‘Save Samer, he is dying’: Samer Issawi and the plight of Palestinian hunger strikers

both holding picture

Samer’s father Tariq, and sister Shireen, holding a photo of Samer in the family’s East Jerusalem home

Today, Wednesday the 26th, I woke up thinking of the last episode in Samer’s story; of his heart; of his mother; and of an innocent family. He has been charged with spurious charges and denied a fair trial in the Israeli military courts. Now, he has been on hunger strike for 152 days, deprived of his freedom and proper medical care.

I have lived in Gaza “the biggest prison” since my childhood. Yet I cannot envisage the situation of Samer’s small cell. Indeed, there is no comparison. Being on a hunger strike for more than 151 days, and living in a dirty dark cell for around 11 years is not at all easy, particularly without a fair trial and proper charges, and not knowing the day of your release. You are in a constant state of suspense.

Samer has been detained more than once. His current arrest took place only eight months after his last release. On Sun Dec16th, I contacted Samer’s sister to delve more into the latest news regarding his brother’s case. I knew it would be difficult to get in touch with her during this difficult time, but I convinced myself to be as strong as I can since this might help spreading the plight of Samer. When she answered, the first sentence she uttered was; “Save Samer, he is dying”. She carried on and I could sense how gloomy her voice was:

“We got a piece of news on Dec 14th when the Occupation Court refused to release Samer Issawi on bail. I have received news from different sources indicating that my brother has recently started suffering from severe pain in all of his body especially in his muscles, the abdomen, and kidneys. He has an acute vitamin B12 deficiency. His body has begun to eat his muscles and nerves. It seems he has lost the control of his limbs as a result of malfunction of the nerves. His vision is frail as a result of fainting four to five times a day and his body is covered with bruises. He is vomiting blood, his heart is weakening, and he can barely breathe.”

A Mother’s Plea

On Nov 22nd I talked with Samer’s father on the phone. Hearing his sad voice gave away how depressed he was. On Sunday, December 16th, though the situation is even harder as his son is at a critical condition, I had the chance to talk to him again, and I asked about his wife who had fainted after her son’s re-arrest; she has hardly been able to speak or move since then. “Her condition is worsening each day. She was shocked and kept looking at her son’s face when she attended the court hearing on Thursday, December 13th. She could not endure seeing her son losing more than half of his weight. Unconsciously, she screamed at the judge’s face, “Your apartheid regime is illegal and we do not recognize it. Samer will be released either you want or not”. I do not know how to describe this, but my wife is just a mother with a heart!” “Her physical and psychological condition is now more at risk than ever. She cannot endure seeing her own son dying. She spends most of her day at hospitals and every single moment, she repeats the same plea: “Can’t anybody help my son to be free and to live!”

I cautiously asked Shireen: “When have you seen your brother?” “No one has met or spoken to him since his current arrest. I have seen him on Thursday (December 13th) when he appeared in court. He is turning into some bones covered with a human wrap. In other words, he is a skeleton sitting in a wheelchair, and he can’t move or walk. My brother was put in the slaughterhouse of Ramla Prison Hospital during his first month of the strike. A month later he was put in a small cell as a punishment. He suffered the solitary confinement in a two-meter square room, meant to pressure him to end his strike,” she answered with sorrow.

“Where is he now?” I asked with growing anxiety. “He is still in a small dark room in Assaf Harofeh hospital. He is kept in isolation; no one can see him, not even his loved ones. The only human contact he has is the guards, who misleadingly wear white uniforms. His legs are tied with shackles that look even bigger now against his tiny skeleton.”

Solitary Confinement 

It is very difficult to describe this kind of torture. In a recent article, I said,

“Only imagine that you are in a silent void filled with your own fears and pain, in a deafening silence. You wait for somebody to arrive, but nobody, not even your loved ones are allowed to visit you. The only human contact is with the guards who are the lords and masters over every minute of your day. It is a sort of a living grave where fears unfold. You have nightmares about not having a place to be in. And no reason is given for your detention, and no process is outlined for your release. And consider going without food, and not just for the evening, but for days and days. And what you can imagine does not get near to the reality of what the prisoners are feeling. But the link between the prisoners and you will give them power and strength over their misery, to overcome some of what they are facing now.”

Samer Today

I phoned Samer’s mom today December 26th, to know the latest in regard to her son:

“The day 152 is a time of a severe head ache and pain in the spine, as well as a severe chest pain due to having been assaulted by Israeli police in Dec 13th. My son also mentioned that the prison administration did not conduct the necessary tests to him after that attack e against him. As the lawyer of The Prisoner Forum said that my son launched his strike for three main goals; bring the prisoner’s voice to the free world that we have the right to live, tell the occupation that if he thinks of arresting more free prisoners, he will got more and more problems, and the last objective is to be free which is the remaining demand.” She stopped for a while and I could hear her wail, “He has been taken away from his home, tortured with no charge except his commitment to Palestine. Isn’t there any free body to let me see my darling before his death? Please help him to be free and alive. My eyes want to see him. My heart wants to touch him. My mind want him by me!”

An Assassination Attempt or Criminal Neglect?

“It is worth mentioning that there is no medical treatment for my brother’s condition as his health gradually deteriorates and his condition becomes unbearable. My brother stopped drinking water 10 days ago. On Sunday, December 9th, at 3:00 pm, Samer was given medicine. Seconds after taking it, he lost his consciousness for two full days. The administration department in the ‘hospital’ stated: “This was given to Issawi by mistake.” There is no doubt that they want to kill him,” said the evidently distressed Shireen.

In a letter from Samer – translated by Ahrar Center and published on Wednesday Dec 12th, Samer writes about his health and about the aforementioned incident:

“I take B12 injections because I have gradual damage in my nervous system and I have pains in my eyes, nerves, abdomen, hands, arthritis, and muscles and can’t stand. They told me that they will give me an injection weekly in order to help my nervous system. My pain in my kidney and hands is increasing. The pain in my head is like the electrical shock and I have continuous diarrhea due to the fluids they give me in hospital. I have blood in urine twice a week. They put me in an isolated room in the hospital with plastic doors so that they can’t hear me when I call them. I accepted to take fluids and vitamins because the intelligence promised me that my file 80% finished.

They gave me on Wednesday a medicine. I slept for two days, then they said it wasn’t for me! It was for a civilian prisoner! And they didn’t even talk to the one. Before two days I found myself on the ground! I think I slept deeply, but they came searching for a cell phone thinking that I have one, but I told them that I asked the police man once to call the lawyer, and because I found a phone card they think that I have a phone! But the card, I didn’t take it, I threw it to the bed of the sick civilian man.

After a week of taking fluids and vitamins I stopped everything, because they were liars. My isolation is very hard.”

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association writes more about the medical neglect he and other prisoners are subject to: “Like the other prisoners, Samer is not being treated as an ill patient by the Ramla prison clinic. On Saturday December 1st, 2012 during an examination with the prison clinic doctor, Samer tried to stand and lost consciousness. Instead of assisting him, the doctor left him lying on the floor and exited the room. We express our deep concern for the health of Samer and the other detainees who are on hunger strike protesting their unlawful custody.”

Samer’s Arrest

In a recent interview with Samer’s sister, November 22nd, she explained why exactly her brother is detained, “The Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv paid a visit to the prisoners who were supposed to be released in accordance with the prisoner swap deal. He told them that there would be no restrictions on their movement. However, on July 7th, my brother was captured from a place named Kufr Aqab between the Palestinian village of Hizma and the Zionist settlement, Adam, a region within the boundaries of the municipality of Jerusalem.” Shireen also recounted that this area belongs to the Israeli authority but since Israeli courts had no charge to justify my brother’s detention, they claim that “Samer breached the deal as he was captured from a place that is not a part of Jerusalem, but the West Bank.”

Samer’s father speculated, “We do not know what Jerusalem is for us. Whenever the Israeli regime wants to change its boundaries, it does it by deceit and under the false cover of security.”

When asking Shireen about the Egyptian Representative’s response in regard to her brother’s issue, she answered sadly, “They always tell us that they have spoken many times with the Israeli government but that is all, we get nothing that makes us believe that attempts to free my brother are bearing fruit.

Doubts

“It is still disputed whether the location of the arrest was considered Jerusalem or the West Bank” Labib Habib, Samer’s lawyer from Nazareth, stated.

Habib added, “The Israeli Military Committee will put anyone on trial in Ofer Military Court for three main reasons: if they claim that they have covert proof of a security threat; if the person has committed an offense the sentence for which is more than three months; or in response to a claim the person has violated conditions signed upon release.” The Military Committee has requested the Israeli Military Court to have Samer continue his remaining term of 20 years in jail from the original 30 years of his previous sentence, as he broke the conditions of the deal by entering the West Bank. Apart from this, the Israeli Magistrates Courts in Jerusalem are trying to charge him with disobeying the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank. If convicted, he will be sentenced to more time in prison, in addition to the ruling of the Military Committee in Ofer Military Court.

His Charge!

“Due to the fact that Israeli Court does not have any charge against Samer, The Prisoner Forum’s lawyer, Mofeed El-Hajj, revealed that the court also decided to drop the new charge leveled against Samer El-Issawi for allegedly assaulting police officers who were transporting him to court.”

A Note

Samer is not the only prisoner on hunger strike. Three prisoners, Jafar Azzidine, Tarek Qa’adan, and Yousef Yassin have been striking for 30 days now, in protest of their administrative detention orders.

I have met with Jafar Azzidine’s brother who lives in Gaza after his release in the last Deal, October 18th. He has been banned from entering Jenin, his original city:

“My brother had been on hunger strike for 54 days in July 2012 and has imposed his condition on the Israeli Prison Forces (IPS) by getting his freedom on Nov 22nd. Now, as his body does not endure another hunger strike; as he is again administrative detainee with neither charge nor trial, we call the world to end administrative detention, the sword pointed on the neck of the Palestinian detainees.

“Based on a letter I have received from my brother Dec 19th, Jafar along with Tarek Qa’adan, and Yousef Yassin were formerly striking to end administrative detention. They mentioned that their open hunger strikes are to protest the Intelligence and their policies and not just to gain individual freedom. They are under the pressure of the Israeli Prison Services to end their strikes but they will never give up and will never be undermined until achieving justice and freedom for all the imprisoned and hunger striking brothers, and the oppressed and those who were tortured by the fiery tormentors for decades. He ends his letter by a call on the free people to stand by them and to show responsibility for fellow prisoners, especially Samer Issawi who is nearing death. They also call on all local and international institutions and those that are specifically for human rights to intensify their efforts and to raise their voices high in international forums to expose the barbaric occupation and its practices.”

“Jafar, 41 years old from Jenin, has been detained by the Occupation seven times, his most recent arrest being 21 March 2012. He participated in a hunger strike on May, 14th, and was released on June 19th, after spending 4 months in administrative detention. As a result of his most recent hunger strike, he suffers from low blood pressure, continuous dizziness and headaches, protein deficiencies and pain in his joints, knees, hands and spinal cord.”

I met with Yasir Muzhir, the Head of Muhjat Al Quds Institution for the Prisoner Affairs in Gaza who is in a direct contact with the prisoners’ families in the West Bank to give more details on Taek and Yousef.

“Tarik Qa’adan is of 40 years from Jenin. He has detained by the Israeli Military 13 times since 1989 and has been on hunger strike more than once in solidarity with former hunger strikers including Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi. Yousef Yassin is of 29 years from Jenin. He is a free detainee and detained 13 times too. They are all administrative detainees. He also said that another prisoner named Odai Kilani is on hunger strike for 74 days now also against administrative detention!”

I met with Abd Alnaser Firwana a former detainee, a researcher, and the Head of the Statistic Branch in the Ministry of Detainees to ask about the legal condition of what-s-called administrative detention.

“It is a procedure allowing the Israeli Military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. There are currently 178 administrative detainees. Before the beginning of Khader Adnan’s strike, there were around 320 administrative detainees and now, there are around 180 only. This shows that it is a greatly successful battle!”

All the speakers I have met condemn the continued practice of administrative detention against the Palestinians. They also call to end this arbitrary practice and to comply with human rights law.

Samer’s Message; Merry Christmas! 

On Dec 24th, Samer forwarded a short message via his lawyer, “My detention is unjust and illegal, just like the occupation is. My demands are legitimate and just. Thus I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom, waiting for either victory and freedom – or martyrdom.”

He also conveys his warm greetings to Christians around the world on the significant occasion of Christmas, especially the Christians in Palestine. He wishes them a joyful feast and hope that during the same occasion next year – Palestine, Jerusalem, Al Aqsa mosque and the church of Nativity are freed so that everyone can pray together in peace, without cruel walls or atrocious restrictions.

I contacted Samer’s sister today December 26th; to send a message to the world:

“imagine yourself put in a small dark dirty cell alone for around five months. Samer is a human like you asking and calling on you all to stand by him. Think of him as if he was your brother or son. He needs every bit of your support. It is a message to those who have hearts, to those who belong to humanity, to the free world – save Issawi before it is too late!”

I was speechless; my voice grew harsher. Who can hear this story and remain silent?

(mondoweiss.net / 26.12.2012)

In Syria, “father of martyrs” speaks of revenge

After losing three sons and two grandsons, 70-year-old Abdelhalim Haj Omar has no doubt about the fate he wants for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I hope Bashar, God willing, doesn’t die until they slaughter his whole family in front of him and they bring him here so that all of Syria can get their revenge from him,” he says in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey.

“He destroyed the country and killed its people,” he adds, speaking in his carpentry workshop where stacks of wood are piled up next to finished wooden door frames.

Omar is not alone in his rage. Some 40,000 Syrians have died in the conflict which began in March 2011 as a mostly peaceful uprising and has since turned into brutal civil war, pitting mostly Sunni Muslim fighters against Assad’s Alawite forces.

Nearly every family has lost at least one relative, creating a deep well of anger which will make it all the harder to reconcile Syria’s warring communities when the conflict eventually comes to an end.

But Omar’s family has been hit particularly badly, earning him the title of “father of martyrs”.

Omar’s first son, Ahmed, 45, was killed by a sniper bullet during a protest earlier this year. Two months later his next son, Omar, 25, was shot by security forces.

“They broke his jaw, his eye was dislodged … they killed him and left him at the gate of the cemetery,” said Omar, dressed in a beige sweater and white-and-grey skullcap.

HEAD HELD HIGH

The next son, Mahmoud, was a fighter in the Free Syria Army and was killed during an operation. His grandson, Mohamed, was killed by a PKK soldier and the last grandson, Abdlhamid, another fighter, died during fighting at Menagh airport in the Aleppo countryside, five days ago.

Omar’s wife, Um Ahmed, was shot three times in the leg by government security forces who accused her of sheltering fighters from the Free Syria Army.

Syrian state authorities refer to insurgents involved in the uprising against Assad as “terrorists”.

“You allowed the terrorists in, you were protecting them and feeding them for four days,” Um Ahmed, dressed in a black headscarf and gown, said the security forces told her, a charge she denied.

The grandson, Abdelhamid, in his early 20s, had been married for just six weeks before he died.

His 17-year-old wife, still wearing her gold ring and diamond eternity ring, sat in a secluded room, mourning her husband.

“He was a very sweet talker and so gentle,” she said, speaking in the couple’s newly decorated bedroom of white wood furniture and pink carpeting.

“He would say ‘we won’t leave until victory is ours’,” she said, black circles under her eyes.

At a cemetery at the edge of Azaz, Omar, dressed in a thick, black coat to shield himself from the biting cold, stooped among graves dug in an empty field, and paused next to each family member killed to say a few prayers.

Every few graves, marked with bricks and pink and yellow plastic flowers and vines, Omar stopped and pointed to indicate which family member had been buried there.

Despite his grief, Omar remained defiant.

“If I had a hundred sons, I’d present them to the revolution. My head is held high,” said Omar, his face lined with emotion.

(www.reuters.com / 26.12.2012)

IOF Troops Raid Hebron, Distribute Demolition Warnings

soldiersssss

On Wednesday 26th December, around Israeli forces raided several neighbourhood in Hebron at dawn, and surrounded a house near the Hebron University.

Security sources said that around 40 soldiers raided several neighbourhood in Hebron including; Ein Sarah, As-Salam Street, al-Jam’a neighbourhood and Ra’s al-Joura area.

The forces also distributed demolition warnings to demolish five houses belonged to Farajallah family in the village of Ethna, west of Hebron.

(english.pnn.ps / 26.12.2012)

Report: Israel expects more EU pressure in 2013

A protester holds the Palestinian flag with the settlement Halamish in the background during clashes between protesters and Israeli soldiers in Nabi Saleh on Dec. 21.

TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma’an) — Israel fears the European Union will step up efforts to pressure it and the Palestinians into an agreement in 2013, according to a government document quoted Wednesday in Israeli media.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said the report states that the Europeans may try to promote the establishment of an actual Palestinian state independent of negotiations with Israel.

The document was compiled following last month’s UN vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state and European protests over settlement construction, the newspaper reported.

“A growing understanding can be seen in the EU of the ineffectiveness of the current process,” the report is quoted as saying. “This understanding is accompanied by repeated calls to find new channels of progress … The emphasis from their perspective is not on actual direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather on the essential need to move ahead quickly to a permanent-status solution, because the EU recognizes that without a solution, things could go downhill on the ground.”

Haaretz also quoted a senior European diplomat as confirming that “The EU thinks there needs to be a peace process in a new format to lead to progress in 2013. We think international parameters should be formulated for the end of the conflict. We will no longer agree that the two sides should sit alone in a room and we should say yes to everything they do.”

Stung by the de facto recognition of Palestinian sovereignty by the UN, Israel announced it would expand settlements in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.

On Friday the EU and Russia, which together with the United States and the United Nations make up the Quartet of Middle East mediators, said the settlements were illegal under international law and were an obstacle to peace.

“The EU and the Russian Federation will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties,” they said.

It was time to take “bold and concrete steps towards peace between Palestinians and Israelis”, they said, calling for “direct and substantial negotiations without preconditions”.

(www.maannews.net / 26.12.2012)

Fatah’s revolutionary council to meet

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Fatah’s revolutionary council will meet in Ramallah on Wednesday to discuss party matters and national issues, the council’s deputy-secretary said.

President Mahmoud Abbas and central committee members will join the meeting, Fahmi al-Zarir said, adding that 10 council members from Gaza were prevented from attending by Israel.

Al-Zahir said in a statement that the council would discuss the next phase of the national struggle in light of Palestine’s admission to the UN and Israeli settlement expansion, as well as the financial crisis.

The council will also discuss internal party matters, al-Zahir said.

The senior Fatah official said national unity and internal solidarity were the most important factors in the party’s strength and durability.

(www.maannews.net / 26.12.2012)

Soennieten Irak protesteren tegen sjiitische regering

 

Soennieten Irak protesteren tegen sjiitische regering
Duizenden soennitische Irakezen zijn woensdag de straat opgegaan in Anbar.
Met de betogingen proberen de soennieten druk uit te oefenen op de overwegend sjiitische regering, die hen zou proberen te marginaliseren. Het was het derde grote protest in Anbar in een week. De demonstraties volgen op de arrestatie van tien lijfwachten van minister van financiën Rafia al-Issawi vorige week. Al-Issawi komt uit Anbar en is een van de hoogstgeplaatste soennieten in de Iraakse regering.

Volgens de regering heeft het hoofd van de lijfwachten toegegeven betrokken te zijn bij terreuraanvallen. De betogers verzamelden zich langs een snelweg die Bagdad verbindt met buurlanden Jordanië en Syrië. Op hun spandoeken riepen ze op tot respect voor de rechten van soennieten en de vrijlating van soennitische gevangenen. ‘We waarschuwen de regering dit land niet een sektarisch conflict in te slepen’, stond op een van de spandoeken.

Op een ander stond ‘Wij zijn geen minderheid’. Al-Issawi sprak de betogers toe. Hij arriveerde in een konvooi van zwarte terreinwagens en werd beschermd door zwaarbewapende lijfwachten. “Onrecht, marginalisering, discriminatie, meten met twee maten, de politisering van het rechtssysteem, een gebrek aan respect voor partnerschap, de wet en de grondwet.
Deze zaken hebben van onze buurten in Bagdad gigantische gevangenissen gemaakt, omringd met betonblokken”, zei Al-Issawi.

(nieuws.marokko.nl / 26.12.2012)

PCHR submits an Individual Complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing

On 24 December 2012, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) made a written submission, in the form of an Individual Complaint, to Ms. Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, which draws attention to the case of Mr. Mahmoud Nimee Al Bahtiti (62) from Tel-al-Hawa, Gaza City, Gaza Strip (Palestine).

As a part of the Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip, Operation Pillar of Defense, on 16 November 2012 the Israeli Air Force twice bombarded the building of the Civil Department of the Ministry of Interior in Gaza City. The building is located in a densely populated residential area, close to many homes, 2 schools, and a hospital. The first attack was carried out at around 05:30 hours and the second attack took place at around 21:30 hours on the same day. The impact of both these attacks, especially the second one, caused immense damage and destruction to the surrounding civilian properties including civilian homes.

Mr. Mahmoud Nimee Al Bahtiti’s 2-storey building, which is located just over 5 meters away from the Ministry of Interior’s building, was severely damaged in these Israeli air strikes. The building is home to the 27 members of the Al Bahtiti family, and has the family-owned automobile workshop on the ground floor. The entire building was extensively damaged in the attack.

Being the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip, Israel is compelled to observe its obligations under the international human rights treaties and covenants it has ratified.  Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights obliges Israel to refrain from taking any action that would directly contravene the right to adequate housing of the Palestinian people in Gaza Strip. By carrying out attacks like these in densely populated areas and causing the destruction of civilian homes, Israel violates this right.

In addition to the aforementioned violations of the International Human Rights Law standards, Israel also violates Article 46 of the Hague Convention of Laws and Customs of War on Land, which states that Israel should respect the private property in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel is prohibited from destroying the real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations. Any harm to the aforementioned property is allowed only under the rarest of rare cases, where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

PCHR will be submitting either Memorandums or Individual Complaints on a bi-weekly basis to UN Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs, to draw attention to issues facing the Palestinian people.

(www.pchrgaza.org / 26.12.2012)

The Battle of Algiers: historical truth and filmic representation

 

Algeria partnershipThe bitter divisions within the FLN are ignored. Instead, Gillo Pontecorvo, in his 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers, presents the war uniquely in terms of the FLN against the French paratroopersWe begin a new series exploring the many facets of this remarkable film.

The ‘Battle of Algiers’ was a pivotal event in the Algerian War of Independence.  Taking place in the tiny backstreets and alleys of the Algiers Casbah from the summer of 1956 through to October 1957, the fighting set the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) against the elite paratroopers of the French Army.

To call it a battle, however, is a misnomer.  This was not urban warfare on a grand scale like Stalingrad in 1942 or even the Irish Easter uprising of 1916.  There was no sustained street-to-street combat.  Rather the confrontation took the form of short bursts of fighting at close quarters, interspersed with the bombing of civilians on the FLN side and mass round-ups and torture on the French side.  At the heart of this violence was one struggle: for the control of the capital’s Muslim population.

Similarly there is a debate about the exact starting point.  Did the ‘Battle of Algiers’ begin with the guillotining of two FLN prisoners, Ahmed Zabana and Abdelkader Ferradj on 19 June 1956 which provoked FLN operatives to respond with twenty-one attacks in Algiers, leaving ten dead?

Did it begin with shadowy elements in the French police that planted a bomb in the densely populated Casbah on 10 August 1956, killing up to seventy people which led the FLN to explode bombs at two crowded French cafes in the city centre on 30 September?

Ruins of the Casbah after its explosion by paratroopers.

Or did it begin on 7 January 1957 when the French civilian authorities, at a loss to maintain law and order, handed police powers over to the French paratroopers commanded by General Jacques Massu?

In contrast there is a clearer sense of an end point: 7 October 1957 when the last FLN leader, Ali Ammar alias Ali la Pointe, was cornered in a safe house near the top of the Casbah – the first sequence in Gillo Pontecorvo’s film. Refusing to surrender, he was blown up by French paratrooper bomb experts.  Then, within the rubble, the paratroopers exhumed Ali la Pointe’s corpse as the physical proof of French military victory.

With us or against us

The roots of the ‘Battle of Algiers’ must be traced back to the history of Algerian nationalism.  On 1 November 1954 the FLN launched a series of bombing attacks across Algeria.  A completely unknown new organisation, formed clandestinely just a few weeks before hand, FLN tracts, found scattered in the remote countryside, were uncompromising.  Referring to splits within the nationalist movement without naming the protagonists, the 1 November 1954 Declaration underlined that these were in the past.  Every Algerian, whatever their previous political allegiances, now had one duty: to rally behind the FLN – the new embodiment of the Algerian nation.  Significantly, violence was at the centre of the revolution and those who placed their hopes in a gradualist solution were denounced as ‘traitors’ and ‘reformists’.  FLN violence was keyed into absolutes.  There was no third way.  Algerians could only be for or against the FLN.

The FLN, therefore, had two inter-connected targets.  Through immediate military action it wanted to overthrow French colonial rule, in place since 1830.  But it also wanted to predominate over all other political rivals.  Now the FLN alone could give orders and the existing parties – the Algerian Communist Party (PCA), the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (UDMA) and Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques (MTLD) – were told to dissolve themselves and join the FLN or else face reprisals.

Through violence the FLN hoped to spark mass revolt.  This did not happen.  For the first ten months the conflict was restricted to rural eastern Algeria.  Thereafter it did spread to the rest of the country, and by the summer of 1956 Algeria was in the grip of a full scale conflict as the FLN was confronted with a left-of-centre government led by the Socialist Party, the Republican Front, which hoped to quell the uprising through a dramatic intensification of the conflict.  This included the granting of special repressive powers to the army and a surge in troop levels, bolstered by the recall of reservists, that rose to 400,000.

One final surge

By this point the dominant figure in the FLN was the thirty-six old Abbane Ramdane. A political prisoner in November 1954, Abbane Ramdane joined the FLN on his release in early 1955 and quickly rose to assume the leadership of the internal FLN; a position which set him against the external leadership based in Cairo who, he argued, had no right to give orders because they were far from the harsh realities of the war. Abbane Ramdane was the brains behind the FLN’s strategy in launching the ‘Battle of Algiers’.  With a UN vote on Algeria imminent at the beginning of 1957 he believed that victory was within the FLN’s grasp.  He was convinced that France had lost the political will to fight on.  All that was needed, he argued, was one final surge that would force the French into negotiations.  This was the thinking behind the eight-day strike, timed in advance of the UN vote.  It was also the thinking behind the campaign of urban terrorism.  Continuous violence in Algiers, the centre of French power, would demonstrate that the FLN struggle was not just pockets of resistance in the mountains but a mass movement supported by the towns and the cities.  It would create a climate of panic that would sap the French capacity to stay in Algeria.  As one FLN directive stated: ‘A bomb causing the death of ten people and wounding fifty others is the equivalent on a psychological level to the loss of a French battalion.’ Finally, by launching such co-ordinated violence, Abbane Ramdane wanted to show that it was the FLN, and not the rival Mouvement National Algérien led by the Algerian nationalist veteran Messali Hadj, which was the true representative of the Algerian nation, and the only political force that the French should negotiate with,

Abbane Ramdane.

Faced with this challenge the Republican Front government effectively gave the French paratroopers a free hand to destroy the FLN in Algiers by any means possible and what followed was a cycle of violence and counter-violence.  In the alleyways, cellars, sewers and tunnels of the Casbah the paratroopers and FLN played out a deadly game of hunter and hunted. The army resorted to torture on a systematic scale to extract information that included the ‘disappearance’ of some 3,024 prisoners.  Yet, there is no doubt that this repression strengthened support for the FLN.  Out of the Casbah’s total population of 80,000, between thirty and forty per cent of its active male population was arrested at one stage or another, and in truth this had always been part of the FLN’s strategy.  In pulling the trigger and letting the French react, it was unleashing a process of violence that would force the Algerian population full-square behind the FLN. As the Le Monde journalist Jean Lacouture later admitted, France had won militarily but lost politically because the methods of victory turned international opinion against the French cause.

The consequences for the FLN were equally far-reaching.  The severity of French repression meant that the leadership were forced to leave Algeria.  Henceforth the FLN leadership would reside in exile.  Cut off from the population and the realities of the war, its power structures would develop outside of a country riven by power struggles, where the military came to predominate over any form of civilian power: a fact exemplified by the death of Abbane Ramdane at the hands of Algerian officers in Morocco in December 1957.

Black and white

Gillo Pontecorvo’s film was made on location in 1965. Talking to participants and using for the most part non-professional actors, the film, shot in grainy black and white, has a newsreel quality which means that it is often mistaken for a documentary.  Much of the film’s narrative follows the facts outlined above as Pontecorvo depicted, in a brutally honest manner, the effects of both Frenchand FLN violence.  Yet the film also diverges from the facts.  On the French side, Colonel Mathieu, played brilliantly by the French actor Jean Martin whose anti-Algerian War stance had led him to be blacklisted in France, is a fictional character, albeit one clearly based upon the two actual military leaders – General Jacques Massu and Colonel Marcel Bigeard. It is also highly selective.  There is nothing of the role of the Algerian Communists, who supplied the bomb making expertise to the FLN, or the rival MNA, still an important political force in early 1957.  Equally, the bitter divisions within the FLN are ignored, as in the case of Abbane Ramdane who is absent as an historical figure.  Instead Pontecorvo presents the war uniquely in terms of the FLN against the French paratroopers.

Finally, the importance of Frantz Fanon for Pontecorvo must be underlined.  Born in 1925 in the French-ruled Caribbean island of Martinique, a veteran of the World War Two Free French, Fanon studied psychology at Lyon University in the late 1940s, before arriving in Algeria in October 1953 as a psychiatrist in a hospital just south of Algiers.  In 1956 Fanon resigned in protest at the Algerian War and made his way to Tunis to join the FLN where, in books and articles, he became a leading voice of the Algerian Revolution. Above all Fanon extolled the virtues of mirror violence, justifying this as a liberational act against the inherent violence of colonial rule.  Fanon died in 1961, but his arguments infuse Pontecorvo’s film, in particular the film’s depiction of the role of women in carrying out bombing attacks on French cafes.  This remarkable sequence was framed by Fanon’s 1959 book L’An cinq de la revolution algérienne (published in English under the title A Dying Colonialism ), which stressed how the actions of these Algerian women, either using the veil for hiding weapons, or discarding it to pass themselves off in a decoy function as sexually available French females, were challenging traditional values.

Yet, in terms of understanding the war between 1954 and 1962 as a whole, this reliance on Fanon can lead to misunderstandings, especially if it is seen to encapsulate the Algerian historical experience.  The Algerian women bombers from the ‘Battle of Algiers’ were urban, educated and more middle class; in other words a minority, because most of the women involved in struggle were rural and, in many cases, illiterate.  Similarly, until the final few months of the conflict in 1962, the ‘Battle of Algiers’ was the one moment of sustained urban guerrilla warfare. Instead the Algerian War was overwhelmingly a rural war, fought in the mountains and the countryside.

(opendemocracy.net / 26.12.2012)

Israel approves another 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem

Plan brings total approvals to 5,500 in just over a week as right urges Binyamin Netanyahu to drop two-state solution pledge

Binyamin Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu, who is said to be under pressure to drop a commitment to a two-state solution from his election platform.

Israel has given the green light for the fast-track development of a further 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem. It brings the total number of new approvals to 5,500 in just over a week, the largest wave of proposed expansion in recent memory.

The latest plan, which would see almost 1,000 new apartments built over Jerusalem’s green line in Gilo, comes as the Israeli media is reporting mounting pressure on the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to drop his commitment to a two-state solution from his platform for re-election in January.

The agreement for the Gilo development is only the latest in wave of settlement approvals in Jerusalem agreed by the country’s interior ministry and Jerusalem municipality’s planning committees before Christmas.

That included proposals, which attracted international criticism, to develop the controversial E1 block to the east of Jerusalem.

Although Netanyahu, who leads a coalition with the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, is still expected to win the most seats in the 22 January vote, a new poll suggests he has been losing ground since Lieberman was indicted on anti-trust charges this month and forced to step down as foreign minister.

A poll conducted by Dialog gives 35 of parliament’s 120 seats to Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu list, down from 39 in the previous Dialog survey. The centrist Labor party polled second, with 17 seats.

The poll shows a continued surge by the rightwing Jewish Home party. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, stirred up a storm last week by saying he would resist evacuating settlements if ordered to do so as a reserves soldier.

The issue of Israel’s illegal settlements has come to be a lightning-rod issue in the elections, even as Israel has faced mounting pressure to halt settlement expansion.

The latest wave of approvals followed a vote in the UN’s general assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to observer status at the United Nations despite US and Israeli opposition.

With some critics of Israeli settlement policy arguing that the latest approvals mark the death knell for the two-state solution, it has emerged that some members of Netanyahu’s own party are also pushing for him to remove his commitment to a future Palestinian state from his election platform.

Netanyahu signed up to the two-state solution in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but senior officials from his party, who spoke anonymously to Haaretz, told the paper he was facing increasing pressure to abandon that position.

“Dividing the land will bring about Israel’s destruction,” one senior Likud official told the newspaper. “We’ve said that in the past and we say it today. How does this sit with recognising a Palestinian state?”

A second senior party official added: “Likud’s platform to date has not recognised the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Yisrael Beiteinu rejects outright the possibility that a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel.”

(www.guardian.co.uk / 26.12.2012)

Palestinian Farmers Highlight Difficulties

Palestinian agriculture is sold domestically

The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Society brought together West Bank farmers to the city of Nablus for a food exhibition entitled “From the Best of My Country and the Tastes of My Natal Land.”  The purpose of the event is to promote the role of agriculture in Palestinian economic growth and to empower farmers.

For more on Palestinian agriculture, see:

The Palestinian agricultural sector is troubled by several endemic problems.  A major one is the inexperience of Palestinian farmers in marketing their products.  One of the roles of the Agricultural Relief Society is to assist these farmers by networking with merchants and marketing institutions and by representing farmers to official and civil bodies about marketing problems.  Another issue is the lack of scales of productions.  Most Palestinian farmers work on the small scale, and simply cannot produce agricultural goods cheaply enough to compete with Israel.  Water scarcity is also an issue.

Agriculture has been languishing in the West Bank in recent years.  The sector represented 13.7% of GDP in 1994 and employed 22% of the workforce.  This year, it represents just 6% of GDP and 12.7% of the workforce.  The Palestinian Authority does little to help, allocating just 1% of its budget to farming, though Prime Minister Salam Fayyad this month promised to do more.  Exports of produce in 2010 reached just $2.92 million

(english.nuqudy.com / 26.12.2012)