Poet Klil Zisapel was one of twelve Israeli women that took a group of Palestinian women and children on a fun outing to Tel Aviv, knowingly violating the Entry into Israel Act. In an interview to Promised Land Blog Klil explains her own reasons for taking part in this initiative, and shares some of the experiences of that special day
An unusual ad appeared in the Haaretz daily a month or so ago: it held the story of twelve Israeli women about how they took a group of Palestinian women and children on a fun outing in Tel Aviv; by doing so they intentionally violated Israel’s entry laws and, like their Palestinian travel-mates, taking on the risk of long-term imprisonment. Since the nineties, the Palestinian population is denied permission to leave the West Bank without special authorization from Israel’s military – and such permits are only given to a select few.
“We crossed the checkpoint with them [the Palestinian women] and knowingly violated the Entry into Israel Act. We are hereby declaring this fact publicly… we do not recognize the legitimacy of the Entry Into Israel Act, which permits every Israeli and every Jew to move freely throughout most of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and denies that right to the Palestinian, whose land this is, as well,” said the ad which they published in Haaretz. Following the publication, a right-wing organization filed a complaint with the police, demanding that the ad signatories be prosecuted. The penalty set forth by law for the crime of moving from the Palestinian Authority into Israel any person who does not have a legal pass to be there is up to two years of imprisonment.
Poet Klil Zisapel was one of the Israeli women who took part in organizing the Israeli-Palestinian trip to Tel Aviv. She talks here about the motivation behind the public flouting of the law, the decisions about where to travel, and the shared experiences of that day.
Q: Why did you decide to flout the Entry into Israel Act openly?
Klil Zisapel: “I suppose that this idea comes into being in every one of the Israelis who travels to and from the Occupied Territories and who has any kind of personal relationship with Palestinians. A personal relationship brings into consciousness the absurdity of the situation and makes it impossible to forget the terrible strictures imposed on the population which is living on its own land, in areas that are under Israeli occupation. A real relationship with anyone, beyond the wall and on the other side of the checkpoints, suddenly focuses in the life of an Israeli Jew like me the enormous price that tens of thousands of innocent people on the other side are made to pay.
“It is a daily price, a wicket and strangulatory one – it cannot be described only in words, or at least it cannot be grasped through the enumeration of the prohibitions and restriction in their own right. Relationships with Palestinians make present the terrible things done in our name, as Israelis, and the constant presence of these pangs from our conscience arouses the need to rise up and cross boundaries.
“The initiative itself started with a similar action which Ilana (Hammerman) reported in an article in Haaretz, born of her relationship with a Palestinian family. This was neither the first nor the only case, but in most other cases, violation of the Entry into Israel Act was done for medical or other urgent reasons. However, there were other cases where Ilana drove people who did not have passes in her car, for purposes similar to the ones in the article.
“After a complaint was filed with the police about Ilana, I told her that I would really like to do that sort of thing, too, but my Palestinian friends were afraid – and from their perspective, this may have been justified. The prior and dangerous experience of a young man in sneaking into Israel and moving around its back yards, attempting to make a living, does not leave him space to put himself into danger for spiritual ‘luxuries’, despite the desire to see the Mediterranean or Acca or Ramle, or the curiosity to peek at the tall buildings in Tel Aviv or to visit my home.
“The other women who signed the ad also contacted Ilana, each in her own time and in her own way. It was finally proposed that a joint, multi-person trip be organized, one which could rail against the filing of the complaint, evoke a greater public resonance, and encourage other people to join this kind of initiative. The goal was to make the opening of [criminal] proceedings against us, if such a thing would indeed happen, more comprehensive – and thereby, all the more spurious.
“It is important to note that all of the other Israeli women are or were active in various contexts. Most of them, like Ilana, have already found themselves violating the Entry into Israel Act or one of the other laws of the occupation, through relationships that they had formed with Palestinians. Thus, the public and symbolic action also had significance for the Israel women involved, because it implies and enfolds within it the prior, personal, private civil disobedience that each of us had committed.”
Q: How did the relationship with the Palestinian women who took part in the trip come into being?
KZ: “I cannot answer that question, due to concerns about exposing organizers on the other side. The sanctions that could be imposed on them due to illegal stays inside Israel could be most grave, especially due to the defiant and provocative nature of this action.
“I can only say that people who wanted to come were indeed found. One of the women even told Ilana and Ofra (Yeshua-Lyth) on the last meeting that a million Palestinian women already want to come with us for a trip into Israel. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but we want to believe that this statement expresses the enthusiasm on the other side.
“In a preliminary meeting we talked about options. I thought – and also said – that it would be best to violate the Family Unification Act, which is in fact a law against family unification, and its declared goals are demographic. In other word, cross the checkpoints into the country, with the women and the children, to Acca or to Baka Al Gharbia or wherever, to meet a grandmother or other relatives that they had not seen for years or perhaps ever. There was agreement that it was a good idea, but that organizing such an operation would be complex and take a long time, so that will be next time, inshallah.”
Q: How did you decide where to go?
KZ: “A preliminary meeting was held with the Palestinian women and indeed, there was deliberation about the destinations. Jerusalem, and in particular, the Al Aqsa Mosque, were the preferred destination for them. I’m afraid to say that this was taken off the agenda, because we feared for their safety: there is dense police action in Jerusalem, and many cases of requiring and examining identification papers – especially for Arabs, in an intentional search for people traveling without a permit. The situation is different in Tel Aviv.
“We continued deliberating this until almost the very last moment, and eventually some of the women (depending on the car they were in) visited one place or another and the others did not. But for all of them, the focal meeting was at lunch, in a Jaffa restaurant overlooking the sea, and then we spent many hours on the Ajami beach. On the way back, the women looked at Al Aqsa from Mount Scopus.”
Q: Some would say that the Palestinians have more pressing issues than the need for having a fun day in Tel Aviv.
KZ: “Of course there are countless requirements of the population that lives under occupation, all of which are urgent. However, I think there is a point to choosing such a day of fun. It seems to me that few of the Israelis would say that they object to such a trip in and of itself, if it were not against the law, and that the law was meant to ban entry to people intent on committing attacks. But the truth is that the border is not hermetically sealed. There are many people among us who do not have valid passes, but most residents of Israel, including members of my own family, do not imagine this nor do they think about it. These Palestinians do not cause any damage to Israel or to the Israelis, but they are never openly supported by the construction contractors or restaurant-owners that employ them. If they are caught, they are entirely on their own. Unfortunately, some employers seem to see an advantage in having employees with no rights, without the ability to complain or even to demand their fair wage, if they were deprived of it.
“The great risk which the Palestinian women assumed, and the (small) risk which we assumed are in direct contrast of the daily reality of the pores and holes in the separation policy. I would like to be able to hope that in our unusual and somewhat pointless action can shed light on the absurdity of the Entry into Israel Act. It may be able to provide a peephole into the mass that is blocked and imprisoned beyond the wall and the checkpoints: women, children, and elderly people, none of whom can visit their family members or their holy places or their places of birth. And also, the sea, for those who are moved by it. That day, one elderly woman shed quiet tears when she saw the sea.”
Q: Please tell us more about the day you spent together.
KZ: “The experience itself was really most exciting, and throughout that day I found myself feeling a variety of surprising feelings. For example, about clothing. We were driving down Nordau Avenue in Tel Aviv, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman, her four-year-old daughter, Ilana, and myself – and as we got relatively close to the beach and could see people walking toward it I could see that the girl was laughing, and the mother was laughing with her a bit, but trying to choke down the laughter and silence her. When I looked out the window I saw men of all ages wearing only shorts and beach flip-flops, and nothing else, and women of all ages in the very shortest of dresses – and I suddenly understood that this scene seemed to them (and suddenly, to me, too) ridiculous, embarrassing, and unnecessary. I asked them if she was laughing because everything was so short, so bare (talking with our hands helped, too, and after all, I was also wearing a sleeveless shirt, although my pants came down beyond my knees). The mother, who did not want to offend us, admitted with some embarrassment that it was indeed so, and she was relieved when we laughed together. It was no less hot in their village, but everyone there was covered in such a way that was not disturbing or eye-catching. To tell you the truth, in contrast to what I could suddenly see through their eyes in Tel Aviv, it was a more pleasant sight.
“And on the other hand, one of the women wore makeup. One of the girls really liked the light scarf I brought to cover my shoulders, so I left it for her, to her obvious delight; for other women we bought straw hats, because they loved the hats worn by Israeli women. This is feminine communication which is somewhat silly but is also intimate, and linked us with the women. I have learned not to dismiss this communication, although it could of course be sparse and impoverish communication if that is as far as it goes.
“Here is another example: when we got to Tel Aviv, seeing the huge buildings which stand to such great heights, the four-year-old girl who was in the car with me told her mother that when she gets back, she will ask her father to build a tall building for her, too, in their village. When Ilana translated the girl’s response to me I laughed and asked Ilana: ‘oh no, are we doing a good or a bad thing here?’
“And there was also intimacy which is simply human, which comes into being unexpectedly in the course of such a day. That sort of thing happened when one of the Palestinian young women feared for her unborn baby, whose movements she had not felt since the morning. When finally, in the late afternoon, she told Michal Pundak about it, Michal called a friend of hers, a doctor, and got advice from him: she should lie on her left side and have some chocolate. After long and scary minutes, the baby kicked. The moments of joint concern, the cheers of relief when things fell into place – these formed a deep and enduring bond between Michal and that woman.”
This interview, originally written in Hebrew, was translated to English by Dena Shunra.
The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.
According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beersheba theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host Tel Aviv’s Cameri theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht
Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”
Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:
To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene degrade (…) we had murders who talk about spiritualism, Arms dealers who play the piano and Military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel's mayor] Ron Nachman?
But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.
It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” Chairman of Jerusalem’s Chan theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take side in the political question.”
Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved this last one.
Fadel and his brother Wadee were arrested during a military raid on the Jaberi farm, after the head of the family, Badran Jaberi, connected his water system to a pipe running through his fields to a nearby settlement. Palestinian farmers don’t receive water from Israel in the Hebron area.
HEBRON (Ma’an) — The father of a recently spotlighted child who was filmed begging Israeli forces to release his dad from detention has been sentenced to three months in prison plus a fine, relatives said Wednesday.
Footage of Fadil Al-Jabari’s four-year-old son Khalid sobbing at the sight of his father being dragged away sparked outrage. “You dog, give me my dad. I want daddy. I want daddy. Give me my dad,” Khalid cried.
Fadil was charged with obstructing an arrest and striking an officer, both charges that he denied. Khalid’s uncle was sentenced along with his father, also for three months, family members told Ma’an.
Last week I posted here Haaretz’s Gidoen Levy’s account of the arrest, as it was told to him by the Jaberi family.
Notice that both Fadel and Wadee were sentenced for assaulting the soldiers, a very common charge in Israeli military courts, and one that it’s almost impossible to defend.
All Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Israeli military rule, and are tried in military courts, where suspects’ rights are limited and the burden on the prosecution is practically non-existing. The result – an astonishing 99.7 conviction rate, with most suspects signing a plea bargain, since they know they don’t stand any real chance of walking away free. The average hearing of a Palestinian in an Israeli military court takes two minutes.
More on Hebron water wars: Here is a very recent vidoe from South Hebron area. It’s in Hebrew, but you can clearly see the Palestinians and Israeli activists confronting the settlers who are trying to prevent them from filling a water hole (2:27 min). The soldiers try to separate the two sides, but they end up declaring the entire area a “closed militry zone” (6:50), so the Palestinians and activists are forced to leave.
Military Courts: You can read more about the Israeli military courts in the West Bank on Yesh Din’s 2008 report, a part of the organization’s ongoing Military Courts Project.
Haaretz’s Gidon Levy brings the Jaberi family’s account of the events that led to the images showing Khaled Jabari, aged 4, trying to prevent his father from being taken away by the army. Israel accused the Palestinians of “staging” the scene
Last week I posted here the now famous clip of Khaled Jabari, a Palestinian child, desperately trying to prevent Israeli border police soldiers from arresting his Father, Fadel Jabari, on charge of water theft.
A few days later, Haaretz’s Gidon Levy met with the Jabari family and heard their account of the arrest [Hebrew]. As it turned, the soldiers actually came for Fadel’s father, 65 years old Badran Jabari, who used a local settlement’s water pipe to water his vegetables field.
As I explained in my previous post, water is a major issue in the region of South Hebron, where the Jabari family lives. The Israeli authorities construct pipes mostly for the use of the settlers, and the Palestinian Authority has limited control in the region, so it can’t build its own system.
As it turned, the pipe Badran Jabari used was a joint Israeli-Palestinian one, and according to his account, he actually had an authorization from the Palestinian Authority to connect to the water system. The IDF Civil Administration, however, did not authorize the use of the pipe, which was supposed to serve a local settlement only.
It will be wrong to understand this story in the terms of relations between a local municipality and a farmer – a perception that might lead us to believe that while the Jabari family might have suffered some injustice, ultimately, they simply stole the water. The IDF is the sole authority in the West Bank, and it gives very little attention to the Palestinians’ daily problems. The Jabaris, and many like them, have no other options. Stories like the one which happened at their field take place all the time around Hebron; the only difference this time was the presence of a crying boy and a cameraman at the scene.
This is from Gidon Levy’s report of the arrest (my translation):
Last Sunday the Jabaris went to visit the family’s grandfather, Badran Jaberi. Palestine, Khaled’s mother is a teacher. Fadel, his father, is a peddler of clothes and curtains. The couple has three small children. Khaled [the boy seen in the clip], aged four and two months, is the older. Grandfather Badran, Palestine’s mother, was a professor of sociology and active member in the Pupolar Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He spent 12 years in Israeli prison, nine of them without trial, until he became a farmer. Israel has never allowed him to leave the West Bank.
Badran, aged 65, has 11 acres east of Kiryat Arba – a vegetables garden and a vineyard. The family of his youngest daughter, who lives in the north of Hebron, went there last week to spend a few days of the summer vacation. On the first day of their visit, Khaled joined his grandfather and together they went to work in the field where the zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers are grown. A dog the child adopted accompanied them. Grandpa is calling Khaled by his nicknames: Jabber and Abbud. The family remained awake till late, eating, drinking and playing together.
Badran talks about what happened in good Hebrew, which he learned at Damascus University in 1965.
The next day, around six in the morning, the grandfather woke up to the sound of military vehicles approaching the house. He says it was a convoy of 20 vehicles: trucks, jeeps and bulldozers, border police forces, Police, Civil Administration and IDF. An entire army has raided his fields.
He went outside to ask what this was all about, but the policemen ordered him to return home immediately. He asked to speak with the officer in charge, but an officer told him the Civil Administration’s infrastructure officer has not arrived yet. “This is my field, what are you doing here? Rome will burn before Nero arrives,” he answered the policemen and soldiers, though it is doubtful if they knew what he was talking about. Badran had already experienced such raids: the affair regarding him tapping into the water network that crosses his fields has been going on for a long time, and included many such raids by the Civil Administration, which upholds the law only when Palestinians are concerned.
The noise made the grandmother come out as well. She was pushed by the soldiers and fell on the ground. They [the soldiers and policemen] began to dismantle the plumbing and to load the pipes on the truck. In doing so, they tore the plastic sheets and hurt the crops. Badran says that whenever he tried to speak with the officer in charge, they pushed him and cursed him: “Go home, old bastard.” To his daughter, Wissam, they referred as “a slut.”
Badran was handcuffed, while the action continued. Meanwhile, the younger son Wadee woke up. Badran says he told his son to get back to the house, but one of the officers ordered: “The SOB has boys, arrest the son.”
Wadee entered the house and run away from the back door, chased by the border police soldiers. “We were afraid for the child,” says Badran. Later, Wadee was caught [picture below] and his father tried to rescue him from the soldiers (Badran says his son was beaten). Then woke the eldest son, Fadel, little Khaled’s father. He went outside barefoot, wearing only his pajamas, and was beaten as well.
Badran says his son was knocked down three or four times. “We tried to talk to the officer, but it did not help. He just said [to the soldiers]: ‘arrest all those disturbing you. The old man too.’” Badran says he tried to calm his sons. He remembered how in a previous raid on his fields, on July 6, soldiers threw stun grenades and fired rubber coated bullets.
“After that, they took my child, Fadel, and Khaled woke up and tried to rescue his father,” Badran continues. “The boy was barefoot, he wept and shouted and fell several times between the legs of soldiers and the policemen. Khaled tried to defend his father and his uncle Wadee. ‘I want my father,’ he cried. When they took Fadel to the Jeep I told them: ‘Arrest me as well. What shall we live from? You took everything.’ I couldn’t take it any more. I sat and wept and told the border police officer: ‘You are harder than the stones here. You have no heart; you have no brain, look at what you are doing. You took everything’”.
A Palestinian photographer working for Reuters captured the events and passed the images on.
Fadel and Wadee were taken to the Kiryat Arba police station. Their father immediately sent a lawyer to the station, but he wasn’t allowed to meet them. The police told the father that they were taken to the Etzion detention facility. At Etzion he was told that Fadel remained there and that Wadee was taken to Ofer facility, near Ramallah. Last Thursday the two brothers were detained for six more days, in which they will be charged with assaulting five soldiers.
The border police spokesperson told Haaretz that “during enforcement action against water thieves in the southern Hebron hills, the police and army force was attacked with stones. Two people involved in the riot were arrested. During the arrest, as can be seen in the photos, the family chose to make a cynical use of a child, which was staged and directed [by them]. Instead of acting responsibly and removing the child from the scene, they chose to engage in cheap Anti-Israeli propaganda, deliberately aimed at presenting us in a negative way in the world.”
Regarding the context of the affair, Levy writes:
In 1995 a water pipeline was constructed through the fields of Badran from the town Banni Na’im to the settlement of Tkoa. Badran asked the Israeli water company to connect him the pipeline passing through his field (…) and was referred to the municipality of Banni Na’im. Badran claims he received a permit from the municipality to connect to the water line. After a few days the army came and confiscated the plumbing. Badran turned to the Palestinian Water Authority in Ramallah, where they gave him and three of his neighbors a permit to connect to the water line.
After a month, the Israeli Civil Administration came back, deemed the connection illegal, and confiscated the pipes [for the first time]. Badran says that a Civil Administration officer once told him: “I do not want to see something green on your fields. I want to see everything yellow.”
Fadel and Wadee Jabari are still in Israeli prison, awaiting trial.
Actor Ashton Kutcher, another one of Hollywood’s Kabbalah casualties, had come to visit Israel as a guest of the Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv. On Saturday night Kutcher even partied in the birthday party of the Center’s founder, Rabbi Shraga Berg.
Yesterday, Kutcher took his spiritual trip one step too far: he went with his Israeli hosts to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the so-called “Joshua’s Grave” in a Palestinian village called Kafel-Hareth, near Nablus. At the grave, he was greeted by Colonel Avi Gil, commander of the Ephraim Brigade, who presented him with the brigade’s baseball hat.
The Ephraim Brigade is in charge of the Palestinian cities of Tul Karem and Kalkiliah, and the area east of them.
In the picture below, published on the Israeli news site walla.co.il [Hebrew], you can see Kutcher wearing the brigade’s hat yesterday evening, during a basketball game of the Israeli national team in Tel Aviv (more pics here). The caption at the bottom of the article says that Kutcher is “looking looks like an overly enthusiastic Birthright kid“.
Ashton Kutcher with army hat (photo: berni ardov/walla.co.il)
I wonder if Ashton Kutcher knows what poor judgment he demonstrated yesterday. Both Nablus and Hebron are well within the occupied territories. For more than 40 years now, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in these cities have no political or civil rights, can’t travel, work or study freely, and are tried in Israeli military courts under British colonial laws. The area of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is particularly nasty. Entire streets are forbidden to Palestinians, kept only for the use of a tiny and radical settlers’ community, which frequently harass and abuse the Arab residents.
Did anyone tell Ashton Kutcher that in 1994 a Jewish Terrorist named Baruch Goldstien (another resident of Jewish Hebron) opened fire on the Arabs praying there, killing 29 and wounding more than a hundred? Does Kutcher understand that coming to Hebron to pray with the Jewish community there is like riding into a black neighborhood in Alabama, 1950, with a KKK group? Does he realize that going to Nablus with an army hat is seen in the same way as going there on a Tank?
I don’t oppose the right of Jews to pray anywhere, just as I think Arabs should have this right (most of the Palestinian population is forbidden from entering their holy sites in Jerusalem), but context is everything, and right now the context in the West Bank is that of the occupation and the settlements.
If Ashton Kutcher wanted so badly to visit these holy places, he should have done it as a guest of the Palestinians. I’m sure they would have been happy to host him. But then he might have faced a different problem: the Israeli tendency to prevent foreigners from entering the occupied territories on the Palestinian’s invitation.
Yesterday, my friend Joseph Dana and I went for a visit in the Palestinian village of Sussia, on South Mt. Hebron. For some years now, Joseph and other activists of Taayush have been helping the local community in the area, which suffers from frequent harassments of the local settlers.
It was a very hot day – the last weeks have been the hottest we knew this year – and a local Palestinian farmer told us of his water problem. Israel has constructed water pipes in the area, but they only serve the army and the settlers. The Palestinians are forced to drive to the closest town, and buy their water in tanks over there. They end up paying 10 times the price I pay in Tel Aviv. And the farmers in South mount Hebron are the poorest of the Palestinian population. They live in tents, some even in caves. They used to have water holes in which they stored rain waters, but access to their fields and to many of the holes in them is denied by the army and the settlers.
With no other option, some farmers were forced to use unauthorized connections to the Israeli water system, running just a few meters from their tents. The Israeli media is calling this “stealing water”. As settler from the area complained to Ynet‘s reporter:
“we don’t have water in the morning. Children want to wash their faces before they go to school, and the faucets are empty. Even a cup of coffee becomes a rare commodity”
When I got back home from South Mt. Hebron, I saw this footage, of a Palestinian farmer named Fadel Jaber, arrested for stealing water.
UPDATE: Spokesperson for the border police told Haaretz [Hebrew] that Jaber and another man were arrested for attacking and disturbing the work of the policemen and soldiers that were dealing with the water theft. The spokesperson added that “the [behavior of] the 5 years old son was planned and staged by the Palestinians. Instead of acting responsibly and taking the kid out of the scene, they chose to engage in cheap anti-Israeli propaganda.”
Maybe this remark is in poor taste, but watching the heartbreaking cries of Fadel’s son, I couldn’t help remembering the famous ending minutes Bicycle Thief, Vittorio De Sica’s classic film. Watch here from min 5:30, after the desperate father is caught stealing the bicycle.
Take a few minutes to hear the story of Adeeb Abu Rahma of Bil’in. It’s not part of the big diplomatic news like the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, but in a sense, it’s more important. Far from being unique, this case captures most of what there is to know about the current stage of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. It’s the kind of things you have to keep in mind when you read the morning news.
Adeeb Abu Rahma is a resident of Bil’in, the village which became the symbol of non-violent resistance to the occupation. A few years ago, Israel decided to build its security barrier on Palestinian land, and not on the Green Line, the historic border between Israel and the West Bank. The reason for this was PM Ariel Sharon’s desire to capture more land for new neighborhoods in some of the large settlements Israel was building in recent years, and to secure a reality in which most of the settlements are seen as part of Israel, and not something “across the border”.
The people of Bil’in, who had much of their land taken for the barrier project, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the confiscation, and even had a partial victory: The court ruled that parts of the fence were not constructed on the village’s land for security reasons, and ordered it to be moved. The court failed to address the main issue – the decision to build the fence inside the West Bank rather than on the old border – but it didn’t really matter, because the army simply ignored the verdict. Three years later, the fence is still on its original location.
For five years now, a popular struggle against the fence has been taking place in Bil’in. Every week, Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are taking part in demonstrations. Most of the action consists of attempts to march to the village’s confiscated land; occasionally stones are thrown, but there was never a serious threat to the army forces there, and certainly not to Israeli civilians who live nearby.
Without much outside help or even support from the Palestinian Authority, these demonstrations had a tremendous effect. They relegitimized the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community, after the blow it suffered because of the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. The protest also spread to other villages in the West Bank, and there are already talks of a third Intifada – this time, a non-violent one.
Israel is doing all it can to stop the protest in Bil’in. It used rubber covered bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets against the demonstrators. Bassem Abu Rahma, Adeeb’s cousin, was among those killed on the hills surrounding Bil’in, after suffering a direct hit of a tear gas canister. As can be seen in this video, Bassem (like all the rest of the protesters) wasn’t taking part in any violent act when he was hit, and the soldiers who shot him weren’t in any kind of danger.
A few months ago the army declared the entire Bil’in area a closed military zone, and stepped up the nightly raids on the homes of Palestinian residents. Many were arrested and held under “administrative detention”, without having any charges presented against them. This is standard procedure in the West Bank; there are currently 213 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention orders without charges or trial.
Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi-driver and father of nine, was knows as one of the prominent figures in the none-violent protest. Adeeb and his wife Fatima’s families have been cut by the fence from some 25 acres of their land on which they used to grow olive trees and cereals. In this video, you can see Adeeb in an emotional outburst in front of IDF soldiers:
Adeeb was arrested on 10 July 2009, while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the fence near Bil’in. He was brought before a military panel in Ofer Prison, North of Jerusalem, one of several Guantanamo-like facilities in Israel. After being held there for 11 months (no bail for Palestinians), Adeeb was convicted last month on charges of “incitement”, “disturbing public order” and “presence in a closed military zone”.
This is from Rechavia Berman’s report on his trail:
[Adeeb's] conviction was based on testimony of four minors – 14, 15 and two aged 16 years old – of which [the Shin Beit] got an admission… that Adeeb Abu Rahma told them to throw stones.
These Minors were taken forcibly from their homes at 3:00 in the morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, and kept this way until the next day at 2 PM, without being allowed to eat or to go to the toilets. They were questioned without the presence of a lawyer or a family member, as required even by army regulations.
During the court’s hearings, the military prosecutor argued that she has videotapes of the demonstrations to prove its case [against Abeed], but when Abu Rahma’s lawyer, attorney Gabi Lasky, asked to review this material, the prosecution claimed that the tapes were mysteriously deleted. In the interrogation of the minors there was not even a distinction between throwing leaflets […] and stone-throwing.
Despite all of this, the military court decided to send Adeeb to no less than two years in prison, a time in which his family will be left without its sole provider. Needless to say, his arrest and conviction were hardly mentioned by the Israeli media. These kinds of stories happen every day.
Meanwhile, on the same land but in a completely different universe, a Hebron settler named Yifat Alkoby – seen here harassing local Palestinians – was detained for slapping a soldier. According to a report in Haaretz (h/t Hagai Matar), Alkobi was throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron, when a soldier approached her and asked her to stop. After Alkoby attacked the soldier, slapped and scratched him, she was arrested, only to be released after several hours (unlike the Palestinians in the West bank, Jews are brought before a civil court). Had Abeed Abu Rahma dared lay his hand on a soldier, he would have spent the next decade behind bars.
So there you have it all. The systematic confiscation of the land (sometimes illegally even by our own standards); the separated legal systems, with different laws for Jews and Arabs; the unproportional use of force against civilians and minors; the treatment of any kind of protest as “terrorism”, justifying special interrogation methods; the blind eye towards the settlers; and the failed notion that any of this would actually work, and the Palestinians would simply forget about their lands. In short, the injustice, cruelty and absurdity of it all.
This is the everyday level of the occupation, as I’ve first seen it 17 years ago as a soldier (though things have gotten much worse since). Adeeb’s case is not “an incident”, it’s part of a system. The occupation is not the work of a bunch of extreme settlers, but a national project in which the army and the Israeli legal system play the major role.
this is something many fail to understand: the heart of the story is not about murder, like some of the anti-Israeli propaganda claims (or should we say, most of the time it’s not about murder), but about the daily banalities of an evil system. Israel is not fighting a battle against Iran, Hezbollah or the International Jihad, like our government and its cheerleaders around the world want you to think; it is engaged in an effort to prevent basic human and civil liberties from millions of people.
Even the best of Hasbara talking points won’t blur this simple fact much longer. The world can’t go on turning its back on Adeeb Abu Rahma and the people of Bil’in. They deserve justice.
“Each Friday, there are at least 10 demonstrations involving Israelis and internationals in the West Bank,” tells me Didi Remez, as we drive to Nabi Saleh, the tiny village that has been fighting for months to regain access to a small spring that was taken over by settlers from nearby Halamish. Dozens of Israelis come to these protests, not counting the hundreds who arrive each Friday to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
Not much is going on when we arrive at Nabi Saleh. As we wait for the protesters to gather, we are offered lunch and cold water in a local house. Around 1.00 pm we join a small march down the village’s main street. Suddenly, three army jeeps appear and block the street, and about a dozen soldiers come out. About 25 protesters, most of them children and young girls, go all the way down to the soldiers, singing and shouting, accompanied by the photographers and the internationals. This goes on for about half an hour.
Then someone throws a stone. The soldiers respond with tear gas, lots of it. Together with a few other Israelis, I find shelter behind a local house. The wind carried the gas into the house and the old woman who lived there is now seating outside, tears running down her face. She signals me not to try and wash my face and instead just wait for the effect of the gas to fade.
The soldiers are chasing protesters into the village. Some of them occupy one of the houses, while the others fire tear gas from the street. Some of the nearby houses fill with gas, as their windows are broken from previous demonstrations. The Palestinians move to the upper part of the village, while the Israelis and internationals – who don’t take part in the stone throwing – are looking for safe corners, trying to avoid both the gas and the (very few) flying stones. Every now and then, the wind carries another cloud of gas towards our way.
The soldiers are shooting the gas cans directly at the protesters, and not in an arch, like I remember we were taught to do it in the army (you can see this in a these videos from a previous demonstration). Later, a Palestinian is injured after suffering a direct hit in his face.
After a couple of hours, we decide to leave the village (though the protest will go on almost till dusk). On the way back to the car, I see several boys, around the age of ten, falling to the ground, gasping for air after inhaling too much gas. Their faces are red and one of them is hardly breathing, but in a few minutes he recovers and rejoins the protesters.
A woman whose house was hit by tear gas (p: Didi Remez)
By the time we get to Jerusalem, the protest on Shikh Jarrah is already on its way. The turnout is the best I’ve seen here: between 300 to 400 people. Without PR or money for busing, and after no less 30 protesters were arrested last week – somehow, it seemed that the protest is just getting bigger and bigger.
As Lisa Goldman notes, after Nabi Saleh, Jerusalem seems like a peaceful afternoon get-together. But for me it’s just as important, and I feel more at home here. Supporting the protest in the West Bank villages is crucial, but I find it emotionally hard to bear. After the last time I took part in it, it took me a full month to mount the strength to come again. To have soldiers point guns at me and fire tear gas is not only scary, but extremely strange. There is something in this experience that shakes my world. After all, I’m still an Israeli, and a reserve captain in the IDF for that matter!
I don’t take part in the stone throwing, but I definitely understand it and support the villagers in their struggle. Yet today in Nabi Saleh I asked myself from time to time what happens if the demonstration becomes more violent. What would I do – or feel – if a Molotov Cocktail is thrown?
I don’t have a good answer.
The protests in Jerusalem don’t carry such ideological and emotional problems. Ironically, the political message here is much more radical, since many Israelis who think we have nothing to do in Bilin or Nabi Saleh won’t like the idea of handing Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinians, but the difference between the two events is unmistakable. Shikh Jarrah is an Israeli demonstration (with some Palestinians present); in the West Bank’s villages it’s the Palestinians who lead the action, and we are just guests. I find it fitting. I don’t expect many Israelis to come to Nabi Saleh to protest, but I do hope many will continue to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem, and that many others would join them.
Driving back from Jerusalem, this time with my mother, I was a bit encouraged. Recently, I’ve come to realize that Fridays in Sheikh Jarrah don’t feel like any other leftist event I’ve been to – and I had my share of them. Over the years, we had much bigger demonstrations, on much bigger issues – but something feels more real here, something even feels better. As if for the first time in years we are really doing exactly the right thing, and for the right reasons.
Protesters in Sheikh Jarrah
I forgot my camera today, so excuse the crappy photos taken on my phone. When I get better ones from one of the photographers who were with us, I will post them.
UPDATE: read Amitai Sandy’s account of the day’s protest in village of Maasra on comment #2.
But check this out: while claiming that a more honest and effective move by Costello would have been to come here and express his opinions publicly, many commentators and writers also argued that Israel should end the occupation ASAP, or it stands the risk of facing many more such incidents.
Furthermore, Costello’s decision has been the talk of the day for many people – I also had a ticket for his Tel Aviv gig – and even when people hated him, they had to think about the political issues and about their consequences, and especially on where they stand. Just like after Gil Scott-Heron had decided not to come here, in the past couple of days I saw friends who never discuss politics going into long debates on Facebook because of Costello. For a country that is in a constant state of denial regarding the occupation, this is no small thing.
This is a translation of my article regarding the cancellation of spoken words artist Gil-Scott Heron‘s gig in Tel Aviv. His show was scheduled for late May, but it was later removed from Scot-Heron’s site and though there was no official statement yet, it seems to have been canceled for political reasons.
A small commotion erupted this week among the public that appreciates black music in Israel upon learning that ground-breaking artist, poet and musician, Gil Scott-Heron apparently canceled his Tel Aviv show for political reasons. There was no official statement; However, following protests of some of his pro-Palestinian fans during a show in London on the weekend, Scott-Heron announced from the stage that he would not be coming to Israel. The show, planed for May 25, was removed from the line up on his site.
Scott-Heron is a political man. He came out against US presidents, preached against nuclear energy, and asked the new generation of Hip-Hop artists to write meaningful lyrics rather than merely attach words to music. His most famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, is considered the anthem of alternative culture. I assume these and similar reasons made Scott-Heron appeal to a couple of hundred Israelis. The only surprise is their ability to make a U-turn the moment that protest was directed at us.
In the last few days, Israelis who awaited the show in Tel Aviv filled Scott Heron’s website and Facebook pages dedicated to the issue with angry comments. The arguments were of the type common to such occurrences: one shouldn’t mix music and politics (“music brings people together; politics pulls them apart”); one must distinguish between the government of Israel and the citizens; it is hypocrisy and double standards to boycott Israel when there are so many more horrible governments and deadlier regimes in the world.
But beyond the usual arguments, an offended tone sneaked in: “Why should we, music lovers, who love GSH also because of the place we live in, should be blamed for the occupation or apartheid?” writes one Israeli on Facebook, and added elsewhere, “to cancel the show, it is to spit in the face of the leftists in the crowd.”
“In Israel there is a true music scene,” comments another Israeli on Scott Heron’s site. “For me, music represents peace and love, not war and hate. If you come to Israel you will see it with your own eyes”. Avi Pitshon wrote in Haaretz in relation to a similar incident, in which a few Israelis joined a call to the Pixies and Metallica to skip playing in Israel, “the radical left cannot hurt the powerful, those who shape policy, and is therefore trying to hit whoever is under the spotlight: music loving citizens.”
It seems that what hurts Pitshon and the other Israelis most is not the anti-Israeli stance of Scott Heron and others like him, but the choice to specifically boycott them, the public who is for peace, loves Soul and Hip-Hop, and sees itself more in touch with Detroit and Chicago than the Tomb of Rachel and Elkana. After all, the voice of these embittered music lovers didn’t rise when a pretty effective boycott was organized in the EU against produce from the settlements: the settlers are the bad guys in this story. But to boycott us, us who took part in three Peace Now demonstrations and two events commemorating Rabin? What is the world coming to?
The Israeli left (and yours truly included) is deeply longing to be part of some global communion. People here imagine themselves through American culture, Italian cuisine and French novels, as if we were born to a bourgeois family on Paris’ Left Bank and our life project is to confront the feelings of alienation inherent in human existence. Tel Aviv and its suburbs are arranged with their face towards the West and a wall separating their back from all the turmoil in the East: the settlers in the territories, the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, and also these Palestinians. The occupation is such a boring and tedious story, the making of a stupid government and wicked right-wingers. Clearly, we are not part of this madness.
A worldview so detached leads to many disappointments. So we are shocked to discover that the Palestinians hate us just as much as the hate the right-wingers, we are insulted when the reception clerk in a Spanish hotel lets a curse out behind our back, and cannot understand why an old rapper, who has seen a few things in his life, would tell us that, on second thought, Tel Aviv doesn’t suit him right now. What the hell? We blow a fuse. What’s the connection between the Barbie Club and the territories? After all, they are at least a 20 minutes car ride away!
To the credit of the Israeli Right one should say that it is much more consistent and well argued. From the Right’s perspective, these conflicts with the world are the price for our clinging to parts of our historical homeland and our survival in a hostile region. The Right doesn’t try to evade taking responsibility for sitting on top of Palestinians, and if someone, whether Obama or Scott Heron, doesn’t like it, there is no choice but to bite the bullet.
In contrast, “the enlightened camp” is busy with the endless theatrical performance of their moral difficulties, whose real purpose is to create a barrier between them and all those action for which they refuse to take responsibility. Thus, when the order arrives, the leftist climbs into the tank without a second thought, but later he will do an anguished film about it for the Cannes festival. Thus the obsessive persecution of settlers. Thus Tel Aviv behaves as if it were a Mediterranean suburb of London while in a spitting distance from it eastward and southward lies an immense jail holding millions of people without rights for over half a century.
The self-pity tops itself with the absurd claim that such cancellations will benefit the occupation, because they would discourage those most in favor of two states solution. As if the role the world is to caress Tel Aviv’s residents’ back until they draw the courage and convince the right, to please stop building villas on the hills of Samaria and abstain from kicking Palestinians out of their houses in East Jerusalem. Beyond the fact that this method has been completely discredited by history–the Israeli Left doesn’t even convince itself anymore–the theory doesn’t hold water: excited or depressed, these thousands of peace and love and music lovers do not show up in Bil’in or Sheikh Jarrah, whereas the few dozens of human rights activists who do go there are begging the world for a little international pressure to save Israel from itself.
A few years ago, the dynamics surrounding Roger Waters (ex Pink Floyd) visit’s to Israel recalls somewhat the current case. Waters didn’t boycott, but he said a few words about peace and ending the occupation. Immediately, a few of the “enlightened camp” ordered him to focus on the guitar and stop lecturing us. There is something really bizarre with our ability to sing about another brick in the wall while forgetting about the miserable Farmers whose fields are behind our wall. (As it is hard to understand Israelis who return from Berlin with “an original stone from the wall” when the improved local version stands for free in our living room.) Considering the deep disconnect between the Israelis and the protest anthems that they are humming, it seems that Scott-Heron did us a favor by reminding us that in a place where pregnant women give birth at checkpoints and people are locked in their houses, even music doesn’t cross borders.