Pregnant Gaza woman blocked from joining husband in Australia

Pregnant Gaza woman blocked from joining husband in Australia

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Palestinians wait at Rafah crossing on 20 January.

(Abed Rahim Khatib / APA images)

Mohammed Suliman does not know if he will be able to attend the birth of his first child. His wife Layla has been blocked from leaving Gaza to join him in the Australian city of Adelaide.

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.

“Purgatory”

“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.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada. Website: www.postrickland.com. Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

Forced to leave grapes on the vine: the open wounds of May 1948

Forced to leave grapes on the vine: the open wounds of May 1948

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Al-Batani al-Sharqi historian Ghazi Misleh

(Shadi Alqarra)

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.

The almost 6,000 residents were forced to flee and the village was totally destroyed. Musallam, then 28 years old, traveled to Maghazi in Gaza, which now hosts a camp for Palestinian refugees.

“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.

Will Israelis filmed killing Palestinian teens on Nakba Day get away with murder?

Will Israelis filmed killing Palestinian teens on Nakba Day get away with murder?

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Nadim Siam Nuwara

(DCI-Palestine)

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.

Undercharged?

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.

Both had joined demonstrations near Ofer military prison, in the West Bank town of Beitunia, to commemorate Nakba Day, which marks the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.

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.

Olivia Watson is an advocacy officer with Defense for Children International – Palestine. Twitter: @liv_wats

Palestinians and the dilemmas of solidarity

Palestinians and the dilemmas of solidarity

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Palestinians in present-day Israel march on the lands of destroyed villages near Tiberias on 23 April.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Solidarity with the Palestinian people retreated internationally since the early 1990s in view of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) collaboration with the US and Israel to liquidate the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle through the Oslo accords. In recent years, however, this solidarity has made a comeback with the expanding endorsement of the Palestinian campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, or BDS.

As international support of the Palestinians ebbed after 1991 at the level of states and civil societies, the tide has turned again in the last 10 years, with the realization on the part of many initial endorsers of Oslo that the accords were a ruse to deepen Israeli colonization. This is especially so in the civil societies of Western Europe and North America, but also and increasingly at the level of European government policy, with recent murmurings in the Obama administration that its policy might also change in view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent electoral victory and the latter’s frank declaration that no Palestinian state would be established during his tenure. Recapping this ebb and flow in pro-Palestinian solidarity is necessary in order to understand and analyze the more recent solidarity strategies and the anti-Palestinian counter strategies devised by Israel and its friends to defeat them.

The post-1990 “peace process,” beginning with the 1991 conference at Madrid, brought about major transformations in global solidarity with the Palestinians. While the world had until that moment supported the Palestinian people’s right of return to their homeland in a UN resolution that continues to be reaffirmed annually, much of the world now seems to support some form of compensation, if anything. While much of the world supported the dismantling of Israel as a racist settler colony, evidenced by the 1975 UN resolution that identified Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination,” by 1991, much of the world repealed that very same resolution. While much of the world was then decided on isolating Israel diplomatically as one of three pariah states (apartheid South Africa and Taiwan being the others), now most of them have established diplomatic relations with it.

The only Palestinian right that most of the world seems to still support is the right of some West Bank and Gaza Palestinians (but not Jerusalemites) to self-determination and the end of Israeli occupation in parts of the West Bank and Gaza (but not East Jerusalem). The right of the Palestinians to resist the occupation, which had much global support previously, was supported after Oslo by a only few. This loss of support was not confined to states and governments but included political movements, activists and individuals.

Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, the PLO expressed a clear vision of what liberation from Zionist colonialism meant. This was articulated by Yasser Arafat at the United Nations in his famous speech in 1974 and in other PLO statements. The diagnosis of Zionism was clear: Zionism is a racist colonial movement that discriminates against Jews themselves and allies itself with imperialism; Israel is a racist colonial state that discriminates against its Palestinian citizens and prevents those Palestinians it expelled from returning; and Israel is a settler colony intent on territorial expansion and the occupation of the lands of neighboring countries.

The solution was also clear (although in need of refinement): the establishment of a secular democratic state in all of Mandatory Palestine, where Arabs and Jews would have equal rights. It was in this context that international support and solidarity at the official and unofficial levels declared Zionism to be racist, tirelessly reaffirmed the right of expelled Palestinians to return to their homes and lands and affirmed the legitimate rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to resist their occupier.

The Palestinian guerrilla struggle attracted huge international support and included volunteers who joined the fidayyin fighters in Jordan and Lebanon in the late 1960s and the 1970s. They came from the four corners of the globe — from Japan, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Colombia, to Nicaragua, Iran, South Africa and Turkey and from across the Arab world. Though most of the supporters came from the Third World, many West Europeans showed other forms of solidarity with the Palestinians, demonstrating and writing on their behalf in their home countries and opposing their own countries’ support for Israel. Even France was represented by no less a figure than Jean Genet who came to Amman to document the Palestinian struggle.

Arab solidarity with the Palestinians goes back much earlier to 1917 and onwards. That Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the first Palestinian fidai or guerrilla, whose death at the hand of the British occupiers inaugurated the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936-1939 against the British and Zionist colonization, came from what is today considered Syria was hardly exceptional, as Arab volunteers would also join the Palestinian struggle after the December 1947 Zionist onslaught and invasion of the country which brought about the expulsion of most Palestinians. That the Arab states intervened in mid-May 1948 officially to put a stop to the Zionist expulsion (by 14 May 1948, the invading Zionist army had already expelled approximately 400,000 Palestinians) and the establishment of the Jewish settler-colony came as a result of massive popular pressure across the Arab world is true enough even if the principal concerns of the intervening countries was their regimes’ own ambitions for regional hegemony.

PLO concessions

Since the PLO began to waver in its vision and mission and embarked on a path that recognized Israel’s right to be a racist Jewish state and began to negotiate under US sponsorship in Madrid in 1991, the international friends of the Palestinian people were thrown into a state of utter uncertainty. The first major concession that the PLO had to make in the context of Oslo was to allow the repeal of the international consensus on Zionism-as-racism and substitute for it the US and Israeli consensus, namely that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, was locked in a land dispute with its neighbors.

As noted, one of the earlier accomplishments of the new consensus was the US- and Israeli-sponsored repeal of the 1975 resolution, which was carried out in 1991. The same states that had supported the resolution in 1975 supported its repeal in 1991. Whereas in 1975 UN Resolution 3379 was supported by 72 countries (35 voted against and 32 abstained), the 1991 repeal was supported by 111 countries (25 voted against, 13 abstained). Evidently, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc was a major loss for the Palestinian cause at the UN. However, the transformation of the views of Third World friends and allies, and of movements and individuals around the world, was brought about more by PLO concessions and transformations than by any other factor.

As I argued more than 12 years ago in an article discussing post-Oslo solidarity, Zionism had remained as racist in its ideology and practices as it has always been; it was the PLO that no longer wished to condemn it for such racism. Allies of the Palestinians, some argued, could not be expected to be more pro-Palestinian than the PLO. Since the Madrid conference, and especially after Oslo, Arafat and his cronies began to circulate proposals and ideas that conceded the Palestinian people’s right of return. It is in this context that the majority of the world that supported the Palestinian right of return (including the US until the mid-1990s) began to waver. As for the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance to occupation and racism, in the late 1980s and as a condition for a dialogue with the US that never materialized, Arafat had identified it, on US orders, as “terrorism” and “renounced” it.

In light of Oslo, Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (which was created under the Oslo accords) put a stop to the first intifada and would diligently undertake the suppression of the second. Allies and friends, as a result, began to waver in their support for Palestinian resistance. Moreover, when Arafat negotiated the Oslo deal and transformed the PLO from a liberation movement into an instrument of the Israeli occupation dubbed the Palestinian Authority, all those countries that had diplomatic boycotts of Israel wondered why they should continue with them when the PLO and Arafat had established diplomatic contacts with a colonial state that practices institutionalized and legal racism. Israel’s international diplomatic isolation was thus ended thanks to Arafat’s deal.

The reversal of these important achievements, which had kept Israel, in the eyes of much of the world, a racist colonial outpost, was not only felt at the official level but also at the level of political movements and individuals for whom the PLO and Arafat were symbols of struggle against colonialism and racism. These same people were to join the international chorus of support for Oslo as the way to resolve what increasingly came to be called the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” rather than ending Zionist colonialism and racism.

Palestinian surrender

When we look at the history of international solidarity with oppressed peoples we find many examples of compromised national leaderships. As I argued in my 2003 article, the collaborationist South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu, for example, did not sway those in the international arena who supported the Vietnamese struggle for liberation. A collaborationist Mangosuthu Buthelezi, chief minister of the KwaZulu bantustan under apartheid, did not sway those who supported the South African struggle either. Those who supported the end of the settler-colony of Rhodesia did not reverse their positions as a result of the triumph of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU over Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU. Similarly, those who supported the Iranian revolution did not change their minds about the nature of the Shah’s regime and the need to overthrow him when Khomeini took over, anymore than those who supported the revolution against Haile Selassie in Ethiopia changed theirs when the Derg — the ruling military council — took over under Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Yet, the fact that Arafat and the PLO dropped their opposition to a racist Israel and transformed themselves, under the guise of the Palestinian Authority, into enforcers of the occupation while basking in the shadow of their earlier anti-colonial history tricked many among those who comprised international solidarity into supporting this transformation. Israel’s continued indecision about Arafat as the most suitable leader of Palestinian surrender was based on his refusal to cooperate fully with all of Israel’s demands, not on account of his struggling against Israeli racism and colonialism. Those countries, groups and individuals that constituted international solidarity, however, did not, or refused to, make such distinctions.

This confusion and failure on the part of international supporters, it has been argued, was the outcome of the absence of a cohesive Palestinian movement or leadership that could provide an alternative to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, as Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress had provided to Buthelezi or the Viet Minh provided to Thieu.

But while this is an important part of the analysis, it is a not a sufficient or fully persuasive argument, as it does not account for the fact that it is as a result of Arafat’s and Israel’s policies that Arafat and his successors remained the only available leaders of the Palestinians. Israel had been assassinating Palestinian leaders around the world for the previous five decades, while it was Arafat’s leadership and his monopoly on power that had prevented alternative leaderships from emerging.

Re-emergence of solidarity

Despite the confusion and disarray in which Arafat’s concessions had thrown the friends and allies of the Palestinians, the latter continue to command much support across the world and inspire solidarity everywhere. If states that supported the Palestinians before Oslo came to be intimidated by US and Israeli power after Oslo, not all political movements, intellectuals and activists were so easily silenced.

Many people from around the world began to come to the West Bank and Gaza after 2001 to help fight the occupation and protect Palestinian lives. The founding of the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in 2001, at the height of the second intifada, would bring a large number of white West Europeans, white Americans and white Australians to the occupied territories who would engage in nonviolent activism to help defend Palestinians against Israeli soldiers — especially in cases of colonial evictions, home demolitions, land confiscation and other forms of daily Israeli military and Jewish colonists’ violence. In addition, ISM activists sought to document the daily oppression of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

ISM would be targeted by the Israelis, and its activists killed, injured and harassed. Indeed, the Israelis would accuse it of collaborating with “terrorism” and would expel many of its volunteers and bar them from re-entry.

The ISM rationale was that international white volunteers could protect the darker Palestinians whom the racist Israeli military had and has less qualms shooting than it did white Europeans and Euro-Americans. ISM did not realize then that white privilege is not sustainable when a white person goes against the white European and Euro-American consensus. ISM would learn that lesson the hard way when the Israeli military showed little hesitation in shooting and killing these white American, European and Australian volunteers in cold blood, with hardly a whisper of protest from their own governments.

The American Rachel Corrie’s case is perhaps the most famous, but there are others like UK citizen Tom Hurndall, not to mention those who were severely injured, such as American Tristan Anderson. The Israeli military’s attack in 2012 on dozens of ISM cyclists who were riding in solidarity with Palestinians led to more injuries and showed Israel’s willingness to defeat international solidarity at all costs.

In addition to the ISM, many others wrote and spoke on behalf of the Palestinians in publications and forums around the world. Still, many more marched in demonstrations protesting Israeli violence in the capitals of Europe and the cities of North America, not to mention the Arab world, while others began campaigns to divest from Israel and to boycott the country or US or European companies that sell it equipment used in its colonial policies. This was an important body of support that was looking for direction. It would find it in the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, or PACBI, which was founded in the West Bank in 2004, and with the establishment of the Boycott National Committee (BNC) and the July 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

In addition to PACBI, Ali Abunimah and a number of colleagues established their important online publication The Electronic Intifada in 2001 to inform allies of the Palestinians about the Palestinians’ daily struggle against a savage occupation. They have become a principal source of information for international solidarity and Abunimah became a powerhouse, a veritable single-person lobby, tirelessly fighting misinformation about the Palestinians in the Western media.

In the meantime, the siege that Israel laid to the Gaza Strip since 2005 generated a new kind of solidarity with the besieged Palestinians there, in the forms of flotillas and convoys aiming to break the Israeli siege and the subsidiary Egyptian siege complicit with it. Recognizing the danger of such a violation of Israeli fiat, the Israeli military fought the flotillas, preventing them from reaching Gaza, to the point of commandeering in May 2010 all the boats in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and killing nine Turkish supporters on the largest of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, in a massacre in international waters.

With the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians intensifying on all fronts, support for BDS began to expand across Western universities, labor unions and among artists, writers and intellectuals. Some began to go on visits to Palestine to witness in person the effects of the Israeli occupation, thus unwittingly highlighting the struggle of West Bank Palestinians, and less so Gaza Palestinians, over that of the other two thirds of the Palestinian people in exile or living under Israeli colonial and racist laws in present-day Israel.

Whereas many of those who go on these visits are sincere and genuine in their support of the Palestinians, there is a worry that this amounts to no more or less than solidarity tourism for which western do-gooders have been known throughout the 20th century — from their tours of the Soviet Union in the 1920s to tours and sugar-harvesting in Cuba in the 1960s, and more so with coffee harvesting and house-building in Nicaragua in the 1980s — none of which had any real or lasting impact beyond the symbolic. While it is true that by witnessing the horrors of the occupation, visitors can and do write and agitate against Israeli policies with more authority, it remains of concern when this constitutes the maximal limit of their solidarity.

This form of solidarity tourism is quite different from the kind of solidarity many registered when they joined international brigades to support the Spanish during their civil war against the forces of fascism or those who flocked to join the Palestinian guerrillas in the 1930s and again in the late 1960s or the flotillas that sought to break the siege of Gaza. Indeed, there were no such tours of solidarity in the cases of Apartheid South Africa and racist Rhodesia, any more than there were tours of colonial Algeria before liberation, though Frantz Fanon and other international supporters joined the anti-colonial struggle in that French colony.

Unlike the post 9/11 pro-Palestinian solidarity visitors, supporters of Israeli racism and settler colonialism have been actively joining fighting units of the Israeli army since the 1947–1948 Zionist conquest to establish the colonial settlement and expel the native population. Whereas with the passage of time, the spate of solidarity with the Palestinians moved from joining their fighting units to supporting them diplomatically from afar, or writing on their behalf and organizing demonstrations in solidarity with them, to arriving in the occupied territories to defend Palestinians nonviolently against a violent occupation and in flotillas off the Gaza coast and finally in the form of solidarity tourism, supporters of Israeli colonial racism have never changed their forms of solidarity or their tactics.

Finally, and more recently, we have seen the highlighting of the question of law among some solidarity groups, specifically the question of international law and the Palestinians. This is not only being used with mixed (mostly unsuccessful) results by valiant Palestinian civil liberties lawyers who are citizens of Israel to defend the third-class Palestinian citizens of the Jewish settler-colony, but also is being adopted as one of the safest topics of discussions by liberal faculty in US universities.

Law has always been the most conservative of institutions, not to say of references. Discussing the merits and demerits of Israeli violations of international law and signed agreements has been and should continue to be an important tool for Palestinians and those who support them (I myself have written about the legal claims that Israel puts forth to justify itself). But this inordinate amount of emphasis on the question of international law smacks of a liberal safe approach that would not antagonize pro-Israel audiences, faculty and university administrators, and in so doing risks reducing the century-long Palestinian anti-colonial struggle against Zionism to a legal question, indeed to one where Israel need only practice its colonial policies in accordance with international law and not in violation of it. This overemphasis on the question of law, which has proliferated on university campuses, is a risky route, as it ignores the colonial history and nature of international law and aims to chip away at the important understanding and analysis of the Palestinian situation as a colonial one, an understanding that is now adopted by pro-Palestinian international solidarity in light of its commitment to BDS.

It is also true that PACBI and the BNC highlight the question of law and international law, which, as I already stressed, is an important tool for the Palestinian struggle, but unlike the safe liberal and reductionist approach, they do not and should not consider international law as the only tool for Palestinian resistance to the exclusion of others, but rather as one of many central issues that can aid Palestinian resistance.

Countering BDS

The enormous success of BDS across Western universities and increasingly across European labor unions, academic associations and within the artistic field, is such a great achievement that international power brokers are attempting two simultaneous strategies to break it, with a third subsidiary strategy emerging that is complementary to both:

(1) Fighting BDS head on by denying pro-Palestinian faculty employment, denying already employed faculty, students and artists freedom of expression, and preventing or sabotaging the convening of conferences, exhibits, screenings and other related events. These forms of repression in the academic and cultural spheres are in parallel with a host of repressive government measures and legislative initiatives aimed at punishing or deterring other forms of BDS, especially the economic boycott of Israel;

(2) Co-opting BDS, as many European governments have recently been attempting to do, by claiming that BDS is something to be adopted exclusively to bring about some form of a two-state solution in accordance with the colonial agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel and which the Israelis refuse to abide by;

(3) A subsidiary strategy seeks to dilute the core issues of the colonial situation in Palestine to a question of law, and to replace Palestinian activism by an anodyne academic form of “Palestinian studies,” which would be helpful to either of the above two strategies: wherein (a) faculty and students can now be accused of practicing pro-Palestinian “activism” rather than academic forms of “Palestinian studies” and be barred from doing so in the name of strict academics, thus helping the first strategy, and (b) by offering “objective” legal academic assessments of the maximum that Palestinians could achieve in line with the second strategy. This subsidiary counterstrategy has co-opted a number of Palestinian-American and other scholars who are now in the business of marketing Palestinian studies and panels on Palestine and international law.

Those in solidarity with the Palestinians should be ever so vigilant and steer clear of these three counterstrategies. Powerful as the colonial enemy of the Palestinians is, the fate of the Palestinian struggle, including that of international solidarity, lies in the balance. This is why those in solidarity with the Palestinians should not tire of emphasizing the core principles of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle — namely ending Israeli state racism inside present-day Israel in order to bring about both the equalization of the Palestinian citizens of Israel with their Jewish counterparts and allow the Palestinian refugees to return, and the ending of Israel’s colonial occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza.

On this 67th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish settler colony on the ruins of Palestine, it should be emphasized yet again that it is not a pragmatic accommodation of different aspects of Israeli racism and colonialism that will bring about lasting justice and peace for the Palestinians, as international power brokers and their Palestinian and non-Palestinian liberal supporters insist. Rather, it is the end of the Zionist colonial venture, starting with the removal (and not the reform) of all the racist and colonial legal and institutional structures that it has erected that is the precondition for lasting justice and peace for all the inhabitants of historic Palestine. On that, those in solidarity with the Palestinians should brook no compromise.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He is the author most recently ofIslam in Liberalism.

The “forced geography” of Tel Aviv

The “forced geography” of Tel Aviv

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White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa by Sharon Rotbard (Pluto Press, 256pp)

On 11 January 2013, around 250 activists erected tents on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, on which the Israeli government intended to build a 4,000-house settlement. The activists declared: “We hereby establish the village of Bab Al Shams to proclaim our faith in direct action and popular resistance.”

It was noted at the time that their tactics deliberately mimicked those of Israeli settlers. The act of naming the village after a work of fiction by Elias Khoury also had its echo in Israeli history.

Israel boasts “the only city in the world named after a novel,” Sharon Rotbard claims in White City, Black City. The novel in question is Theodor Hertzl’sAltneuland, known in English as “Old New Land” and in Hebrew as “Tel Aviv.”

Rotbard’s book opens (and closes) with a description of how in July 2003 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee recommended inscribing the “White City” of Tel Aviv in its list of world heritage sites, in recognition of around a thousand “modernist” buildings it contains that are loosely inspired by the Bauhaus style. Rotbard, an Israeli architect who “decided some twenty years ago” to settle in the “Black City” of Jaffa, is skeptical about the Bauhaus influence on Tel Aviv’s architecture.

“Encyclopedia of ruins”

At its heart, the book focuses on how Jaffa was all but absorbed into Tel Aviv and thus “ceased to exist as an urban and cultural entity” after 5,000 years. This focus on a city that isn’t there, which Rotbard describes as “an encyclopedia of ruins,” makes this a peculiar book to categorize.

It is not exactly a study of history or architecture. In fact, it can be quite frustrating as either, sometimes eliding past and present in the course of its argument. But it is compelling as a ghost story, in which the perpetual fictions created about Tel Aviv cannot obscure its past.

The text’s haunted quality is reinforced by the many images it offers of landscapes that have disappeared: maps, aerial photographs, postcards and a playing card. Other pictures sketch out imaginary futures. They include an image of a 1984 project of skyscrapers which never materialized in Manshieh, a suburb on the border between Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

In a section titled “Urbicide,” Rotbard documents in chilling detail how in 1948 the city itself became a weapon. Amichai “Gidi” Faglin, a commander of the Etzel — more commonly known as the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group — led his fighters in what became known as a “mouse hole” technique. This involved placing his forces on either side of Palestinians in order to trap them.

Rotbard associates Faglin’s techniques with the later tactics of the Israeli military, as described by Brigadier-General Aviv Kovachi: “We no longer wish to conform to the alleys, the streets or the city … That is the reason we chose the method of passing through walls, like a worm chewing and ending up in a different place every time.”

Deliberate subversion

Rotbard describes these strategies as “forced geography” — a deliberate subversion of the city as it was planned.

In 1948 the effects were devastating. Thousands drowned as they fled and were forced into the water.

Rotbard writes: “Of all the numerous, unwarranted times the phrase ‘push them into the sea’ has been flippantly bandied around in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, this may well be the only instance when the expression has literally taken form.”

Some of the ghosts in this account may never tell their stories, as Rotbard notes: “To this day it is unclear what happened to most of Jaffa’s residents.”

Rotbard explains how in the decades since 1948, Tel Aviv has continued to push anything unwanted into the shadow city at its side:

Everything unwanted in the White City is relegated to the Black City: … garbage dumps, sewage pipes, high voltage transformers, towing lots and overcrowded central bus stations; noise and air pollution factories and small industries; illegal establishments like brothels, casinos and sex shops; unwelcoming and intimidating public institutions such as the police headquarters, jails, pathological institutes and methadone clinics; and finally, a complete ragtag of municipal outcasts and social pariahs — new immigrants, foreign workers, drug addicts and the homeless … Paradoxically, this has actually ensured that the Black City is the most colorful, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan city space in the whole of Israel.

White City, Black City is at its strongest with such concrete details. It is less persuasive as it moves away from them, positing that the history of Tel Aviv might be understood as a parable of modernity.

White City, Black City was first published in Hebrew in 2005 and this edition ends with a downbeat note to the non-Hebrew reader. Rotbard records that Tel Aviv has “accumulated a large number of trophies and titles in addition to its UNESCO diploma” over the past decade, while the violence committed against its neighbors has only intensified.

Rotbard adds relatively little that is new to our understanding of the history of the erasure of Palestine post-1948. But he makes a powerful case that the language of planning and architecture are essential to that narrative: “construction and destruction are the primary expressions of the division of power in Israel.”

Rotbard writes with a compelling mixture of clarity and rage. Yet this book shows that it is not enough just to “tell the story” differently. Certainly the fate of the tent city of Bab Al Shams — whose residents were evicted after just a few days — indicates how hard it can be, in the face of brutal violence, to imagine a different future.

Tom Sperlinger is the author of Romeo and Juliet in Palestine: Teaching Under Occupation, which will be published by Zero Books in June.

Gaza child unable to walk because of Israeli bullet

Gaza child unable to walk because of Israeli bullet

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Soldiers frequently fire towards Palestinians who venture close to the boundary between Gaza and present-day Israel.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Fourteen-year-old Fadi Abu Mandi is unable to walk because of Israel’s routine violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

On Friday, 24 April, Fadi had been asked to study for school exams by his father Akram in their home in the Maghazi refugee camp. Fadi had just returned from watching a soccer match in Nuseirat, another camp.

Suddenly, the boy felt a pain in his back. He could not move, so Akram rushed him to hospital.

Fadi was struck by a bullet fired on Palestinian farmers by Israeli soldiers. The bullet appears to have entered his family’s home through a corner that was not roofed. Fadi had been sitting in that corner, his father told The Electronic Intifada.

Initially, Fadi was brought to al-Aqsa Hospital, which is close to Maghazi. After three hours there, he was transferred to al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. He remained there until the following Monday, when he was moved to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Fadi has been operated on in Musallam Specialty Hospital in Ramallah. He has lost most of the mobility in his left leg and is expected to require a considerable amount of physiotherapy.

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada by phone, Fadi said he missed his family and friends and was very sad that he would probably not be taking his final school exams for this year.

“I hope that the Israeli siege is lifted so that we can start feeling safe inside our own homes,” he added.

Hole in spine

Akram stated that an M16 bullet was removed from Fadi’s spine during surgery. “The bullet caused a small hole into Fadi’s spine yet doctors said he will start recovering in a few weeks,” Akram added.

M16 bullets are widely used in the Israeli military’s rifles.

Soldiers frequently fire towards Palestinians who venture close to the boundary between Gaza and present-day Israel. This is despite commitments given by Israel following its 51-day attack on Gaza last summer that it would enlarge the “buffer zone” beside the boundary so that Palestinian farmers would be able to access their land.

The bullets used by Israel can travel long distances, inflicting serious injuries on or even killing those they hit. Fadi was about 2.5 kilometers from the boundary when he was shot.

“It was totally unexpected,” said Fayza, Fadi’s mother. “I was doing my regular household chores when Akram screamed and came out of the room, carrying Fadi between his arms and moving towards the front door. God must punish those who shot and wounded my child.”

Fathi Abu Daher, who is also 14 years old, said: “My friend and neighbor Fadi is such a lovely person. He does not make anyone angry. He likes to help others, especially old people. I feel so sorry that he is now lying in a hospital bed because of that stray bullet.

“We, the children of Gaza, are the same as children anywhere else in the world. Why are the Israelis attacking us, even inside our homes?”

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian village fights to survive as Israel sends in bulldozers

Palestinian village fights to survive as Israel sends in bulldozers

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Thousands of Palestinian citizens protest against home demolitions in central Tel Aviv on 28 April.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

When hundreds of Israeli police and border patrol officers arrived in the village of Dahmash at 3am on 15 April, they sealed off the homes and forbade local residents from venturing outside. Within two hours, their bulldozers had torn through homes.

Eighteen members of the Assaf family, including several children, were left homeless. In total, five apartments in three different buildings were flattened.

A video of the demolition has since been posted on YouTube.

“It was very scary for the kids,” Miada Assaf, who lived one of the buildings, told a group of activists and journalists visiting the village on 2 May. “It’s very difficult for us when they come and destroy homes.”

Residents told The Electronic Intifada that police arrived in heavy riot gear and fired gas bombs in the area before bringing in the bulldozers.

Home to 700 Palestinians, Dahmash is tucked between Ramle and Lydd, two cities in present-day Israel. Although its residents carry Israeli citizenship and have in many cases lived in Dahmash for decades, the government claims it was built illegally and has slated the entire village for demolition.

Residents of Dahmash have filed an appeal against the planned demolition in a district court. But the Israeli police carried out the demolition without waiting for the court’s ruling.

Because the village is not recognized by Israel, the government does not provide it with basic services like electricity, running water, sewage treatment, transportation and education.

Children have to travel to Lydd and Ramle to attend school.

“Not a democracy”

“We cannot afford to buy homes elsewhere,” Assaf said, adding that nearby Palestinian communities in Lydd and Ramle are already suffering from overcrowding and that residency restrictions, such as acceptance committees, effectively ban Palestinians from living in many of the neighboring Jewish areas.

“There is a war on us here,” said Arafat Ismail, president of Dahmash’s Popular Committee, a group that represents the village.

After the most recent bulldozing, there are 16 demolition orders still pending in the village.

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Residents of the unrecognized village of Dahmash protest in front of the Ramle municipatlity on 20 April.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Throughout the last two decades, Ismail explained, the village has repeatedly sought remedy in the Israeli court system, but to no avail.

“Why can [Israel] build new Jewish neighborhoods all around us,” asked Ismail, “but they cannot recognize our village? Dahmash is the clearest evidence that Israel is not a democracy with equality.”

Residents nonetheless maintain that they will stay on their land and continue to rebuild their homes.

“Difficult conditions”

“Israel puts settlers in beautiful homes on other people’s land,” said Shireen Assaf, whose home was demolished two weeks ago. “But we live in difficult conditions on our own land.”

An estimated 240 dunams (60 acres) of Dahmash’s farmland is completely off limits to local residents, most of whom rely on agricultural work to make ends meet.

Ismail noted that Israel’s “policy of forced displacement has continued from 1948 until today.”

Dahmash is not an isolated case. According to Ismail, there are 16,000 pending demolition orders on homes in Palestinian communities across present-day Israel, not including the dozens of unrecognized communities in the Naqab (Negev) region.

In the Naqab desert area, more than 50,000 Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel live in approximately 40 unrecognized communities where home demolitions are frequent.

A five minutes’ drive down the road from Dahmash, al-Rabat neighborhood, which sits on the outskirts of Ramle, faces a similar fate. “We’ve been living here since the days of the British occupation,” said Sheikh Masood Abu Muammar, referring to the period between 1917 and 1948.

Israel has placed demolition orders on the homes of 13 families in al-Rabat and the entire neighborhood is considered “illegal” by the government.

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The rubble of three buildings belonging to the Assaf family hours after they were demolished by the Israeli authorities on 15 April.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Sheikh Muammar’s home is among those scheduled to be bulldozed. “I tried to get a permit,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “I filled out all the forms and went to the municipality [in Ramle]. Eventually they told me there is no hope.”

Much like in Dahmash, al-Rabat’s residents are deprived of basic services, although they pay taxes to the Israeli-controlled municipality in Ramle.

Meanwhile, in the Galilee region of present-day Israel, police flattened a Palestinian home in Kufr Kana village last month.

And on 20 April, bulldozers plowed throughal-Araqib, an unrecognized Palestinian village in the Naqab. The village has been destroyed 83 times since 2010.

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship. According to the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, they face dozens of discriminatory laws that stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, particularly land.

“We want to escalate our struggle”

In response to the recent uptick in home demolitions, Palestinians in Israel have pushed back by launching strikes and holding protests. On 28 April, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel held a general strike.

That same night, thousands assembled in Tel Aviv to protest home demolitions.

In Wadi Ara, a Palestinian village in the Galilee, protesters came out on 25 April and called for Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, the Arabic-language website Arab48reported at the time.

That same day in Qalansaweh and Taybeh, villages in the central Triangle region, dozens demonstrated and decried Israel’s policy of home demolitions and land confiscation.

Newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to finalize agreements to form a right-wing coalition in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, this week.

Basel Ghattas, a Knesset member from Balad, which belongs to the Joint List of mainly Arab political parties, expects the coming government to continue to target Palestinian citizens of Israel with new discriminatory legislation.

“This government is even more radical than the previous one,” he told The Electronic Intifada, “and we don’t see any checks and balances within the Knesset that can put the brakes on the racist laws.”

Explaining that home demolitions will further anger Palestinians in Israel, Ghattas said, “It was clear during the last demonstration in Tel Aviv that we want to escalate our struggle against any further home demolitions.”

Back in Dahmash, Arafat Ismail called for people across Israel to fight the destruction of Palestinian homes. “If Dahmash survives, it could set a precedent for other areas going through the same struggle,” he said.

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

The Month in Pictures: April 2015

The Month in Pictures: April 2015

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Children walk inside a school in Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus on 14 April.

(Moayad Zaghmout / Reuters)

Israeli forces shot and killed five Palestinians in the occupied West Bank during the month of April.

The first Palestinian child to be killed by Israel this year, 17-year-old Ali Abu Ghannam was slain by Border Police at a checkpoint in the al-Tur neighborhood of Jerusalem on 24 April. The police claimed that the teen charged at occupation forces with a knife but Abu Ghannam’s family dismissed the accusation as a fabrication to cover up a killing “in cold blood.” His mother told media that her son had gone out that night to attend a wedding party, and was not carrying any weapon.

In a similar case, 18-year-old Muhammad Yahiya died of bullet wounds sustained near Israel’s wall in Araqa, a village near Jenin. The youth’s father said that his son was “assassinated in cold blood” while walking with his friends after a family wedding. An Israeli army spokesperson said that Yahiya was shot after he “refused to halt” while “attempting to breach the security fence.”

Muhammad Karakra was shot dead at Sinjil junction near Shilo, an Israeli settlement north of Ramallah on 8 April after allegedly stabbing two Israeli soldiers, one of whom was critically injured.

In Beit Ommar village near Hebron, Ziyad Awad, 27, was killed when soldiers opened fire on the funeral of his cousin, Jaafar Awad, 22, who died from complications stemming from a severe illness contracted while in Israeli prison.

Twenty-year-old Mahmoud Abu Jheisha was killed by Israeli forces outside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron after allegedly stabbing a soldier, who was reported as moderately injured.

Also in the West Bank, two pregnant Palestinian women and their husbands were injured when they were run over by an Israeli-plated vehicle near al-Nabi Elias village in the Qalqiliya area. The driver fled the scene.

A 25-year-old Israeli man died after he was hit by a car driven by a Palestinian man at a bus station in East Jerusalem; an Israeli woman was seriously wounded in the same incident. Palestinian media reported that the motorist claimed it was an accident but Israeli media reported that the man confessed that it was a planned attack.

Gaza

Two young Palestinian men were reported killed in accidents while working in tunnels used to smuggle commercial goods from Egypt into the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces continued to open fire on Palestinian civilians in Gaza’s boundary areas on a daily basis, causing injuries. Meanwhile, Egyptian naval forces fired at Palestinian boats approaching Egyptian waters.

Rafah crossing, the sole entry and exit point for the vast majority of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, remained closed during April. The crossing has been closed since late October except for 12 days on which it was opened with restrictions.

A Palestinian child was killed mid-month when a fire broke out in his family’s home north of Gaza City. The fire was caused by candles lit during a power outage.

By the end of the month, electricity outages increased from 12 to 16 hours per day to up to 20 hours per day after fuel delivery for the operation of Gaza’s power plant was halted during Israeli holidays and due to damage to fuel pipelines on the Palestinian end, the United Nations monitoring group OCHA reported.

Meanwhile, six months after a ceasefire ended 51 days of intensive shelling of Gaza, there is still virtually no reconstruction of the tens of thousands of homes destroyed there.

Yarmouk

On 29 April, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, condemned Syrian government shelling and aerial bombardment of Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

Days earlier, Syria’s envoy to the UN told the Security Council that the camp had been vacated and only terrorists and male civilians remain.

Thousands of Yarmouk’s remaining 18,000 residents fled last month after the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, infiltrated the camp and entered into battle with Palestinian armed groups in the camp.

Once home to the largest Palestinian community in Syria, most of Yarmouk’s 150,000 residents fled after it became an arena of fierce fighting between opposition and government forces in late 2012. Dozens of residents starved to death there after government forces and allied groups in the camp imposed an ongoing siege on the camp.

The commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that thousands of civilians remained in Yarmouk late last month.

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Palestinian girls stand in a doorway in Jabaliya, northern Gaza Strip, that previously housed a mural of a weeping woman, 2 April. Reportedly painted by the British street artist Banksy, the mural had decorated the remains of a home destroyed by Israeli shelling last summer. A Gaza man said he was tricked into selling the mural for a paltry sum of 700 shekels ($180).

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Manal Tamimi, a prominent figure in her village’s grassroots resistance movement, is treated by medics after she was shot in the leg with a live bullet fired by an Israeli soldier during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on 3 April.

(Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

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Palestinian students in Gaza City take part in a protest to show solidarity with refugees living in Syria’s Yarmouk camp, which is besieged by government forces and was recently overrun with ISIS fighters, 8 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinians living in temporary housing after their homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling last summer bail rain water from outside their shelters in Beit Hanoun, the northern Gaza Strip, on 12 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinian protesters hold photos of prisoner Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian lawmaker, during a protest marking Palestinian Prisoners Day outside the Ofer military prison near the West Bank town of Beitunia on 16 April.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

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Fighters with the Qassam Brigades stand near a model of a Hamas-manufactured drone during a ceremony marking the eleventh anniversary of the death of former Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi in the eastern Gaza City district of Shujaiya on 17 April.

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

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Palestinian children take part in a Gaza City protest to show solidarity with prisoners held in Israeli jails on 20 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinian journalists and activists in front of the Red Cross office in the West Bank city of Nablus protest against Israel’s detention of journalist Amin Abu Wardeh, 21 April. Abu Wardeh was one of 27 Palestinians who were arrested during a late-night raid on their houses during a wide-scale arrest campaign in Nablus and its suburbs a few days previously.

(Ahmad Al-Bazz / ActiveStills)

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Supporters of rival Palestinian political parties attend a rally prior to Student Council elections at Birzeit University on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah on 21 April.

(Shadi Hatem / APA images)

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A Palestinian man carries his child on 22 April as he looks out of his Gaza City house that was damaged by Israeli shelling last summer.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinians in Gaza City take part in a symbolic funeral for Jaafar Awad, who died of a severe illness contracted while in Israeli prison, 11 April. Ziyad Awad, Jaafar’s cousin, was shot dead by Israeli forces during the former prisoner’s West Bank funeral.

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

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Thousands of Palestinian citizens in Israel take part in the March of Return on the lands of the destroyed village of Hadatha, near Tiberias, on 23 April. The march is held every year on Israel’s Independence Day to commemorate the dispossession of Palestine and to advocate for the right of the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced to return to their land and property.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

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Artist Jihad Al-Ghoul, 23, works at his house in Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on 25 April. Al-Ghoul said that he lost his leg in an Israeli attack on the camp in 2008.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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The room of Palestinian teenager Ali Said Abu Ranam in his East Jerusalem home on 25 April. Police said the 17-year-old approached a checkpoint with a butcher’s knife and tried to attack soldiers who shot him.

(Faiz Abu Rmeleh / ActiveStills)

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Palestinians mourn during the funeral of Muhammad Yahiya in Araqa village near the West Bank city of Jenin on 28 April. Yahiya was shot dead by Israeli forces, who claim that the teen refused an order to halt while “attempting to breach the security fence.” The 18-year-old’s father said the youth was “assassinated in cold blood.”

(Shadi Hatem / APA images)

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A Palestinian woman harvests wheat in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on 28 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinian youths call for an end to internal political divisions and for opening Rafah crossing, Gaza City, 29 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinian workers crush stones and cement blocks from houses destroyed by Israeli shelling last summer in the eastern Gaza City district of Shujaiya on 30 April.

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

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Aysha Ali, the wife of Ibraheem Mustafa, a blacksmith, sharpens a handmade knife at their small workshop in Gaza City on 30 April.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

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Palestinian farmers harvest carrots in Tammun village near the West Bank town of Tubas on 30 April.

(Nedal Eshtayah / APA images)

South Africans apologize over forest planted on Palestinian village

South Africans apologize over forest planted on Palestinian village

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Palestinians displaced from Lubya place a sign where the village school once stood.

(Sarah Levy)

Many donors to the South Africa Forest in present-day Israel probably do not realize that they are helping to cover up the results of ethnic cleansing. Such details have been omitted from a Jewish National Fund website promoting the Lower Galilee project as environmentally sound and offering a certificate to anyone who finances the plantation of at least two trees.

Campaigners with the group Stop the JNF in South Africa are trying to highlight how the land where the forest is located was once the site of the Palestinian village of Lubya. It was destroyed by Zionist forces during the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

In a novel ceremony on 1 May, a number of South Africans who have previously given money to the JNF issued a public apology.

“Whether we knew it or not, the money that we donated to the JNF bought the seeds that grew into these trees that cover your houses, your wells and your sacred places,” Shereen Usdin, a South African Stop the JNF activist, said during a ceremony held at the forest.

“While this forest may be an attempt to erase the memory of Lubya, there can be no denying what happened here. These stones, these graves, these wells, these cacti plants, are all bearing witness. Now as Jewish South Africans we have come here to this forest and to the ruins of Lubya in order to acknowledge and to take responsibility for this injustice,” she added.

The ceremony took place in the forest following a tour of the destroyed village.

“While you are walking I invite you just to look around,” said Umar al-Ghubari, a representative of Zochrot (Hebrew for remembering), a group seeking to educate Israelis about the Nakba. “On both sides you will see ruins of houses. All these stones that you see around you are actually houses.”

“Another level of erasure”

The South Africa Forest is one of 86 public parks across Israel that sit on ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.

In order to remove any physical evidence of the villages’ destruction, the JNF has long been involved in covering villages with non-indigenous pine trees, which if not by design, had the effect of making the country look more European.

Several of these forests are funded by international donors.

According to Heidi Grunebaum, a South African writer and narrator of a film about Lubya titled The Village Under the Forest, the JNF worked to cultivate the idea of a Jewish homeland among diaspora Jews through tree planting. In more recent years, she said, the organization has shifted its image and begun marketing itself as an “environmental” or “eco-Zionist” organization.

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Shereen Usdin speaks at a ceremony at the site of Lubya village.

(Sarah Levy)

“Given what South Africa’s history has been, there’s something abominable and unthinkable in Israel proclaiming a South Africa Forest not only on stolen land, but on land where there used to be a village,” Grunebaum, an organizer of the ceremony, told The Electronic Intifada. “It’s almost another level of erasure.”

Grunebaum’s film was one of the factors that influenced the activists with Stop The JNF to visit the forest and apologize to Lubya’s displaced residents.

The activists who came — twelve from South Africa and one from Australia — all either donated to the JNF in the past or had trees planted in their name.

“We wanted to publicly acknowledge how Palestinians have been displaced and dispossessed, and to let them know that there are Jewish people who support their struggle,” Jessica Sherman, one of the activists, told The Electronic Intifada. She had previously been involved in her own country’s struggle against apartheid.

“Greening as act of obliteration”

“We cannot undo the past,” said Usdin.

“However, as South Africans who continue to grapple with the legacy of land dispossession, we commit to challenging ‘greening’ as an act of obliteration. We see clearly the parallels with what is happening in historic Palestine and what has happened in our own country’s apartheid past,” she added.

Wakim Wakim, head of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced People in Israel, also spoke during the ceremony: “We have no problem living with Jews in this country. We want coexistence,” he said. “But coexistence here can only come after racism has ended.”

Several of the South African activists also noted how even though white minority rule was ended in their country, this does not mean that the model of South Africa holds all the answers for Palestine.

“People look to South Africa for hope and I think that’s great,” said Emma Daitz, one of the South African activists. “But the problem with that is that we had a transition that brought formal democracy but it didn’t bring social or economic change. The same people who were impoverished and dispossessed twenty years ago are still the same people today.”

Fathi al-Eidi, a refugee from Lubya who now lives in Taybeh village about three kilometers away, said he appreciated the event, but understood it was only symbolic.

“I am happy that people came,” he said. “To say sorry is always good. But I hope that one day all the people from Lubya can come back.”

Sarah Levy is an independent journalist living in the West Bank. Twitter: @levysarahm

Mahmoud Darwish and the intimacy of Israel’s occupation

Mahmoud Darwish and the intimacy of Israel’s occupation

Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Mohammad Shaheen (Hesperus Press)

Mahmoud Darwish always denied that he spoke for or represented the Palestinian people, despite being the poet whose transcendent skill captured, for many, the sorrows of their situation. And yet, in his 1995 poem-cycle Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone, the resonances of his individual experiences do just that, evoking something much greater and more universal.

Darwish opens with “I See my Ghost Coming From Afar” — a poem which frames the collection, asserting the poet’s overview of the histories contained in the rest of the works. In a series of statements beginning with “I look at…” and culminating in “Like the balcony of a house, I look at whatever I will,” Darwish signals a kind of omniscience, laying claim to a knowledge of his own past which defies appropriation and distortion.

Nowhere is this more strongly expressed than in the first sequence of poems, set in Darwish’s native Galilee, recording a growing boy’s wanderings and interactions with his parents and the oppressive presence of British colonial troops: “My son, remember: here is where the British crucified/Your father on a prickly pear hedge for two nights,/But never did he confess.”

Despite this, there remains a sense of being rooted in the landscape — a familiar strand from Darwish’s earlier works. The poem continues: “The whole sky is ours from Damascus/To the lovely walls of Acre.”

The second sequence is titled “Abel’s Space,” evoking the Biblical story of Adam’s son, murdered by his brother in a killing which symbolizes the fratricidal violence of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the time of Israel’s establishment in 1948.

The origination of Arabs through Ismail, the brother of Isaac, is drawn from the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike. But in Darwish’s formulation, Ismail’s oud, the archetypal Arabic musical instrument in which “the Sumerian wedding is raised,” contrasts with the new, foreign guitar. The outcome, as Darwish sees it, is “merely two witnesses, two victims.”

Tinged with passion and grandeur

In the third section, Darwish evokes separation, distance and longing but, in a reflection of his own life story, tinges them with passion and grandeur. His mother is contrasted with beautiful foreign girls; the reader is reminded that the Palestinian rural traditions which are rooted in the land coexist with a history that is indebted to far-flung cultures, so that “I want both of you together, love and war… Two women who will never be reconciled…”

The emotion of the following sequences folds back in on itself, returning to inward reflection and imagery on a smaller scale — sparrows and butterflies, and the personal burdens of prison and separation.

Homer’s Helen of Troy becomes part of the everyday, in a meeting “on Tuesday/At three o’clock… In a street narrow as her sock.”

Lovers leave each other in sadness and chaos, and beauty and music always seem to exist alongside breakage and loss.

In the final sequence, we seem to meet a mature, sober, sometimes regretful Darwish. Moving from mythical and classical references he shifts to his literary companions — from the Arabic poet Imru al-Qais in the sixth century to Bertolt Brecht in the twentieth — and from love on a grand, sweeping scale to a more everyday scale: “And in order to dream I do not need/A large house.”

Cruelly perfect

In the closing poem of the book, Darwish shapes a scenario which could be that of the West Bank in which he lived his final years. “The enemy” drinks tea in “our hut,” rests his rifle on “Grandfather’s chair” and “strokes our cat’s fur” while “he constantly says to us: Don’t blame the victim! We ask him: Who is that?”

In images which are unusually direct by Darwish’s standards, but characteristically powerful, he evokes in cruelly perfect words the appalling intimacy of Israel’s occupation, the ways in which on the levels of both discourse and physical appropriation everything down to “our coffee cups” is stolen away.

If anything detracts from this edition of Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?, it is the translation. Although Mohammad Shaheen is an able translator, his approach is sometimes overly literal.

While, for instance, the glittering arcs of Fady Joudeh’s translations have sometimes been criticized for straying too far from the Arabic originals, at least his style captures the literally breathtaking experience of reading Darwish.

In Shaheen’s versions, the occasionally clunky English fails to convey the greatness of Darwish’s writing, the combination of technical cleverness and soaring imagery and metaphor which makes his work so special.

This raises an issue about the translation of Darwish’s poetry which goes beyond this single volume. At least a dozen different translators have issued collections of Darwish’s work in recent decades.

Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? has itself been translated at least once before, in a 2006 bilingual edition by Jeffrey Sacks.

All — or most — of those translators have brought their own unique touch to the notoriously difficult art of capturing the poetry of one language and trying to convey sense, meaning and feel into another, with all of the linguistic and cultural baggage that attends such a project.

But it does mean that readers, especially those in different parts of the English-speaking world, are subjected to a bewildering array of similar, often overlapping, editions. As well as the varying translations, these also diverge in, for instance, the extent to which they include context and background information — on Darwish, his works, the political and cultural environment in which the works were written.

Surely, given the stature of Mahmoud Darwish not only in the Arabic-speaking world but globally, and given the level of global interest in Palestine and its culture, there is a real need for a more coherent and serious approach to translating his work. A critical volume of complete works, properly contextualized and with a seriously considered translator, would be a major asset in conveying the greatness of Darwish to an international readership.

Sarah Irving is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-editor of A Bird is not a Stone, a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry in translation. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh.