Rachel Corrie’s legacy highlights continuing role of bulldozers that crush Gaza

Rafah protest on the 10th anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie

US President Barack Obama’s impending visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank lent urgency and focus to the Rachel Corrie Cultural Center for Children and Youth’s annual commemoration on Saturday of its namesake’s death a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, a beautiful American girl arrived in our town,” 12-year-old Heba Saqir said at the rally in Rafah, reading a letter addressed to Obama. “Ten years ago, Mr. President, that girl, Rachel Corrie, was run over by an Israeli military bulldozer, one that was made in the United States and paid for by the American government.

“That act of murder was not the first or the last committed against those who came to stand with us,” she added. “And as you know, many thousands of our people were killed in more ways than I can tell you. Like Rachel, they were innocent, and so very beautiful.

“When I see you on television, I hear you speak of values like democracy, equality and freedom. But when our neighbors talk about the US government, they speak of the money and weapons that are regularly sent by your government and are used to carry out the horrific wars against my people.”

The Israeli military bulldozer that killed Corrie, rolling over her twice as she attempted to block its demolition of a Palestinian home near Rafah’s border with Egypt on 16 March 2003, was a weaponized Caterpillar D9. It had been made by Peoria, Illinois-basedCaterpillar Inc. and sold to Israel through the US Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales program, a purchase subsidized by US aid to Israel that totaled more than $4 billion in 2003 alone (“A Conservative Estimate of Total U.S. Aid To Israel: More Than $123 Billion,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2011).

Spike in home demolitions

Corrie’s death came during a spike in Israeli home demolitions in the Gaza Strip. Between September 2000 and 2004, more than 2,500 homes in Gaza, including 1,600 in Rafah alone, were destroyed. Since its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has demolished more than 18,000 homes there (“Factsheet: Home Demolitions and Caterpillar,” Center for Constitutional Rights).

Today, Israel’s D9s are known mainly for the ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes in Israel and the West Bank. But their use in the Gaza Strip also continues. Gaza’sPalestinian Centre for Human Rights “documented the bulldozing of 55,833 dunums(13,797 acres) of land in the Gaza Strip, of which 50,193 was agricultural land and 2,646 was forest land,” between October 2000 and November 2010 (“The right to food in the Gaza Strip,” PCHR, November 2012 [PDF]).

“Caterpillar bulldozers destroyed my farm east of Khan Younis three months ago,” Mourad Qidah, a farmer in Khuzaa, said. “I can see them operating across the fence almost every day.”

Routine bulldozing

Before its 21 November ceasefire with Palestinian resistance groups following the most recent series of attacks on Gaza, Israel routinely sent D9s to bulldoze land up to 300 meters within the Gaza Strip. On 25 February, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli military’s civil administrative unit, announced thatfarmers could grow crops up to 100 meters from the wall along Gaza’s boundary.

By last week, the announcement had disappeared from COGAT’s website, and the military spokesperson said the “buffer zone” remained at 300 meters. When asked by Israeli organization Gisha about these conflicting claims by units of the same army, the spokesperson replied, “If those are the numbers COGAT wants to publish, let them take responsibility for the area.”

Israel also deployed D9s deep inside the Gaza Strip during its 2008-2009 attack. These unmanned “Black Thunder” machines, developed for the Israeli army by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, proved so conducive to Israel’s military effort (which killed approximately 1,400 mostly civilian Palestinians) that its army’s Ground Forces Command announced plans to double the number of them in its fleet (“‘Black Thunder’ unmanned dozers to play greater role in IDF,” The Jerusalem Post, 30 March 2009.)

“Somebody seeing”

Heba, the 12-year-old speaker in Rafah, could not remember Corrie’s death under a D9 ten years ago, or the seven weeks she spent in the town. But others in the crowd that gathered Saturday had vivid memories of both.

“She was a nice person,” said Khalil al-Khatib, now a 22-year-old student of business administration at the University of Palestine. “She helped us as much as she possibly could.”

“When she died, my uncle, who was her friend, brought a huge American flag to cover her,” he added.

“She slept at my home twice,” said Abed al-Whab Qishta, a 23-year-old business administration student at al-Azhar University. “But she slept in the neighbor’s homes a lot, because they were closer to the border.”

“I remember in the first days after she came here, she seemed afraid of the Israeli occupation. But when she saw how people lived under the constant threat of death, I think it made her want to help more. Somebody seeing is very different from somebody hearing.”

Israel eventually bulldozed Qishta’s home in 2005, two years after Corrie’s death and just before its soldiers and settlers retreated from the Gaza Strip. “I had a picture of Rachel and a letter she wrote to me,” he says. “I lost them when my home was destroyed. But I remember them very well.”

Anees Mansour, now director of the Rachel Corrie Cultural Center that organized the event in Rafah on Saturday, knew Corrie well. In 2003, she inadvertently recruited him as a local “fixer” for her organization, the International Solidarity Movement.

“She was the first foreigner I met in my whole life,” he said. “I remember every moment I spent with her. When I started to work with her, it came as a surprise. A crazy boy, about nine years old, stole her phone. She came to me and some friends in a shop and asked for her help. We couldn’t understand a word she said. She borrowed my friend’s phone and talked to her colleague, who spoke Arabic. He told us she had lost her phone. Then he asked me to take her to the place on the border where she was staying that night.”

Once, Mansour recalled, Israeli troops invaded the Rafah refugee camp, where he lives, with bulldozers. “I went out of my house, to see what was going on, and found they were destroying homes. I called Rachel and told her to come quickly and bring her friends. They came, but only arrived after the bulldozers had destroyed the houses.”

“This was the first time for me to see Rachel’s tears, when she cried. My English was really broken, and I asked my friend, ‘Why is she crying?’ He told me that it was because she couldn’t save the houses. It was very strange for me.”

“Rachel is gone”

When an Israeli sniper shot in the head British activist Tom Hurndall one month after Corrie’s death, Mansour was standing meters from him and helped carry him to hospital. But on 16 March 2003, he was at home following news on television.

“I remember it was Al Jazeera,” he says. “I saw that an [International Solidarity Movement] member had been killed, but they didn’t say the name. I called my friends, because when I’d called Rachel, she hadn’t answered her phone. I told myself, it’s impossible for it to be Rachel. But when I called Alice Coy [another activist] from Scotland, she shocked me when she said, ‘Rachel is gone.’

“I went to find her, but they had already moved her to the hospital. When I went there, she wasn’t there, either. It was a black day for me.”

Qishta, the al-Azhar student, saw Corrie’s death. “She had a megaphone, and bulldozers and tanks were coming from the border,” he said. “They wanted to destroy some houses in the area where she was. She started to shout that the houses belonged to civilians: ‘I live here. They have no resistance.’ The Israelis didn’t care. They started to destroy.

“The Israelis said that they didn’t see her, but she was very clear. The tanks are higher than the mounds here. They can see far. I remember the bulldozer rolling over her twice. If she still had any breath left, it was finished then.”

After Corrie’s death, tributes to her quickly appeared. One of the first, the Rachel Corrie Cultural Center where Mansour works, was announced by its parent organization, theUnion of Health Work Committees, within days.

“I kept working with ISM until the death of Tom Hurndall,” Mansour said. “But after he was killed, I decided I would work in the center, where I started in 2005, and find something I could give to the children. And I like it. We hope to educate people about international solidarity and make sure Rachel stays alive among us: her beliefs, her activities, her ideas.”

Campaigns continue Rachel’s work

Campaigns by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, especially those against Caterpillar, have highlighted Corrie’s case. The Church of England’s General Synod voted for the church to divest from “companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc.”

In 2010, students at Corrie’s alma mater, The Evergreen State College, voted not only in favor of divesting the school’s holdings in such companies, but also banning Caterpillar equipment from its campus. Weeks later, members of the nearby Olympia Food Co-op, in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, voted to remove Israeli products from their shelves,as did the college’s student-run Flaming Eggplant Café in 2012.

Also in 2012, her parents Craig and Cindy Corrie, the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice they founded, and allied groups pressured the National Building Museum into canceling an award ceremony honoring Caterpillar (“National Building Museum Cancels Caterpillar Award Ceremony,” Rachel Corrie Foundation, 7 September 2011).

When pension fund giant TIAA-CREF dropped $72 million of Caterpillar stock after the company’s delisting by three social responsibility indexes in 2012, major media like theAssociated Press attributed Caterpillar’s growing notoriety, in part, to publicity over Corrie’s death (“Caterpillar pulled from social indexes,” 27 June 2012).

Most recently, student governments at three University of California campuses — Irvine,Riverside and San Diego — voted for their university to divest from companies profiting from the occupation.

“Corrie’s murder, although not the first and certainly not the last instance in which the [Israeli army] slaughters indiscriminately, sheds light on the roles that military technologies and the companies that produce them play in perpetuating oppression in Palestine,” said a spokesperson for Students for Justice in Palestine at UC San Diego, where the Associated Students voted for divestment last Thursday. “This is the heart of the divestment effort on American college campuses, including divestment at UC San Diego.”

For Mansour, his center’s work with Rafah children — offering art, dabke (traditional dance), literature, poetry and theater workshops, a library, psychological care, protection from economic exploitation, or simply a safe place to play — is a continuation of Corrie’s.

“Rachel was the inspiration,” he said. “She inspired all of us. What we are doing here keeps her memory alive.”

For 12-year-old Heba Saqir, the meaning of Corrie’s legacy is a simple one.

“The people of Rafah, of Gaza, in fact all Palestinians, will never, ever forget Rachel,” she said Saturday. “In our town, we call her a martyr, and we have pictures of her on many of our decaying walls. She was the proof that Americans don’t hate Rafah.”

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Boycotting Israel is the “way to go,” says Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters

Roger Waters, British rock legend and co-founder of the group Pink Floyd, visits Israel’s wall surrounding the West Bank town of Bethlehem, 21 June 2006.

Roger Waters is the most famous rock star to have publicly supported the campaign forboycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

A founder of Pink Floyd — a British rock group which has sold more than 250 million albums — Waters decided to become active in the international Palestinian solidarity movement following a trip to the West Bank in 2006. Shocked by the oppression that he witnessed, Waters spray-painted the words “we don’t need no thought control” — a line from one of his biggest hits — on Israel’s wall.

More recently, Waters has served as a juror on the Russell Tribunal for Palestine, an initiative aimed at drawing attention to how Western governments and companies aid Israel’s violations of international law. In that capacity, he addressed the United Nations during November last year.

Visiting Brussels for the tribunal’s final session, Waters said he would explore the idea of releasing a single urging musicians not to perform in Israel. He intends to discuss this project with Steven Van Zandt, the guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, who assembled many well-known musicians to record Sun City, a protest song against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s.

Waters spoke to The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin.

David Cronin: Do you think the campaign for a cultural boycott of Israel is having an impact?

Roger Waters: I’d like to think that it was.

My experience when I speak to people to and say “don’t go” is either they reply “that sounds good” or they say “don’t you think it’s better to go there?”

Well, no, I fucking don’t.

I think that the kind of boycott that was implemented against the apartheid regime in South Africa back in the day is probably the most effective way to go because the situation is that the Israeli government runs an apartheid regime in Israel, the occupied territories and everywhere else it decides. Let us not forget that they laid waste to most of Lebanonaround the time I started getting involved in this issue. They destroyed airports, hospitals, any public buildings they could.

They are running riot and it seems unlikely that running over there and playing the violin will have any lasting effect.

DC: Have you personally asked any fellow musicians to boycott Israel?

RW: Yeah, I have.

DC: Would you prepared to say who those musicians were?

RW: No, I wouldn’t be. It was entirely private between me and them.

All I would say is that part of my involvement here in the Russell Tribunal today and tomorrow is that I am about to publish an open letter written to all my colleagues in the music industry, asking them to join me in the BDS movement. This is not just to colleagues in the UK or US but around the world.

What caused me to write this public letter was an affair where Stevie Wonder was hired to play a gala dinner for the Israeli Defense Forces on 6 December last year. I wrote a letter to him saying that this would be like playing a police ball in Johannesburg the day after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. It wouldn’t be a great thing to do, particularly as he was meant to be a UN ambassador for peace. It wasn’t just me. Desmond Tutu also wrote a letter.

To his eternal credit, Stevie Wonder called them [the gala’s organizers] up and said “I didn’t quite get it” [and canceled the performance]. This happened one week after I made a speech to the UN. Neither of these events were reported anywhere in the mainstream media in the United States of America.

Both events were almost as important as [TV personality] Kim Kardashian’s bra size. The way they are not being reported means the media must be under instructions from somewhere not to report these things to the American public, on what grounds I cannot guess.

DC: How do you feel about the support for Israel offered by David Cameron’s government in your native Britain?

RW: Cameron has absolutely adopted Tony Blair’s wolf’s clothing that he [Blair] adopted so eagerly and happily when he went to war in Iraq on George Bush’s coat-tails.

Cameron is entirely content for Great Britain to be a satellite nation of the US. None of us can quite understand why.

There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The EU’s diplomatic emissaries [in the West Bank] joined together [recently]. They protested the settlements and asked for sanctions. This is almost unprecedented. But the governments of these emissaries have done nothing and continue to do nothing.

I have been very disillusioned with UK foreign policy really since [Harold] Wilson [a Labor Party prime minister during the 1960s and 1970s]. It was such a political turnabout from [Labor leaders] Keir Hardie and [Clement] Attlee and the principles of British socialism. It was a precursor for taking over the country with the appalling monetarist strategies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I’m quite ashamed of the way we have behaved. The UK has been royally fucking the world over for centuries — not least you bog Irish.

DC: One of your fellow jurors on the Russell Tribunal, Stéphane Hessel, died recently. Did you know him well?

RW: I knew him very little. What a brave, eloquent, good-hearted, brilliant man.

DC: As a musician, have you had a chance to check out the vibrant Palestinian hip-hopscene?

RW: I haven’t. But if it thrives, I can’t find anything negative about that, so long as it’s not about bling and booty and wearing a baseball cap sideways. So long as it’s about protest and realism, rather than the flight from realism that hip-hop is in the US.

DC: In your speech to the UN, you paid tribute to Rachel Corrie. Is there anything you would like to say about Rachel Corrie, given that it’s the tenth anniversary of her murder?

RW: Her parents attended the [Russell Tribunal] session in New York [last year]. It was very moving.

DC: Do you support the hunger strikes being undertaken by a number of Palestinian prisoners?

RW: The thing about political prisoners is: it doesn’t matter if you are in the Maze [in Northern Ireland] or in a prison somewhere in Israel, your options are very limited. Hunger strikes or dirty protests are some of the very few options to bring attention to your specific predicament.

I respect the brave men and women who go to those lengths. As we know, hunger-striking is not like going on a diet. It is real, dangerous and painful. You don’t do it without compelling reasons.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Report: Israel fires flares over Lebanon

Lebanon’s National News Agency says Israeli warplanes dropped flares over the Mediterranean Sea, just off the coast near the southernmost town of Naqoura.

Lebanon’s state-run news agency says Israeli warplanes have violated Lebanese airspace.

Lebanon’s National News Agency says Israeli warplanes dropped flares on Monday over the Mediterranean Sea, just off the coast near the southernmost town of Naqoura.

The Lebanese army did not immediately confirm the report.

But earlier Monday, the army issued statements alleging a series of violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli jets.

Israel has escalated its flights over Lebanon in recent weeks amid regional tensions resulting mainly from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the reports.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Israeli police arrest Jerusalem students in crackdown on Palestinian campus movement

 

Israeli forces arrest protesters during a solidarity demonstration with Gaza, 20 November 2012.

The repression of the Palestinian student movement at the Hebrew University in Jerusalemhas intensified since Israel’s attacks on Gaza last November, as four Palestinian students were arrested in the past month.

On 6 March, Israeli police brutally attacked and arrested three Palestinian students shortly after a peaceful demonstration in support of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes which was held at the campus’ entrance.

Palestinian students at the university have been organizing weekly demonstrations in support of Palestinian political prisoners on and just outside campus. The 6 March protest was larger than previous demonstrations, with a turnout of more than 70 students.

The arrests occurred 20 minutes after the end of the demonstration, when the students were near the entrance of the dorms. Two days later, another student, who is politically active, was called for an interrogation at an Israeli police station.

Crackdown

The recent crackdown on student organizers goes back to mid-November, when policeattacked a peaceful demonstration held by Palestinian students against the assault on Gaza at the campus entrance, arresting three of them. A week later, police arrested one of the students for a second time, claiming that he did not turn up for additional questioning, although he was not officially notified.

Ali Jassar, one of the three students who were arrested earlier this month, described to The Electronic Intifada how he was beaten and arrested: “During the event a student told me that the policemen were pointing at me. Twenty minutes after the end of the event, while I was with another student on my way to the dorms, we were suddenly pushed from the back, then we became aware of the large number of policemen who were surrounding us. As a result of the violent attack I got bruises on my shoulder and on my back.”

A dramatic video posted on YouTube shows the chaotic scene during the arrests. The students are dragged by militarized forces and put into police cars as a crowd forms to protest and try to prevent the young men from being taken away.

Jassar said that this brutal treatment continued for the duration of his detention, as the policemen continued to harass and bully him and his friend all the way to a police station called Shalem.

“We felt that it became personal, the policemen kept mocking us even with the smallest things,” he said. “For example the temperature of the air conditioner in the police car was really high, Majd [another student] asked to lower it. In response the policeman turned it to the maximum. When we got out of the car, into the very cold weather outside, I felt ill and dizzy.

“Also, after long hours in the station we complained that we were hungry. The policemen’s reaction was to bring food and start eating in front of us.” After the investigations the students had to spend the night in the Russian Compound (a Jerusalem police station known to Palestinians as Moskobiyeh).

The three students who were arrested were accused of assaulting police officers, preventing a policeman from doing his job and disturbing public order. The prosecutors asked the judge to ban the students from campus for 30 days, bar them from taking part in any political activity, and impose a bond of 3,000 shekels ($815).

In court the police confessed that they didn’t ask the demonstrators to end their protest or announce that it was an illegal gathering, according to Jassar. Yet many students had pictures and videos proving the opposite. In the end, the students were released without any charge.

Following this chain of events, Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, sent a letter the president of the Hebrew University asking him to intervene to protect the students. Zoabi noted that the university’s constitution says the institution “shall be open to any person regardless of race, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Zoabi emphasized that preventing discrimination is necessary to ensure the safety of students.

She also asked the president to investigate the way Palestinian students at the university are being treated and to listen directly to the students concerned.

Threatening phone call

Khalil Ghara claimed that his arrest is part of a pattern of political persecution of Palestinian campus activists.

“A week before my arrest, I received a phone call from the General Security Service,” Israel’s domestic spy agency, also known as the Shin Bet or Shabak, he explained. Threatening to arrest Ghara, an Israeli intelligence agent told him: “’Tomorrow you’ll be sitting here in the office; last time you were arrested you managed to escape, as you had a good lawyer.’”

At midnight on 25 February, four armed plainclothes policemen stormed Ghara’s dorm room, searching through his possessions for half an hour, seizing his laptop and a memory card along with the computer and camera of a friend who happened to be in his room. The police arrested Ghara without presenting him with an arrest warrant and released a day later, according to the website Arabs48.com.

Ghara was charged with incitement for describing an Arab officer serving in the Israeli police as a “traitor” on the website Facebook.

Alaa Mahajna, the student’s lawyer, has argued that no evidence was presented in court to justify Ghara’s arrest, according to Arabs48.com.

After Ghara’s arrest, Palestinian students at Hebrew University published a statement in which they claim that the police is not targeting Ghara alone, saying that his arrest is part of a campaign targeting the Palestinian student movement and Arab students at the university more generally.

The students state that the arrest is only a failed attempt to intimidate activists and an attempt to disrupt solidarity events at the university in support of the political prisoners’ struggle, pledging to continue their organizing in solidarity with hunger strikers.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Exile in Gaza is not the victory we want for our heroic prisoners

A drawing recently done by the Palestinian artist Doc Jazz

“It doesn’t matter if he goes to Gaza,” said Zahra Sharawna, Ayman Sharawna’s mother. “To be freed is the most important thing.” I understand how these words could come from a mother who fears for her son’s life. She, driven by her motherly emotions, simply wants him to live, even if many Israeli apartheid checkpoints separate her from him. But I must question was that actually the victory that Ayman Sharawna’s hunger strike aimed to accomplish, to get out of prison alive regardless of release conditions? I don’t think so.

A Palestinian’s fight has never been about oneself. It has always been a collective resistance of different forms, for the sake of collective justice for all Palestinian people. Some national principles identify our struggle for freedom. Every Palestinian revolutionary should be armed with them. One is embracing our right to return as the most sacred and ultimate goal.

“One whose hands are in water isn’t like one whose hands are in fire.” This traditional saying always comes to mind when I encounter a complicated situation many people would find it easy to judge superficially. I am not in a position to imagine the kind of inhumane pressure to which Ayman Shrawna was subjected. However, being a daughter of a former prisoner who served 15 years, and having intensively read and heard many ex-detainees’ prison experiences, makes me better able to guess.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned Israel’s expulsion of Sharawna to Gaza calling it a “forcible deportation” which is a violation of international law. As such Israel alone is responsible, and we must consider that Sharawna is not acting of his own will.

But still, I was shocked to hear that the man who remained steadfast for nearly eight months of hunger strike, who tolerated all the pain and pressure attached to it, succumbed to such blackmail, to be expelled to Gaza for at least ten years in exchange for his release.  This wasn’t the victory of which I personally expected to hear. I reacted to the news with a shocked face and stony eyes, unable to shed a single tear.

Emotionally, I could celebrate and agree with Ayman that “both are my people, whether in Gaza or Hebron.” But I can’t help listening to my inner worries. I believe that our emotional reactions and stances will only serve the Israeli occupation’s long-term goals: turning the Gaza Strip into a ghetto isolated from Palestine, and expelling as many people as possible from the occupied territories in the West Bank and ‘48 Palestine. My fears that this will open the gate for Israel to intensify its systematic policy of ethnic cleansing against more Palestinian political prisoners left me unable to taste the victory in Ayman Sharawna’s release.

These worries flooded my mind, but Samer Issawi’s statement on deportation lessened my stress and cultivated hope instead.  His opinion was just what I expected, wonderful and strong from a stubborn man of dignity and poise, who continues his hunger strike of nearly seven months and doesn’t give up his principles for the sake of his own physical relief. He is aware of the long-term aims behind the inhumane practices of the Israeli occupation. He believes that his detention, a violation itself, cannot be fixed with a further violation.

According to him, this hunger strike isn’t a personal battle; rather, it’s a collective one. He refuses to be released with the condition of deportation, even within our historic Palestine.

Fawwaz Shloudi, a Palestinian lawyer, managed to visit Samer Issawi after many attempts and asked him whether he will ever agree to be deported to Gaza in exchange for his freedom. Samer answered:

Regarding the Israeli occupation’s offer to deport me to Gaza, I affirm that Gaza is undeniably part of my homeland and its people are my people. However, I will visit Gaza whenever I want or feel like it, as it is within my homeland, Palestine, which I have the right to wander whenever I like, from the very north to the very south. I strongly refuse to be deported to Gaza as this practice will just bring back bitter flashbacks from the expulsion process to which our Palestinian people were subjected during 1948 and 1967.

We are fighting for the sake of the freedom of our land and the return of our refugees in Palestine and the diaspora, not to add more deportees to them. This systematic practice by Israel that aims to empty Palestine of Palestinians and bring strangers in their place is a crime. Therefore, I refuse being deported and I will only agree to be released to Jerusalem, as I know that the Israeli occupation aims to empty Jerusalem of its people and turn Arabs into a minority group of its population. The issue of deportation is no longer a personal decision, it is rather a national principle. If every detainee agrees to be deported outside Jerusalem under pressure, Jerusalem will eventually be emptied of its people.

I would prefer dying on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my soul and my life. If I was uprooted from there, my soul would be uprooted from my body. My life is meaningless away from Jerusalem. No land on earth will be able to embrace me other than Jerusalem. Therefore, my return will be only to Jerusalem and nowhere else. I advice all Palestinians to embrace their land and villages and never succumb to the Israeli occupation’s wishes. I don’t see this issue as a personal cause that is related to Samer Issawi. It is a national issue, a conviction and a principle that every Palestinian who loves his homeland’s sacred soil should hold. Finally, I reaffirm for the thousandth time that I continue my hunger strike until either freedom and return to Jerusalem or martyrdom! (original translation by author)

International law prohibits the expulsion and transfer of people in occupied territories, be it deportation to another country or forced relocation within the occupied territory. Security Council Resolution 607 “calls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “strongly requests Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.” But these words, as history proves to us, are merely words. We have experienced enough empty words and conventions and “international human rights laws” that do NOT apply to us, as if our humanity is in question.

If the United Nations and the all the world’s governments keep of taking this submissive stance on Israel’s crimes and watch, reacting only with silence, we should NOT normalize their violations even if it costs us our lives. People like Samer Issawi teach us how  to stand firm and not compromise our rights. Thank you, Samer, for teaching us how meaningless life is without freedom and dignity.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Syrian planes ‘bomb’ Lebanon border area

 

Syrian warplanes have bombed the border area with Lebanon for the first time, Lebanese army officials say, reportedly targeting Syrian rebel positions inside Lebanon.

Officials on Monday said that four missiles hit the Lebanese border town of Arsal, where many residents back the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The mountainous, desert area is also ideal for the smuggling of arms and the flow of fighters across the border.

Local residents say the missiles had fallen in an agricultural area and there were no injuries in the incident.

Al-Manar television, which belongs to the Pro-Assad Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement, reported that the warplanes had targeted two barns used by “armed men” in the Wadi al-Khayl area of Arsal.

The US State Department confirmed that Syrian government aircraft fired rockets into Lebanon.

“This constitutes a significant escalation in the violations of Lebanese sovereignty that the Syrian regime has been guilty of. These kinds of violations of sovereignty are absolutely unacceptable,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily briefing.

The latest attack comes four days after Damascus warned it may strike at Syrian rebels taking refuge across the frontier.

Lebanon has a policy of “dissociation” from the two-year civil war in Syria but officials say they feel their country is increasingly at risk of being dragged into a conflict that the UN says has killed 70,000 Syrians.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that a “large number” of opposition fighters had crossed Lebanon’s northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh last week.

“Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty,” it said in a message to the Lebanese government, according to state media.

It said Syria’s “patience is not unlimited”, even though “Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory.”

Lebanon’s opposition largely backs the Syrian uprising, while Hezbollah and its allies stand by Assad’s regime.

Syrian rebels accuse Hezbollah of dispatching fighters to battle alongside Assad’s force.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Reports of Syrian jet fire into Lebanon called ‘significant escalation’

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • We won’t stand in the way of arming the opposition, the U.S. secretary of state says
  • Syrian state news reports a thwarted “terrorist” infiltration
  • Lebanese state-run news agency NNA reports an attack
  • As it goes into its third year, the Syrian fighting is spilling over its borders

(CNN) — Two Syrian jets fired three rockets that hit empty buildings near the Lebanese town of Arsal near the Syrian border Monday, a local source said. There were no injuries, according to the source.

Also, Lebanese state-run news agency NNA reported that Syrian warplanes attacked sites in northern Lebanon.

The government’s use of fighter jets to fire rockets into Lebanon is a “significant escalation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.

This latest violence comes as the Syrian conflict enters its third year. The unrest started in March 2011 when President Bashar al-Assad’s government launched a fierce crackdown on protesters. The discontent evolved into a full-blown civil war that has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 1 million refugees.

Syria’s first lady makes rare appearance

One result of the warfare is the spillover of fighting and refugee displacement into neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

Syrian rebels: U.S. is training us

McCain: Suffering continues in Syria

Losing a generation of Syrian children

As for Lebanon, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency also reported border flareups.

Syrian armed forces and border guards have thwarted “armed terrorist” infiltrators attempting to get into the Homs countryside from Lebanon, SANA said, citing a development first reported last week.

The news outlet also reported gunshots fired at Syrian border checkpoints from Lebanon.

Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry accused the alleged terrorists of receiving “clear logistic support from inside the Lebanese lands” and ferrying their wounded and dead in ambulances across the Lebanese border. SANA quotes a source saying that security forces have killed and wounded fighters and forced them to retreat to Lebanon.

Last Thursday, the U.N. Security Council voiced “grave concern over repeated incidents of cross-border fire which caused death and injury among the Lebanese population, incursions, abductions and arms trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border, as well as other border violations.” The declaration followed a briefing by officials on how the conflict in Syria has spilled into Lebanon.

Other violence raged in Syria on Monday, with the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria recording at least 53 deaths.

Arming the opposition

The United States and Western allies have staunchly opposed the Assad government, but it has balked at arming Syria’s rebels, who have been getting weapons from some Arab nations and seizing or buying them from Syrian soldiers.

As the carnage continues, however, the West is taking a different tone.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States would not hamper the arming of Syrian rebels by allies.

“President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that have made a decision to provide arms,” he said.

His comments, made at the State Department, come as Britain and France urge the European Union to lift the weapons embargo in order to arm moderate Syrian rebels.

Kerry acknowledged the need to change the military “imbalance” on the ground in order to change al-Assad’s “calculus.”

“Right now, President Assad is receiving help from the Iranians, he’s receiving help from al Qaeda-related, some elements, he’s receiving help from Hezbollah, and obviously some help is coming in through the Russians. If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem and the world has a problem,” he said.

Last week, Syrian rebels told CNN that the United States is helping organize training for Syrian rebels in Jordan in the use of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Meet Israel’s new government: a justice minister against law, a housing minister who led settlers

Israel’s new coalition government has been finalized, and is expected to be sworn in tonight.

The results of weeks of negotiations are awkward for those commentators and Israel advocacy groups who, after January’s election, suggested that the Israeli electorate had returned a “center” or even “center-left” government that would be open to meaningful peace talks.

Leaving aside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, who are the other ministers in the new cabinet? Here are some examples.

Naftali Bennett (Trade and Economics) has stated that “there is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel,” referring to the whole of Mandate Palestine. He supports the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank.

Yair Lapid (Finance) delivered an election trail speech in major West Bank colony Ariel,declaring that Israel will retain illegal settlement blocs. He has said that he wants to “be rid of” Palestinians in the West Bank and to “put a tall fence between us and them.”

Tzipi Livni is incoming Justice Minister, a strong contender for most ironic appointment award, given her expressed disdain for the law: the Palestine Papers revealed that she once said: “I am a lawyer … But I am against law — international law in particular. Law in general.” She is also a war crimes suspect.

Moshe Ya’alon (Defense) too has had to alter his travel plans to avoid an arrest warrant for war crimes, and has described “the Palestinian threat” as “harbor[ing] cancer-like attributes” — a racist statement he later reiterated in an interview with Haaretz. He has also expressed support for the West Bank settlements that are illegal even under Israeli law.

Yisrael Katz (Transport) has previously pressed for a change in road signs so that Arabic names would be a direct transliteration of the Hebrew, commenting: “This government, and certainly this minister, will not allow anyone to turn Jewish Jerusalem to Palestinian al-Quds.”

Gideon Sa’ar, incoming Interior Minister, made his mark as the previous Education Minister by targeting freedom of speech and political dissent.

Gilad Erdan (Communications and Home Front Protection) opposes the planned West Bank Palestinian city Rawabi, and has previously introduced a bill to give the courts power to revoke Israeli citizenship based on “disloyalty to the state.”

Uri Ariel, incoming Housing Minister, is in an ideal position to advance the colonization of the West Bank. Ariel has himself helped found illegal settlements, and has already rejected the idea of a so-called construction “freeze.”

Uri Orbach (Minister for Senior Citizens Affairs) has attacked human rights groupB’Tselem for giving cameras to Palestinians to record abuses as “[Jews] trying to catch the soldiers of their own country doing bad things by handing out cameras to our enemies.” In 2008, Orbach wrote: “We, the Jews, have no intention to commit suicide and lose our Jewish State in the name of our democratic values.”

Uzi Landau (Tourism) is another supporter of the more extreme Jewish settlers, and hasattacked Palestinian community leaders as “an anti-Semitic group that seeks to undermine our right to exist here.”

Yair Shamir (Agriculture) opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, and regarding the occupied West Bank, commented: “The Arabs there who call themselves Palestinian, they’ll stay or go, but we’ll definitely stay. We need to keep building in the land.”

Limor Livnat (Culture and Sports) has urged Israeli filmmakers to exercise self-censorship in order to avoid presenting a bad image of the country abroad. In 2008, Livnatdrafted a bill to make Hebrew Israel’s exclusive official language so as to oppose efforts by Palestinian citizens “to turn Israel into a bi-national state.”

Yuval Steinitz (International, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs) has supported the denial of citizenship to Palestinians marrying Israeli citizens in order to protect “demographic balance.” He also believes that Israel will need to maintain control of “security zones” beyond even the (illegal) route of the Apartheid Wall.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Qatari committee announces first phase of Gaza building projects

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A Qatari committee announced Monday that a local construction company has been contracted to begin the first phase of reconstruction projects in the Gaza Strip.

Head of the Qatari committee Muhammad al-Amadi said that the project to rebuild Salah Addin street, running from Rafah to Khan Younis, will cost over $70 million.

Gazans can now start registering to buy apartments in the newly planned Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa housing project in Khan Younis, al-Amadi added.

The project will consist of 3,000 apartments measuring 100-130 square meters each.

Minister for public works in Gaza, Yousif al-Ghreiz, applauded local companies for meeting “technical requirements despite the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.”

Applications for Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa apartments can be submitted online within 45 days through the website of the Ministry of Public Works, he added.

Apartments will be sold to Gazans at cost price due to the financial situation in the coastal territory and down-payments will be used to build more housing units and repair damaged homes in Gaza, al-Ghreiz said.

Fully furnished apartments will cost between $30,000-$40,000 and buyers can pay in installments.

Last year, Qatar pledged $400 million in reconstruction funds to the Gaza Strip, and construction material for the projects entered Gaza in late December, breaking a six-year ban enforced by Egypt and Israel.

(Source / 18.03.2013)

Palestinians say Obama visit meaningless without change in Washington policies

 

"Meaningless as long as the U.S. administration does not change its policy toward the Palestinian issue and its view of the region".“Meaningless as long as the U.S. administration does not change its policy toward the Palestinian issue and its view of the region”.

One hundred Palestinian non-governmental organizations have considered U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Palestinian territories scheduled in a week “meaningless as long as the U.S. administration does not change its policy toward the Palestinian issue and its view of the region”.

During a reading of the joint letter from the Palestinian organisations during a press conference held on Thursday morning, Amjad Al Shawa, Director of the Palestinian Network of NGOs (PNGO) said, “We hope your visit, Mr. President (Barak Obama), will be the beginning of a serious change in the policy of your country, which is biased and supportive of Israeli policies. This will enable our people to exercise their legitimate and fair right of return, as well as to decide their fate and establish an independent state.”

He added, “President Obama’s credibility lies in his ability to demand and exert pressure on the occupation to stop its continuous violations, as well as to enforce international law and apply the legitimate international resolutions relating to the Palestinian issue.”

He also stated that the Palestinians “do not need more ideas and initiatives aimed at resuming negotiations. They are, however, in need of international will that is able to guarantee their rights to freedom and dignity by securing their right to determine their destiny, their right to return and their right to establish an independent state.”

Shawa continued, “Ending the occupation, dismantling settlements, releasing prisoners and implementing the legitimate international resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian cause is the only way to compensate our people for decades of suffering.”

He also added, “Without this, the suffering will continue, in addition to the fact that the state of tension and instability will remain. The international community will be responsible both practically and morally, especially for the continued suffering of the Palestinians.”

He noted that several international human rights reports, most prominent of which is the report by Richard Goldstone, confirm that Israel perpetrates war crimes. This has also been confirmed by many international human rights organizations, especially following the Israeli attack in November.

The letter demanded that Obama make serious changes once he’s visited the region, particularly to bring a complete end to settlement construction and the dismantlement of existing settlements on Palestinian land. The letter added, “If Obama’s visit is seriously committed to bringing about peace and stability, he must be committed to the immediate release of all the political and national prisoners, the removal  of all the barriers in the West Bank which number over 600, and the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.”

During his speech at the conference, the director of the Network of NGOs in Gaza, Mohsen Abu Ramadan, asserted that the gateway to achieving stability is through the implementation of international law and international resolutions, not the negotiation of them. He said, “The negotiations have not achieved any concrete results and have been exploited by Israel as a cover for continuing settlement expansion and the imposition of realities on the ground which hinder the establishment of a state and put an end to the concept of a two-state solution adopted by Obama.”

He pointed out that the U.S. President’s visit “comes in light of public Arab variables promoting the overthrow of corruptive and tyrannical regimes and the belief of many communities in the values of freedom, democracy and social justice.” He stressed that “this picture will not be complete without overthrowing the tyrannical occupation and ensuring the Palestinian people’s right to freedom and dignity, like the other people of this world.”

(Source / 18.03.2013)