and beat an older woman in the house. In response, dozens of youths wearing masks attacked police officers at their post with stones, and the police were forced to evacuate the post. In their haste, the police may have left behind a crate containing ammunition.

It is thought that the crate was filled with demonstration-dispersing weapons, not bullets or bombs. Jerusalem Police realized soon afterwards that the crate of ammunition was missing, and sent a large contingent of forces to the area, accompanied by helicopter support. Palestinians say that the police officers forcefully broke into homes, beat residents, damaged property and appropriated property, all without proper search warrants, and arrested nine residents of the village. Palestinians claim that those arrested continue to face police violence in custody. Several Palestinians were evacuated to receive medical treatment. Jerusalem Police claim that the violence broke out after youths attacked a Border Police post, and then a Jewish-owned home in the heart of the village, unprovoked, and that the police were only responding to the violence of the youths with means appropriate for dispersing demonstrations. Police confirm that nine Palestinians were arrested, that more arrests will be forthcoming, and that three Border Police officers were lightly wounded in the clashes. Police deny Palestinian claims that an entire crate was stolen, but confirm that some tear gas canisters were taken by Palestinian youths when they attacked the police post.

Three foreign workers wounded in mortar attack near Gaza border: Haaretz

Three mortars fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Saturday afternoon; two land in open territory but one strikes a populated area in a kibbutz along the Gaza border. Three foreign workers were injured on Saturday when a mortar fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. Three mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Two of the mortars landed in open territory but one struck a populated area in a kibbutz near the border fence, wounding three foreign workers and damaging property. One of the foreign workers was in moderate-serious condition from shrapnel injuries to his chest.

A second foreign worker was moderately wounded by shrapnel in his leg and a third was lightly wounded in the incident. “This is, of course, a very serious incident, one of the most severe we have had recently, it represents an escalation that appears to have reached a new height,” said Alon Shuster, head of the local municipal authority. The wounded men were transported to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva for medical treatment. Militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. The wounded men men were the first in Israel to be hurt by rockets and mortars fired from Gaza since December when a teenage girl was cut by flying glass after a rocket landed near a kindergarten in the Ashkelon area. Saturday’s incident occurred less than 24 hours after an Israel Defense Forces soldier was killed and four IDF troops were wounded in a friendly fire incident on the Gaza border as the soldiers engaged a group of armed militants who were apparently approaching the border to lay explosives. Violence has escalated in recent weeks along the border, though both Israel and Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers say they are working to avoid a full-on confrontation.

Role of Israeli firms raises boycott concerns about Rawabi: The Electronic Intifada

Ali Abunimah, 30 December 2010

Bashar Masri shows US Consul General in Jerusalem Daniel Rubinstein (left) and USTDA Director Leocadia Zak (second from left) around the site of the planned Rawabi real estate development near Ramallah, March 2010. (Haytham Othman/MaanImages)

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) in Palestine, has expressed its concern following reports that Israeli companies have been contracted to take part in the construction of Rawabi, an already controversial Qatari-financed Palestinian real estate development in the occupied West Bank. Rawabi (www.rawabi.ps) is touted by developers as the “first planned Palestinian city.” It has the political backing of the Western-supported Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA), and international sponsors of the “peace process” including the United States government and former UK prime minister and current envoy of the “Quartet,” Tony Blair. The Quartet is comprised of the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN Secretary General. The BNC, the coordinating body for the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign said in a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada that, “Given that the Rawabi project has taken several deeply problematic decisions that undermine the boycott campaign and principles of national consensus among Palestinians, as well as promotes a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to Israel, this latest report requires close scrutiny by Palestinian political parties, unions, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and civil society at large.” The BNC conceded that the use of Israeli firms by Palestinians can be permitted, when there is no other option, but boycott compliance would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

However, the BNC added that the “involvement of a Qatari business in a Palestinian project where Israeli companies are also involved is certainly a form of normalization” which “uses the Palestinian side as a bridge to normalize, or a fig leaf to cover up, collusion with Israeli companies almost all of which are complicit in Israel’s occupation, apartheid and denial of fundamental Palestinian rights.” Qatari Diar (www.qataridiar.com), a major real estate development company in the Middle East and Europe, is the only international investor in Rawabi. The BNC strictly opposes normalization between Israel and Arab countries. Bashar Masri, CEO of the Ramallah-based Bayti Real Estate Investment company, the developer of Rawabi and its other major investor, confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that so far a dozen Israeli companies are suppliers to the project. Masri wrote that the reliance on Israeli firms was necessitated by crippling restrictions the occupation has imposed on Palestinian economic activity in the West Bank.

The Palestinian construction industry, he said, relies on Israel for vital supplies including cement, sand, water supply and electricity. “It is true that we are already buying products from about 12 Israeli suppliers in addition to the more than 60 Palestinian suppliers,” Masri stated, “As for the actual construction it is all done exclusively by Palestinian contractors and Palestinian human resources.” Masri also confirmed that he had discussed the use of Israeli firms with Qatari Diar and “they understand that there are no [other] options whatsoever.” Usama Kahil, the deputy head of the Palestinian Contractors Federation, speaking to Ma’an news agency, contested the claim that Palestinian contractors could not meet the needs of large projects like Rawabi and insisted that all Palestinian and Arab options be exhausted before Israeli firms were invited to become suppliers. A contract condition that Masri’s company imposes on all suppliers, including the Israeli ones, is that they refrain from sourcing any goods or services from Israeli settlements in territories occupied by Israel during the June 1967 war, including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. This stipulation has prompted uproar from Israeli settler groups.

For its part, the BNC said it could only assess whether particular contracts violated the boycott by examining details of each Israeli firm, whose names Masri’s company has not released. “Dealing with some indispensable Israeli companies is something Palestinian businesses are compelled to do given the conditions of siege and the fact that the captive Palestinian economy has been so thoroughly made reliant on Israel through decades of occupation,” the BNC stated. But, it added, “There is a twisted logic in some Palestinian business quarters that rationalizes working with Israeli companies, even when there are Palestinian or international alternatives, as a means to assure easier issuance of Israeli military permits, necessary for conducting any form of business.” While such quid pro quos could help remove obstacles in the short run, the BNC warned, “the ultimate result is perpetuating Israel’s occupation and economic subjugation of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian economy.” A year ago many Palestinians were stunned to learn that Rawabi had accepted a donation of thousands of tree saplings from Israel’s quasi-official Jewish National Fund (JNF), the body charged with managing lands throughout historic Palestine seized from Palestinians, and which under decades-long JNF practice are reserved exclusively for the use of Jews. The JNF has long used “green” tree-planting initiatives as a strategy to cover up traces of Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed by Israel or as an active means to dispossess Palestinians, as it is doing today to Bedouins in the Negev.

Building Rawabi, building an “investor-friendly” Palestine

Masri is passionate about Rawabi and presents it as a necessary project in the development of Palestine, especially to address urgent housing needs. Nor does he see it as contradicting efforts to end the “miserable occupation.” But in addition to being a private, for-profit venture, there is an unmistakable political dimension, which the latest revelations of Israeli involvement only underscore. Writing for The Electronic Intifada last February, Ziyaad Lunat placed Rawabi in the context of the “economic peace” promoted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and unelected PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Lunat described how, “A consensus has developed among the political elite, and even among Arab states, that improving Palestinians’ quality of life, even if under military occupation, is the long sought solution for Palestinian misfortunes” (“The Netanyahu-Fayyad ‘economic peace’ one year on,” 10 February 2010). With a lot of fanfare and foreign support, Salam Fayyad launched a much-publicized “institution-building” initiative to lay the ground for a Palestinian state. With little tangible to show for it, Fayyad and his backers have enthusiastically adopted Rawabi as the symbol of the business-friendly state they want to create. The developers embrace that vision as well, as the Rawabi newsletter put it: “The city will also promote and support the transformation of Palestine into a more investor-friendly region by building on the assets of the first Palestinian planned city” (Rawabi Newsletter, winter 2010 [PDF]). The international support for Rawabi is also part of the Quartet’s “West Bank First” policy. While Gaza is subjected to a punishing Israeli siege with international complicity, aid and attention have been lavished on the West Bank in an attempt to shore up support for the Palestinian Authority (Masri says his company also had plans for a housing project in Gaza, but it has been impossible to implement them).

Asked whether he saw Rawabi as part of Fayyad’s effort, Masri pointed out that planning for Rawabi began in 2007, while Fayyad announced his “state-building” initiative much later. “Rawabi seems to fit well, but that is a coincidence,” Masri observed. Rawabi’s promotional materials make much of endorsements by Fayyad and the Ramallah Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. The United States Trade and Development Agency (USDTA) has carried out several feasibility studies in support of Rawabi, through US contractors. In addition, Tony Blair has lobbied the Israelis (so far unsuccessfully) for the developers to be allowed to build an access road across occupied West Bank land in “Area C” (the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli occupation with no role for the PA) and has promoted the project in public comments. Unaffordable “affordable” housing? Rawabi will provide 5,000 “affordable” housing units for an initial 25,000 people, expanding in later phases to house 40,000, according to the company newsletter: “Unlike any other in Palestine, Rawabi will be characterized as a modern, high-tech city with gleaming high-rise buildings, green parks and shopping areas.”

Located 6 kms from Ramallah, “Rawabi is sure to become a future social hub for young professionals and families, offering a higher quality shopping experience, entertainment facilities and serving as an overall social and business networking destination in the West Bank.” This vision differs little from that offered by new developments sponsored by Qatari Diar and other developers that are sprouting up all over the Arab world. Rawabi’s website and promotional materials are full of endorsements from international officials, but say little about whether the vision is one that any Palestinian communities have been invited to help shape. Masri insists that Rawabi meets an urgent need: “The housing shortage is so bad for middle income and of course for low income” and he says that thousands of people have expressed an interest, through the company’s website, in buying units. While final prices have not been set, Masri estimates based on current projections that units would sell for $60,000 to $100,000 dollars which would translate into a mortgage payment of $450 to $750 per month. Such costs would currently only be within reach of a small elite in the economically-depressed occupied West Bank where, according to a World Bank report in September, annual per capita gross domestic product hovers below $2,000, and virtually all recorded economic growth is a result of direct foreign subsidies to the bloated PA bureaucracy, or to the income of Palestinians working in illegal Israeli settlements. Masri adds that his company will announce “plans in the future for limited income housing but this is for a later stage.”

If projects like Rawabi are to yield profits any time soon without relying solely on marketing to the well-to-do elite, they will depend on convincing Palestinians to go into massive amounts of mortgage debt, as happened before the real-estate bubble burst in 2008 in the United States and other hard-hit countries including Ireland. As Lunat observed, Rawabi “is Fayyad’s flagship project. The Washington Post reported that Rawabi ‘is specifically designed for upwardly mobile families of a sort that in the United States might gravitate to places such as Reston, VA. The developments are also relying on another American import, the home mortgage, including creation of a Fannie Mae-style institution for the West Bank.’ USAID, a branch of the American government, is funneling funds through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the promotion of a mortgage culture in Palestine to support these initiatives from bottom-up.” Masri conceded that the “more expensive” apartments in Rawabi would be attractive to Palestinians from the diaspora who (presuming they have foreign passports on which Israel might allow them to enter the occupied territories) they could use when visiting. In addition to concerns about possible boycott violations and normalization with Israel, the Rawabi model raises deeper questions for all Palestinians.

Even if Masri has the best of intentions, Rawabi represents an entirely top-down, profit-driven approach to the development of Palestine where the “vision” created by financiers, marketers, international investors and “peace process” officials is substituted for the aspirations of the broader community. Palestinian nationalism is transformed into a zeal for real-estate deals and the establishment of gated communities rather than a focus on liberating human beings and giving them the chance to decide for themselves how they want to live and what they want their communities to look like. It is a model of development that can be seen spreading across the region from Morocco to Beirut to Amman’s Abdali quarter where first-class housing and private facilities are created for those who can afford them. Meanwhile public infrastructure and the needs of the vast majority of disenfranchised people are an afterthought at best. Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).

Gaza on the edge of no return: New Statesman

Amira Hass – an Israeli journalist who lived there for three years – reports on the unbearable tension of life inside the strip

A Palestinian boy inspects the damage after an Israeli air strike overnight in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on December 08, 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

“Get away from the window, you’re crazy!” screamed Kauthar. She was terrified to find her daughter standing on the couch by the window, observing the street from the seventh floor. The window had bars. She was afraid not that the girl might fall, but that she would be struck by fire from a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). A next-door neighbour had been killed that way only a day or two earlier: a missile hit him as he was talking on his phone on the balcony. That was on one of the first days of the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which began on 27 December 2008. People very quickly learned the hard way that their daily activities could tempt death: standing by a window, trying to find a spot that still had a shred of mobile-phone reception so you could tell your worried father in the Rafah refugee camp that everything was all right, riding a motorbike, going up to the roof to take the washing off the line or feed the pigeons, paying a condolence visit, baking bread in the backyard oven, taking water to the goats. Journalists’ notebooks and reports from human rights organisations overflow with testimonies from ordinary civilians, people who lost loved ones or who were wounded under these non-combat circumstances.

Information spread in real time, even though many houses had no electricity and people were unable to learn from the media how entire families were being wiped out. This was a hallmark of Israel’s wintertime assault: the sheer number of families that had to bury most of their members, including babies, after their homes were hit by yet another bomb lauded by the Israelis for its precision. “Although it was not my usual custom, I made a point of kissing my children every night,” one young father from Gaza City told me. “I never knew which of us would still be alive the next day, and I wanted to say goodbye properly.” Samouni, Daya, Ba’alusha, Sultan, A’bsi, Abu Halima, Barbakh, Najjar, Shurrab, Abu A’isheh, Ryan, Azzam, Jbara, Astel, Haddad, Qur’an, ‘Alul, Deeb. These are all families in which grandfathers, parents and their children were killed; or one parent and a number of children, or cousins, or older siblings, or just the small children. And that is without even mentioning the wounded – or the emotional wounds suffered by everyone, which time does not heal. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the casualties were hit by computer-guided missiles or shells, operated by anonymous weapon launchers who watched their targets on a computer screen as if they were playing a video game. “The sky was black with drones circling like flocks of birds,” one man told me with a note of self-aware Gazan hyperbole.

But an Israel Defence Forces officer on reserve duty who took part in the assault confirmed his impression: “It was a total UAV war. The [UAV] unit worked harder than any others.” I met the IDF officer through Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation that collects testimonies about the army’s policies in the occupied territories from soldiers beginning to detect moral dissonance. In Gaza slang, the drone is referred to as zanana. “There are three kinds of zan­ana,” a low-ranking Hamas official told me shortly after the end of the 2008-2009 offensive. “One watches over us and photographs every move, every person; the second fires missiles at us . . .” He paused, then added with typical Gazan drollness: “And the third kind? Its whole purpose is to annoy us, to drive us crazy.” And he expertly mimicked the humming sound made by the latest word in postmodern warfare. The zanana isn’t always heard or seen but you know it’s there because of the disruptions to television broadcasts. It has been a central component in the process of turning Gaza into a vast panopticon, a detention camp under constant supervision and increasingly invisible control. Every move is photographed, documented and transferred on to computer screens in control rooms populated by young Israeli men and women who, with a few keyboard strokes, turn the zanana from voyeuristic, annoying objects into the lethal kind. The footage is backed up by old-fashioned verbal information gathered by various mechanisms of the occupation, primarily the Israeli Civil Administration and the Shin Bet, which are responsible for every civilian document (identity cards, travel permits, promissory notes for goods) and are assisted by a network of collaborators.

In the days leading up to the offensive, people noticed more persistent humming. They grew more anxious – and rightly so. Now every increase in the sound reawakens fears of another all-out attack. It’s been two years, and even a thunderstorm or a slammed door can stir up the sense of dread inside Gaza. Under Operation Cast Lead, no one was safe anywhere – at home, on the street, in UN facilities, in the fields, at work, at the American school, or in public shelters opened by the UN for people fleeing their homes. In the past there had been isolated areas attacked by the Israeli military, where everyone felt that they were targets for a few hours or days, but during Cast Lead the entire Gaza Strip was simultaneously under attack from air, sea and land for three weeks without pause. Gazans had nowhere to flee (unlike the residents of Lebanon, for instance, who had previously become acquainted with the all-embracing thoroughness of Israeli assaults). This is another component of the “heritage” Gazans have borne for these past two years: a feeling of total exposure to mortal danger and lack of any protection. If there had been any illusions that Israel would not cross certain red lines, it was because, in the not-so-distant past, the Israeli military had been positioned amid the Palestinians, and because most of the older people knew Israelis and even spoke Hebrew. This intimacy was considered a means of preventing arbitrary killings. However, dozens of cases in which soldiers killed civilians at short range, and not just in a “video game”, proved that geographical proximity is no safety net.

Mohammed Shurrab, 65, a resident of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, took advantage of the brief respite that the army declared each day to drive with two of his sons to their plot of land. On the afternoon of Friday 16 January (two days before the end of the offensive), they were driving home through an eastern neighbourhood whose residents had all fled two weeks earlier. Israeli soldiers who had set up a base in an abandoned house some 20 or 30 yards away fired at the car. There was no battle going on at the time. The three men were wounded, the father sustaining only injuries to his arm. He called for help. The nearest hospital was just a minute or two away, but the soldiers would not allow the ambulance to approach. The Red Cross, the Red Crescent, Doctors for Human Rights (based in Tel Aviv), a third son who lives in the US, and later myself, all tried to reach someone who might persuade the commanders to relent. But it was in vain. The hours crawled by, and the sons bled to death in their father’s arms. Shortly before midnight, 27-year-old Kassab died. Late on Saturday morning, 17-year-old Ibrahim died. (An IDF spokesperson wrote to me in response: “As a rule, during the ceasefire the IDF responded with fire only when rockets were launched at Israel or shots fired at the IDF. We are unable to investigate every incident and confirm or deny all information. Ambulances were able to enter only after operational conditions made it possible. The injured [sic] parties were evacuated by the Palestinian ministry of health to a hospital in Rafah.”) This was not an unusual case of short-range cruelty and bold-faced lies to the media; even so, the number of Palestinians (both civilians and combatants) killed at short range during the 2008-2009 assault is negligible compared to the number killed by various “video-game” methods, far away from those who gave the order to shoot and those who pulled the trigger: fewer than 100 by the former method, compared to some 1,300 by the latter. These figures are based on inquiries I made with the Palestinian human rights organisation al-Mezan.

This particular case of short-range brutality reflects the commander’s spirit and the spirit of the assault. An old acquaintance, Salah al-Ghoul, thought that he would be protected by a different kind of closeness. The son of an impoverished family of refugees, he became a wealthy merchant and built a large house on the north-western border with Israel. He is well known by the Israeli authorities because of his requests for travel and trade permits. They know full well that he is a political opponent of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He speaks fluent Hebrew. During brief routine military incursions into the Gaza Strip, when tanks rolled past his house, he would keep on roasting corn out in his yard. On 3 January 2009, on the eve of the ground raid, an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on al-Ghoul’s dream home, completely destroying it. His son, who was studying for his matriculation exams, and his cousin, a lawyer who was making coffee at the time, were both killed.

An IDF spokesperson responded in writing to my query: “The target in question was identified as a Hamas observation point, directing attacks against IDF forces . . .” This is an absolute lie, like so many other lies fed by the IDF to the Israeli public. Still, the lie holds a kernel of truth: for several years, Hamas and other armed Palestinian organisations chose to fire on Israeli communities along the Gaza border using home-made rockets (“Qassams”) or primitive missiles. Their main operational “success” was in managing to terrify many Israelis. In 2003, I asked two commanders of Hamas’s Qassam unit what good the rocket firing did when Israel retaliated with such force against the civilian Palestinian population. They answered candidly: “We want mothers and children in Israel to feel the same fear our mothers and children feel.”

During the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, the use of weapons – ineffective and counterproductive as it might have been in the fight against the occupation – served the Palestinian organisations in their internal competition for hegemony and popularity. As part of its propaganda efforts, Israel exaggerated, and still does, the extent of the threat posed by the rockets. But the Israeli overstatements also helped Hamas’s own propaganda, allowing it to represent itself as the only organisation able to weaken Israel – on the way to ultimate defeat. This permanent promise of future victory is also what gives Hamas the prerogative to halt or greatly reduce the mortar shelling, at the same time as quelling public debate over the logic of its strategy. In this respect, the cruelty of Israel’s total attack achieved its objective.

But did Israel fail at another aim, namely, to topple the Hamas reg ime? Opinions are divided as to whether this was an objective. Social and mental severance between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been, since the early 1990s, a cornerstone of Israel’s undeclared policy. Precisely because all Gazans – including Hamas’s opponents – felt that they had become targets in Israel’s range of fire, they could not use the offensive as a reason to disclaim the Hamas regime, even as it continued to refine its methods of oppression.

The more ensconced Hamas rule becomes in the Gaza Strip, and the dimmer the chances of healing the political rift with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the more this severance becomes a reality from which there is no return. “In Israel they were living in a virtual reality, believing there was an actual war going on in Gaza,” said some of the soldiers who took part in the offensive, whom I met through Breaking the Silence. They very quickly discovered that, contrary to what they had been told by their commanders, Hamas was not waging an intense or determined war against them. A Palestinian security man told me there had been a conscious decision in Hamas not to sacrifice its finest combatants in such a lopsided war. The organisation was well aware that it could not deliver the goods it had promised the Palestinian public for two years – that is, “surprises in warfare”. Still, immediately the offensive ended, Hamas declared victory. “In 1967 Israel subdued all the Arab armies in six days, but it could not conquer the Gaza Strip from us even after three weeks,” its spokespeople said. But people in Gaza preferred to quote an old man who courageously proclaimed on television: “One more victory like this and all of Gaza will be wiped out.” An officer who broke the silence told me that he felt as though he had taken part in a military exercise using live fire, whose aim was to improve and upgrade operational commu nications between Israeli ground forces and the Israeli air force. As more preparation for wars to come, perhaps? Amira Hass is a correspondent for Haaretz.

This report, written exclusively for the New Statesman, was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen Gaza Timeline August 2004 Ariel Sharon moves to withdraw Israeli forces and citizens from Gaza Strip, as declared in December 2003 September 2005 Last Israeli soldiers leave Gaza; settlers are forcibly removed January 2006 Hamas wins a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections June 2006 Israel invades Gaza in attempt to rescue Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped soldier December 2006 Fighting begins between the governing Hamas and Fatah parties June 2007 Hamas seizes complete control of Gaza following struggle with Fatah. Naval blockade of Gaza begins, leaving the territory cut off by land, sea and air December 2008 Israel launches a three-week offensive to stop persistent rocket attacks. Between 1,100 and 1,400 Gazans are killed, with 13 Israeli losses May 2010 An international flotilla tries to break the naval blockade. Israeli forces board one ship from Turkey, killing nine people June 2010 Israel announces that it is easing the Gaza blockade

When did it become illegal to be a Leftist in Israel?: Haaretz

The police, the legal system, the Knesset, the Shin Bet, and the IDF have joined forces with the propagandists of the right to act as prosecutors without a trial. By Gideon Levy It’s high time a legal ban on the Israeli left be instituted. Why do we continue beating around the bush? Why do we need such a taxing, exhaustive legislative process in enacting law after law? What’s the use of all these various proposals and amendments? In lieu of all the aforementioned, let’s just do one very simple thing: declare the left an illegal entity in the State of Israel. From then on, whoever thinks left, acts left, demonstrates left or tolerates left will belong in jail. Let’s build another “holding facility” for foreigners, but this time for the foreigners from within – the leftists – thus purging and purifying our camp. Such a step would accurately reflect the zeitgeist that has taken hold among the majority of Israelis, and allow them to sketch a genuine portrait of Israeli democracy.

In the Israel of 2011, it’s no longer legitimate to belong to the left. It’s illegitimate to campaign for human rights or to oppose the occupation or to investigate war crimes. Such actions earn Israelis a mark of shame. A land-stealing settler is a Zionist; a warmongering right-winger is a patriot; an inciting rabbi is a spiritual leader; a racist who expels foreigners is a loyal citizen. Only the leftist is a traitor. The nationalist loves Israel, while the leftist despises it. One doesn’t have to apologize for anything, while the other must disprove rumor and speculation. In the Israel of 2011, we can no longer speak of the sentiments expressed by the vendors of the open-air markets and bazaars. Now, a majority of government agencies and legal entities are taking part in this dangerous bonanza of delegitimization.

The Knesset has resolved to create a parliamentary committee of inquiry to look into the activities of left-wing groups “and their contribution to the delegitimization campaign against Israel.” Such a panel would make even Senator Joseph McCarthy blush. Nuri el-Okbi, a Bedouin citizen and rights activist, was sent to prison for operating an unlicensed business by Judge Zecharia Yeminy, who wasn’t embarrassed to admit that he upped el-Okbi’s punishment solely due to the fact that he’d acted on behalf of the rights of the scattered Bedouin population. Jonathan Pollak, a member of “Anarchists Against the Wall” and an anti-occupation activist that any healthy society would be proud of, was sent to jail for riding his bicycle on the road. Mossi Raz, a former Knesset member who was innocently standing on the sidewalk during a protest against the killing of a Palestinian activist in Bil’in, was beaten by a police officer, handcuffed and arrested.

Peace activists are questioned by the Shin Bet security service and warned ahead of time against committing any violations. A physicians’ group is “on the extreme left,” a social foundation “despises Israel,” dedicated women who monitor checkpoints are “traitors” and an information center is considered “an accomplice to terrorism.” Settlers who hurl trash at Israeli soldiers and their friends who set fire to Palestinian fields are not placed on trial, and yet Pollak is sent to jail. Soldiers who killed Palestinians carrying white flags have yet to be punished, but those who revealed such incidents are denounced. All of this is compounded by a plethora of bills – from the loyalty oath to the Nakba law. Everything blends together to form one horrifying picture: The left is an enemy of the people and an enemy of the state. While all of this transpires, the real damage to Israel’s image and its international standing is being caused by its obstructionist policy and the government’s efforts to further solidify the occupation. It is caused by the violent activities of the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers, along with the racist actions of Israel’s legislators and rabbis. One day’s worth of Operation Cast Lead did more to putrefy Israel’s stench than all of the critical reports combined.

One torched mosque did more to drag Israel’s name in the mud than all of the columns and editorials criticizing Israel combined. Yet nobody is demanding that any of these incidents be investigated. Very few people, if anyone, have been put on trial for such actions. What remains of the left, the only group who continues to preserve Israel’s moral standing? The lone few keeping the flickering flame of humanity burning are accused, convicted and punished while the true guilty parties are cleared of all charges. The police, the legal system, the Knesset, the Shin Bet, and the IDF have joined forces with the propagandists of the right to act as prosecutors without a trial, while the left is deprived of a defense attorney. One single law could simplify matters: Let every Israeli know that it is forbidden. It’s forbidden to believe in a just Israel, forbidden to fight against any of its injustices, forbidden to struggle for its soul. Still, a bit of doubt manages to creep into the heart. Do all of those waging a fight against the left – from the heads of the Shin Bet and the police, to the judges and the right-wing lawmakers – really want a “democracy” without the left?

‘Dangerous’ political websites blocked from viewing at Israel’s airport: Haaretz

Barred sites include leftist organizations Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch, Peace Now and Taayush and the rightist Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and World Headquarters to Save the People and Land of Israel. Internet sites of political organizations, both left-wing and right-wing, have been barred from viewing at Ben-Gurion Airport, Haaretz has learned. They are blocked by an information filtering company that classifies them as “dangerous.” Passengers stranded Tuesday at Ben-Gurion Airport. A heavy blanket of fog shut down Israel’s lone major air hub for eight hours. Photo by: David Bachar Barred sites include leftist organizations Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch, Peace Now and Taayush and the rightist Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and World Headquarters to Save the People and Land of Israel. Sites operated by parties and other groups with political affiliations were easily accessed. The Airport Authority provides wireless Internet services to passengers at Ben-Gurion International Airport through the 012 Internet provider. Asked whether any site could be accessed from the terminal, an 012 official admitted that some sites may have been blocked. The “error” notice appearing on the political groups’ sites directs surfers to the Fortinet information protection company’s web-filtering system. Netanel Davidi, CEO of the Altal information security company, said the filtering system “can trace sites with offensive content and block access to them, after users worldwide mark and categorize them. The system also blacklists hostile sites and prevents access to them.” “The general instructions to 012 is to allow free surfing to all except bandwidth-heavy sites that stream video, music and the like. This is to enable most passengers to surf uninterruptedly. Porn and gambling sites have also been blocked, as is customary,” IAA said. It added that 012 is using a technological filtering device that “categorizes controversial sites.” The IAA said it would examine the goings on and make changes if necessary. 012 refused to comment due to customer confidentiality. “The IAA is responsible for what takes place within its boundaries and cannot shift responsibility onto some provider,” said Breaking the Silence director Dana Golan. “This is an extremely absurd and stupid policy, because whoever wants to block Internet access to people at an airport will ultimately have to consider preventing them from traveling abroad,” Golan added. Peace Now secretary general Yariv Oppenheimer said “it’s regrettable that people leaving Israel should be made to feel as though they were leaving China or North Korea. Only backward countries bar Internet sites expressing political opinions.”

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