Destroying Palestinian Universities
Foreign lecturers as well as Palestinian lecturers who studied or taught abroad are being expelled from West Bank academic institutes with a form of bureaucratic violence
Daphna Golan, Jul 26, 2018, 3:21 AM
As Israeli students are finishing their final exams, Palestinian students in the occupied territories don’t know whether their institutions will be opening for the coming academic year or if their lecturers will continue to teach, as dozens of lecturers with European and American citizenship are being expelled.
Around half the foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities started receiving letters last November, saying their requests to have their residency visas extended had been refused because they’ve been “living in the area for more than five years.”
In addition, the foreign spouses of these lecturers are being asked to sign declarations that they do not intend to work. To assure that they keep this promise, they are asked to pay guarantees of between 20,000 shekels and 80,000 shekels (about $5,500 to $22,000), which will be forfeited if it is discovered that they’d been working despite the ban.
We are not talking about universities in Gaza, where both the lecturers and students are under siege and cannot leave at all, and foreign lecturers cannot enter, but universities in the West Bank.
This year, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I had the privilege of teaching both Israeli and Palestinian students, as well as students from Peru, Kenya, Cyprus, Canada and Greece. During this academic year, as every year, there were international conferences held at the university attended by foreign researchers. By contrast, dozens of students and lecturers from abroad who want to study or teach at Palestinian universities are being arrested at the border and expelled.
The campus of the Arab American University in Jenin. Established in 2000, AAUJ offers studies in English and has attracted growing numbers of Israeli Arab students.Yaser Wakid
Laura Wick and her husband, Prof. Roger Hickok, are among those who are being forced to leave after 35 years of teaching and research at Birzeit University, because their visas have not been extended. Wick specializes in pediatric medical research and Hickok is a professor of European history, one of the founders of the university’s Institute of International Studies.
In a public letter that was circulated on international academic networks, Hickok described how he and his wife had become “illegal” residents. It happened when they returned from a home visit to the United States. At Ben-Gurion Airport they were given a tourist visa for two weeks, and told they would have to ask the military authorities to extend it. The description of their Kafkaesque efforts to enter the military camp in Beit El to deal with their visas, and of the phone calls and faxes that weren’t answered for months, is sad and depressing.
The presence of international researchers for lengthy periods is an international criterion for ranking institutions of higher education. Without such a presence, the university suffers from what’s referred to as “ghettoization of knowledge.” What’s more, a significant number of the lecturers being expelled are Palestinians who studied in the United States and Europe; some were born in the occupied territories and went to study abroad.
While Israel makes great efforts and invests millions to bring back Israeli academics who are teaching abroad, it makes life very difficult for Palestinian lecturers who studied and taught abroad, allowing them to teach in Palestinian universities for five years at most. The expulsion of Palestinian lecturers, which prevents them from getting tenure and developing an academic career in the territories will only lead to the slow destruction of Palestinian universities.
At Birzeit University, all students are required to study European philosophy and history.. It was also the first university in the Middle East to establish a women’s studies program. However, the male and female students – women account for more than half of the student body – have almost no option to study abroad, and the lecturers who teach English, European or American history, cultural studies and foreign literature, are being expelled.
During the first intifada, the Israeli army closed the universities for years, and closed schools and kindergartens for many months, creating the so-called “lost generation.” This is the generation whose education suffered a serious setback and from which the lecturers of today could have sprung.
Does Israel want to create more lost generations of Palestinians who won’t get higher education and are not exposed to foreign ideas and knowledge? Does the destruction of higher education in the territories benefit Israel? Will Israel’s bureaucratic violence lead to similar restrictions being imposed on Israeli students and academics?
Prof. Golan teaches in the Hebrew University Law Faculty. Her book “Hope on the Campus Margins – Israeli and Palestinian Students in Jerusalem,” was recently published by Resling.
Israel has always defined itself as the State of the Jewish People, and its recent adoption of the Jewish Nation State Law is simply a declaration to the world of its historic commitment, ideologically and programmatically, to Jewish supremacy. Many critics of Israel’s 51-year-old occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights have referred to Israel’s occupation of these territories as a system of apartheid. However, some among these critics, such as President Jimmy Carter, rejected the use of the same term to describe Israel’s relationship to the roughly 20 percent Palestinian Arab minorities who hold Israeli citizenship within Israel’s 1948/49 border. After the passage of the new Israeli law, such critics ought to open their eyes to the historical reality of Israel since its establishment in 1948, and recognize the deep racism that underlies its state and society.
The expropriation of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the early years of Israel’s existence were traumatic. Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law (1950) and Land Acquisition Law (1953), among others, resulted in the pauperization and ghettoization of Palestinian citizens of Israel. More than 60 laws directly and indirectly ensured that they remain far behind Israeli Jews in every aspect of their existence including their access to the legal system, citizenship privileges, income and employment, distribution of resources and social welfare, accessibility to land, educational resources, availability of health resources, and political participation. The Israeli occupation in 1967 of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, and the extreme form of apartheid practiced there are an extension of the settler-colonial praxis that created Israel.
What is new is that Israel now feels emboldened by the ascendancy of right-wing racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia in the United States in particular, and western societies in general. It no longer feels that it has to conceal its own racism. The recent love fest of right-wing extremists in the annual conference of Christians United for Israel in Washington, DC is emblematic of the convergence of Zionism with anti-democratic forces in the West. Thankfully, others in the West are speaking out more forcefully against racism and discrimination in all its forms. And the movement of solidarity with the Palestinians is growing worldwide, including in the United States and Europe.
We call on all people of conscience to condemn Israeli apartheid unapologetically and to heed the call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions in solidarity with the Palestinian non-violent struggle for justice, peace, and freedom. In particular, as a faith-based group, we call on other people of faith, including our evangelical brothers and sisters, to challenge Israel’s intensifying apartheid. For Christian groups to remain silent about the implications of Israel’s Jewish Nation State Law and all other Israeli human rights violations stands in contradiction to the Biblical mandate to do justice and to stand with the oppressed.
Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. (Isaiah 59:15b)
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. (Luke 19:41)
We the undersigned, a group of Palestinian-American Christians from several church traditions, call on all faith communities to:
- Denounce the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
- Lift up, in your places of worship, the plight of Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, recognizing that Israeli policies of occupation and apartheid are leading to the virtual extinction of the indigenous Christian population in Palestine.
- Recognize the urgency of ending Israel’s genocidal siege and attacks on the entire Palestinian hostage population of the Gaza Strip.
- Continue to use economic pressure as well as other nonviolent means to compel Israel to end its apartheid practices and policies against the Palestinian people.
We express deep concern at the increasingly hostile direction of Israeli policies and actions, emboldened by the equally aggressive foreign policy stance of the Trump administration toward the Palestinian people. President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is the final nail in the coffin of the so-called “peace process,” which has now been unmasked as a farce, exposing the United States not as an “honest broker” but as Israel’s unquestioning advocate. There is little doubt that the Trump administration’s Jerusalem decision, although condemned by the overwhelming majority of the international community, will encourage Israel to act with even greater impunity.
The Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, as well as the rest of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights, is now in its fifty-first year, the longest military occupation since the end of the nineteenth century. Palestinian Christians and Muslims are calling on the church to use its influence to end the occupation.
Since its occupation of Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has consistently followed a policy aimed at confining the city’s Palestinian population to ghettos surrounded by a ring of expanding Jewish settlements. It annexed the city and its suburbs into a much-expanded “greater Jerusalem,” and isolated it from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. This separation of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank has resulted in grave economic and social consequences for all Palestinians in the occupied territories, because East Jerusalem has been the economic and spiritual heart of the Palestinian territories. Even the U.S. State Department recognized in a 2009 report that “many of [Israel’s] policies in Jerusalem were designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem.” Palestinian Jerusalemites complain that conditions are far worse now.
Last year, a Palestinian mass protest forced Israeli authorities to retreat from a decision to impose obtrusive “security measures” in the form of metal detectors at the entrances to the Muslim holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Christians joined their Muslim brothers and sisters in peaceful protest, some praying shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets surrounding the mosques. More recently, it was the turn of the Christian communities to experience a serious attack on their freedom to worship, in the form of debilitating Israeli taxes on church properties. A protest letter signed by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem strongly condemned this decision as a departure from the centuries-old tradition of tax exemptions for places of worship, under both Muslim and Christian rule. Church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for several days in protest, marking only the second time to close this sacred site.
Palestinian protests and international pressure have since compelled Israeli authorities to suspend the legislation in question. However, Palestinians are rightly concerned that Israel will continue to find ways to weaken Palestinians’ control of their land and property. Many are concerned about Jerusalem as the birthplace of Christianity: will it become a city with Christian shrines and cathedrals but devoid of the native Christian population?
On Friday, March 30th, Israel committed a massacre in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians were engaged in a demonstration on Land Day. This annual event commemorates the killing, in 1976, of six unarmed Palestinians in the Galilee who were protesting against the confiscation of their lands. The Gaza demonstrators were protesting against the genocidal conditions that Israel has imposed on the territory of two million inhabitants over the past eleven years; most importantly, they were expressing their right of return to their lands and villages from which the Israeli forces expelled them in 1948. The peaceful protest was interrupted by the Israeli army, which used tanks and militarized drones as well as over 100 well-hidden snipers. Violence began by the Israeli forces who shot a farmer working on his land. This served as incitement to a few protestors—out of a total of about 30,000 peaceful demonstrators, to engage in throwing stones from behind a large, barbed wire fence. The unarmed Palestinians’ actions did not come anywhere close to endangering the Israeli forces. Eighteen Palestinians were shot dead and hundreds of men, women, and children were wounded.
These events occurred on Good Friday, when the Christian world was mourning the crucifixion of Jesus. As the injustices and human rights violations keep piling up against the Palestinian people, we call on all churches and faith communities to take bold steps to end these grave injustices. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step up even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- Palestinian Christian Advocates for Justice
- Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace
- American Muslims for Palestine
- Israel-Palestine Mission Network, Presbyterian Church USA
- Franciscan Action Network
- Friends of Sabeel, North America
- Mennonite Palestine-Israel Network
- Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore
- Pax Christi USA
- Palestine-Israel Network of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Palestine-Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship
- Palestine-Israel Network of the United Church of Christ
- United Methodist Kairos Response- Steering Committee
- Kairos USA
PCAP Proudly Endorses the Nomination of the Global BDS Movement for a Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian Parliamentarian
Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace proudly endorses the nomination of the global BDS movement for a Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian Parliamentarian Bjornar Moxnes.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement was inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States and the South African anti-apartheid movement, among others, which adhere to the principle of nonviolent resistance in seeking justice and freedom.
Led by Palestinians, the BDS movement seeks to end international backing of Israel’s oppressive occupation in Palestine. BDS supports the Palestinians’ right of return and the equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. A focus of the movement is to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Since its inception in 2005 in occupied Palestine, the BDS movement has grown to become a global movement supported by citizens in many countries as well as many civic organizations, labor unions, churches, and prominent politicians, academics, artists, scientists, and musicians.
Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the BDS movement will further encourage peaceful resistance and offer international solidarity with Palestinians and their just cause for freedom and self determination.
The Alliance of Baptists is a denomination of progressive Baptists who celebrated its 30th Anniversary at their Annual Gathering on April 28-30, 2017. They held their conference at the historic Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Their theme this year was “Embracing God’s Call to Justice and Love.”
The dynamic and inspirational keynote speakers included Rev. Dr. William Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church and founder of Together Moral Movement and led the nationally acclaimed Moral Monday protests in North Carolina. He also spoke eloquently and compellingly about justice at the last Democratic National Convention. Naomi Tutu, is a forceful activist for human rights in South Africa, combining teaching and preaching against hate and oppression. She is the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nomalizo Tutu.
PCAP was involved in presenting two Statements and a Call to Action at the General Session. The Statements were:
- A Statement on Supporting the Right of Dissent – in defense of free speech and religious liberty, we will promote the right of churches, individuals and organizations to engage in speech and nonviolent direct action to help end the unjust practices and policies in Israel and Palestine. Specifically, we oppose efforts by Congress and state legislatures to punish entities that engage in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) or which provide sanctuary for immigrants.
- A Statement in Support of the Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Persecution and Harassment Based on Religion – we recognize the importance of the Middle East to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and support right of access to holy sites for all, particularly Jerusalem. We support measures to ensure the viability of the historic Christian community in Israel and Palestine and the entire region. As Christians and U.S. citizens, we also pledge to stand with Muslims and Jews in the United States in opposing anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic speech and acts of violence or vandalism.
The Executive Board and the General Membership unanimously endorsed these statements.
- A Call to Action Submitted by the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community of the Alliance of Baptists – reminds Alliance of Baptists congregations and individual members of the commitments we made in past resolutions – calling us to work for peace with justice in the Holy Land. It is a Kairos moment for the Alliance to convert there powerful statements into persistent actions Now, more than ever, it is our time to claim our prophetic voice and be God’s hands in bending the long moral arc of the universe toward justice. As our ministry partner and good friend, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb tells us, “HOPE is not just a feeling, it is what we stubbornly do every day.” Let us renew our commitment to stubbornly hope and work each day to be Baptists on the frontier doing justice in the Holy Land.
The Executive Board and the General Membership unanimously endorsed this Call to Action.
PCAP was involved in developing a “Keeping Our Promises” resource card that was distributed to all 450 attendees of the gathering. The resource card provides support to clergy and congregants who are interested in learning about the conditions in the Holy Land so that they may discern how they can work for peace with justice. To support churches, the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community identified a contact person for each effort in the following areas:
- Holding a Film Series
- Inviting Palestinian speakers
- Conducting Study Groups
- Offering Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
- Advocating with elected officials
The following call was issued today by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) and the undersigned Palestinian organizations in Gaza on the occasion of Nakba Day, the commemoration of Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine:
As Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the catastrophe in 1948 when more than 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist militias and later the State of Israel, life in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip is reaching a fatal tipping point, as the UN has warned.
Close to two million Palestinians are incarcerated by Israel in a small space, condemned to a life of misery, where not even water, the source of life, is fit for human consumption. The provision of basic services such as health and education is faltering and the alarm must be sounded. This is an Israeli-made tsunami that can be stopped if enough people of conscience around the world would hold Israel to account and pressure their institutions and governments to do so. Israel must pay a heavy price for its criminal behavior.
If ever there was a right time to isolate a rogue regime to prevent it from committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is now. We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society organizations in Gaza, call for urgent and effective measures of accountability, including boycotts, divestment and meaningful sanctions, against Israel and the corporations that are complicit in its serious violations of international law, to save hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza from a fate of unspeakable suffering and slow death.
Israel’s massacre in Gaza in the summer of 2014 left approximately 2,300 of our people dead and damaged or destroyed our schools, hospitals, UN shelters and thousands of our homes. Eight months on, Gaza remains in ruins, yet at least 100,000 people remain homeless. Of the 12,600 houses that were totally destroyed, not one has yet been rebuilt.
To Palestinians everywhere, and in Gaza in particular, the 1948 Nakba is ongoing.
Despite the so-called ceasefire, Israel’s often deadly attacks on Palestinians in Gaza are continuous, especially on fishers in the “access restricted areas” along the boundary with Israel and off the Gaza coast. Access restricted areas were among the most hit during the massacre and still continue to suffer Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.
At the root of this grave human suffering is Israel’s ongoing occupation and illegal eight-year siege, which severely restricts movement of people, goods and reconstruction materials. Health and education services have been severely impaired as well.
The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been open just a handful of times so far this year. On average, just 198 people have been able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing each week during 2014, down from 955 during 2014.
UN enforcing Israel’s siege
As of February 2015, just 1,661 trucks (containing approximately 105,307 tons) of the 800,000 trucks of material needed to reconstruct destroyed homes and other buildings have been allowed to enter Gaza. The failure of international donors to release pledged funds has exacerbated severe energy shortages. Electricity is still only available for a few hours per day.
The United Nations Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, the international community’s main response, is fundamentally flawed in a way that deepens the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. The reconstruction mechanism makes the international community, and the UN in particular, the enforcers of the Israeli siege and makes aid to Palestinians conditional on Israeli approval.
As much as 71 percent of the aid pledged by international donors is expected to benefit the Israeli economy, effectively rewarding Israel for its massacre of Palestinians. Many of the companies supplying the construction efforts are illegally involved in the crime of pillage of Palestinian natural resources and/or participate in the construction of illegal settlements.
Many western governments are seeking to prevent Palestinians from taking cases against Israel to the International Criminal Court. Last July, the US voted against the establishment of a UN Gaza Commission of Inquiry, and several EU member states including France, Germany and the UK abstained from voting.
The US and Germany look set to continue their vast military support for Israel, while the European Union has maintained its Association Agreement with Israel, affording it access to EU markets and programs, and the Canadian government has even signed a raft of new agreements with Israel.
Even those countries in the global south that speak in clearer terms of their support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination have failed to translate their symbolic gestures into ending their military links and preferential trade agreements with Israel.
You can act
Given the human catastrophe that Gaza is facing and Israel’s threats of more atrocities, we call on governments and international bodies to take immediate action to:
Ensure Israel is held to account for its war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza, including by supporting Palestinians in seeking justice at the International Criminal Court.
End direct support for Israeli war crimes, including by imposing a comprehensive military embargo and suspending free trade agreements and other bilateral agreements until such time as Israel complies with international law, including lifting the siege on Gaza.
Provide immediate international protection to civilians in Gaza, including by providing financial and material support to help Palestinians to cope with the immense hardship they continue to experience.
We warmly thank the countless people of conscience and principled organizations around the world who stand in solidarity with our struggle for freedom, justice and equality, and call on international civil society, including trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, grassroots networks, political parties and parliamentarians to:
Join and build the Palestinian-led, global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a key tool to ensure Israel is held to account for its violations of international law in Gaza and against Palestinians everywhere, including by pressuring universities, banks and pension funds to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation and war crimes.
Pressure governments to impose military embargoes and trade sanctions.
- Palestinian BDS National Committee
- Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
- Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
- University Teachers’ Society in Palestine
- Palestinian Medical Relief Society
- Palestinian Association for Development and Reconstruction (PADR)
- Medical Democratic Assembly
- Palestinian Student Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
- Medical Initiative Assembly
- Arab Center for Agricultural Development (ACAD)
- Union of Health Work Committees
- One Democratic State Group
- Herak Youth Center
- Badr Campaign for Boycott of Israeli Goods
Their baby is due in August. “We are racing against the clock,” Mohammed said this week, adding that he is focused on trying to get Layla out of Gaza.
“So far there has been no progress, so I’m very worried,” he added. “Once she becomes seven months pregnant, she won’t be able to travel.”
Mohammed left Gaza through the Erez crossing between Gaza and present-day Israel in late March. Despite having an Australian visa and having paid national health insurance in Australia, Layla was denied exit by the Israeli authorities.
Granted a full scholarship to a PhD program in Adelaide University, Mohammed was a couple of months late for his classes by the time he arrived. He had made numerous attempts to leave Gaza before eventually succeeding in doing so.
Tight restrictions have been placed by Israel on the number of Palestinians passing through Erez. The Rafah crossing that separates Gaza from Egypt has been completely closed — with some rare exceptions — since the last week of October 2014.
“There are thousands of students like me here in Gaza,” Mohammed told The Electronic Intifada earlier this year, before he managed to leave Gaza. “We are in purgatory. We’ve already been accepted to study abroad, we have visas, but there is no way to leave this prison — Gaza.”
Mohammed is best known for an interview he gave to CNN as Israel bombed Gaza in November 2012. A loud explosion occurred during that interview.
At that time, he had just returned from completing a master’s degree in human rights at the London School of Economics. He began working for the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, yet decided that he wished to undertake further studies abroad.
However, he did not actually apply for the Adelaide scholarship until after Israel bombed Gaza for 51 days last summer.
Israel’s restrictions have not only affected students with college places abroad. They have also hindered medical patients from traveling to receive specialized treatment that is unavailable in Gaza’s hospitals.
Though Israel sometimes allows groups of students to leave, that is the exception, rather than the norm.
According to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that documents restrictions on Palestinian movement, Israel has not made public its procedures and protocol for Palestinians seeking to leave the besieged strip through Erez. Gisha has petitioned the Israeli courts in an attempt to have those procedures to be made public.
Because Palestinians from Gaza have been effectively banned from studying in the occupied West Bank, their only choices are to continue their education in the narrow coastal enclave or to seek opportunities abroad.
Students like Mohammed who leave from Erez have to travel via Israel to the West Bank, where they cross the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge into Jordan. From Jordan, they continue to their destination.
Since the US-backed General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took over Egypt in a 2013 coup, leaving from the Rafah crossing into Egypt has become immensely difficult.
“Stuck in this prison”
“According to our latest information there are 8,000 people registered in the waiting list to exit the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing,” Shai Grundberg, a Gisha spokesperson, told The Electronic Intifada. “Among them there are around 900 students who are stuck in the strip since [the 2014 summer attack on Gaza] unable to return to their studies, their work or their families.”
Grunberg explained that their inability to leave Gaza puts at risk students’ visas and scholarships, adding that “many miss the beginning of their studies.”
Although Israeli authorities have promised to ease travel restrictions for Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza from Erez, “Israel is allowing transit via its territory in very few cases and in a very slow manner, nonetheless demonstrating that it is possible,” said Grundberg.
According to Grundberg, Israel has also agreed to allow 30 students in Gaza to travel from the Erez crossing each week. Nonetheless, no students have been permitted to cross since early March.
The Israeli and Egyptian restrictions have also put Maha Mehanna, 44, in a predicament. Enrolled in an online program for a master’s degree in business administration at a Scottish university, she is required to regularly travel to the American University of Cairo in order to take her exams.
Mehanna, an activist and translator, has had to postpone her exams for months due to Rafah’s closure. “I haven’t been able to go since the fall of Mubarak’s regime,” she told The Electronic Intifada, referring to the time when a popular uprising overthrew the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
“This is a sort of collective punishment,” Mehanna remarked. “The world thinks everyone in Gaza is Hamas. This is not the truth. People in Gaza really want to live like the rest of the world. People want jobs [and] a future, but it happened that we got stuck in this prison.”
“And the government in the West Bank abandoned us,” she added, referring to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
Back in February, dozens of students and religious pilgrims protested Egypt’s closures of the Rafah crossing by throwing symbolic diplomas into the sea.
“I should have finished my degree already,” Mehanna said. “Now I’m scared I will lose all my money and credits. I just keep postponing and postponing [exams]. It’s endless.”
Al-Batani al-Sharqi historian Ghazi Misleh
Each May brings painful memories for some of the oldest Palestinians. Musallam Younis Musallam was among those displaced in May 1948 and never allowed to return home.
Musallam grew up in the village of al-Batani al-Sharqi, about 30 kilometers from Gaza. In May 1948, it came under attack from Zionist forces.
“Whenever we popped out, the corn branches, where we were hiding, struck our faces,” Musallam told the author of a new book. “We carried our luggage on a donkey and myself, my mother, father and brothers, walked out of the village. We heard that the Egyptian forces were about to come to defend al-Batani al-Sharqi. But they did not come.”
Titled I am from there and I have memories, the as yet unpublished book recalls what the people of al-Batani al-Sharqi endured during the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
It is the result of two years of work by the author Ghazi Misleh, a Maghazi resident.
“No time to spare”
Misleh’s mother, Um Ghazi, is one of the Nakba survivors quoted in the book. In her testimony, she describes picking watermelons from neighboring farms in al-Batani al-Sharqi, as well as oranges from its orchards. “I recall the ripe cantaloupes and the grapes that we had to leave on vines,” she says.
“When I recall those days, I begin crying. We came to Gaza, which looked like a desert. I believe that the Israelis did not even imagine they would take over our lands. Our lands are the most beautiful ever.”
Mudallalah Khalaf died in April 2014, one month after Misleh interviewed her. Khalaf, who lived to the age of 96, described having a “pen of chickens and rabbits” in al-Batani al-Sharqi.
“We had no time to spare but we never felt tired,” she added. “We used to feel really happy. We were forced to flee our farmlands because of the Israeli attacks. May God take revenge on them.”
Form of resistance
Misleh spoke to members of ten different families during his research.
“Sometimes, I spent sleepless nights searching in historical books,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “I visited many libraries in Gaza. Unfortunately, I did not find enough detailed information. I relied on stories told by elderly people. I had to make phone calls to places outside Gaza, such as Jordan, in order to get some more information from elderly people.”
The book includes details of the food eaten, clothes worn and games played in the village. “Among the sweets that used to be made in the village was bahta,” he said. “It is made of milk and rice, mixed with sugar. After these ingredients are boiled together and cooled down, some butter is added — on the top.”
Misleh is planning to publish the book himself, with financial support from a cousin who lives in the United Arab Emirates.
Khaled Safi, a professor of modern Arab history at al-Aqsa University in Gaza, believes that telling Palestine’s stories is a form of resistance to Israel’s apartheid system.
“We need a collective national effort to keep a record of the Nakba,” said Safi. “Israel always attempts to obliterate Palestinian identity and memory. And I believe that such a collective work is not less significant than any other forms of the Palestinian struggle.”
“These kind of books are important,” Misleh said. “I hope that future generations will be able to remain in touch with their history.”
“The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians back in 1948 should remain a fresh memory.” he added. “It can never be forgotten. At any rate, we are not going to renounce our right to return home.”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.
Nadim Siam Nuwara
On 15 May 2014, an Israeli Border Police officer took aim at Nadim Nuwara and pulled the trigger of his M16 rifle.
The live bullet struck Nuwara, 17, in the chest and exited through his back, killing him at the scene. CCTV cameras captured the shooting, allowing for detailed forensic video, sound and spatial analysis to be used to identify Nuwara’s killer. Despite seemingly clear evidence, systemic impunity for Israeli military violence continues to be an obstacle to justice for Palestinian families living under prolonged military occupation like the Nuwaras.
Nuwara’s death appears to be the direct consequence of a de facto policy pursued by the Israeli military that permits the use of live ammunition, even against children, with almost complete impunity. The families of those killed are left to live with this injustice.
In December 2014, the news website NRG published a recording of Brigadier General Tamir Yadai telling residents of Halamish, a Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank, that Israeli soldiers adopted a “tougher approach” of using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters.
“In places where we used to fire tear gas or rubber [coated metal bullets], we now fire Ruger bullets and sometimes live bullets,” Yadai said. “We’re at around 25 people hit here in the last three weeks. That’s a relatively high figure on any scale.”
Lethal force as matter of policy
Amnesty International has documented the use of live ammunition by the Israeli military, finding that it is used unnecessarily and arbitrarily, with devastating consequences for Palestinian civilians, including children. The frequency and persistence of such force, it found, suggested that it was carried out “as a matter of policy.”
This finding is supported by comments from within the Israeli military itself.
Ben Deri, the Israeli Border Police officer arrested in connection with Nuwara’s killing, is under house arrest, awaiting trial on a charge of manslaughter. The fact that Deri has been charged at all is a token, yet positive, development given the systemic impunity.
Israel’s track record suggests that any sentence imposed will fail to match the severity of the crime as a plea agreement will likely preclude a trial and result in little, if any, prison time.
Last month, an unnamed Israeli soldier was charged in connection with the 2013 killing of 16-year-old Samir Awad, who was shot in the back as he ran from troops near the West Bank village of Budrus. Israel’s State Attorney office found that this act was merely “reckless and negligent,” and in its view apparently amounted to only a minor offense.
Even if convicted of the charge, the result would be a negligible sentence that will do little to deliver the justice that the Awad family deserves.
In July 2014, Israeli authorities closed the investigation into the killing of 14-year-old Yousef al-Shawamreh, who was shot in the back by Israeli soldiers near his village in the southern West Bank, which sits alongside Israel’s apartheid wall. The chief Israeli military prosecutor found that soldiers “acted in line with rules for opening fire.”
That was despite the fact that al-Shawamreh was unarmed and foraging in agricultural land close to his village when he was shot dead.
Indictments are a rarity when it comes to Israeli military violence or offenses against Palestinians, as only 1.4 percent of complaints result in indictments, according to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.
In 2014, Israeli forces shot dead 11 Palestinian children with live ammunition across the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, according to evidence collected by Defense for Children International – Palestine. Incidents involving the killing of Palestinian children generally are only subject to a brief operational review by the Israeli military, which often results in findings that clear soldiers of any wrongdoing, as in the case of al-Shawamreh.
While Ben Deri is the only individual indicted in connection with one of these killings, a strong argument can be made that he was undercharged. Video footage obtained by DCI Palestine following the deaths of Nuwara and another boy, Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, 16, captured the fatal shootings of both boys during a lull in the protest on 15 May last year.
The footage unequivocally shows that neither boy posed any lethal threat to Israeli soldiers stationed 90 meters away when they were shot. Neither boy was armed, and Abu al-Thahir was shot in the back as he walked away from soldiers.
Their shooting was in direct contravention of the Israeli military’s own regulations, which state that live ammunition must only be used in circumstances in which a soldier or policeman is in direct, mortal danger.
Persistent lack of accountability has led to a situation of systemic impunity where Israeli forces answer to nobody even for the gravest of violations. The lack of indictments and failure of Israeli authorities to conduct impartial and thorough investigations into the other killings from 2014 all but assures the impunity will endure and Palestinian children will continue to be victims of Israeli military and police violence.
The guarantee of impunity to those that injure and kill Palestinian children must end. Because Israeli authorities have shown little interest in changing the status quo, the international community must urgently demand that Israel conduct impartial, thorough and credible investigations to hold all perpetrators accountable.
Failure to do this will mean further child fatalities, and perpetuates the apparent systematic denial of justice to Palestinian families.