Hamas re-elects exiled leader Meshaal for a new term: official

Meshaal, 56, is a veteran politician who has been key to Hamas’ attempts to break out of its political isolation following its takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Hamas re-elected on Monday its longtime exiled leader Khaled Meshaal for a new term, officials in the Palestinian Islamic movement said from Cairo.

“The leaders of Hamas chose Meshaal,” a high-ranking official told AFP via telephone from the Egyptian capital, requesting anonymity.

Hamas officials said earlier that the movement’s governing shura council was poised to renew Meshaal’s leadership for another four years, with one describing his re-election as “widely known.”

Prior to Monday’s vote, however, there had been speculation that the exiled leader would be forced aside by the movement’s powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since 2007.

Meshaal himself had said last year that he would not seek a new term.

But developments in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 “pushed Hamas to choose Meshaal…who has given the movement a national face… and has good relations in the Arab world,” one Hamas official said Monday.

Meshaal, 56, is a veteran politician with close ties to regional powers Qatar, Egypt and Turkey. He has been key to Hamas’ attempts to break out of its political isolation following its  takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Two Hamas officials said Meshaal ran unopposed and was re-elected by a majority in the movement’s Shura Council, which is believed to have about 60 members.

Hamas began holding internal elections a year ago, a secretive process spread over several countries, shrouded in mystery and beset by logistics problems.

Hamas has four components – activists in Gaza, in the West Bank, in exile and those imprisoned by Israel. Each of the four groups chooses local leaders as well as delegates to the Shura Council. This council selects a decision-making political bureau and the head of that body – the stage that was wrapped up in Cairo on Monday.

Meshaal became head of the movement in 1996 and will now lead it for another four years.

He is seen as a member of the more pragmatic wing of Hamas, in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

Israeli settlers steal water from Palestinians: report

A new report reveals that Israeli settlers have been stealing water from Palestinian water springs near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank for their fish farms,Press TV reports.

The Palestinian NGO, Land Research Centre, said in a report that Israeli settlers from the settlements of Yiztar and Baracha have been using water springs in the Palestinian residents of Burin in order to raise fish.

Jamal Daoud, a Burin resident, told Press TV that the Israeli settlers confiscated the Palestinian water springs, which are used to irrigate crops.

Daoud also said Palestinians always had problems with Israeli settlers, and for several times the settlers attacked Palestinians on their farms.

The Palestinian residents lodged a complaint with Israeli authorities, saying that the settlers use their only source of water, not only for farming but also for their leisure. This is while the Palestinian community suffers water shortages and has to pay extortionate rates for water.

The Israeli settlements are considered illegal by much of the international community. However, defiant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the settlement construction is part of Tel Aviv’s policy and will not stop.

Construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prevents an occupying power from transferring its own population into occupied territory, an act that could be equal to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

Syrian rebels control most oil wells in the north

The opposition controls more than 70 percent of the oil wells in Northeastern Syria, where Al Arabiya’s cameras were able to go and look around.

Fighters are patrolling the area regularly to protect the oil wells and facilities, Abu Ahmed – a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) – told Al Arabiya.

Most of the oil facilities are not working due to imposed sanctions by the international community. However, Oweinan al-Jerba – another FSA commander – said the opposition’s plan was to get them working again.

“We are currently negotiating with Kurds in neighboring areas for shared control over those wells in order to get the oil production started,” he told Al Arabiya.

However, the government of President Bashar al-Assad still controls the Baniyas and Tartus ports, which are a main export portal.

Even though the Syrian opposition may not be able to generate revenue, their control over the wells is sure to put pressure on the Assad regime, which has killed more than 70,000 people since the March 2011 uprising, the U.N. says.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

Official: Hamas Set to Announce Leader

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. (Photo: via Al Jazeera)

Khaled Meshaal.

Hamas will most likely select Khalid Mashaal as the head of its politburo for a fourth time late Monday, a senior member of the Islamic movement said.

“Tonight, the presidency of the political bureau will be resolved, and most likely Khalid Mashaal will remain” the Hamas leader for another term, Ahmad Yousef told Ma’an.

He said the Shura Council, Hamas’ political leadership, would present the names of nominees and then the council will vote. Elections are usually held in total secrecy.

Mashaal had indicated previously he would not seek another term, but officials told Ma’an that Arab and Palestinian figures asked him to seek the top spot once again.

In an interview Wednesday, Mashaal downplayed the idea he would represent Hamas to run for the Palestinian presidency, but he said heading the PLO was a possibility.

Hamas “hasn’t made its final decision regarding the presidency. If Hamas nominated me to head the PLO, this is Hamas’ natural right. But we’re not going to fight for the presidency,” he said.

Hani al-Basous, doctor of political science at Gaza’s Islamic University, told Ma’an that some Arab countries had exerted pressure to reelect Mashaal.

Mashaal will play a major role in finalizing reconciliation with Hamas’ rivals Fatah “thanks to his diplomacy and network of relations across the region,” al-Basous told Ma’an.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

West can no longer support Israeli occupation of Palestine: Harry Fear

Interview with Harry Fear

“I think what really is going to change this is the fact as I said that the world is waking up to this, that sooner or later these Western states are no longer going to be able to get away with such a foreign policy supporting Israel because the domestic populations– in the UK, my native UK for example– they are just not going to tolerate such a barbaric foreign policy supporting the oppression of the Palestinians and the theft of their land anymore.”

A political analyst tells Press TV that the world is waking up to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and it is moving towards a kind of pressure point to where Israel will be soon forced to dismantle its occupation.

The comments came after Israeli forces attacked Palestinian demonstrators in the occupied West Bank and Gaza on the 37th anniversary of Land Day, injuring dozens of protesters. March 30 is commemorated every year because of a deadly incident on that day in 1976 in which Israeli troops killed six Palestinians during a protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Harry Fear, activist and filmmaker, to further discuss the issue. What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.

Press TV: Now thirty seven years again this is the anniversary of Land Day and again we saw more demonstrations and again more people injured.

Do you see a change in the horizon if you are looking compared to years prior to this as far as the attention perhaps that the situation is getting and also in general the overall perspective of the Palestinians, do you think that there is a change on the horizon or are we going to commemorating this day thirty seven more years?

Fear: Well I think there are two very clear trajectories, one is more optimistic and the other more cynical and pessimistic.

To start with the later I think that if we look what happened certainly in the West Bank, not Gaza where I am talking to you now but in the other bit of Palestine that is left, Israel has successfully and it was its objective and it managed to eat up more and more Palestinian land and resources and this is why I think Land Day is such an important day because it underscores the fact that this so-called Israel-Palestine conflict is basically about land theft and resource theft and this key term land, it’s been stolen. The point is that the Palestinian land has been stolen.

I mean the West Bank, Israel has now left a tiny faction percentage of Palestinian land untouched for Palestinians to live in but the vast majority of it is under Israeli occupying force domination and control.

If we look at Gaza, the situation is more optimistic and hopeful. It is basically a big fact on the ground, a big Palestinian fact on the ground and Israel has not been able to occupy Gaza now for years. There is a great deal of autonomy here even given the besiegement and the siege. So this is a positive trajectory.

At the same time the world is waking up to these illegal settlements in the West Bank and the International Criminal Court declaration about the illegality of the wall and the settlements and colonization in the West Bank for a few years ago now, all of these facts are moving towards a kind of pressure point to where I hope and believe that Israel will be soon I hope forced to dismantle its occupation, what have not may mean.

Press TV: Well but Harry Fear, you talked about as far as the various international organizations now making more aggressive statements but of course we know that the settlements were stated to be illegal initially even by the United Nations but that did not stop the Israelis from confiscating more and more land.

So what will it take to go beyond just this type of verbal reprimand and actually get the international community to put the pressure on Israel that it certainly most people would say deserves?

Fear: Well yes indeed. I mean that the precedence in law and what is said at the United Nations, what’s said at the Arab League every year and etc. is very clear that Israel has to stop occupying the so-called 1967 territories in East Jerusalem and just to correct myself, I was referring to the ICJ, the International Court of Justice advisory ruling which re-affirmed all of the illegality of this.

I think what really is going to change this is the fact as I said that the world is waking up to this, that sooner or later these Western states are no longer going to be able to get away with such a foreign policy supporting Israel because the domestic populations– in the UK, my native UK for example– they are just not going to tolerate such a barbaric foreign policy supporting the oppression of the Palestinians and the theft of their land anymore.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

A Third Palestinian Intifada in the Making

 

At a recent conference I was repeatedly asked about the prospects for a third Palestinian uprising, or Intifada. The question, although seemingly uncomplicated, is both loaded and important, and cannot be answered in a mere two minutes or less.

A ‘third Intifada’ would imply that the second has already ended. But has it? Or did it simply lose momentum, sense of focus and direction, or were its energies squandered – as a popular uprising – on factional disputes and internal division?

Some of its initial leaders are no longer involved, and a cohesive uprising cannot exist if too many of its players have switched sides, changed roles, or are absent altogether. To approach this subject more practically, the first Intifada in 1987 must be thoroughly scrutinized.

Palestinian collective revolts are not a singular response to singular problems caused by outsiders, for example the British mandate, Zionist colonial designs, Israeli occupation, and so on. What is often missed are the internal factors which anger the Palestinian masses, such as their leadership’s failures, divisions, u-turns, corruption, nepotism, and so on.

The 1987 uprising was consistent with this model, although it certainly inspired a paradigm shift. On one hand, it was a collective cry for justice and an earnest attempt at ending an Israeli occupation of Palestinian land occupied in 1967. But it also represented the instinctive desire to reclaim the Palestinian struggle, which had for long been managed from abroad: Jordan, Lebanon, then, more or less, Tunisia.

There was a permeating awareness among Palestinians in the occupied territories that their plight had turned into power struggles between various factions based in various Arab capitals, and that their disputes were hardly ideological, but more pertinent to issues of control, money and status.

The first uprising quickly formulated its own ideas, mechanisms and symbols, all reflecting the unity of purpose among Palestinians. In fact the overt emphasis on “national unity” in the Intifada’s symbols and slogans was a clear sign of Palestinian denunciation of disunity and factionalism.

Although the Israeli response to the first Intifada was lethal, it hardly compares to the more violent response to the second uprising of 2000. The Israeli government wanted to crush the revolt before it developed a rhythm and turned into a long-term, popular commitment. Israel also operated with the erroneous assumption that the uprising was manufactured by the late Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader, Yasser Arafat, to extract political concessions.

The fact is both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – assembled following the 1993 Oslo Accords as an alternative to the all encompassing PLO – were caught by complete surprise when Palestinians took to the streets in defiance, not just against the Israeli occupation, but also the wavering attitudes and rampant corruption that pervaded their own leadership.

If we must accept that the second Intifada is over, or was ended by the infighting between Fatah and Hamas, then an examination of its outcomes is necessary. Although the second Intifada has not brought an end to the Israeli occupation, it certainly has made a serious impact on the political institutions in Palestine. It has given rise to another leadership, that of Hamas, and forced a major rethink within the once leading movement, Fatah.

The second uprising greatly undermined the PA, and therefore the Oslo accords that brought it into existence, highlighting the need for alternative – and truly representative – political institutions, such as a revived version of the PLO.

Indeed, every major Palestinian revolt in the past has resulted in new, unpredictable realities, and despite all attempts, the status quo that defined the pre-revolt periods is often negligible afterwards. New faces, names, priorities, slogans and symbols are often introduced to the mix, although still defined by an everlasting desire for justice, meaningful peace and freedom.

Israel’s methods for subduing Palestinians and crushing uprisings have also produced new realities, thresholds and relationships. Methods such as huge walls, new settlements and weapons of mass suppression often complicate the already painful existence of Palestinians living under occupation and result in more revolts.

The first Intifada brought the struggle home, and introduced local leaderships, who competed with the old guard on all fronts, including the right of articulating Palestinian demands and aspirations. The second Intifada saw the Oslo accord and its adjoining ‘culture of peace’ as a worthless process that failed to improve the dreadful reality on the ground – although it did manage to empower a specific class of Palestinians financially as well as politically.

Now Palestinians find themselves in a transition that has an uncertain outcome. There are more questions than answers: where will the Fatah-Hamas clash lead? Will Fatah carry on while maintaining its current structure? For how long? Will Palestinians continue to adhere to the once uncontested demand for a two-state solution? And how credible is that formula under the current circumstances, where a clear cut separation is complicated if not totally unfeasible? How will the geopolitical split between the West Bank and Gaza play out in coming years?

Palestinian uprisings are often a collective response to hard questions. The chances are the next Intifada – as surely there will always be one as long as the occupation continues – will find again a popular rejection of the ills which have afflicted the Palestinian cause, It would once again reassert the relevance, if not the leading role of the Palestinian people as the real owners of their fate, and guards of their own struggle.

(Oct 31 2008 / Source / 01.04.2013)

De olijfboom

Geschiedenis van de olijfboom in Palestina

Olijfbomen hebben zich vanuit Palestina in het Middellandse Zeegebied verspreid. Dat gebeurde circa 6000 jaar geleden. Zij werden al gecultiveerd voordat het schrift was ontwikkeld.

De olijfboom is een eenvoudige boom. Ook op dorre aarde geeft hij delicate vruchten af. Hij kan meer dan duizend jaar oud worden. Van sommige olijfbomen op de Olijfberg in Jeruzalem wordt wel gezegd dat ze 2000 jaar oud zijn.

In de loop van de tijd is de olijfboom een symbool geworden van vrede, wijsheid en welvaart. Voor de Palestijnen is daar een specifieke betekenis bijgekomen. Sinds de Israëlische bezetting in 1967 zijn olijfbomen vooral het symbool geworden voor de verbondenheid met hun land. Palestijnse vluchtelingen in de diaspora dragen vaak sieraden die de vorm hebben van een olijfboom.

De vrucht van de olijfboom

Het bijzondere van de olijfboom is dat hij vruchten schenkt in een onvruchtbare omgeving. De eerste vruchten kunnen na 4 jaar worden verwacht. Tussen de 12 en 15 jaar geeft een olijfboom de meeste vruchten. Olijven zijn eerst groen en krijgen geleidelijk een donkere kleur, tot ze rijp zijn.

In bezet Palestina is circa 1000 km² beplant met olijfbomen. De gemiddelde olijfboom produceert 9 kg olijven per jaar, waaruit 2 liter olijfolie kan worden gewonnen. Deze olie heeft in Palestina veel functies: hij dient als voedsel, bestanddeel van het heilige sacrament, brandstof of ingrediënt voor medicijnen.

Voor de Palestijnse landbouwsector is de olijfboom van grote betekenis. De olijvenoogst draagt voor 15 tot 20% bij aan de totale agrarische opbrengst. Olijfolie is het op één na belangrijkste exportproduct in Palestina. Veel Palestijnse gezinnen zijn dan ook sterk afhankelijk van hun olijfbomen. Voor mij informatie, bekijk onze fact sheet.

Gedicht

De Palestijnse dichter Tawfik Al-Zayad, tevens voormalig burgemeester van de plaats Nazareth, heeft een ontroerend gedicht geschreven over de olijfboom, dat veel verwijzing bevat naar de rechteloosheid waar de Palestijnsen sinds tientallen jaren aan bloot staan.

In de bast van de olijfboom op mijn binnenplaats

“Omdat ik elke dag gearresteerd kan worden

en mijn huis bezocht kan worden door de politie

om het te onderzoeken en te ‘reinigen’

omdat ik geen papier kan kopen,

zal ik alles wat ik meemaakt

en al mijn geheimen

kerven in de bast van de olijfboom op mijn binnenplaats.

Mijn verhaal zal ik kerven en de hoofdstukken

van mijn tragedie

en mijn zuchten

om mijn akker en om de graven van mijn doden.

Al het bittere dat ik heb moeten slikken

maar dat tienvoudig vergolden zal worden

door het zoete dat nog komt,

zal ik daarin kerven.

Ik zal het nummer erin kerven

van elk perceel land dat van ons geroofd is.

En de ligging van mijn dorp, de grenzen ervan.

En de huizen die opgeblazen zijn.

En mijn bonen die ontworteld zijn

en elke veldbloem die vertrapt is.

En de namen van hen die mijn zenuwen

steeds weer tot het uiterste wisten te spannen,

mijn ademtochten

en de namen van mijn gevangenissen

en wat voor boeien om mijn polsen klemden

en de dossiers van mijn cipiers

en elk scheldwoord dat over mijn hoofd werd uitgestort.

 

En ik zal kerven: Kafr Qasim, ik ben je niet vergeten.

En ik zal kerven: Deir Yassin, jij leeft nog altijd

in mijn herinnering.

En ik zal kerven: wij hebben nu de climax

van het drama bereikt.

En ik zal kerven

wat de zon mij vertelt

wat de maan mij toefluistert

wat de doden mij toevertrouwen

bij de bron, waarvan de geliefden vertrokken zijn.

Opdat ik mij herinner alle hoofdstukken

van mijn tragedie,

alle fasen van de rampspoed

gekerfd in de bast van de olijfboom

op de binnenplaats van mijn huis.”

(Source / 01.04.2013)

Doc Jazz: a Palestinian Surgeon’s Musical Intifada

 

doc_jazz_cover

Times change, situations change, people change. This is how the world has always been, and this can definitely be said about these turbulent first decades of this 21st century. For this reason, it’s nice to know that there are also things and people that seem to be weathering these changes, and stubbornly remain there as constant and dependable factors.

In the limited world of music for the Palestinian cause, the phenomenon known as ‘Doc Jazz‘ can certainly be counted as one of these dependable factors. Almost since the very beginning of internet activism, he has been present and active, which is why to most people who are interested in the Palestinian cause, he would barely be in need of any introduction. He is the Palestinian surgeon who, next to his ongoing career as a surgeon, has been engaging in activism on and off the internet, with his music, his writings, his organizing skills at demonstrations and inspiring speeches, and his unstoppable energy.

These aspects of Tariq Shadid have indeed remained unchanged, but be careful not to mistake this constancy for lack of evolution and development. Those who remember him from his first songs for the Palestinian cause and have not checked back since, will probably be unaware how the quality of his musical recordings has been evolving constantly, now resulting in high-fidelity songs of a high quality, and with rich arrangements. His musical repertoire – at least those songs of his that are available online – has now reached 100 songs, most of which deal with almost all aspects of the Palestinian cause. There is barely an aspect of the struggle that is not represented in one of his songs. Best of all is: he does the entire production by himself, writes the songs and the lyrics, plays all the instruments, and does all the vocals.

His most recent album is ‘Intifada’, which was released in November 2012, and which features a selection of his most popular Palestine-songs, like Intifada, Right of Return, We Resist (Free Palestine) and Freedom Flotilla, as well as two of his Arabic songs for the cause. In the beginning of this year, he also came out with the song ‘Hungry’, dedicated to the cause of Samer Issawi and the other Palestinian political prisoners who protest against their detention by their unimaginably long hunger strikes. The song was well-received, and was featured on Dubai TV in a special about the Palestinian hunger strikers.

He has also recently joined the Free Samer Issawi Campaign, and has contributed to keeping the ongoing Twitter campaigns for that cause alive. Every day, at the same time, so-called ‘Twitterstorms’ are organized, which are joined by hundreds of dedicated tweeters, and rarely fail to get the daily hashtag to trend on the Worldwide list. On his website, all these world trending hashtags are collected, together with information on how to contribute to trending on Twitter effectively.

Another aspect that underlines the continuous evolution and expansion of his musical and activist project, the ‘Musical Intifada’, is his impressive following on Facebook. His Doc Jazz fan page there now boasts an impressive 31,000 members, a sign that his work is steadily increasing in scope and exposure. Having a quick and superficial listen to his music may not immediately explain why, and the reason for that is its almost incredible variety of musical styles. If you have listened to one of Doc Jazz’s songs, don’t assume that you already know the drill. The sound and style is not exactly what you will find in the entertainment world’s Top 40, so if that is what you are looking for, you may end up with a prejudiced judgment. This is a more sophisticated type of music that requires you to take time and really listen, but if you do, you are very likely to be captivated. You will encounter hip-hop, rock, funky jazz-pop, piano ballads, Palestinian folkloric music and modern Arabic music, and this description still doesn’t cover everything you can find in his impressive repertoire.

What perhaps best illustrates this, is the statement of recognition that was recently presented to Doc Jazz by the Edward Said National Conservatory in Palestine, for publication on his website. It reads:

“The Edward Said National Conservatory recognizes the musical work of Dr. Tariq Shadid, who goes by the name of Doc Jazz, as an important contribution to Palestinian music. We are impressed by the magnitude of his oeuvre and the richness of his compositions, wherein he manages to combine a wide variety of musical styles with a message that expresses the hopes and aspirations of our people. We appreciate the fact that he embraces modern musical trends just as much as his efforts to conserve the folkloric traditions of Palestinian music. We believe that his work can serve as an inspiration to aspiring young Palestinian musicians to develop their own efforts at musical composition and creativity.”

Indeed, that sums it up quite beautifully. Imagine if this was all we had to say about Dr. Tariq Shadid, wouldn’t that already be quite something? Well, to be truthful, it doesn’t end here.

Tariq Shadid has been writing for the Palestine Chronicle for well over a decade, and many of his writings can be found there, as well as on his website. A selection of his writings from before 2007 has also been published into a paperback called ‘Understanding Palestine’, which is available on Amazon. His articles mostly have one thing in common: they call for Palestinian self-determination, and they mobilize against normalization, and against racism. This is probably why his pieces are read and shared so widely: even though they may refer to current events happening at the time they were written, they are almost invariably characterized by timelessness, and contain truths that are applicable to the entire history of the Palestinian struggle.

Besides being an excellent musician and writer, this incredible allrounder also has a very artistic hand at drawing and painting. He painted the cover of his album ‘Front Door Key’, of a small Palestinian girl holding a key that symbolizes the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, and recently drew a portrait of Samer Issawi that can now be found on websites and social media all over the world.

It’s hard to imagine that someone who is not only a full-time surgeon, but even the Head of Department of Surgery at his hospital, is able to do all these things and excel at all of them. However, if you realize that he is a Palestinian, you will undoubtedly conclude that it is that legendary Palestinian drive and dedication that forms this basis of excellence. Those who are willing to look around, will never fail to see the amazing talents that the Palestinian people – both inside of Palestine and in the diaspora – are able to present to the world.

No one lives forever, but it has become obvious that as long as Tariq Shadid can breathe, sing, write and operate, he will not change who he is, and what he stands for. In this ever-changing and evolving world, this one-man production machine of Palestinian activism will remain a force to be reckoned with. The world emphasizes and celebrates the talents of Jews – even when it comes to the Palestinian cause, as if there aren’t any Palestinians available to represent themselves – but this is only because they are not willing to see the amazingly talented icons of the Palestinian people. They are there, they are impressive, and they will be seen and overwhelm the world.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

Reading Palestinian Prison Diaries

prisoners_diaries_book

By Richard Falk

(The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, edited by Norma Hashim, in close collaboration with the Centre for Political & Development Studies, Gaza, 2013)

There are many moving passages that can be found in these excerpts from prison diaries and recollections of 22 Palestinians. What is most compelling is how much the material expresses the shared concerns of these prisoners despite great variations in writing style and background. A few keywords dominate the texts: pain, God or Allah, love, dream, homeland, steadfastness, tears, freedom, dream, prayer. My reading of these diaries exposed me to the distinct personal struggles of each prisoner to survive with as much dignity as possible in a dank and poorly lit circumstances of isolation, humiliation, acute hostility on the part of the prison staff, including abusive neglect by the medical personnel. The diaries also confirmed that even prolonged captivity had not diluted the spirit of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, but on the contrary had intensified it.  A strong impression of the overall illegitimacy of Israel’s encroachment on the most fundamental rights of the Palestinian people is also present on virtually every page.

Although not professional writers, the sentiments expressed have a special kind of eloquence arising from their authenticity and passion.  A female prisoner, Sana’a Shihada, on learning that her family had been spared the demolition of their family home, describes the ordeal of her interrogation in a poetic idiom: “..the anger of the interrogators was like snow and peace to me [an Arabic saying that conveys a sense of being ‘soothing’]. I felt the pride of the Palestinians, the glory of Muslims, and the brightness of honesty. I knelt to Allah, thankfully. My tears fell on the floor of the cell, and I am sure they dug a path which those later imprisoned will be able to see.” Or the words of Eyad Obayyat, a prisoner facing three lifetime sentences for his role in killing several Israeli soldiers, “Among us prisoners, the unity of love for our homeland was precious above all other things.” Another, Avina Sarahna, asks poignantly, “Is resisting occupation a crime?…Let me be a witness to the truth, and let me stay here.” Speaking of the pain of being separated from her four children, Kahera Als’adi writes, whom she discovered were living in an orphanage: “I couldn’t keep myself from bursting into tears. Was my loving family scattered like this? Was fate against us because of our love for our homeland? After that visit, I felt like a slaughtered sheep.” These randomly selected quotations could be multiplied many times over, but hopefully the overall tone and coherent message are conveyed by these few examples.

What I found most valuable about this publication was its success in turning the abstraction of Palestinian prisoners into a series of human stories most of which exhibit agonized feelings of regret resulting from prolonged estrangement from those they most love in the world. Particularly moving were the sorrows expressed by men missing their mothers and daughters. These are the written words of prisoners who have been convicted of various major crimes by Israeli military courts, some of whom face cruel confinement for the remainder of their life on earth, and who have been further punished by being deprived of ever seeing those they love not at all, or on rare occasions, for brief tantalizing visits under dehumanizing conditions, through fogged up separation walls.

It is hard not to treat a prison population as an abstraction that if noticed at all by the outside world is usually reduced to statistics that appear in reports of human rights NGOs. These autobiographical texts, in contrast, force us to commune with these prisoners as fellow human beings, persons like ourselves with loves, lovers, needs, aspirations, hopes, pious dreams, and unrelenting hardships and suffering. There is also reference to the other side of the prison walls. These prisoners show concern for the suffering that imprisonment causes their families, especially young children and elderly parents.  Given the closeness of Palestinian  families it is certain that those who are being held in prison would be terribly missed, especially as their confinement arises because of their engagement in a struggle sacred to virtually every Palestinian. Such humanization of Palestinian prisoners is undoubtedly superfluous for Palestinians living under occupation or in refugee camps where arrests, which resemble state-sanctioned kidnappings are being made daily by Israeli security forces. It is a tragic aspect of the occupation that after 45 years of occupation there is not a Palestinian family that is left untouched by the Israeli criminalization of all forms of resistance, including those that are nonviolent and symbolic.

We need a wider ethical, legal, and political perspective to grasp properly this phenomenon of Palestinian prisoners. The unlawful occupation policies of Israel are unpunished even when lethal and flagrantly in violation of international humanitarian law, and are rarely even officially criticized in international arenas. In contrast lawful forms of resistance by the Palestinian people are harshly punished, and the resulting victimization of those brave enough to resist is overlooked almost everywhere.  If we side with those who resist, as was done during World War II when those Europeans mounted militant forms of resistance against German occupation and criminal practices, we glorify their deeds and struggle. Yet if the occupier enjoys our primary solidarity we tend to criminalize resistance without any show of empathy. To some extent, this book cuts through this ideological myopia, and lets us experience the torment of these prisoners as human beings rather than as Palestinian ‘soldiers’ in the ongoing struggle against Israel.

In the past year, heroic Palestinian hunger strikers, initially Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, did their best to call attention to the abusive character of Israel’s terrifying violent arrests in the middle of the night followed by imprisonment for lengthy periods without even making charges or holding trials. Israeli recourse to administrative detention takes place even in circumstances where the person being confined was engaged in no activities that could be remotely considered to pose a security threats.  It is notable that despite hunger strikers putting their own lives at severe risk to protest such inhumane behavior by Israel in its role as the occupying power, the world refuses to pay attention even to such hunger strikers, which is somewhat shocking despite decades of lectures to the Palestinians to renounce armed resistance, and engage instead in nonviolent forms of resistance, and if they do so, they will win political support for their grievances even from governments allied with Israel, including the United States. To date the evidence suggests a far uglier pattern: when Palestinians resist by way of armed struggle, their actions are denounced and their grievances are ignored, while when they resist nonviolently, their actions and their grievances are ignored. What is worse, while this shift in Palestinian tactics has taken place in recent years, the Israeli governing process moves steadily to the right until now in March 2013, the latest governing coalition in Tel Aviv is avowedly settler oriented. The international background music has not changed, and Washington loses no opportunity to sound the trumpets while declaring its unconditional and undying loyalty to Israel, pretending not to notice violations of international law and the deliberate efforts to make the two state solution yesterday’s dream, today’s nightmare.

The preoccupation of these prisoners with the fate of the singular Israeli prisoner at the time, Gilad Shalit, was something of a surprise for me, although it is understandable. Why, the Palestinians ask themselves, does the world make such a fuss about a single Israeli being held in Gaza after being captured during a military mission, and ignore the fate of the many thousands of Palestinians detained for year after year because they fought for the freedom of their country? Once considered, such a question is both natural, and once asked, the grotesque display of double standards seems self-evident. But there is also an opposite appreciation of the significance of Shalit expressed, which recognizes that the October 2011 deal struck to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners would not have happened had Shalit not been captured. In this sense, the Palestinians in recording their feelings realize that their freedom has been made possible because Hamas succeeded in capturing and holding Shalit. This was no small achievement. During the massive attacks by Israel on Gaza in 2008-09, Operation Cast Lead, IDF commanders told their troops that this violence had been unleashed so as to gain the release of Shalit. Had Hamas allowed Shalit to go free or had be been killed in the operation, then there would have been no negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners. It is as simple as that. Of course, it is not simple. Many of those released were soon rearrested by Israel, once more undermining even minimal trust between the two peoples, and again showing that Israel can defy legal and moral obligations without facing any adverse consequences, a metaphor for the overall stranglehold of the occupation.

Above all, these texts in almost every page confirm that particularly prized Palestinian collective public/private virtue of sumud or steadfastness. Such exhibitions of courage indirectly shames those of us who suffer far less or not at all, and yet find ourselves discouraged and dispirited by the ills of the world to an extent that we retreat from public engagement to the comfort zones of sanctuaries of escape. These prisoners have no such option, maintaining their commitment to the Palestinian struggle in the darkest of circumstances, consigned to spending their most energetic years behind bars or surrounded by dank prison walls. We can ask ourselves where does such courage come from? There is no definite common answer. Yet what comes across from these diary pages are deep commitments  rooted in love of family and homeland as strengthened by religious faith and practice and sustained by prison camaraderie or in embittered reaction to the dehumanizing atmosphere of enduring prison life year upon year.

We should not forget that there is a callous and manifest unlawfulness about this network of Israeli prisons, all but one of the 19 being located in Israel, in direct violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation: “Protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve therein.”  Underlying such a provision of law is a humane impulse: compelling an individual to be imprisoned in the occupying country imposes a geographic separation from family and homeland, which in the Israeli case is accentuated by a permit system that as a practical matter makes family visits from occupied Palestine a virtual impossibility. With respect to prisoners from Gaza, there are virtually no prison visits allowed even if sentences are for several decades or lifetime. As is widely known, the people of Gaza have been subject to a punitive blockade maintained ever since mid-2007 that involves a massive imposition of collective punishment on the civilian population, a crime of war so specified in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s cruelty toward Palestinian prisoners is underscored by its recent practice of releasing West Bank hunger strikers at death’s doorstep, then deporting them for a period of years to Gaza, that is, beyond access to their families and normal places of residence, at a moment when their physical condition is so deteriorated that they could not possibly become a security threat and when most in need of nurture and familiar surroundings. Hana Shalabi, who was particularly close to her family, was so deported to Gaza for three years and just days ago. Ayman Sharawneh was similarly deported for ten years as part of a plea bargain. Such shocking practice is worthy of global condemnation. It involves another form of collective punishment inflicted both on the person so confined to Gaza and to his or her family that is not allowed to travel from the West Bank to Gaza. There is a triple  perverseness about this practice of prisoner release: Gaza itself an open-aired prison also serves Israel as a site of punitive internal exile, and makes the distinction between ‘prison’ and ‘freedom’ almost disappear into surreal thin air.  One can only imagine the global protest movement if Hamas had conditioned Gilad Shalit’s release on his confinement in a Salafi controlled region of Egypt!

This pattern of unlawful imprisonment and unjust deportation also interferes with the preparation of adequate defense representation as Palestinian lawyers also experience routine difficulties in obtaining permits and visiting rights. Article 76 also requires that prison conditions for those living under occupation should under no condition be worse than those of Israeli prisoners in Israel, which makes the disallowance and obstruction of family visits for Palestinians unlawful, as well as cruel.

It is increasing evident that international humanitarian law falls short when it comes to offering suitable protection to the Palestinian people who have been living under occupation since 1967, with no end in sight. It is not only occupation, but a continuous process of encroachment that cumulatively has assumed the character of de facto annexation via the massive settlement phenomenon. Under these circumstances, and given the inalienable right of self-determination that belongs to the Palestinian people, there is posed some protection for rights of resistance. These rights need to be exercised in a manner respectful of civilian innocence, but difficult issues of identification are posed in relation to armed and violent Israeli settlers. True, those who act in resistance are not technically prisoners of war, who are protected the Third Geneva Convention, but they are acting to fulfill fundamental rights being violated by those who occupy their land and sit in judgment when they act defensively. What is needed, beyond all doubt, is a code of conduct, if not an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, that fills in this gap associated with resistance. Resisters should be treated with the same dignity under international humanitarian law as is associated with Prisoners of War. Their acts, even if violent, are in keeping with prevailing societal and civilizational values, and perpetrators, even when confined for reasonable security reasons, should be treated with appropriate dignity. Unlike sociopathic common murderers, rapists, and the like (and even they should also be treated in accord with international standards), the acts of Palestinian prisoners are viewed as heroic by their own society and political culture, as well as many people throughout the world. They deserve international recognition and protection. Their ‘crimes’ will eventually be vindicated by history as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule.

I believe it to be a moral obligation of all of us who care about human rights and freedom to read this book, and share it with others. The Palestinians, whose rights and dignity have been long trampled upon, especially deserve our deepest empathy, as well as our solidarity in their struggle. Reading the words of these prisoners vividly discloses the nature of such a struggle in the form of witnessing by those Palestinians who have put their lives at risk for the sake of recovering their stolen homeland. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Norma Hashim who has edited this collection as a work of devotion and an expression of solidarity with and reflection on the Palestinian struggle. Its publication in book form is timed to coincide with Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17th.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

The IDF must stop arresting children

The unbearable ease with which the IDF, police and Border Police arrest small children shows that Israel is blatantly flouting both UNICEF’s report and its own laws.

Twenty-seven Palestinian children were ambushed and arrested by Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Hebron on March 20. Eighteen of them were less than 12 years old, the minimum age at which they can legally be held responsible for a crime.

This large-scale roundup was arbitrary. Soldiers arrested every child they saw on the street − including first- and second-graders no older than 7 or 8 − on suspicion of throwing stones at roadblock 160, which separates Palestinians from settlers.

Among them was 8-year-old Ahmed Abu Remeila, who was quoted by Gideon Levy in Haaretz on Friday as saying he was abducted by soldiers on his way to school from the grocery store, where he had bought himself a biscuit, and that he was held at the police station for almost two hours.

All 18 children under the age of 12 were eventually released, but their arrest was nevertheless utterly reprehensible. Under Israeli law, they should not have been arrested at all. In fact, the law forbid authorities from interrogating the older children as well, unless their parents and attorneys were present. This was not the case.

The arrests in Hebron were carried out some two weeks after the United Nations Children’s Fund released a report severely castigating Israel for the ways it arrests and detains Palestinian children.

UNICEF, which cannot in any way be accused of being anti-Israel, determined that the mistreatment of Palestinian minors detained by Israel is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”

“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” it declared.

According to UNICEF’s report, Israel has, in the past decade, arrested no fewer than 7,000 Palestinian children − some 700 a year. They are usually arrested in the middle of the night, after their homes are violently broken into, taken from their beds, torn from their families and thrown into prison in extremely harsh conditions, in violation of international treaties signed by Israel.

The unbearable ease with which the IDF, police and Border Police arrest small children shows that Israel is blatantly flouting both UNICEF’s report and its own laws.

Even if the problem of stone-throwing in the West Bank is getting worse, the IDF’s chief of staff must put an immediate stop to this illegal, ignominious procedure.

(Source / 01.04.2013)