A Month in Palestine

Tom Blanx
By Tom Blanx

This May, I travelled to the West Bank in occupied Palestine.

I had a fairly good idea of the kind of things I would see when I went, but wanted to take a closer look at what I think is an unfair and asymmetrical situation. I don’t stand against Jews or Israelis. I stand against racism, violence, oppression and ignorance, and all of those things, I think, are here.

During my time in the West Bank, I lived and worked with a Palestinian farmer who runs a Permaculture Project in a small village called Marda. I wanted to see for myself what life was like for Palestinians living under occupation and how Permaculture could help.

Knowledge is everything and with that in mind I’m sharing everything I saw, heard, thought and felt in the time I was there.

Below are excerpts from Tom Blanx’s blog. Read the full blog here.

Getting in

For those who haven’t been, Israel’s not the easiest of places to get in and out of. And if you plan on checking out the occupied territories you’ll need to be a bit creative with the truth. Despite my polite passport note from the queen, I decided not to reveal how freely I would be passing while on my travels as it would have most likely landed me straight back on British soil. This had happened to previous volunteers so the NGO I had organised the trip with had suggested that I lie.

With the help of Murad, my Palestinian friend and his friend, an Israeli who will remain anonymous, I pretended I was traveling to help and learn on a farm in the south. I probably could have said I was there for a beach holiday or Christian visit too, but a bag full of work boots and full length clothing might have been a giveaway. Murad told me to just remain calm and answer all questions confidently but it was a nerve racking and intimidating experience. Much more than I remember it being when I was 18 coming here. In the end I think I got in through by inadvertently playing dumb.

Getting into the West Bank was more straight forward. I got on a bus from Tel Aviv bus station all the way to Ari’el (An illegal settlement, next to Marda). There are no stops or checkpoints for settlers (on the way in) so all I had to do was get off before the bus turned into the settlement where Murad was waiting for me and I was in. A better understanding of his instructions, some Hebrew and useful geographical knowledge and I probably wouldn’t have ended up bang in the middle of the Ari’el in the isolating situation of looking for a Palestinian village. I haphazardly navigated my way out of on foot and was an hour late – not the look I was going for, but I guess he was going to find out what I’m about sooner or later.

Marda

Marda is in the Salfit district which is biggest producer of olive oil in Palestine. The village is effectively a ghetto, with reinforced steel gates at each end for when the army want to shut it down and a high metal fence and barbed wire around it, although some of these had been damaged and removed. There used to be resistance here, but like in lots of the rest of Palestine, occupation has become normalized. These days the village is quiet and peaceful. People work and children go to school, cats wonder around the place looking for food and donkeys everywhere sound like they’re dying. The village sits directly under the hilltop Ari’el settlement, the 4th biggest in the West Bank. Murad said he used to play there with his friends when he was young before Zionists confiscated and destroyed 9000 dunams of it, in the late 70s to build luxury homes, streets and a university for Israelis and Jewish immigrants. The juxtaposition of the two towns, is a powerful thing to see and its something that you can’t help but see, every day.

As I arrived in Marda another volunteer was leaving. Her name was Judy, a 60 year old American woman from Australia travelling by herself. I wouldn’t normally mention someones age or circumstances but I think its significant as many people think the West Bank is too dangerous to travel to and that women could be more vulnerable here. Neither are true. It was her 5th visit to Marda so I wanted to get as much information out of her as I could in the 30 minutes she had left. She gave me the dos and donts about living in Marda, how to be with Murad and told me to explore as much as I could of Palestine “You can’t charaterise Palestine on what you see in just Marda as much as you can’t charaterise the US on what you see in Miami”

Murad

Straight away I felt at ease with Murad. From our first Skype conversation, to meeting him an hour late getting lost, I felt welcome and at home. Chilled and pragmatic, straight talking and funny are the best words I can think of to describe him. Everywhere we went there was banter. Banter with friends, banter with strangers. Sometimes he sounds like he is angry when he’s talking in arabic but then he laughs and I know he’s not. Judy said his bark is worse than his bite and I now know what she means. “C’mon man!… what you doing man?!”… “Why you sayin sorry all the time man” still echo round my head.

Murads family have lived in Marda for generations spanning centuries. His wider family numbers in the 100s. His immediate family is his his wife, Ghada, daughters Sara, Halla and Tooleen, his youngest – son Khalid, his Mother, Twin brother, older brother, three sisters and their families.. I think I can count the number of people in my family with my fingers!

The old house he grew up in has itself been in the family for 300 years. His Mother and twin, Hazim live there now and on my first night, he took me to meet them. We ate dinner, looked at our phones (Theres no escaping it!!!) and then I helped Murad download a Lionel Richie “hello” ringtone he wanted for when Ghada called him. I asked him what other music he liked and he said “none”. “But you like Lionel Richie though?” No. just that song.” Then I reconfigured his answer and decline buttons so he could, in his words, hang up in peoples face.

When violence broke out in the second intifada (literally translated as uprising), Murad decided to leave Palestine. With his Palestinian passport, he traveled to America and spent time working in Chicago and Tennessee. In 2006, he returned to inherit his Father’s land and with some basic knowledge of permaculture from a previous project, he started Marda Permaculture farm.

The Permaculture farm (more…)

Hillary Clinton Pledges to Defend Israeli Apartheid & Fight BDS Movement in Letter to Mega-Donor

Hillary Clinton - June Campaign Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent a letter to media mogul Haim Saban, a mega-donor, assuring him that she would make countering the global Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel a priority. She invoked a recent terrorist attack against Jews in Paris to condemn BDS and specifically sought Saban’s advice on how to fight back.

“I am writing to express my alarm over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or ‘BDS,’ a global effort to isolate the State of Israel by ending commercial and academic exchanges,” Clinton wrote [PDF]. “I am seeking your advice on how we can work together—across party lines and with a diverse array of voices—to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

Clinton expressed serious concern over comparisons between Israel and South African apartheid.

“Israel is a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it faces existential threats to its survival,” Clinton asserted. “Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world—especially in Europe—we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. After all, it was only six months ago that four Jews were targeted and killed in a Kosher supermarket in Paris as they did their Sabbath shopping.”

The invoking of a terrorist attack against Jews in Paris is a nasty attempt to cast the growing nonviolent BDS movement as anti-Semitic. In fact, to read Clinton’s letter in its entirety, one has to believe Israel is engaged in no acts of occupation or oppression against the Palestinians and a movement is mobilizing out of hatred or baseless assumptions about Israel.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times published in May 2014, Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, explained that apartheid is not merely used to inflame tensions. It very specifically has legal meaning, as outlined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. (Note: The UN General Assembly adopted the convention in 1973 and most UN member states except for Israel and the United States have ratified the convention.)

From Makdisi’s column:

According to Article II of that convention, the term applies to acts “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Denying those others the right to life and liberty, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, expropriating their property, depriving them of the right to leave and return to their country or the right to freedom of movement and of residence, creating separate reserves and ghettos for the members of different racial groups, preventing mixed marriages — these are all examples of the crime of apartheid specifically mentioned in the convention.

Israel engages in all of these actions against Palestinians. In fact, as Gil Maguire has shown, Israel “created an apartheid system and became an apartheid state at the end of the 1967 war.”

One of Clinton’s arguments in her letter is that BDS seeks to “punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict.” She indicates she supports a two-state solution and that can only be achieved through “direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians—it cannot be imposed from the outside or by unilateral actions.”

If anything, it is Israel which seeks to unilaterally impose a resolution and that resolution is protect and even expand apartheid.

Former President Bill Clinton shared in 2011 the reason why the “peace process” failed. According to Foreign Policy, Clinton claimed it was because of the reluctance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration to “accept the terms of the Camp David deal” and a “demographic shift in Israel” that made the Israeli public “less amenable to peace.” (more…)

Still Waiting for USS Liberty’s Truth

During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli warplanes and warships tried to sink the USS Liberty, killing 34 of the spy ship’s crew. Afterwards, U.S. and Israeli officials excused the attack as an unfortunate mistake and covered up evidence of willful murder.

By Ray McGovern

Israel’s chokehold over U.S. politics and politicians has been so powerful for so many decades that this obvious reality is routinely denied, a collective gagging of the truth that is itself a measure of how strong the Israeli grip is.

The most potent and poignant example of how much American independence has been surrendered to Israel when it comes to events in the Middle East may be the contortions of cover-up that followed Israel’s attempt to sink the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War in 1967, killing 34 American seamen.

The desire of virtually the entire U.S. political and media establishments was for this unpleasant incident to go away. No one, it seemed, wanted to hold Israel to account or to challenge its lame excuses about an inadvertent mistake. One of the few who eventually did was Navy Admiral and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Thomas Moorer, who helped lead an independent, blue-ribbon commission to investigate what happened to the Liberty.

Those finding were released on Oct. 22, 2003. The introduction and first four findings stated:

“We, the undersigned, having undertaken an independent investigation of Israel’s attack on USS Liberty, including eyewitness testimony from surviving crewmembers, a review of naval and other official records, an examination of official statements by the Israeli and American governments, a study of the conclusions of all previous official inquiries, and a consideration of important new evidence and recent statements from individuals having direct knowledge of the attack or the cover up, hereby find the following:

“1. That on June 8, 1967, after eight hours of aerial surveillance, Israel launched a two-hour air and naval attack against USS Liberty, the world’s most sophisticated intelligence ship, inflicting 34 dead and 173 wounded American servicemen (a casualty rate of seventy percent, in a crew of 294);

“2. That the Israeli air attack lasted approximately 25 minutes, during which time unmarked Israeli aircraft dropped napalm canisters on USS Liberty’s bridge, and fired 30mm cannons and rockets into our ship, causing 821 holes, more than 100 of which were rocket-size; survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking Israeli planes which were jamming all five American emergency radio channels;

“3. That the torpedo boat attack involved not only the firing of torpedoes, but the machine-gunning of Liberty’s firefighters and stretcher-bearers as they struggled to save their ship and crew; the Israeli torpedo boats later returned to machine-gun at close range three of the Liberty’s life rafts that had been lowered into the water by survivors to rescue the most seriously wounded;

“4. That there is compelling evidence that Israel’s attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew; evidence of such intent is supported by statements from Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Undersecretary of State George Ball, former CIA director Richard Helms, former NSA directors Lieutenant General William Odom, USA (Ret.), Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, USN (Ret.), and Marshal Carter; former NSA deputy directors Oliver Kirby and Major General John Morrison, USAF (Ret.); and former Ambassador Dwight Porter, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon in 1967;”

[The signers included Adm. Moorer; General Raymond G. Davis; former Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps; Rear Admiral Merlin Staring, United States Navy (Ret.), former Judge Advocate General Of The Navy; and Ambassador James Akins (Ret.) former United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.] (more…)

Israeli Extremists Burn the Church Where Jesus Multiplied Loaves and Fishes

By Celine Hagbard

Early Thursday morning, right-wing Israelis set on fire the Church of the Multiplication, where Christians believe that Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes, and wrote graffiti in Hebrew on the walls that read, “False idols will be smashed” and “Pagans”.

The fire was set at about 3 am in the early hours of Thursday morning, severely damaging church offices and storage rooms. The entire church was saturated with smoke damage.

In addition, Hebrew graffiti was spraypainted all over the front entrance to the church reading “Pagans” in red paint.

The Church of the Multiplication is believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’s miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people.

Several church volunteers suffered from smoke inhalation while trying to extinguish the fire before the firefighters arrived on the scene. The fire was put out several hours after it began.

The church, which is run by the Catholic Benedictine Order, is best known for its fifth-century mosaics, including one depicting two fish flanking a basket of loaves.

Christian churches have been targeted by right-wing Jewish Israeli attacks hundreds of times in recent years.

In May 2014, the Romanian Orthodox Church on Hahoma Hashlishit Street in Jerusalem was defaced in a suspected hate attack. That incident saw the words “price tag”, “Jesus is garbage” and “King David for the Jews” spray-painted on the site’s walls.

Two weeks earlier, ahead of a visit to the country by Pope Francis, suspected Jewish extremists daubed hate graffiti on Vatican-owned offices in Jerusalem.

The Hebrew-language graffiti, reading “Death to Arabs and Christians and those who hate Israel,” was sprayed on the walls of the offices of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame center, a complex just outside the Old City, the Roman Catholic Church said.

Dmitry Diliani, a member of the Fateh revolutionary council, as well as the Secretary-General of the national Christian Assembly in Palestine, issued a statement that the attack on the church represents a practical application of the stances taken by the Israeli government, which funds fanatic groups.

He noted that some of the leaders of those fanatic groups hold political positions in spite of their incitement. By refusing to list those groups as terrorist organizations, Diliani argued, the Israeli Knesset is effectively providing them with legal protection, and is not taking seriously the ongoing, multiple attacks by right-wing Israelis against Christian and Muslim holy sites.

Knesset Member Dr. Basil Khattas was quoted as saying, “Those terrorist groups attack both Christian and Muslim holy sites with impunity. The Israeli government must open a serious investigation into this and other incidents of violence against holy sites.”

Israeli authorities say they are investigating to see if the fire was an accident or was intentional. But Christians who live in the area say that the Israeli police are not taking the investigation seriously – adding that this was obviously an anti-Christian hate crime, given the graffiti that was written on the site of the fire.

No arrests have been made in connection with the arson.

Graffiti on front entrance of church in Tiberias (image by ‘Palestinian Christians’ Facebook group)

UN’s Ban Ki-Moon Caves In, Takes Israel Off List of Serious Child Abusers

By Ali Abunimah

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and taken the Israeli military off an official list of serious violators of children’s rights, in this year’s report on children in armed conflict.

In doing so, Ban rejected an official recommendation from his own Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.

Ban’s act is particularly egregious since the report found that the number of children killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2014, at 557, was the third highest only after Iraq and Afghanistan and ahead of Syria.
“The revelation that Israel’s armed forces were removed from the annex of the annual report by Ban Ki-moon is deplorable,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.

“The annual report and its annex, or children’s ‘list of shame,’ has been a strong evidence-based accountability tool proven to help increase protections for children in armed conflict situations. There is ample evidence on persistent grave violations committed by Israeli forces since at least 2006 that should have triggered listing,” Parker added.

“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Parker said.

The top UN official’s decision will be greeted with relief by the Obama administration, Israel and others concerned with ensuring such Israeli impunity.

Obama pressure

“The draft 2015 report prepared by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended adding Israel and Hamas to the annexed list of parties – the so-called ‘list of shame’ – due to their repeated violations against children,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on 4 June.

Human Rights Watch called on Ban to “list all countries and armed groups that have repeatedly committed these violations, and resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list.”

But that pressure proved irresistible to Ban. Foreign Policy reported last week that the Obama administration had made a concerted effort to pressure him to drop Israel from the list for cynical political reasons.

According to an unnamed UN official quoted by Foreign Policy, the Obama administration was concerned about false accusations that “the White House is anti-Israel,” as the US completes sensitive negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.

False balance

Human Rights Watch supported calls on Ban to list Hamas as well as Israel, but this appears to have been a maneuver to look “balanced” and avoid baseless accusations of anti-Israel bias frequently leveled at the organization.

Sources familiar with the final report have told The Electronic Intifada that Hamas is not on the list either.

But the violations attributed to Palestinian armed groups, including the death of one Israeli child last summer due to a rocket fired from Gaza, can hardly be compared in scope to the systematic mass killings with impunity of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.

Since Hamas and other Palestinian armed resistance groups are already under international sanctions and arms embargoes and listed by various countries as “terrorist organizations,” adding Hamas to the list would have meant little.

It is Israel whose violations continue not only with impunity but with assistance from the predominantly European and North American governments that arm it.

DCI-Palestine documented the killings of at least 547 Palestinian children during last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza.

Human Rights Watch cites as part of Israel’s record the “unlawful killing of children” in the occupied West Bank, including Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both 17, shot dead by snipers on 15 May 2014.

In April, a board of inquiry set up by Ban found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Sabotage

In March, there was an outcry among Palestinian and international human rights advocates when it was revealed that UN officials appeared to be trying to sabotage the evidence-based process that leads to a recommendation of listing, after threats from Israel.

Palestinian organizations called on the mid-level UN officials accused of interfering with the process to resign.

This led to assurances from Special Representative Zerrougui that the decision-making process was still underway and indeed, after gathering all the evidence, Zerrougui did recommend that Israel be listed.

Such a recommendation comes after UN bodies collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.

But despite the months-long nonpolitical and evidence-based process, the final decision was always in Ban’s hands.

Partner in Israel’s crimes

There was much at stake for Israel and indeed for Ban if he had gone with the evidence instead of submitting to political pressure.

“Inclusion of a party on the secretary general’s list triggers increased response from the UN and potential Security Council sanctions, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes,” Human Rights Watch notes.

“For a country or armed group to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that the party has ended the abuses after carrying out an action plan negotiated with the UN.”

Ban has a long history of using his office to ensure that Israel escapes accountability except for the mildest verbal censures that are almost always “balanced” with criticism of those who live under Israeli occupation.

At the height of last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”

Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes. His latest craven decision will only cement that well-earned reputation.

While Israel will celebrate victory in the short-term, the long-term impact will likely be to further discredit the UN as a mechanism for accountability and convince more people of the need for direct popular pressure on Israel in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

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© 2015 Electronic Intifada

The Bomb Iran Lobby Gears Up for 2016

The billionaire gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson is among those bankrolling a scare campaign against U.S. diplomacy with Iran. (Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr/cc)

A tight-knit group of neocon dead-enders is pushing Iran to the forefront of the GOP’s foreign policy agenda.

By Sina Toossi

In a recent TV ad, a van snakes its way through an American city. As the driver fiddles with the radio dial, dire warnings about the perils of a “nuclear Iran” spill out of the speaker from Senator Lindsey Graham and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The driver then steers the vehicle into a parking garage, drives to the top level, and blows it up in a blinding flash of white light. Words shimmer across the screen: “No Iran Nuclear Treaty Without Congressional Approval.”

While diplomats from Iran and the “P5+1″ world powers work to forge a peaceful resolution to the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, a well-financed network of “experts” — like the “American Security Initiative” that produced the above “Special Delivery” ad — is dedicating enormous amounts of time and energy to weakening public support for the talks in the United States.

These think-tank gurus, special interest groups, and media pundits have peddled a plethora of alarmist narratives aimed at scuttling the diplomatic process — and they’ve relied far more on fear mongering than facts.

So who are these people?

A Close-Knit Network

Despite their bipartisan façade, these reflexively anti-Iran ideologues are in reality a tight-knit group. Many were also prominent supporters of the Iraq War and other foreign policy debacles from the last 15 years. They work in close coordination with one another and are often bankrolled by similar funders.

Four GOP super-donors alone — the billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, Bernard Marcus, and Seth Klarman — keep afloat an array of groups that ceaselessly advocate confrontation with Iran, like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Other groups forming the core of this network include the neoconservative Hudson Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative, as well as more explicitly hardline “pro-Israel” groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Emergency Committee for Israel, The Israel Project, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Several of these outfits also rely on right-wing grant-making foundations such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Scaife Foundations, which together funnel millions into hardline policy shops.

Hardline Senators

Together these groups have established what amounts to their own echo chamber. They’ve built an anti-Iran communications and lobbying infrastructure that enjoys substantial influence in Washington’s corridors of power, particularly in Congress.

One of this network’s more prominent beneficiaries has been Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a through-and-through neocon disciple whose truculent opposition to the Iran talks has given pause to even conservative figures like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked him what the “point” was of his infamous open letter to Iran last March that was signed by 47 Senate Republicans. Other prominent senators with close ties to this network include Cotton’s Republican colleagues Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and John McCain.

Cotton’s successful run for Senate last year came on the heels of massive financial contributions he received from key members of the anti-Iran lobby, including Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel, which spent roughly $1 million to get Cotton elected. Adelson, Singer, and Klarman, as well as the PAC run by former UN ambassador and avowed militarist John Bolton, also contributed significantly to Cotton’s campaign.

While some pundits and politicians say they’re looking for a “better deal” with Iran than the one the Obama administration has negotiated, Cotton has explicitly said that he’s looking for no deal at all. He’s called an end to the nuclear negotiations an “intended consequence” of legislation he’s supported to impose new sanctions on Iran and give Congress an up-or-down vote on the agreement.

Think Tank Warriors (more…)