Dear Comrades, friends, and partners in the struggle,
We, a group of conscientious Israeli-Jews, would like to express our deep respect and solidarity with you – the 1,500 or more Palestinians who embarked on a collective open ended hunger strike to demand your basic rights.
Given the brutal measures inflicted on political prisoners around the world, be it in the former apartheid regime in South Africa, the imperial British rule over Ireland or in present-day Palestine-Israel, hunger strikes remain a peaceful, non-violent, and legitimate tool of resistance.
The Israeli prison authorities employ mass incarceration, solitary confinement, administrative detentions, torture, and even the incarceration of minors as a matter of state policy. These unlawful practices of imprisonment are used as a tool of political repression and are carried out with the full backing of Israel’s apartheid judicial system. This system deprives the Palestinian society of its voice, identity, and collective hope of liberation from the chains of colonialism.
Caged under inhumane conditions, Palestinian prisoners who fight the “battle of empty stomachs” demonstrate once again that the active Palestinian leadership is the one located behind prison walls. From the confines of their prison cells, the prisoners embody the voice of Palestinian unity and struggle, along with the millions of exiled refugees who struggle daily for their right to return.
We draw inspiration from your courage and determination as well as from past hunger strikers such as Nelson Mandela, Bobby Sands, Alice Paul, and other outstanding figures who had confronted their oppressors to liberate themselves and liberate others. We stand with you in the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice, until the fall of apartheid.
Zohar Atai, Shir Hever, Shajar Rachel, Barith Ball, Guy Hirchfeld, Shira Ramer Wittlin, Ronnie Barkan, Tammar Hoffman, Adi Raz, Ronnen Ben-Arie, Lihi Joffe…
- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/04/israelis-palestinian-prisoners/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List#sthash.qK23KSDt.dpuf
U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent “two-state and one-state” pronouncement effectively signaled the demise of the Oslo Agreement–a significant reversal of the long-established U.S. position, now in contrast with a near-universal international consensus. It also supports the continuation of Israel’s colonization of the territories it has occupied since 1967.
Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the spirit of occupation-as-usual by demanding “security control” over the entire area west of the Jordan River, proclaiming, in the words of Rashid Khalidi, writing in the Nation, “A permanent regime of occupation and colonization, ruling out a sovereign independent Palestinian state, whatever fictions of ‘statehood’ or ‘autonomy’ are dreamed up to conceal this brutal reality. Trump’s subsequent silence amounts to the blessing of the U.S. government for this grotesque vision of enduring subjugation and dispossession for the Palestinians.”
The expansion of Jewish settlement in Palestine has followed a consistent pattern for about 100 years: people replacement – the replacement of Palestinians by Jews. It is crucial to understand the timing of such expansion: whenever the opportunity arises. And, for Israel, Donald J. Trump is a historic opportunity on a grand scale.
In 1907, the leadership of the World Zionist Organization sent Dr. Arthur Ruppin on a fact-finding mission to Ottoman Palestine. Ruppin, a German-Jewish economist and lawyer, subsequently developed a plan with the ultimate goal of establishing Jewish self-rule in Ottoman Palestine, where Jews were a small minority (between 6 and 9 percent).
The plan included establishing new settlements in such a way that over time they would form a mass of settlements – Israel’s first settlement bloc – to be used, much like today, as a geopolitical leveraging tool.
In the following three decades, prior to the Holocaust and before anyone could imagine the horrific fate awaiting European Jews, the foundation of the State of Israel was set in place via the creation of elaborate pre-state institutions, buttressed by small waves of immigrants whose political orientation ranged from Zionist socialists to right-wing ultra-nationalists.
In the big-picture sense, left-wing and right-wing Zionists wanted the same thing – a Jewish state in Palestine. The differences among them were largely semantic: a matter of political style, timing and competing approaches on how to reach that goal.
The elephant-in-the-room facing Zionism was – then, as now – ignored: the land was already populated by Palestinian Arabs, who had been there for centuries. Ignoring the physical reality, from early on Zionist terminology was designed to perpetuate the myth of an empty land awaiting its lost people: “A land without a people for a people without a land.”
A dunam here and a dunam there
Following the original Ruppin Plan, the expansion of Jewish settlement started with land acquisitions from absentee Arab landlords, culminating in a military campaign to drive the native population off its land. As the old Zionist saying goes, “A dunam here and a dunam there” (a dunam is approximately equal to a quarter of an acre), whenever the opportunity arises.
The same opportunistic vigor was used to remove the Palestinian people from what was soon to become Israel.
The best known milestone in the removal of the Arab population was the Deir Yassin massacre of April 9, 1948, conducted by Irgun and Lehi forces, designed to scare Palestinians and cause them to flee their homes, towns and villages.
Israel’s War of Independence consisted of other massacres, too. The war itself followed Plan Dalet (Plan D), carefully developed by the “moderate,” mainstream Haganah leadership, personified by David Ben-Gurion, to expand the territory of the future state beyond the UN Partition Plan and to remove as much of Palestine’s Arab population as possible. Then, as now, the goal of the Jewish state has been to maximize its land area while minimizing the Palestinian-Arab population residing in it.
This was the Nakba, the catastrophe – a term used by the Palestinian people to describe the loss of their homeland: the disappearance of entire communities totaling some 750,000 people, who were forced out of their country. Post-1948 Palestine was a drastically changed land: about 500 Palestinian towns and villages had been emptied of their inhabitants, their homes mostly razed and their lands divided among the Jewish kibbutzim (communal farms) and villages.
The term Nakba, which is central to Palestinian nationhood as much as the Holocaust is for Jews and slavery is for African-Americans, is shunned by most Israeli Jews for obvious reasons: Even the mere implication of responsibility for the Nakba war crimes is unacceptable.
Those Palestinians who managed to remain, now known as “1948 Palestinians,” were placed under military rule, with their basic civil rights – such as the freedom to assemble, travel and claim their properties – removed. In addition, most of their lands were confiscated by the newly created Jewish state and transferred to kibbutzim and villages.
Military rule lasted until 1966 and assured that the dispossession of the Palestinians could be carried out in a well-organized and highly controlled manner – “a dunam here and a dunam there” – with the remnants of the subject population confined to specific territories, in many cases restricted to their villages, homes or jail cells.
The Green Line – the 1949 armistice line separating Israel from the West Bank of Jordan – followed the line of Jewish settlements put in place during the 1920s-’40s, in close adherence to the Ruppin Plan. It is probably the first example of how “facts on the ground” proved to be crucial for the success of the Zionist project, something that Ruppin appreciated possibly before anyone else.
But the old Green Line was irregular and left a great deal of fertile, hilly land on the other side. And then there was Jerusalem, whose eastern parts, including Temple Mount, were also on the other side of that border. The swift military victory of the 1967 war offered an unprecedented opportunity for Israel to expand in all directions. Jerusalem was the nationalist-religious pinnacle; even more importantly, the last remaining parts of old Palestine were now there for the taking – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, totaling 22 percent of historic Palestine. Ditto the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, and Sinai (which was subsequently returned to Egypt under a separate “peace agreement” following the 1973 war).
Since 1967, under the so-called “moderate” and “extreme” Israeli governments led by the Labor and Likud parties, some 130 settlements and 100 outposts have been established in the West Bank, with a population of some 400,000 Jewish settlers. Additionally, some 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem.
Any relocation of the occupier’s population into occupied territories, whether into government-established settlements or so-called “rogue” outposts, is considered illegal according to international law and conventions.
Immediately after the 1967 war, the Syrian population of the Golan Heights (some 130,000 people) was forced out by Israel, 1948-style, leaving the territory largely empty for Israeli colonization to take root. Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights followed in 1981. (Netanyahu is now seeking U.S. recognition from Trump of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.)
Erasing the past
And the Nakba continued. The initial period after the 1967 war included a number of known cases where West Bank villagers were expelled from their homes by an Israeli military command attributed to Gen. Yitzhak Rabin. Among them were the villages of Imwas, Yalo and Bayt Nuba in the Latrun area, which were subsequently razed. (I visited the three destroyed villages in August 1967. There was very little left other than broken stones and fruit trees bursting with fruit left unpicked by villagers, now turned refugees.) In an attempt to eradicate the villages from history and erase them from public memory, the victors attempted to conceal their crimes by planting a recreational forest, named Canada Park, on the land formerly owned and cultivated by these villagers–a concealment method that had been used before.
As for the rest of the West Bank, in a slow process that has lasted nearly 50 years – and which continues to this day – the Palestinian population has been stripped of much of its land and pushed into Bantustan-like areas surrounded by Jewish settlements. The territory is now dissected into enclaves designed by Israel to assure a discontinuity of Palestinian land, thereby guaranteeing that a viable Palestinian state cannot be established.
“Facts on the ground” work in both directions: the presence of one population (Jewish) and the absence of another (Palestinian). Now, most of the Jordan Valley has been cleared of the Palestinian population; in hamlets of the poorest population – the Hebron Hills Bedouin – families are routinely uprooted and forced out of their shacks.
And throughout the West Bank, bit by bit, “a dunam here and a dunam there,” Palestinians are forced out by Jews. Houses are demolished, land is taken or its cultivation is prevented; olive groves are uprooted by settler thugs with full impunity, under the watchful gaze of Israel’s occupation army – euphemistically called the Israel Defense Forces. And Israeli government policy greatly restricts Palestinians in the West Bank from using their land and natural resources, especially water required to cultivate crops.
Thus, while Israeli settlements enjoy unrestricted water usage with lawn sprinklers galore, Palestinian farmers who dig out a 10-foot-long (3-meter) trench to collect and divert rainwater into a field or vegetable garden risk punishment and the destruction of their fields and gardens.
And the Nakba continues. A similar crackdown on Israel’s Palestinian citizens takes place with predictable regularity along similar patterns – as witnessed most recently by the destruction of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, whose population is to be corralled elsewhere in the Negev and its lands designated for a new Jewish settlement. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This is a very short list of the evils of Israel’s occupation – all of this, and much more, has been widely reported over the past five decades, and documented in great detail by UN agencies, multiple international aid organizations, foreign consulate staff and local civic organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli. (The death and destruction in Gaza, its collapsed infrastructure, economy, essential public health facilities, child nutrition and basic resources of livelihood require separate coverage.)
The Oslo II (“Taba”) Agreement divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C – a division that is used by Israel to divide and rule, confine and control the local Palestinian population.
The experience of 1948 and the early years of statehood have proven most beneficial to Zionist colonialism. A slow and methodical acquisition of land, this time by means that are entirely illegal, coupled with strategic removal and confinement of the Palestinian population, resulted in settlement blocs – vast land areas that are largely Arab-free and a network of highways, other infrastructure projects and state institutions serving the Jewish-only settlements.
This is nothing short of new-age apartheid, where the indigenous population is not only of no value to its colonial masters – not even as a source of cheap labor – but it is essential for the success of the colonial project that it be removed: the more of “them” that are gone, the better off “we” are. That people-removal process is called ethnic cleansing, which is a crime against humanity under the statute of the International Criminal Court.
All of this has been carried out mostly in plain view, under the world’s watchful eye. It has also been made possible and indirectly funded by the United States, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike – notwithstanding outgoing President Barack Obama’s lame-duck UN Security Council non-veto move, and various U.S. declarations about Israeli settlements being “a threat to peace,” or making it “almost impossible [… ] to create a contiguous, functioning Palestinian state.” Both true, but meaningless.
Role of the U.S.
Despite the rhetoric, the United States has been the primary enabler of Israel’s occupation: military aid (currently $38 billion over the next 10 years), including the very latest technologies, and close military coordination; tax exemptions for donations to Israel, including to organizations that fund settlements; global diplomatic protection; and the lending of legitimacy to a state whose actions would have otherwise made it a global pariah long ago.
Thus, under the guise of a never-ending “peace process,” the United States has acted as a dishonest broker and purveyor of broken promises, e.g., a “two-state solution” where the territory of the imagined state is eaten up by the other, already existing regional-superpower state while “peace talks” continue. It’s like the pizza analogy where two parties engage in lengthy negotiations over the splitting of a pie, while one of them keeps eating the slices. Over these past 50 years, the United States has facilitated the replacement of the Palestinian people, bit by bit, one dunam and one person at a time, as Israel grabs every opportunity that arises, paid for by Uncle Sam.
For Israel, the election of Trump to the highest office in the land presents a historic opportunity on a grand scale to accelerate both settlement expansion and the process of people replacement.
Never before has a U.S. president expressed such unbridled support for an Israeli government – especially one that is widely seen as the most right-wing, aggressive Israeli government ever.
In light of the new opportunity, the Israeli government has unleashed a wave of settlement construction permits in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – so far totaling about 6,000 homes for Jewish settlers – and announced the creation of a new settlement.
In addition, a new law allowing the confiscation of privately held Palestinian land for the benefit of Jewish settlements was recently passed. As journalist Jonathan Cook explained in the National, “In practice, there has never been a serious limit on theft of Palestinian land. But now Israeli government support for the plunder will be explicit in law.” The Nakba continues, vigorously.
Reality could not be much uglier and the future could not look much bleaker – most especially for Palestinians, but also for Israeli Jews. As Haaretz writer and occupation expert Amira Hass noted in Haaretz, “It’s hard to admit that the Zionist ideology and its product – Israel – have created a thieving, racist, arrogant monster that robs water and land and history, that has blood on its hands under the excuse of security, that for decades has been deliberately planning today’s dangerous Bantustan reality, on both sides of the Green Line.”
Perhaps hard to admit, but crucially important to recognize – in order for this to possibly change.
The writer, a former Israeli, lives in the United States; he wishes to thank Amira Hass, whose quoted text inspired the writing of this commentary. A version of this article appeared on 12 March 2017 in Haaretz as My Parents Founded a Settlement, Now Trump Could Make Their Dream Come True.
- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/04/expanding-occupation-palestine/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List#sthash.PyKdBLSK.dpuf
In all Israel's wars 'we face one enemy called Hamas and a second enemy that is those organizations,' Tzipi Hotovely says in attack on anti-occupation veterans group
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said on Wednesday that the anti-occupation veterans group Breaking the Silence was an enemy of Israel.
In an interview with Army Radio, Hotovely commented on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to cancel his meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, after he refused to cancel his meeting with Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem, saying "Our friends in the world cannot hurt the State of Israel. The truth is that a diplomatic message was passed on to the Germans, which said that we were not interested in such a meeting taking place because the organization in question was an organization that is based on lies and harms Israel."
"Yesterday, I posted a video that said that I am not willing that my brothers, my husband, all the people who surround us will be in the crosshairs of unethical people and war criminals. Our wars are just, and in all these wars we face one enemy called Hamas and a second enemy that is those organizations."
When asked by the interviewer if she really meant that Breaking the Silence were enemies of Israel, Hotovely answered: "Yes, it is an enemy that harms Israel. Unequivocally."
Pressed to defend her remarks, the deputy minister said: "The struggle for Israel's image is one of the most important struggles we have with foreign interties and Breaking the Silence, based on lies, is trying to besmirch Israel's good name, as well as the IDF's."
Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization that collects Israeli soldiers' testimonials concerning their military service.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.785832
An entire army of politicians and judges, PR flacks and diplomats, prison guards and Shin Bet security service agents, police officers and soldiers, bureaucrats and clerks is invested in the occupation. And still, Netanyahu is afraid.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to block Germany’s foreign minister from hearing some facts about the occupation from B’Tselem this week. This failure followed Netanyahu’s failure to prevent Belgium’s prime minister from hearing these facts a few weeks ago, nor could he prevent their presentation to the United Nations Security Council a few months ago. The world has heard, is hearing and will continue to hear about the occupation, and there’s only one thing the Israeli government can do about it: to end the occupation.
The facts have been known for a long time. Less than two months before the 50th anniversary of the occupation, the whole world knows that Israel controls the entire territory and all the people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They know that this violent control of millions of people in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and in the Gaza Strip manifests in a cruel daily routine of dispossession, destruction, killing and subjugation of the Palestinians, every minute of every day for half a century, at their Israeli masters’ whim.
For the majority of its history, and each day anew, the state has chosen to maintain its control of the Palestinians. All of our administrative, legal, planning and military institutions are partners to this. But there is no ethical or legal cloak that can conceal the profound implications of this daily violence. Decent people will do everything that is in their power to end this injustice.
So if the facts are known, what is Netanyahu afraid of?
The prime minister and his coalition colleagues, along with most of the “opposition” parties, have no intention of ending the occupation. They have grown accustomed to the prevailing situation of the past half a century, in which Israel gradually advances its interests on the backs of the Palestinians without paying an international price for this. It is an “Israbluff” of historic proportions; Israel does not meet the most elementary preconditions of democracy, yet benefits from membership in the club of democratic nations. This makes it possible for us to continue ruling over another people, while defying fundamental moral principles and international law.
As Israelis, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the continuation of the 50-year-old occupation and the resultant violations of human rights. But as long as the world remains indifferent to the situation and refrains from taking action, the Israbluff will continue to thrive. For that reason, the international community must be firm in spelling out to Israel that its actions beyond the Green Line cross red lines.
The possibility that this will eventually happen: That is what frightened Netanyahu and all the other supporters of the status quo.
Israelis who oppose the occupation should be very encouraged by this. International officials who are weighing their policies must pay careful attention to these events. After all, B’Tselem is a small organization, its annual budget barely a tenth of what is spent on guarding the settlers who live in the heart of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. The state, on the other hand, has for 50 years spent billions to preserve and maintain the moral atrocity of the occupation. An entire army of politicians and judges, PR flacks and diplomats, prison guards and Shin Bet security service agents, police officers and soldiers, bureaucrats and clerks is invested in the occupation. And still, Netanyahu is afraid.
The anxiety of the status-quo supporters should be our work plan. The nonviolent path to ending the occupation depends on being able to persuade the world, and especially Israel’s friends, that they must clarify to Israel that what was is not what will be, and that the occupation’s continuation will lead to international action.
We don’t take orders from Netanyahu. Nor does the world. Above all, one cannot order the facts to disappear, nor can one instruct evil to masquerade as justice. Today, just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the occupation, there is a hope that by resolutely pursuing the struggle here and in every important international arena, it can be brought to an end.
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.785801
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova launches first-ever policy guide for teaching the Holocaust worldwide at World Jewish Congress
NEW YORK – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said Tuesday it is important to discuss other genocides while educating about the Holocaust in schools.
Bokova was speaking at the launch of the first-ever policy guide on Holocaust education, “Education about the Holocaust and Preventing Genocide,” at the World Jewish Congress’ 15th Plenary Assembly in New York.
UNESCO says it believes the study of the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany can help prevent future genocides.
Speaking at the event, Bokova declared, “We must empower future generations with the lessons from the Holocaust, equip our children and grandchildren with the tools they need to vanquish intolerance and hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice.”
Bokova later told Haaretz, “We think it is important to know the mechanism of genocide and hatred, and how discrimination builds into denial and destroys human lives.”
She added that when children learn about the Holocaust, it is important they are also told about other genocides such as “the Rwanda genocide and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge genocide.”
In 2016, Israeli historian and genocide scholar Yair Auron criticized how the Holocaust is taught in Israel, saying it avoided exploring other genocides. “We’ve checked – most students don’t know about the genocides in Rwanda or Armenia,” he told Haaretz.
UNESCO says its guide is designed to be a resource for policy makers, curriculum developers and textbook writers to engage in education about the Holocaust.
It also lists reasons to incorporate the subject into the curriculum. For example, it suggests that studying the Holocaust will teach students to be wary of the change in civic institutions and offer forms of resistance.
According to the guide, teaching the Holocaust “demonstrates the fragility of all societies and of the institutions that are supposed to protect the security and rights of all. It shows how these institutions can be turned against a segment of society.”
Teaching the Holocaust can also “develop an awareness not only of how hate and violence take hold, but also of the power of resistance, resilience and solidarity in local, national and global contexts.”
While stating the unique case of the Jewish Holocaust (“To date, the Holocaust has been the most researched, documented and widely taught case of genocide”), the UNESCO guide also outlines the benefits of teaching the Holocaust with reference to other genocides around the world, and offers guidelines for comparative approaches while teaching several cases of genocide.
“It is important to incorporate a local or regional perspective into the study of genocide, or more generally of mass atrocities,” suggests the guide. “Many European countries teach about the Holocaust as well as other crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, often have an interest in examining the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda or the 1904 genocides of the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa (today Namibia). Other regions may examine the genocides and mass atrocities in Cambodia, Darfur or Srebrenica."
“Learners may feel that examining events from within their own geographic region offers a sense of connection and more commonalities with their own realities and history than cases from other regions,” the guide adds.
The guide also notes that in communities that have experienced violence, education about the Holocaust may further dialogue about more recent and local conflicts.
“In countries with a history of genocide or other mass atrocities, addressing one’s own case directly may prove too challenging or controversial. Introducing the topic through the lens of another historical case can provide an opening for examining one’s own history. One can draw on the body of knowledge, experiences and conceptual understanding that have emerged from genocide studies.
“A study of the Holocaust, for example, can be a good starting point, due to the wealth of high-quality educational resources supported by extensive pedagogical knowledge regarding learning outcomes,” it states.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.785788
This is first significant step PA has taken to pressure Hamas in the enclave; in order for its residents to continue receiving power, international or private agencies will have to cover the costs
The Palestinian Authority notified Israel on Thursday that it will stop paying for the electricity Israel provides to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, effective immediately.
The PA told the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, that it will immediately stop paying for the electricity Israel provides the Gaza strip, Mordechai’s bureau said.
This is the first significant step taken by the Palestinian Authority as part of its change of policy toward the Hamas government in Gaza.
The coordinator’s bureau stated that Israel provides Gaza with electricity through ten transmission lines that carry 125 megawatts. This amounts to 30 percent of the power required by the Strip, at an estimated cost of 40 million shekels ($11 million) a month. Israel subtracts this amount from the taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority.
A 24-hour electricity supply to Gaza requires the production of 400 megawatts.
In addition, the monthly cost of fuel purchased by the Authority for the operation of Gaza’s power station is estimated at 50 million shekels including taxes. Gaza has been experiencing severe power shortages for some time, with power restricted to only a few hours a day.
The announcement by the Palestinian Authority means that in order to continue receiving power from Israel or purchasing fuel for the power station, international or private agencies will have to cover the costs.
The announcement, informing Israel about the cut in funding, is part of the serious internal confrontation between the Authority and Hamas over controlling the Gaza Strip. A halt to Israel’s supply of electricity due to the Authority’s decision could dramatically exacerbate the power crisis in Gaza, which is already dire.
On Tuesday the PA said it will soon announce steps to pressure Hamas into restoring some of the former's authority over the Gaza Strip. The measures are described as punishment of the Hamas government in Gaza for turning down Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiatives to restore PA control in the Strip.
According to the officials, the Palestinian Authority will slash the health care budget for Gaza, only paying salaries of medical personnel but not for the ongoing management of the health care system.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-n…/palestinians/1.785916…
The organization provides free legal services to right-wing activists also gave money to other prominent Jewish terrorists and their families, Channel 10 report shows
Israeli NGO Honenu has been providing thousands of dollars in grants to Jewish murderers and terrorists, including Yosef Ben-David, one of the killers of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.
Internal Honenu documents obtained by Channel 10 showed that the organization gave money to Meir Ettinger, the alleged leader of a Jewish terrorist group, Elad Sela, who as a soldier gave confidential information to settlers, the wives of Jewish terrorists Ami Popper and Jack Teitel, as well as other prominent right-wing activists.
Honenu bills itself as a legal aid organization and is tax exempt in Israel.
The organization responded saying: "The organization works exactly according to the requirements of the law. We didn't see Channel 10 reporters digging through the documents of organizations hostile to Israel. The material has already appeared in different media outlets five times already. This is no longer to the point journalism but persecution akin to the media's obsession with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Hionenu meets all legal requirements. We have been check by tax authorities time and again and never faulted."
In July 2014, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted from the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood Shoafat near his home by three Israeli Jews – two minors and 29-year-old Yosef Ben-David. He was driven to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was beaten and burned alive. The state has officially recognized him as a terror victim.
In May, Ben-David was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 20 years. He was convicted of murder, kidnapping for the purpose of murder and battery causing bodily harm after the court rejected his insanity plea.
His two accomplices were also convicted of murder. One was sentenced to life in prison and the other to 21 years. Each minor was also forced to pay the Abu Khdeir family 30,000 shekels ($7,700) in compensation.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.785859
The ties between the Kushners and Raz Steinmetz reportedly include high-stake real estate deals in Manhattan worth more than $150 million
Two leading U.S. news outlets reported on Wednesday on business ties totaling tens of millions of dollars between the family of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and the Steinmetz family, one of the richest families in Israel which made most of its fortune in the diamond industry in recent decades.
According to reports published in Bloomberg and in the New York Times, the ties between the two families include high-stake real estate deals in Manhattan worth more than $150 million. Bloomberg says at least 15 different buildings in downtown Manhattan are co-owned by Raz Steinmetz, nephew of diamond dealer Beny Steinmetz, and by Kushner family's Kushner Companies. The two also invested together in a project bearing President Trump's name in New Jersey, according to the report.
Steinmetz and Kushner worked on some of these joint ventures through a company called Gaia, which according to Bloomberg was listed on the Kushner Companies' website as an investor in the past. A spokesperson for the Kushners said that indeed, the two sides have been longstanding business partners.
In the report published by the New York Times, a few hours after the report in Bloomberg appeared, a spokesperson for the Kushners made sure to note that Raz Steinmetz, who is 53 years old, is "the only Steinmetz" the family is doing business with. This was important to note, since Raz Steinmetz's uncle, Beny Steinmetz, is currently under police investigation for allegedly bribing officials in Guinea in order to advance his mining business. He was detained and investigated by the Israeli police half a year ago.
Beny Steinmetz's investigation has also spread into the United States, where it is overseen by the Justice Department. The New York Times notes that this could create complications for Kushner, especially since one of his roles in the administration, according to past statements by the president, is brokering Middle East peace. A White House spokeswoman said that "Mr. Kushner continues to work with the Office of the White House Counsel and personal counsel to ensure he recuses from any particular matter involving specific parties in which he has a business relationship with a party to the matter."
The New York Times report mentioned that Beny Steinmetz's attorney in the United States is Alan Dershowitz, who said that his client had no business ties to the Kushners. Last month, Haaretz reported that Dershowitz was asked by Trump to convey a message to Prime Minister Netanyahu on the importance and possibility of reaching a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.785873
Although specific plans for project have yet to be published by city hall, construction appears to have already begun
Jerusalem City Hall has published plans to expropriate land in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud for a new visitor and information center to serve the adjacent Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
Even though construction plans have yet to be published, work has apparently already begun on the project. At this point, it is unclear who owns the land to be expropriated, which is near a neighborhood mosque and not far from the Temple Mount in the Old City.
City hall said the current work is being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and is not related to the municipality’s construction plan. The antiquities authority has permission to perform work anywhere in the city without a municipal permit, city hall added.
The plans for the visitor center were developed by the Jerusalem Development Authority in conjunction with the municipality. Groups and individual visitors would be able to congregate at the facility and be advised on the location of graves of family members and famous religious figures.
The plans provide for an assembly hall, shop and information office, as well as a path that would lead from the center through the cemetery itself. There is already a similar information facility in the area, run by the right-wing Ir David Foundation (also known as Elad).
Khalil Tukfaji, a geographer who heads a Palestinian land mapping office, spotted the public notice detailing the expropriation. (Tukfaji's office had been shut down for a day in March on the orders of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, in the mistaken belief it was operating illegally within the city limits of Jerusalem. The office was allowed to reopen the next day after it was determined it was in the West Bank, not Jerusalem.)
Tukfaji said Monday he assumed the purpose of the expropriation was to build a police station on the site, but most of the site is actually earmarked for the visitor center, to attract tourists to the cemetery.
“It’s impossible to ignore the location and political context prevailing at the site,” said Hagit Ofran, coordinator of the settlement watch team at the Peace Now organization.
“Establishing a tourist site in the heart of the historic basin of Jerusalem, adjacent to a mosque, opposite the Temple Mount, means building a kind of settlement. This project – together with the tourist settlement being promoted by the government in Palestinian neighborhoods in the area of the Old City – not only increases tensions in Jerusalem and harms the delicate fabric of life there, but also threatens the prospect of reaching any compromise agreement in Jerusalem,” Ofran added.
City hall said the land is adjacent to a mosque and currently serves as a parking lot. “There is no intention to harm the mosque or what is around it,” it said. “There is an old municipal construction plan for the site earmarking it as part of the cemetery, but not as land earmarked for graves. In light of this, it was decided to advance the establishment of a center for information services on the Mount of Olives. As with any plan it is possible to file an objection, which will be considered according to accepted [procedure] by various planning committees.”
In practice, however, work on the visitor center appears to have begun, even before the plan was published for objections.
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Even those who broke the silence on horrid crimes such as the My Lai Massacre were first vilified as traitors
Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson of the U.S. Army’s 123rd Aviation Battalion was on a routine reconnaissance mission in the skies of Vietnam on March 16, 1968, when he and his crew came upon the horrific scenes in the village of My Lai.
It took many long minutes before Thompson comprehended that American soldiers were massacring scores of unarmed Vietnamese civilians in front of his very eyes. He landed his helicopter, ran to a nearby bunker and shielded a group of terrified civilians, after ordering his crew members to open fire on their fellow soldiers if they refused to hold their fire. After his intervention, the massacre ceased – but not before some 500 Vietnamese men, women and children had been murdered.
Thompson immediately reported the incident to his superior officers, but they preferred to look the other way. They even gave Thompson a medal for bogus acts of bravery.
A year later, another soldier named Ronald Ridenhour, who had heard about the massacre, petitioned the military, Congress and the White House to launch an investigation. When nothing happened, he went to the media. In the wake of the ensuing storm, Thompson was called to testify before the House Armed Services Committee. There, however, he was vilified as a traitor by the segregationist Democratic congressman from South Carolina, Mendel Rivers, who said American soldiers are incapable of carrying out such a horrid massacre. Thompson, he added, was the only soldier who should be put on trial.
A quarter of a century later, it emerged that then-President Richard Nixon had ordered his aides to carry out a smear campaign against one of the My Lai whistleblowers, apparently Thompson.
Many Americans viewed Thompson as a traitor and threats were made against his life. He was only recognized for his bravery at My Lai in 1998, 30 years after the fact. Like many of those who broke the silence over the massacre, he died at a relatively young age, 62.
The West Bank isn’t Vietnam, Israel Defense Forces soldiers don’t carry out mass killings and their commanders wouldn’t try to cover up such a dastardly crime.
But this does not mean the lessons of My Lai and similar events that have taken place since time immemorial can be ignored. In an ongoing occupation, even the “most moral army in the world,” as its defenders portray the Israeli army, isn’t immune from overreactions, indiscriminate fire and even outright crimes.
Israeli army commanders, like their counterparts throughout the world, will always prefer the testimonies of their subordinates over conflicting accounts of renegade soldiers, never mind members of the enemy population. And the Israeli public also prefers to stick to a naive belief in the purity of its soldiers and the humanity of its occupation, and to automatically reject those who want to disturb their peace of mind and to label them as informers and turncoats instead.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is exploiting this situation and exacerbating it 10 times over. He is waging open war against organizations such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, in order to blame them and absolve himself of responsibility for international condemnation of the occupation, and in order to incite against leftists – as is his wont.
Netanyahu is purposely magnifying and inflating the influence and resonance of these groups, giving them invaluable public relations, allowing them to raise more funds abroad and to grow stronger, an outcome that serves the purposes of both sides.
For many outside observers, the overwrought and overblown campaign waged by Netanyahu and his ministers against Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and similar groups, which yielded this week’s efforts to subvert their meetings with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, is a telltale indication that Israel and the IDF have much to hide.
The bottom line is that, far more than the nongovernmental organizations he attacks or the reports about IDF misconduct that he condemns, it is Netanyahu himself who is sullying the name of the army, testifying about the evils of the occupation and corroborating the worst claims of the international boycott movement.
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Jews make up 74.7 percent of the total, while Arabs account for 20.8 percent
On the eve of the 69th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, the country’s population is 8.68 million – more than 10 times what it was when the state was founded, in 1948. This and other demographic figures were announced on Thursday by the Central Bureau of Statistics, ahead of Independence Day on Monday.
According to the CBS, 74.7 percent (6.484 million) of Israel’s residents are Jewish, 20.8 percent (1.808 million) are Arab – both Muslim and Christian – while the remaining 4.5 percent (388,000) are non-Arab Christians, members of other religions or people of no religion. There are also 183,000 foreign nationals living in Israel.
The population grew by 159,000 since last Independence Day, a 1.9 percent increase. The population is projected to reach 15 million on the state’s centennial, in 2048. In the past year, 174,000 babies were born in Israel, 30,000 people immigrated to the country and 44,000 people died.
Three-quarters of Israeli residents were born in Israel, over half of them to parents who were also born here. By comparison, in 1948 only 35 percent of the country’s Jews were born here. Fifty-four percent of the population is between 19 and 64 years old, 35 percent is under 18 and 11 percent are 65 or older.
In 1948 there were 11.5 million Jews in the world, 6 percent of whom lived in Israel. As of 2015 there were an estimated 14.41 million Jews around the world, 43 percent of whom lived in Israel.
Among Jews living in Israel, 44 percent define themselves as secular, 11 percent as religious and 9 percent as ultra-Orthodox. Nearly one-fourth – 24 percent – identify as “traditional but not that religious” while 12 percent say they are traditional-religious.
The population density in 1948 was 43.1 people per square kilometer, whereas today it is 373.2 per square kilometer. The largest city is Jerusalem, with a population of 865,700. The smallest community is Neve Zohar, in the Tamar Regional Council near the Dead Sea, with only 71 residents.
When the state was established there was only one city with more than 100,000 residents, Tel Aviv. Today there are 14 such cities, eight of which number more than 200,000 residents.
Life expectancy for Israeli Jews in 2015 was 80.9 years for men and 84.5 years for women, up from 64.9 years and 67.6 years, respectively, in 1949.
The average age of marriage for women was 26.1 years in 2015, compared to 22.8 years in 1952. The average number of children per woman was 3.1 in 2015, down from four in 1955. For Muslim women this number fell to 3.3 in 2015, from eight in 1955 to 3.3 in 2015.
In 2015 more than two-thirds of Israelis – 67.6 percent – owned their own homes, compared to just 42.8 percent in 1957.
The number of cars on Israel’s roads reached 3.24 million in 2016, compared to just 34,000 in 1951.
Finally, the statistics show that among Israelis aged 20 and up, 89 percent say they are satisfied with life in Israel, 59 percent are happy with their financial situation, 52 percent believe their life will improve in the future and 44 percent believe their economic situation will get better.
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Discussions concerning a possible Israel visit being held days before Trump meets Palestinian President Abbas at the White House
The White House is considering May 22 for U.S. President Donald Trump's possible visit to Israel, a senior official in Jerusalem said on Thursday. The official noted that Trump would stay in Israel for one night.
Trump will make his first trip abroad as president at the end of May when he will take part in a summit of leaders of NATO nations in Brussels. The White House is considering the possibility of visits to several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, during Trump's trip to Europe.
Earlier on Thursday, a senior American official told Haaretz that the White House is "exploring the possibility of a future visit to Israel as well as other countries."
An American delegation arrived in Israel on Thursday morning to prepare for the expected visit by Trump. The Americans met with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister's Office and President’s Residence to discuss of logistical and security issues related to the visit.
The leaders of the American delegation said no final decision has yet been made as to whether Trump will visit Israel, and such preliminary discussions do not necessarily mean the visit will actually take place. The Americans also said they are only in the preliminary stages of putting together a plan for the visit.
The visit, if it takes place, is expected to last for only 26 hours and Trump will leave Israel in the afternoon of May 23. The American delegation said one of the possibilities is for Trump to also visit the Palestinian Authority during his short trip.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are expected to accompany Trump during the visit.
Trump is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as making a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Trump will also make a speech, though it is unlikely it will be in the Knesset because this will not be considered an official state visit.
On Friday, the American delegation is scheduled to tour the sites that Trump might visit, such as the Western Wall, the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada and the Allenby Crossing on the border with Jordan.
Discussions concerning the possible visit are being held a few days before the American president meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, on May 3.
The meeting with Abbas follows several meetings Trump has held with Netanyahu and several Arab leaders, all of which revolved around attempts to renew the stalled peace process and around reaching a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. A visit to the region by Trump is expected to include visits to Arab countries, but it was still unclear if a visit to Israel will also include a visit to the Palestinian Authority.
If Trump indeed comes to Israel towards the end of May, his visit will coincide with several key anniversaries. On May 24 Israel will mark Jerusalem Day, noting 50 years to the reunification of the city in 1967. Several days later, June 1, is the expiration date of the presidential order signed by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, freezing the implementation of a law which requires the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
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Organizers say the conference on the subject of 'Palestine facing Israeli incitement' was sponsored by an independent group
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan banned a conference earlier this week in East Jerusalem on the subject of Israeli incitement against the Palestinian Authority, claiming that it was organized by the Palestinian Authority. Those involved in convening the meeting said they represent an an independent academic non-profit group.
Israel had previously taken steps to head off Palestinian Authority activity in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 Six-Day War. In his order barring the event, Erdan made reference to required consent from Israel pursuant to the Oslo 2 accords of 1994 for events sponsored or funded by the Palestinian Authority anywhere in Israel.
The conference, billed as dealing with the subject of “Palestine facing Israeli incitement,” was to be held at the Legacy Hotel, just inside East Jerusalem. It was allegedly due to be attended by Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam, other educators and other senior officials from the Palestinian Authority. But conference organizer Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the head the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, told Haaretz that the conference had no connection to the Palestinian Authority and that no Palestinian ministers had been invited.
“We’re a totally independent organization that has been working for 30 years with international organizations and foreign diplomats. The planned lecture was about a book dealing with incitement against Palestinians,” he said. At the appointed hour for the start of the conference, Israeli policemen arrived and gave him and the hotel manager an order in Hebrew and Arabic signed by Erdan, barring admission of anyone into the hall, Abdul Hadi said. In Arabic, the order alleged that the event was being held under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority while the Hebrew version made reference to inflammatory content at the conference, Abdul Hadi stated.
“We told the police we had no intention of confronting anyone and cancelled the event,” he said, adding that he also received a summons to report to the police.
Among those who had been due to attend the conference was Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a language education professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the David Yellin Academic College of Education. She has studied the content of Israeli textbooks for more than 20 years and had been due to speak about the portrayal of Palestine in the books.
Erdan’s office stated: "[The conference]] was part of the repeated attempts by the Palestinian Authority to consolidate its position in Jerusalem through conferences and the operation of non-profit groups. Our struggle for sovereignty in Jerusalem did not end with the city’s liberation. The [Palestinian] Authority has been repeatedly trying to undermine Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem, and we continue to fight this throughout the city.”
Last month Erdan barred the holding of an International Women’s Day event that had been due to be held at the St. George Hotel in East Jerusalem. His ministry said that the Palestinian Authority had organized that meeting as well, although the event organizer denied any such connection.
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After the Palestinian Authority announced it will stop paying for electricity provided by Israel to the Strip, other measures are expected to follow Palestinian President Abbas' trip to Washington next week
The Palestinian Authority's decision to stop paying for electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip became the major topic of conversation in the Hamas-ruled territory on Thursday, as the move also ramping up the tension there amid concerns of an outbreak of violence in the near future.
The sentiment on the street in Gaza is that although the Palestinian Authority's decision to halt payment for electricity may have been taken in an effort to punish Hamas, which took control of Gaza from the PA in 2007, it is the average citizen who will suffer the consequences of the power struggle. "If there is an expectation that the people will take to the streets against Hamas, it's not going to happen quickly," a Gazan social activist who is not identified with either faction told Haaretz.
The serious humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is nothing new and that goes for power outages as well, which have been longstanding. Electricity supplies in Gaza have been limited to just five or six hours a day due to shortages of diesel fuel to generate the electricity in the strip itself. But the announcement Thursday by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, that the Palestinian Authority would stop paying for Israeli electricity was evidence for residents of Gaza that the PA was continuing to pursue its efforts to punish Gaza and Hamas. Up to now, Israel had been deducting the payment, estimated at about 40 million shekels ($11 million) a month, from tax receipts that it collects on behalf of the authority.
The PA's decision comes against the backdrop of its bitter rivalry with the Islamist Hamas movement, which wrested control of Gaza in violent clashes with the Palestinian Authority. The refusal to pay for the electricity, which the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said would lead to a disaster in Gaza, follows the decision to cut the payment of salaries to staff in Gaza employed by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
There have also been warnings that the electricity crisis would cripple hospitals in Gaza, but beyond concerns of a health care crisis, there are worries that the supply of drinking water and the functioning of the sewage system could collapse. In Gaza it was noted that a collapse of the sewage system would not only result in pollution along the Gaza coast but also in Israel and Egypt.
For its part, the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, which advocates on behalf of Palestinian freedom of movement, called for electricity supplies from Israel to the strip not to be cut. "It is inconceivable that political confrontations would be conducted on the backs of two million residents of Gaza when their basic rights are being used as a bargaining chip for political aims, whether coming from governments in Gaza or Ramallah or Egypt or Israel."
Hamas officials viewed the PA's actions as pressure being brought to bear by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Gaza residents to defeat Hamas. They warned about the consequences of such steps.
"Gaza is a powder keg and if President Abbas persists in the pressure, this powder keg will explode in his face from every direction," said Khalil al-Haya, the deputy head of Hamas' political bureau in Gaza, adding that Hamas would not seek a confrontation with Israel, because that is what Israel and Abbas want. On the other hand, Hamas, he said, would never surrender to the Palestinian Authority's latest moves.
Hamas spokesman Abdef-Latif Qanou called for Arab and other international intervention to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel. Egypt has also limited the movement of people and goods over its border with the strip.
On Thursday the central committee of Abbas' Fatah movement approved the measures against Hamas and released a statement attacking the Islamist group and accusing it of being unprepared to give up control of the strip. Attempts to engage in dialogue with Hamas have failed, Fatah said, and the group has not responded to an initiative from Abbas and Fatah to form a Palestinian unity government that as a practical matter would govern Gaza.
A member of the Fatah central committee told Haaretz that the committee meeting Thursday did not consider the details of the steps to be taken against Hamas but confirmed that the government in Ramallah intended to put some of them in place in short order. In early May, the Palestinian Authority is expected to make substantial cuts to funding of the health care system in Gaza as part Abbas' effort to apply pressure upon Hamas. The subsequent step planned is a cut to allocations for the elderly, Haaretz has learned.
"We'll use salami tactics and send the message to Hamas," said a senior Palestinian official, but sources in the Palestinian Authority expressed the expectation that no further steps would be taken against Hamas until after Abbas meets with U.S. President Trump in Washington next week. Abbas' U.S. trip will be preceded by stops in Amman and Cairo, where the Palestinian president will meet with Jordanian King Abdullah and President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.
The World Bank issued a press release on Thursday summarizing the agency's forthcoming report on the Palestinian economy. "The inability to meet existing electricity needs, coupled with the growing demand of 3.5 percent annually until 2030, risks a human and economic disaster," the statement said. "The PA needs to address reforms to ensure that payment obligations to electricity suppliers are met as this will encourage the needed private generation investment. This is particularly important in Gaza to allow the construction of a high-voltage line from Israel to contribute to the relief of the energy crisis."
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Hunger strikes don’t get any easier with experience.
So says the family of Palestinian prisoner Majd Ziada, who has participated in multiple collective strikes since his arrest by Israeli occupation forces in 2002.
“It is as if you are carrying the weight of 15 years of imprisonment on your shoulders,” Hurriyah Ziada, Majd’s youngest sister, told The Electronic Intifada. “It is like running the last kilometers of a marathon: at the start you have a lot of energy but you eventually become drained.”
Majd, whose family hails from the village of al-Faluja northeast of Gaza City, ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces in 1948, was 19 when he was swept up during a wave of mass arrests at the height of the second intifada.
He spent 50 days in incommunicado detention, during which he was subjected to physical and psychological torture, his father and lawyer say. The abuse exacerbated preexisting ear inflammation, resulting in a complete loss of hearing in Majd’s right ear.
During a hearing in an Israeli military court the year of his arrest, Majd proclaimed that he did not recognize the court’s legitimacy and that it was Israeli soldiers who should be put on trial.
Majd was convicted of carrying out armed attacks and organizing a resistance cell, receiving a 30-year prison sentence.
Majd’s attorneys requested a retrial, arguing that his conviction was rife with grave procedural errors. An Israeli military court issued a rare commutation last month, reducing Majd’s sentence to 20 years.
Majd, who was arrested in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, has most recently been held in Hadarim prison, in central Israel. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power such as Israel from transferring detainees from the territory it occupies, such as the West Bank, into its own territory. Majd’s imprisonment in Israel is thus a war crime.
In her most recent visit to Hadarim, on 12 April, Hurriyah was told by Majd that he was planning to join the open-ended hunger strike set to begin five days later.
One of the main demands of the hunger strike is to end medical negligence of prisoners.
“[Majd] requires surgery to his ear and he is at risk of losing his hearing completely if it’s not performed,” Hurriyah said. “But the Israel Prison Service has refused to allow it and the only treatment he has received has come in the form of painkillers.”
Israel has punished hunger striking prisoners with a series of measures, including denying family visits and meetings with lawyers. All Hurriyah knows about her brother is that he was transferred from Hadarim and put in isolation. She does not know where he is currently being detained.
Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are also protesting solitary confinement, night raids on prisoners’ cells, humiliating searches, the reduction of family visits, a ban on mobile phones, suspension of university education, restrictions on books and magazines, and widespread imprisonment without charge or trial, family members of striking prisoners and their lawyers told The Electronic Intifada.
“Through the battle of empty stomachs, prisoners are not only calling for their basic rights and demanding an improvement in prison conditions,” Abdel Nasser Ferwana, a writer who has done extensive research on the history of Palestinian hunger strikes, told The Electronic Intifada.
“They also seek to express their defiance, to reinvigorate public solidarity with the prisoners’ cause and to draw attention to their plight.”
A dangerous tactic of last resort, the first known hunger strike in the history of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement was in 1968, one year into Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Inmates at a prison in Nablus waged a three-day hunger strike protesting physical abuse and humiliating treatment by Israeli soldiers.
The first Palestinian prisoner to lose his life during a hunger strike was Abd al-Qader Abu al-Fahm, who died after being force-fed during a mass strike in Ashkelon prison in 1970.
History of struggle
Ferwana said that the current hunger strike is not an isolated event and is part of a long history of struggle.
“We need to remind people that Palestinian prisoners improved their conditions in jails and attained some of their rights thanks to their sacrifices, rather than Israeli generosity,” Ferwana said. “Some have lost their lives to secure those rights but this has been the most effective form of resisting and confronting the Israeli prison system.”
According to the Palestinian rights group Addameer, Israel currently holds 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners, 500 of whom are held without charge or trial under indefinitely renewable administrative detention orders issued by a military court.
Administrative detention has been the impetus for some of the more high-profile hunger strikes in recent years, such as those undertaken by Khader Adnan – a baker from the northern West Bank who has embarked on two lengthy strikes, becoming an icon of the prisoner movement – as well as journalist Muhammad al-Qiq, lawyer Muhammad Allan, and Bilal Kayed, who won his release after 15 years of imprisonment following a 71-day strike.
Hunger strikes waged by individual prisoners have been more prevalent than mass hunger strikes in recent years.
Esmat Mansour, who was imprisoned by Israel between 1993 and 2013, said this is a direct result of the fragmentation of the prisoners’ movement – a spillover of the bitter impasse between the two main Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas, that has prevailed over the past decade.
Mansour pointed to the August 2004 mass hunger strike – which lasted up to 19 days, depending on the prison, yielding little improvement in prisoners’ conditions – as a turning point.
Several factors contributed to the failure of that strike, according to Mansour: the harsh repression of the Israel Prison Service, then headed by Yaacov Ganot. Mansour described Ganot as a “fascist,” adding that he reintroduced the practice of strip-searching and ordered the separation of prisoners from their visiting family members with glass instead of a net that allowed for physical contact.
The second intifada was still going on and Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister at the time, was not willing to compromise. This was the first hunger strike for many of the prisoners, and they lacked experience to deal with the inevitable Israeli retribution.
“The leadership of the strike was divided and the fragmentation of the prisoners made it easier for the [prison authorities] to quell it and break our spirits,” Mansour, who participated in that strike, told The Electronic Intifada.
“It took a long time and effort for the prisoners’ movement to recover from that setback and to restore confidence among prisoners and rebuild the movement.”
It wasn’t until 2012 that prisoners from all political factions organized another sustained mass hunger strike involving multiple prisons and political parties.
Preceded by a series of individual hunger strikes in protest of administrative detention, thousands of prisoners began an open-ended strike on 17 April 2012 – Palestinian Prisoners’ Day – and refused food for nearly one month.
The hunger strikers demanded an end to solitary confinement for all prisoners and a resumption of family visits to prisoners from the Gaza Strip. Such visits had been done away with following the capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza in June 2006 and maintained even after the soldier’s release in a prisoner exchange deal in October 2011.
The 2012 hunger strike was accompanied by popular protests and escalated mobilization on the ground, not seen in Palestine since the early days of the second intifada more than a decade earlier. Even though the Fatah leadership did not participate in that hunger strike and was even accused by some prisoners of not showing enough solidarity, according to Esmat Mansour, the Fatah base in the prisons did join the strike.
The agreement reached between Palestinian detainees and the Israeli prison authorities in May 2012 was said to include limitations on administrative detention, the end of prolonged isolation and resumption of family visits to prisoners from Gaza.
“No other option”
Five years on, Palestinian prisoners are having to resort to their empty stomachs again to fight for their rights.
“Prisoners have been preparing for this hunger strike for almost two months and my husband confirmed to me on 4 April that he was taking part,” said Khalida Hamdan, whose husband, Muhammad Mesleh, is sentenced to nine life sentences plus 50 years for his involvement in the killing of nine Israelis.
“I initially questioned his decision but he explained to me how the increasing crackdown by Israeli prison authorities had left them with no other option,” Hamdan told The Electronic Intifada.
Mesleh, a leading figure in Fatah’s armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was arrested by Israeli occupation forces on 17 February 2001, leaving Hamdan to raise their months-old child on her own. For almost a decade, Hamdan was banned from visiting her husband on security grounds. In 2012, she went on hunger strike for seven days in solidarity with her striking husband.
Mesleh is a close companion of Marwan Barghouti, the high-profile Fatah leader serving multiple life sentences after his arrest in 2002, and the face of the current hunger strike.
“He pleaded with me to not go on a solidarity hunger strike this time around but since 17 April, I have been unable to cook, unable to sleep properly or think about anything else,” Hamdan said.
“I only hear about him in the media. Is he in solitary confinement? How is he handling pain and fatigue? How is he surviving the revenge of the prison guards? You cannot exorcise those thoughts when a loved one is on hunger strike.”
The current hunger strike, estimated by Addameer to include 1,500 prisoners, is being led by Fatah, but prisoners from all the major Palestinian factions are participating.
Following his release from Israeli prison on 20 April, former Palestinian minister Wasfi Qabaha said that the hunger strike in Hadarim prison, the epicenter of the protest, involved prisoners from all factions and that parties from across the political spectrum were represented in the strike leadership.
He added that strike leaders such as Marwan Barghouti and Karim Younes, the longest-serving Palestinian political prisoner currently held by Israel, were transferred to Jalameh prison and put in isolation.
Nadim Younes, brother of Karim Younes, who has been imprisoned by Israel since 1983, told The Electronic Intifada that family and lawyers lost all contact with Karim since he began his hunger strike.
“Karim is now 58 and 35 years of imprisonment have definitely taken their toll on his ailing body,” Nadim said. “The importance of this strike lies in the fact that it has brought together prisoners from all factions and from all over Palestine: Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem and Palestinians from the ’48 territories [present-day Israel].”
There are lingering doubts about whether this hunger strike will avoid the failure suffered in 2004. Former prisoner Esmat Mansour does not dismiss those concerns.
“It is true that Barghouti is the undisputed leader of this hunger strike. Some believe that he is trying to send a message to the Fatah Central Committee that he remains an influential leader,” Mansour said.
“But prisoners are not puppets: they would not join this strike if they didn’t have pressing demands. And Marwan’s leadership of this strike has definitely given it momentum and unprecedented media attention.”
The unity and resilience of the prisoners’ movement in the face of Israeli repression, intimidation and attempts to delegitimize the strike are being put to the test. Moreover, it is a test of the capacity of Palestinian society to mobilize in support of the prisoners, to build sustained pressure on Israel, and overcome their divisions to stand behind the prisoners.
If there is one cause that has managed to bring Palestinians together in recent years, it has proven to be the prisoners’ struggle.
Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem. She blogs at budourhassan.wordpress.com.