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UK police abuse “anti-terror” law to interrogate activists returning from Palestine

Last month two researchers from Corporate Watch were detained at Luton airport on their way back from a research trip in Israeli-occupied Palestine. But rather than being read the usual right to remain silent, Therezia Cooper and Tom Anderson were told they could be prosecuted for giving “no comment” answers, and were denied access to lawyers.

This happened due to something called Schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act, a draconian piece of legislation passed in 2000. Although the law is only supposed to combat terrorism, in recent years British police have been using it more and more openly as a tool to trawl for information on social justice activists of various kinds.

As part of their Corporate Watch work, Cooper and Anderson maintain the Corporate Occupation blog, an invaluable source of original and detailed research into companies around the world with links to the Israeli occupation. The team also published a book based on their research in 2011.

Both are involved in campaigns in southern coastal city Brighton, where the Smash EDOgroup has since 2004 been leading a campaign against an arms-component factory known to have links with Israel. This has included sabotage by “decommissioners” who broke into the factory and caused nearly £200,000 [approximately $301,000] of damage in 2009. In 2010 all seven were found not guilty, after the decommissioners argued that they had acted to prevent very real Israel war crimes in Gaza.

More recently, campaigners there began regular protests against a flagship SodaStreamstore over its presence in illegal West Bank settlements.

Therezia Cooper and Tom Anderson wrote about their detention and spoke to The Electronic Intifada in a call this week, in this edited interview.

Asa Winstanley: Talk about what happened to you both.

Therezia Cooper: I spent about five weeks in Palestine on my last visit and when I was flying back to Luton I got stopped by Bedfordshire Police under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is a power that’s supposed to be only for investigating possible terrorism. But as soon as they stopped me they took me into a little room where they started to ask me questions about what I’ve been doing in Palestine and it becomes very obvious that the reason they stopped you is not because they think you’ve got anything to do with terrorism but because they want to gather information on activists doing Palestine-related work and other kind of activism.

[It’s] a snooping tool for the police to use at airports. Because you’re not allowed under this legislation not to answer questions or you’re threatened with arrest.

So they were asking a lot of questions about the work that Corporate Watch was doing in the occupied territories. As well, they asked a lot of questions about my involvement in other kinds of activism, which includes a lot of boycott, divestment and sanction activism and also anti-militarist and anti-capitalist activism in the UK.

Tom Anderson: I was stopped at Luton as well by Bedfordshire Police. It was the third time that I’ve been stopped. So in 2010 I was stopped coming back from another research trip that we did with Corporate Watch. And on that occasion I was stopped and [they] said that I was going to be asked some questions under the terrorism act because of my links to, amongst other things, Corporate Watch. And I was also stopped on my way into Egypt in 2011.

On this occasion, when I was coming back [to the UK] just a few weeks ago, I was stopped for, I would say, nearly an hour and asked questions about the research which I’ve been doing, the articles that I’ve been writing, what companies we were looking into and investigating. Did I have any information that we haven’t published yet or any information that I was looking for? And they asked me about my involvement with direct action and boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, including the campaign against SodaStream, the campaign against Carmel-AgrexcoG4S and Ahava.

They didn’t ask anything at all actually about terrorism, apart from at the end of the interview, saying that, well we just wanted to know that you weren’t involved in terrorism or acts of violence, and that’s why we’re asking you these questions. Which seemed pretty unbelievable because of the questions that they’d just been asking me.

AW: Did these officers say they were Special Branch?

TC: We know it’s been Special Branch in the past –

TA: The first time I was stopped in 2010, the officers introduced themselves as Special Branch, although they were also carrying Sussex Police IDs [the police force local to Brighton], but they said “we’re Special Branch.” In 2011 it was another anti-terrorist unit which stopped me. But this time they only identified themselves as Bedfordshire Police [the police force local to Luton Airport].

TC: Yeah. And actually they wouldn’t give names, and said they don’t have to give names, but they gave numbers. So, yeah it’s not 100 percent [certain] that they were Special Branch.

TA: They gave us both a leaflet of information about Schedule 7 saying that we didn’t have the right to remain silent and could be prosecuted if we didn’t provide information.

AW: Did you feel this particular detention was any different from the previous times you’d been stopped, or was it part of the same pattern?

TA: Part of the same pattern, really, I’d say.

TC: Yeah.

TA: A disproportionate number of BME, Black Minority and Ethnic communities, according to the Institute of Race Relations, are stopped under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. But activists involved in direct action campaigns are also stopped.

We know that activists from the International Solidarity Movement have been stopped during the past few years. Also anti-capitalist activists, Indymedia journalists, anti-globalization activists –

TC: Environmental activists.

TA: – have been stopped in the past few years. So it’s not just happening to us, it’s happening to campaigns which the police see as a threat to private corporations, or as a threat to the status quo.

TC: I think one thing that was very telling from the interviews – to me it sounded like they almost accepted the fact that they are using this to gather intelligence and information for their files on activists. Because they were saying things like, “we’re just trying to find out what makes you tick” and “we don’t get to talk to you very often” and that kind of thing. To me that sounds like almost admitting that the reason we’re stopping you is because we want more information about you to add to our files.

TA: When they arrest people and interview them in police stations under criminal law the defendants have the right to remain silent, they don’t have the opportunity to use this pressure of prosecution to get their questions answered.

Other people have been stopped on the way back from Copenhagen, from the anarchist conference in Switzerland [last year], and on the way to and from the G8 protests in [the German city of] Rostock in 2007.

TC: They did try to ask about quite a wide range of different campaigns this time around as well. They asked a lot about the Smash EDO campaign for instance, they seemed particularly interested in, as well as all kinds of different BDS-related campaigns. And also just generally about politics, you know, whether you’re an anarchist.

AW: So do you think they targeted you more because you’re involved in groups that use direct actions tactics?

TA: Yes.

TC: Yeah, probably.

TA: I’m not sure if it would be true to say that it’s only activists involved in direct action who’ve been stopped. Definitely the people who’ve been stopped due to racial profiling, a large proportion of them won’t be involved in any type of action at all, or any type of political movements at all, they’re simply stopped because they fit a profile.

There’s [also] no evidence that the people going to the anarchist conference in Switzerland were involved in direct action campaigns. They were simply attending a political conference. And we know of one independent journalist who travels to Afghanistan and places like that who’s also been stopped under the act. And there’s no evidence that he’s involved in direct action campaigns at all.

They did say something to me which kind of implied that they might be interested in me becoming an informant.

TC: [Laughs]

AW: What was that?

TA: They were asking if people would trust me again if I went back to Palestine.

AW: You mentioned that in the report, but it hadn’t occurred to me to read it that way.

TA: They didn’t say it [outright], but the way they said it made me think that’s what they were getting at. Also another person [that I know of] was asked to be an informant as well. It’s the same thing that the Shin Bet [Israel’s domestic spy agency] do [to Palestinians] actually.

AW: [According to a local paper] Sussex Police are thought to have had at least one meeting with the Israeli embassy [over protests outside SodaStream]. Is there anything to make you think that the British police are doing this on behalf of Israel or is it more their own initiative and they are exchanging information with Israel?

TC: I think they are generally a lot more interested in how the BDS movement works than they used to be. They asked quite a lot of questions about how BDS actions happen. There is a possibility that they might have tried to connect how movements work a bit more, possibly through the intelligence services. And that it might be a way of just providing people with information.

AW: Are there any moves to legally challenge the way these powers are being used?

TA: There’s the Home Office consultation which I mentioned in the report, which is making various suggestions to make cosmetic changes to Schedule 7 and those include, training the officers who are giving the interrogations, and not taking samples – which is actually quite shocking that they are able to take blood and semen under Schedule 7 – which is really really strange – and to allow people the right to legal representation, when they’re being interrogated.

But obviously that doesn’t deal with the main issue about Schedule 7 which is that you can be prosecuted for not giving information, and that it’s being misused and that people are being stopped and asked questions which don’t relate to terrorism or the preparation for terrorism.

In terms of legal moves, I’ve contacted a solicitor today asking if there are any legal avenues to challenge it. That’s the only one I know of actually.

TC: I think it’s something that would be interesting to look into.

TA: And also the National Union of Journalists has sent out an email asking about whether journalists have been stopped under Schedule 7, so it will be interesting to see what they come back with.

AW: It may be worth putting Freedom of Information requests in too.

TA: There are a lot of figures about Schedule 7 interviews, and you know one interesting thing is that they say interviews of over one hour are a very small percentage of the interviews, so the fact they interviewed both me and Therezia for over an hour stands out.

TC: I think they said [only] 2.2 percent [of cases]. I was kept for like an hour and 50 minutes I think, which is apparently unusual.

AW: And Tom you were stopped for about one hour you wrote in the report.

TA: I was stopped for much longer in 2010. I was stopped for less time than Therezia this time around. I guess because they’d already stopped me for a long time, so they’d got some of the information already.

AW: How did it make you feel when you were detained and denied some of the most basic rights that you would normally expect?

TA: I always expect to encounter state repression in that way, and I expect the police to be interested in the kind of work that we’re doing. And I think those tactics are designed to intimidate. I don’t feel particularly intimidated by those tactics, but I can see that they’re designed to hamper the work of people who are campaigning against corporations and for social justice etc.

TC: Yeah sadly I think it’s something that we’ve come to expect of the British police increasingly, in relation to protest movements, especially sort of, global justice movements. But I think it’s very important, even if it is a little bit intimidating at the time, that this does not effect activists in any way, and that people campaign against it and try to expose the misuse of these kind of legislations. Don’t be intimidated in the work that they’re doing and just put more effort into exposing it.

TA: We wouldn’t be doing our job in working in various campaigns for social change if the state wasn’t interested in repressing us. Whenever people push for change, that’s going to happen. I was particularly struck by the fact that there were so many questions about Corporate Watch, about the research work we were doing and I think over the years, the stopping of direct action campaigners, who have nothing to do with terrorism at all, has become normal practice for the police, under Schedule 7.

But I wonder if we are going to see more of investigative journalists being stopped, particularly those journalists whose work challenges the interests of the state or of private profit.

The kind of campaigns that [the police] are interested in are those that are potentially successful in challenging private profit, corporations etc. I think that Smash EDO has been relatively successful in doing that. And I don’t think it’s the decommissioning that they are just worried about I think it’s the entire campaign and tactics used by Smash EDO. That’s one reason that I was being stopped.

I do think that another reason is because they’re interested in research organizations which are providing information for action, information for campaigners.

AW: So that’s why they asked a lot about Corporate Watch.

TA: Yeah because with me, at least 50 percent of the questions that I’ve been asked have been about Corporate Watch, actually.

AW: And they were interested in BDS?

TC: Yeah.

AW: Did they say the actual phrase “BDS”?

TC: They asked me to explain what the BDS movement was about and what it was trying to achieve, yeah. They asked me to educate them about it! Which I declined to do [laughs].

They are trying to connect things up. We’d say things are non-hierarchical, and it’s a worldwide movement. And they’d kind of go, but where do people get information from and how do actions happen? So I guess that’s where they’re connecting Corporate Watch and and the actions that happen.

TA: And I think they were definitely more aware of BDS this time around than they have been in the past, so I don’t know if the Reut Institute and stuff like that – if the “delegitimizers” kind of rhetoric has rubbed off.

TC: But all of this was public information anyway. Anything we told them was stuff that was already out publicly.

AW: Thanks for your time.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

Ignoring Genocide: Rohingya People Deserve To Live – OpEd

One fails to understand the unperturbed attitude with which regional and international leaders and organizations are treating the unrelenting onslaught against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Numbers speak of atrocities where every violent act is prelude to greater violence and ethnic cleansing. Yet, western governments’ normalization with the Myanmar regime continues unabated, regional leaders are as gutless as ever and even human rights organizations seem compelled by habitual urges to issue statements lacking meaningful, decisive and coordinated calls for action.

Meanwhile the ‘boat people’ remain on their own. On February 26, fishermen discovered a rickety wooden boat floating randomly at sea, nearly 25 kilometers (16 miles) off the coast of Indonesia’s northern province of Aceh. The Associated Press and other media reported there were 121 people on board including children who were extremely weak, dehydrated and nearly starved. They were Rohingya refugees who preferred to take their chances at sea rather than stay in Myanmar. To understand the decision of a parent to risk his child’s life in a tumultuous sea would require understanding the greater risks awaiting them at home.

Reporting for Voice of America from Jakarta, Kate Lamb cited a moderate estimate of the outcome of communal violence in the Arakan state, which left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims dead, thousands of homes burnt and nearly 115,000 displaced. The number is likely to be higher at all fronts. Many fleeing Rohingya perished at sea or disappeared to never be seen again. Harrowing stories are told and reported of families separating and boats sunk. There are documented events in which various regional navies and border police sent back refugees after they successfully braved the deadly journey to other countries – Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that nearly 13,000 Rohingya refugees attempted to leave Myanmar on smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal in 2012. At least five hundred drowned.

But who are the Rohingya people?

Myanmar officials and media wish to simply see the Rohingyas as ‘illegal Bengali immigrants’, a credulous reading of history at best. The intentions of this inaccurate classification, however, are truly sinister for it is meant to provide a legal clearance to forcefully deport the Rohingya population. Myanmar President Then Sein had in fact made an ‘offer’ to the UN last year that he was willing to send the Rohingya people “to any other country willing to accept them.” The UN declined.

Rohingya Muslims, however, are native to the state of “Rohang”, officially known as Rakhine or Arakan. If one is to seek historical accuracy, not only are the Rohingya people native to Myanmar, it was in fact Burma that occupied Rakhine in the 1700’s. Over the years, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the original inhabitants of Arakan were joined by cheap or forced labor from Bengal and India, who permanently settled there. For decades, tension brewed between Buddhists and Muslims in the region. Naturally, a majority backed by a military junta is likely to prevail over a minority without any serious regional or international backers. Without much balance of power to be mentioned, the Rohingya population of Arakan, estimated at nearly 800,000, subsisted between the nightmare of having no legal status (as they are still denied citizenship), little or no rights and the occasional ethnic purges carried out by their Buddhist neighbors with the support of their government, army and police. The worst of such violence in recent years took place between June and October of last year. Buddhists also paid a heavy price for the clashes, but the stateless Rohingyas, being isolated and defenseless, were the ones to carry the heaviest death toll and destruction.

And just when ‘calm’ is reported – as in returning to the status quo of utter discrimination and political alienation of the Rohingyas – violence erupts once more, and every time the diameters of the conflict grow bigger. In late February, an angry Buddhist mob attacked non-Rohingya Muslim schools, shops and homes in the capital Rangoon, regional and international media reported. The cause of the violence was a rumor that the Muslim community is planning to build a mosque.

What is taking place in Arakan is most dangerous, not only because of the magnitude of the atrocities and the perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people, which are often described as the world’s most persecuted people. Other layers of danger also exist that threatens to widen the parameters of the conflict throughout the Southeast Asia region, bringing instability to already unstable border areas, and, of course, as was the case recently, take the conflict from an ethnic one to a purely religious one. In a region of a unique mix of ethnicities and religions, the plight of the Rohingyas could become the trigger that would set already fractious parts of the region ablaze.

Although the plight of the Rohingya people have in recent months crossed the line from the terrible, but hidden tragedy into a recurring media topic, it is still facing many hurdles that must be overcome in order for some action to be taken. While the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been making major economic leaps forward, it remains politically ineffective, with little interest in issues pertaining to human rights. Under the guise of its commitment to ‘non-interference’ and disproportionate attention to the festering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, ASEAN seems unaware that the Rohingya people even exist. Worst, ASEAN leaders were reportedly in agreement that Myanmar should chair their 2014 summit, as a reward for superficial reforms undertaken by Rangoon to ease its political isolation and open up its market beyond China and few other countries.

Meanwhile, western countries, led by the United States are clamoring to divide the large Myanmar economic cake amongst themselves, and are saying next to nothing about the current human rights records of Rangoon. The minor democratic reforms in Myanmar seem, after all, a pretext to allow the country back to western arms. And the race to Rangoon has indeed begun, unhindered by the continued persecution of the Rohingya people. On February 26, Myanmar’s President Sein met in Oslo with Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in a ‘landmark’ visit. They spoke economy, of course, for Myanmar has plenty to offer. And regarding the conflict in Arakan, Jens Stoltenberg unambiguously declared it to be an internal Burmese affair, reducing it to most belittling statements. In regards to ‘disagreements’ over citizenship, he said, “we have encouraged dialogue, but we will not demand that Burma’s government give citizenship to the Rohingyas.” Moreover, to reward Sein for his supposedly bold democratic reforms, Norway took the lead by waving off nearly have of its debt and other countries followed suit, including Japan which dropped $3 billion last year.

While one is used to official hypocrisy, whether by ASEAN or western governments, many are still scratching their heads over the unforgivable silence of democracy advocate and Noble Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Luckily, others are speaking out. Bangladesh’s Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, along with former Timor-Leste president Ramos-Horta had both recently spoke with decisive terms in support of the persecuted Rohingya people.

“The minority Muslim Rohingya continue to suffer unspeakable persecution, with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes just in recent months, apparently with the complicity and protection of security forces,” the Nobel laureates wrote in the Huffington Post on February 20. They criticized the prejudicial Citizenship Law of 1982 and called for granting the Rohingya people full citizenship.

The perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people must end. They are deserving of rights and dignity. They are weary of crossing unforgiving seas and walking harsh terrains seeking mere survival. More voices must join those who are speaking out in support of their rights. ASEAN must break away from its silence and tediously guarded policies and western countries must be confronted by their own civil societies: no normalization with Rangoon when innocent men, women and children are being burned alive in their own homes. This injustice needs to be known to the world and serious, organized and determined efforts must follow to bring the persecution of the Rohingya people to an end.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

Thai Military Opened Fire and Killed Rohingya North of Phuket, Say Boatpeople, Villagers

The five Rohingya: Four say they survived being shot at by Thai military

The five Rohingya: Four say they survived being shot at by Thai military
Photo by phuketwan.com
PHUKET: Thai security forces opened fire on defenceless Rohingya boatpeople north of Phuket, killing at least two and as many as 15, according to detailed accounts by three survivors and Thai villagers who are sheltering them.

The killings, which are said to have occurred on February 21, came during a botched attempt by the military to transfer about 20 would-be refugees from the large boat on which they arrived from Burma (Myanmar) with 110 others, to a much smaller vessel.

When some feared they would be separated from family members, they jumped in the water and the military men opened fire during the predawn incident, the witnesses said.

Survivors Habumara, 20, Rerfik, 25, and Jamar, 16, said yesterday that they swam for their lives when the shooting broke out. They are currently being sheltered by sympathetic villagers.

Two fresh graves, said to contain Rohingya, were seen by a Phuketwan reporter and an Australian news television crew yesterday.

The three survivors said they believed that the killers were members of the Thai Navy, but village residents said they probably belonged to another branch of the Thai military.

Previous abuses of the Muslim Rohingya have been carried out by other arms of the Thai military or operatives trained as paramilitaries.

Vice Admiral Tharathorn Khajitsuwan, the Commander of Thai Navy Three, which patrols the Andaman coast, declined to comment.

One Rohingya, Rerfik, said that their boat, which had run out of fuel on its journey from Burma, was intercepted by local Thai fishermen on February 21.

The fishermen helped them ashore at a beach on Surin island, a popular destination for international tourists on dive boat and snorkelling excursions.

”Other local people brought us food and water,” Rerfik said. A meal was provided on the beach for the exhausted boatpeople.

At 6.30pm that day, a military boat arrived at the beach. A video shot by villagers shows the Rohingya craft being towed close to shore by a vessel with the hull designation TOR214, which is listed as a Thai Navy fast patrol boat.

”The villagers told us not to worry, we were told that they were just going to transfer us safely to the mainland,” Rerfik said.

But the next morning, the military decided to transfer 20 of the Rohingya to the smaller vessel nearby offshore, and the shooting broke out.

”There was a shot fired into the air when we decided not to move,” Refrik said. ”And so we jumped. That’s when they opened fire on us, in the water.”

”We all heard the gunshots,” a fisherman told a local woman who had been waiting by the pier for the Rohingya boat to be brought to shore.

”A little bit later, Rerfik was pulled from the water. During the day, the others were found and rescued.”

Two bodies were also pulled from the water and buried, with fishermen telling villagers they had seen more bodies in the water. As many as 15 people may have died, the fishermen told the villagers.

The residents of the village north of Phuket are now sheltering four survivors, as well as another Rohingya who arrived on an earlier boat.

Soldiers descended on the village and searched the area for two days after the incident, but the survivors were kept hidden.

The fate of the other 100-plus Rohingya is not known, after they were towed away by the military vessel.

The Thai military has previously been accused of cooperating with people traffickers by handing over boatpeople who are then smuggled to Malaysia for a large fee or sold as bonded laborers.

Habumara said: ”Most of us were hoping to reach Malaysia but my aim is to go on from there to Australia. We are not sure what will happen to us now?”

Thailand has been swamped this October-April ”sailing season” by Rohingya, who are fleeing persecution and deprivation in their native Burma and border areas in Bangladesh.

Thousands have set sail to escape a recent outbreak of violence targeting their communities.

In 2009, the Thai military was revealed to have secretly adopted a policy of towing Rohingya out to sea in powerless boats and casting them adrift. Hundreds died as a result. The policy was quickly abandoned by then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Since 2009, the Thai military has adopted a ”help on” policy. Rohingya boats are intercepted at sea and supplied with food, water and fuel, on condition that they do not come ashore in Thailand.

Persecution of the Rohingya in Burma has grown with renewed violence since June, forcing thousands of people to flee by sea – and including women and children for the first time this October-to-April ”sailing season.”

As a result, Thailand has been swamped with record numbers of Rohingya. The arrival of women and children in boats – first reported by Phuketwan on January 1 this year – led to Rohingya being brought ashore through January and raids on secret Thai-Malaysia people-traffickers’ camps, where more women and children were discovered.

Detention centres and refuges throughout Thailand are now crowded with 1700 Rohingya whose status and fate is being decided by the Thai government, with advice coming from NGOs, between now and July.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

UNICEF: Palestinian children ill-treated by Israeli military

PALESTINIAN children detained by the Israeli military are subject to widespread, systematic ill-treatment that violates international law, a UNICEF report has said.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged 12-17, most of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military, police and security agents every year in the occupied West Bank.

UNICEF said it had identified some “examples of practices that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture”.

Israel’s military and foreign ministry declined immediate comment on the findings.

According to the report, ill-treatment of Palestinian minors typically begins with the arrest itself, often carried out in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers, and continues all the way through prosecution and sentencing.

“The pattern of ill-treatment includes … the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties, physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints,” the report said.

It said minors, most of whom are arrested for throwing stones, suffer physical violence and threats during their interrogation, are coerced into confession and do not have immediate access to a lawyer or family during questioning.

“Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children, denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel,” the report said.

Such practice “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised”, it added.

UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since 2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian officials and lawyers.

The report said Israel had made some “positive changes” in recent years in its treatment of Palestinian minors, including new hand-tying procedures meant to prevent pain and injury.

It also noted as an improvement a military order given in 2010 that requires Israeli police to notify parents about the arrest of their children and to inform children that they have the right to consult a lawyer.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

België ontvangt Israël met veel eerbetoon

De Israëlische president Shimon Peres kwam deze week naar Brussel. Op 5 maart werd te zijner ere een receptie aangeboden. Verschillende progressieve organisaties reageren op deze “gebeurtenis”.

Charlie Le Paige, voorzitter Comac-ULB
Al enkele maanden voert solidariteitsbeweging intal een campagne voor een militair en academisch embargo tegen Israël. Door de Israëlische president Peres uit te nodigen gaat de ULB lijnrecht tegen deze campagne in… (Foto intal

De avond is georganiseerd door de CCOJB (Centre de Coördination des Organisations Juives de Belgique), Forum (Forum Der Joodse Organisaties) en de Israëlische ambassade. Meer verwondering wekt het feit dat dit evenement mee georganiseerd wordt door de ULB, als een “academische zitting” waaraan onder meer defensieminister Pieter De Crem, ULB-rector Didier Viviers en Hervé Hasquin (Permanent Secretaris van de Koninklijke Academie) deelnemen. De zaak wekt, onder meer aan de ULB, heel wat beroering. Comac (de PVDA-jongerenbeweging) nam het initiatief om te protesteren tegen de steun die de ULB-rector aan de Israëlische politiek verleent.

Shimon Peres, die al sinds 1960 in Israël in de politiek zit, is zeker niet de vredesduif zoals sommigen hem willen voorstellen. Mocht hij écht niet akkoord gaan met de Israëlische politiek, dan zou hij gewoon ontslag kunnen nemen. Maar dat doet hij niet. Hij is nu sinds zes jaar president van Israël. Wat wil zeggen, president van een koloniserende staat die consequent elke mogelijkheid weigert om het conflict met de Palestijnen op te lossen. Hij is president van een land dat de mensenrechten schendt en dat de Palestijnse bevolking dagelijks aan allerlei pesterijen onderwerpt. Hij is ook president van een staat die in Gaza de hele onschuldige bevolking in een open gevangenis opsluit. Hij is president van een staat die niet aarzelt om zijn leger – een van de machtigste ter wereld – in te zetten tegen Palestijnse burgers.

De laatste jaren zorgden de operaties “hard lood” (2008) en “pijlers van de verdediging” (2012) er voor dat we deze realiteit niet zouden vergeten. Beide operaties hadden plaats tijdens het presidentschap van de nobelprijswinnaar voor de vrede. Het Israëlisch leger heeft toen niet geaarzeld om witte fosfor te gebruiken tegen de burgerbevolking. De vredesboodschap van Peres bestaat louter uit holle woorden en wil alleen heeft een mooi beeld van Israël ophangen.

Een zogezegde dialoog

Comac en verschillende andere organisaties interpelleerden de universiteitsrector over zijn deelname aan deze avond. Als verdediging onderstreepte de rector steeds opnieuw de noodzaak en het recht op dialoog. Een sterk argument natuurlijk, want wie is tegen dialoog? Maar hiermee zet hij wel een mondaine avond met de Israëlische president op dezelfde voet als de dialoog tussen Israëli en Palestijnen. Door deze manipulatie brengt hij al diegenen die “de dialoog willen tegenhouden” in diskrediet. Zo vond ULB-professor Marc Uyttendaele al wie kritiek had op dit evenement “een extremist” en iemand die “haat zaait tegen de democratie1”.

Als Israël écht over vrede wil spreken dan moet het maar stoppen met Palestijnse gebieden te koloniseren. Wie vandaag het recht op dialoog in het Israëlisch conflict verdedigt, is daarom nog niet voor de vrede. De hoofdrolspelers worden gewoon rug aan rug geplaatst en men vergeet daarbij te zeggen dat één partij een machtspositie bekleedt en beslist heeft dat er geen vrede komt. Het recht op dialoog verdedigen in het geval van deze avond ter ere van Shimon Peres is zeker geen voorbeeld van “onpartijdige kritiek”: het is duidelijk tonen dat men de kant kiest van Israël.

We begrijpen nu ook beter waarom de autoriteiten van de ULB vorig jaar zo moeilijk deden bij de erkenning van de BDS-kring (Boycott, Desinvesteren, Sancties).

Een avond om het blazoen op te poetsen

Wat is deze avond meer dan de Israëlische president onder de schijnwerpers brengen? Dit evenement wordt trouwens nadrukkelijk op die manier voorgesteld. Het gaat dus duidelijk om een avond georganiseerd “om het blazoen op te poetsen”2, een avond die niets te maken heeft met een tegensprekelijk debat, zoals de rector het graag wil voorstellen. Hij heeft het duidelijk lastig met de geuite kritiek.3

Tenslotte zijn het de daden die tellen. En daarover is er geen twijfel: noch over de daden van Peres, noch over die van Viviers, die graag de verdiensten van Peres in het licht wou zetten. Dat is dan ook de reden waarom verschillende organisaties4 tegen de komst van Peres protesteren en vinden dat geen enkele officiële Belgische vertegenwoordiger moet deelnemen aan de legitimatie van de politiek waarvoor Peres staat. Dat was ook het ordewoord van de betoging die op 4 maart aan de ULB georganiseerd werd, onder meer door Comac en voor deze die op 5 maart doorging op de Troonplaats, dicht bij de plaats waar de fameuze receptie plaatsgreep.

Om dezelfde reden eist Comac ook dat er een einde komt aan alle academische projecten van samenwerking met Israëlische instellingen die verbonden zijn met het Israëlische leger.

1. Le Soir (28 februari) • 2. Zoals Henri Goldman onder meer in Le Soir verklaarde (1 maart) • 3. blog-recteur.ulb.ac.be • 4. Onder  meer: Comac, intal, BDS-ULB, étudiants FGTB, CEAE (Cercle des Etudiants Arabo-Européens), l’ABP

(Source / 06.03.2013)

Shireen Al-Essawi, sister of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Al-Essawi speaks to MEMO

 

Shireen Al-EssawiShireen was arrested in 2010 and served a year in an Israeli prison.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Samer Al-Essawi’s story still has not received the coverage it deserves. While people all over the world support Samer, major media outlets and human rights organizations have yet to step up to the plate to tell Samer’s story. Samer is not the first member of his family subjected to the brutality of the Israeli occupation. From his grandfather to his uncle, parents and siblings, Samer’s entire family has been violated by the occupation.

I was able to interview Shireen Al-Essawi, Samer’s sister, who is no stranger to the aggression of the Israeli state, by telephone. We talked about how Samer’s case is affecting her and her family’s daily life and the impact it has had on them. She told me that they are subjected to raids almost daily, and that their water and electricity have been cut off numerous times. Her brothers have all been arrested and detained for periods ranging from between 1 to 19 years and they are arrested and taken to police stations for questioning several times a week. When I asked her on what charges they were being arrested, she said “simply for being associated with Samer.” In addition to this, Shireen who is a lawyer, is banned from entering a court room for 6 months following an incident at one of Samer’s hearings. The court is now demanding that she be disbarred, hence preventing her from making a living. However, the hardest thing of all is that they are unable to visit Samer, and only have contact with him through his lawyer.

I also asked her how this is affecting the people of their district, Al-Issawiya, in East Jerusalem. Shireen spoke to me about how the people of her district are suffering at the hands of the occupation.  According to her, Al-Issawiya is subjected to raids, tear gas attacks and building demolitions on a daily basis. Since December 13th, 2012, there have been arrests every day in Al-Issawiya, and the number of arrests has reached 200 arrests in their district alone.  Shireen also explained how children were the main targets of these arrests, and how they were taken from their homes during night raids. She also told me how the solidarity tent put up for Samer had been torn down 35 times by Israelis.

Shireen was arrested in 2010 and served a year in an Israeli prison. I asked her about the charges and her experience behind bars. She said that she was arrested due to the fact that she was a lawyer handling the cases of Palestinian prisoners and was charged with supporting terrorism. When asked about how she was treated, she told me “they don’t care if you are a man or a woman; the treatment is just as brutal.” Shireen was in interrogation for 28 days during which she was tied to a chair in uncomfortable positions for 19-20 hours at a time. The guards were aggressive and constantly insulted her.

Next, I asked her how Samer was doing. She told me he is still in Kaplan Medical Centre and hooked up to machines regulate the irregular heartbeat he is suffering from and that he is extremely weak – he is in a critical medical state. However, she also said, “Despite his deteriorating health, his spirits are high. Every time his lawyer says he is going to cheer Samer up, he comes back and tells us Samer cheered me up.” She told me he is determined and insistent on his strike until he gains freedom or martyrdom; he is at peace with his decision.

When I told Shireen that everyone was wondering how Samer had lasted for 225 days without food, she said that as long as Samer is conscious, he refuses glucose drips, however, once he passes out and is unconscious, he is given the drip. Despite this, he continues to refuse food and glucose while he is alert.

I also asked Shireen why despite there being a number of Palestinian hunger strikers, Samer’s case is so significant and why he has had the most support. She explained to me that other than the obvious reason; the fact that Samer has been on a hunger strike for 225 consecutive days which is unprecedented, many Palestinians have approached her and told her how they considered Samer to be their son or brother. She said, “Everyone identifies with Samer, he embodies the dreams, hopes and determination of the Palestinian people.” He continued his strike in spite of Israel’s unjust policies and the harassment of his family. Shireen also explained that prisoners like Samer who is protesting the re-arrest of the prisoners released in the prisoner exchange agreement, and Ja’afar and Tarik who are protesting administrative detention, have gained popularity and support because “the battle they are fighting is not a personal battle, but a battle for the people”; they are protesting against the violation of all Palestinian prisoners in Palestine.

This question was followed up with the question of why the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has refused exile of the prisoners to Gaza or Egypt. Shireen clarified this by explaining that Samer made very clear from the beginning that he totally rejects the idea of exile. He is a Palestinian Jerusalemite and will not be exiled from his hometown, even if it costs him his freedom. “President Abbas knew Samer’s position on this matter, and refused Israel’s offer to release the prisoners on hunger strike into exile. This was the Palestinian Authority’s way of showing their support to Samer and the other hunger strikers.” She also explained that even though this was the official position of the PA, individual prisoners were free to choose exile if they pleased.

Since Shireen is a Jerusalemite and is subjected to hardships on a daily basis, I asked her to shed some light on the suffering of Jerusalemites, as I felt that the problems they faced were somewhat unique and were not well-known. She told me there were many issues and violations they were subjected to on a daily basis, but she would highlight the most common and serious. First, she told me, Jerusalemites are faced with the challenge of house demolition. The Israeli Authorities have issued demolition orders against 80% of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem on the grounds that they have been illegally constructed. She explained that “construction permits are not issued to Palestinians, and when we try to build our houses, we receive demolition orders. They want to erase the presence of Palestinians in Jerusalem.”  The second issue Palestinians face, according to Shireen, is that Jerusalemites are having their permanent residency cards revoked. We cannot leave for more than 2 years or our residency is taken away from us leaving us with no rights to stay in Jerusalem. Another injustice faced by Jerusalemites is that they are charged high property, water and electricity taxes but receive no services in return; “The Israelis receive 100 per cent of the services, and our services do not even amount to 1 per cent.” Furthermore, Shireen told me that in Jerusalem, children are arrested at an alarming rate, they are assaulted by the ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews and settlers, and houses are illegally seized.

Being a lawyer, Shireen has seen her fair share of hearings in Israeli courts. She gave me an example of the injustice and discrimination faced by Palestinians in Israeli courts. In Samer’s case, he was re-arrested for allegedly entering the West Bank, sentenced to 8 months imprisonment and may have to serve the remainder of his original sentence of 30 years. On the other hand, settlers enter the West Bank and establish settler blocs illegally. However, they are simply arrested, given a warning, and released after which they return to their illegal blocs. Shireen said, “This double standard has to stop. The same laws are set for Palestinians and Israelis and they should be applied equally.”

As a final question, I asked Shireen what we, as ordinary people, can do for Samer, and if she had any final words. She began by expressing her appreciation for everyone who is supporting Samer and defending him. She also said that she hopes that everyone in the world would stand in solidarity with him. Shireen also said that “the major influential countries in the world, as well as human rights organizations and media outlets, have a responsibility to support Samer and put serious and official pressure on Israel to release him.” Individuals can write articles about Samer and spread his story, as well as protest in front of the Israeli consulates and write letters to members of parliament and other officials in their countries to inform them of Samer’s case and demand his release – “every little helps.”

(Maha Salah / Source / 06.03.2013)

Israel arrests 2 Palestinians in West Bank raids

TULKAREM (Ma’an) – The Israeli army detained at least six Palestinians from cities and towns across the occupied West Bank early Wednesday, relatives and security officials said.

Soldiers raided the house of 20-year-old Walid Mohammed Ajouli in the village of Qaffin north of Tulkarem, detaining him on the scene. The detainee’s family said Walid had heart problems.

An army spokeswoman said six Palestinians were detained overnight.

One was detained in Nablus, two in Bizzariya, north of Nablus, two in Ayda refugee camp in Bethlehem, and one in Surif, southwest of Bethlehem, the official said.

Meanwhile an Israeli unit attacked dozens of Palestinians protesting against Israel’s dumping waste in a landfill in the city of Nablus.

Soldiers arrived at the landfill and forced a complete evacuation of the area, before firing stun grenades and tear gas against protesters, and arresting 13-year-old Mohammad Munther Solaiman.

Protesters were demanding Israel shut down the site because the waste comes from Israeli territory and its contents are unknown. Protesters said it risked harming the environment.

An army spokeswoman said 40 Palestinians hurled rocks at soldiers who responded with riot-dispersal means. She was unaware of the reports of an arrest.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

UN says Golan Heights peacekeepers detained by fighters near Syria

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — The United Nations said about 20 peacekeepers had been detained by armed fighters in the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel on Wednesday and that it has sent a team to resolve the situation.

The United Nations confirmation came in response to YouTube videos purporting to show Syrian rebels with the seized convoy.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war. Syrian troops are not allowed in the area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974. Israel and Syria are still technically at war. The area is patrolled by UN peacekeepers.

(Source / 06.03.2013)

Using secret travel ban, Israel prepares to deport activist Adam Shapiro preventing him from being at the birth of his first child

Huwaida Adam

Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro

Israel’s deportation policy entered a new phase on Monday when Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), arrived at Ben Gurion airport and discovered an entry ban on Shapiro, despite inquires made in advance by a lawyer for the couple. Arraf and Shapiro, now expecting their first child, are perhaps the most recognizable pair in the Palestine solidarity movement, and architects for building an international activist presence on the ground since the beginning of the second Intifada.

At the airport on Monday afternoon Israeli authorities informed Shapiro that in 2009, unknown to him, the Israeli Ministry of Interior issued a 10-year entry ban for him. Initially the border police “weren’t making much sense,” Arraf told Mondoweiss, but then Shapiro was taken to jail where he remained for two days until he and Arraf were briefly reunited at a court hearing Tuesday.

After Shapiro’s Monday arrest, Arraf sent a letter to friends and supporters on her husband’s arrest:

Adam and I are expecting our first child, a boy in about 5 weeks. As joyful as this blessing is, we’ve had / we have to make some difficult decisions (besides what to name our son that is!) I am an Israeli citizen (in addition to a US citizen). This fact has made it possible for me to continue accessing my homeland all these years in spite of some attempts by Israel to kick me out. Israel did however deport Adam in 2002 because of our human rights work and banned him from re-entering the country (including the occupied Palestinian territory) since, which is why we’ve had to spend so much of our married life apart. In order for us to ensure that in the future, if Israel remains the racist, apartheid state that it is, it won’t deny our son the right to visit his homeland and all his family in Palestine, we’ve had to think about getting Israeli citizenship for our son. However, because I’m Palestinian, and not a Jewish citizen of Israel, our child will not have the automatic right to visit the country or to claim citizenship. The only way for me to pass down my citizenship to our son is to have him in Israel.

Arraf explained that in Tuesday’s court hearing the state claimed that Shapiro was presented “a document all in Hebrew” that stipulated a 10-year entry ban when he was detained by Israeli authorities in 2009 and “they said that Adam refused to sign.” But Arraf says Shapiro was never given such a document, “this is the first time he’s been told he has a 10-year ban.” Yet at the trial, Arraf says the state’s attorney produced a copy of the letter, “it’s the state’s word against Adam’s.”

“When the judge ruled, it was basically a technical ruling,” explained Arraf. He “wouldn’t listen to evidence on the ban itself, whether it is legal,” and Arraf summarizes it was clear “they did not want Adam to enter the country.”

Arraf is Palestinian with U.S. and Israeli citizenship, and Shapiro is a U.S. citizen—facts that dictate the couple’s ability to live together, travel together, and now will impose a separation during the birth of their first child after 11 years of marriage. Because of Arraf’s Palestinian national identity, she traveled to Israel late in her pregnancy so she could give birth to her son in country, ensuring she could bequeath her Israeli citizenship. Although it is technically possible for Arraf to transfer citizenship abroad, for Palestinians it is an arduous task. By contrast, children of Israeli-Jews born outside of the country can be issued Israeli identification numbers, even in instances where the child is not registered by the parents. This past year an American activist born to an Israeli father toldMondoweiss that despite never applying for citizenship, the Israeli Ministry of Interior told her she was already registered in the system. They said it was illegal for her to enter on a U.S. passport as the state already considered her an Israeli citizen.

Last month a lawyer for Arraf and Shapiro twice inquired with the Israeli government on Shapiro’s ability to enter Israel. Both times Arraf said Shapiro “was never given any written notice that he has a 10-year ban.” In addition, in 2008 Arraf wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior to inquire into Shapiro’s travel status. At the airport on Monday, border officials produced a copy of the letter and told Arraf that she should have waited for a response before entering. “Well it’s been five years, you want us to wait longer for a response?” said Arraf.

Arraf and Shapiro’s current predicament dates back to 2002 when Shapiro was working in the West Bank as a human rights activist. After an arrest that led to deportation Shapiro discovered he was persona non grata, when attempting to re-enter through an Israeli controlled border. Over the next ten years he tried to enter the country three times. The pair was advised that Shapiro had been issued one of the notoriously vague 10-year entry bans, typically given to activists without notice, or formal explanation. Indeed Shapiro was never officially told he had a 10-year ban, but it was a logical deduction.

Later in 2009 while aboard the flotilla to breach the Israeli sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, Shapiro was taken into Israel by Israeli forces against his will and was again deported. According to Arraf, at the time the judge in that case acknowledged that Shapiro did not intend to enter Israel and was taken into the country while under custody of Israeli authorities. Now the state is alleging a new entry ban was issued at that time.

Because Arraf and Shapiro have been in communication with Israeli officials about their travel plans, Shapiro’s secret 10-year entry ban is especially alarming. The couple seems to have taken every measure to ensure Shapiro could be present for the birth of their son. But with Shapiro’s looming deportation anticipated to take place this evening, their case demonstrates that Israel not only issues entry bans, but also conceals them until the time of arrival.

“A couple of years ago,” said Arraf, “a lawyer once told me that [the 10-year entry ban] is not in any official Israeli law.” Yet, the threat of a 10-year ban is considered a final banishment doled out to the most high profile activists. It is viewed as a punitive measure for internationals who are known supporters of Palestinian rights, a fact that is underscored by the fact that only Palestine solidarity activists have received it.

Because of an Israeli policy that allows for anyone who is a perceived “security threat,” to be denied entry on spot, Arraf was aware her husband could face complications upon arrival. It is not uncommon for activists working in the West Bank to be deported from Israel, even without ever exiting the airport. This policy was employed en masse in 2012 and in 2011 when dozens of internationals were denied entry when traveling for a “fly-in,” a protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

“I’m usually very optimistic” said Arraf in regards to Shapiro’s ability to be present for the birth of their son. But with “all of his human rights work and his activism the state doesn’t like him.”

Arraf has a reputation for hopefulness and resilience, and it is not surprising that despite this situation she is still committed to working for the rights of Palestinians. I interviewed her after she was arrested on the 2010 flotilla, and Arraf told me that the Israeli police beat her until she was concussed, ultimately dumping her from their car. She regained consciousness while medics put her on a stretcher after seemingly being left for dead in the middle of the desert. Arraf was then taken to a hospital. After treatment she left on her own and walked until she found a phone to call her family. She didn’t know where she was, or how much time had passed.

But a few days later Arraf was back on the ground, demonstrating and fighting for her cause. Now, just as in 2010, she moves forward even though her husband’s case will likely become a benchmark for secret travel bans.

“We continue our work on the larger picture,” wrote Arraf in her latest update to friends. “If our situation can be used to help shed more light on the racism and inhumanity rampant here (as well as Israel’s contempt for human rights defenders), with the goal of changing the system someday for the future of all the children of this region, that would be one of the best things that we could hope for.”

(Source / 06.03.2013)

‘Simple Racism’: Palestinian only bus vandalized overnight

Palestinians queue to board a bus as a new line is made available by Israel to take Palestinian labourers from the Israeli army crossing Eyal, near the West Bank town of Qalqilya. (AFP)

Palestinians queue to board a bus as a new line is made available by Israel to take Palestinian labourers from the Israeli army crossing Eyal, near the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

A day after Israel began running separate West Bank bus lines for Palestinian workers, vandals tried to set fire to several of the vehicles overnight, police said on Tuesday.

“Two buses were apparently set on fire but we are looking into all possibilities,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP, saying the incident took place in the Arab-Israeli town of Kfar Qassem which lies very close to the Green Line.

Police sources quoted by army radio said the buses had been torched as a protest against the new transportation system which came into effect on Monday.

The incident took place just hours after Israel began running separate bus lines for Palestinian workers and Jewish settlers, in a move which was bluntly denounced by an Israeli rights group as “segregation” and “simple racism.”

But Israel’s transport ministry denied the charge, saying Palestinians with a permit to work in Israel were allowed to travel “on all public transport lines.”

The controversy over the separate bus lines continued to draw sharp criticism from Palestinian officials on Tuesday.

“This is a racist policy of segregation,” deputy labour minister Assef Said told AFP.

His remarks were echoed by the Palestinian Workers’ Union which also denounced it as “a racist measure” and said the buses would become an easy target for attacks by settler extremists.

The new bus route ferries Palestinian workers from the Eyal checkpoint just north of the West Bank city of Qalqilya to several cities in Israel where they have permits to work.

The transport ministry says the new lines are to serve Palestinian workers entering Israel in a bid “to replace the pirate operators who transport the workers at inflated fares.”

But Israeli media reports said the service was launched after Jewish settlers complained that forcing them to share public transport with Palestinians was a security risk.

Until now, the workers have been reaching Israel by catching buses which run from outside Jewish settlements which they would ride alongside settlers travelling to Israel.

Ron Nahman, the late mayor of Ariel settlement, had in November said he was in talks with the army, the police and the transport ministry to find ways of “stopping Palestinians from boarding the buses that go to Ariel.”

“All of them are working on this problem, and we hope that they will soon find a solution to the reality that is bothering our people,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

(Source / 05.03.2013)