More than 350,000 Israeli settlers in West Bank for the first time
DONALD MACINTYRE JERUSALEM FRIDAY 27 JULY 2012
The number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank has passed the 350,000 mark for the first time, after increasing by more than 15,500 in the past year alone.
New population figures for the settlements – regarded as illegal in international law by most of the world, including Britain – have been welcomed by a prominent settler leader as evidence that their presence is an "irreversible fact".
The official interior ministry figures, obtained by the right wing daily newspaper Israel Hayom, do not include nearly 200,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem districts seized in the 1967 Six Day War and also regarded as illegal by most of the international community.
The figures came to light the day after the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, spoke in an interview in The Independent yesterday about the West's failure to do more to halt the expansion of settlements in clear breach of the 2003 internationally agreed Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In stark contrast, the figures were warmly welcomed by the Israeli pro-settlement right wing, with Dani Dayan, leader of the settlers' umbrella body the Yesha Council, calling on "the American government and its European allies" to abandon the "failed formula" of a two state solution and accept that the "Jewish residents of Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] are not going anywhere."
In a New York Times op-ed article, Mr Dayan said the increase in settlers – to almost double their numbers in 2000 – had been "wise" because the "insertion of an independent Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan would be a recipe for disaster."
The breakdown of the figures are significant because they show that both the highest growth in the last year and the highest numbers overall are outside the so-called settlement blocs which an Israeli "consensus" assumes would be assigned to Israel in any agreed deal with the Palestinians.
That means that the increase is disproportionately high in those settlements which it is assumed would have to be evacuated in any such deal and whose residents are therefore likely to be most vigorously opposed to one. According to the breakdown, a total of 116,824 Israelis live in the main settlement blocs, while more than 233,000 live outside them. But even that figure underestimates the potential numbers that might have to be moved under any deal, since the blocs include Ariel, now the largest settlement with 50,000 residents.
The Palestinians, however, have not accepted that Ariel would fall within Israel.
Israel eases West Bank travel restrictions for Ramadan
Ehud Barak announces Muslims over age 40 can freely visit temple mount; Peres sends Ramadan greeting to Muslims worldwide.
By JTA | Jul.20, 2012
To mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel is easing travel restrictions for West Bank Palestinians. It also is telling soldiers that when possible they are to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in front of Palestinians “to demonstrate a high level of respect and understanding.
Ramadan, a time of reflection and prayer for Muslims, begins today and runs until August 18. It is marked by fasting during sunlight hours.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that during the month, Palestinians over the age of 40 can freely enter Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to pray on Friday. Men and women between the ages of 35-40 will require a special permit.
In addition, Palestinians can freely visit relatives in Israel if they are accompanied by minors ages 16 and under and up to 500 foreign nationals can enter the West Bank via the Allenby border terminal on the Jordanian border.
The IDF has deployed additional troops, including a medical team to hand out beverages due to Israel’s heat wave, at the Allenby Terminal. The crossing will remain open Wednesday and Thursday evenings as well.
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, coordinator of government activities in the West Bank, met representatives of the Palestinian Authority to update them on the policies.
Also, at a press briefing for Arab media, Israeli President Shimon Peres showed representatives of more than 30 media outlets a new video clip with a Ramadan greeting.
“Salam Alaikum. On Behalf of all the Israeli people I want to extend to all Muslims around the world my very best wishes for Ramadan Karim,” he said. “This holy month is an opportunity to extend the hands to each other for peace. May it be a peaceful year for the region and its people. I sent my warmest greeting to all of you, to all our neighbors.”
Peres ended the message, after a traditional Arabic greeting, by smiling and saying, “The Ramadan is a good time to make new friends. I invite you to be my friends on Facebook.”
Gaza's healthcare system in crisis – videoMedical staff and the parents of patients discuss the effect of five years of Israeli blockade and Hamas rule on Gaza's healthcare system. Power cuts and shortages of drugs and equipment mean patients are suffering. Those in urgent need of medical care often seek treatment in Israel – but permission to travel is not always granted
Simon Rawles, Noah Payne-Frank and Karl Schembri
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 11 July 2012
Tensions as West Bank mosque is vandalised
Palestinians accuse Israeli settlers of setting mosque on fire and spraying graffiti on wall in Hebrew.
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2012 20:39
An attack on a mosque in the Occupied West Bank has left it scorched and vandalised with the words "the war has begun" scrawled on the wall in Hebrew.
Locals have accused nearby Israeli settlers for the attack which took place on Monday night. The mosque is in an area where there are Israeli settlements near Palestinian villages.
The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that some buildings nearby are on private Palestinian land, and the settlers inside must leave.
Some hardliners from the Jewish community are furious, and are threatening to oppose the upcoming evacuations when troops arrive.
Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson reports from the occupied West Bank.
Nearly three months without food, as Israel looks away
By Richard Sudan
Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 3:17 pm
Akram Rikhawi, one of many Palestinian political prisoners said to be held by the Israeli government, without charge and without seeing a trial, today will enter his 64th day on hunger strike. 64 days without food. As he does, 25 year old former Palestinian national team footballer Mahmoud Sarsak enters his 88th day on hunger strike, the longest any detainee has gone through such an ordeal in an Israeli jail. That’s nearly 3 months without food.
Once a star athlete and now according to physicians, having lost 33 percent of his body weight, Sarsak has been detained since 2009, but without having seen any judicial proceedings. It’s also nearly 3 years since he saw any family members. Sarsak is from the village of Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza strip. Having seen no trial, instead, for Sarsak, he has been subjected to a continued process of administrative detention, which the state has the discretion to continue indefinitely, but which has no legal precedent according to international law. It’s what led him to begin a hunger strike in the first place. Now both mens’ health is in dire condition. Their defiance and steadfastness in the face of such brutal and psychological oppression may ignite another mass hunger strike similar to the one which came to an end last month. Such is the seriousness of the situation facing the men, that when Palestinian and Israeli human rights
organisations, upon visiting the men last week, issued a statement calling for immediate international intervention in order to save the men.
After Sarsak’s condition deteriorated rapidly at the weekend, it was reported yesterday that he had agreed to take milk upon advice from his lawyer Mohammad Jabarein, to keep him alive until at least today when a judicial review is due to take place. According to Jabarein “The 25-year-old prisoner has decided that if the Supreme Court does not agree to release him he will refuse all supplements until his death”.
While most of the Football World is focusing on the European competition right now, there have been some statements of support for Mahmoud Sarsak at least. This week footballing icon Eric Cantona and head of Fifa Sepp Blatter sent a letter Uefa’s Michel Platini reportedly signed by other individuals including Noam Chomsky and Michael Mansfield QC, making clear their support for Sarsak calling for his release.
But it is hard to imagine the same outpouring of sympathy for Sarsak, or any of the hunger strikers, equal to the outpouring of concern that was shown when footballer Patrice Muamba’s life hung in the balance recently following his collapse on the pitch. If these alleged human rights abuses were taking place anywhere else there would simply be a greater level of attention paid to them. It is not hard to see what evokes such desperation.
In addition to the physical occupation the Palestinians live with, the daily indignations, and the deeply ingrained psychological scars that such injustices leave, some 2,000 prisoners, according to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, are held as administrative detainees without a chance of trial. Many have been held for months and some years. Those detained under administrative detention acted collectively in recent weeks in what became one of the biggest acts of mass protest in recent memory.
The strike came to an end, after Israel signed an agreement, which many believed would finally see the end of many of the abuses caused by administrative detention, in particular prolonged isolation for prisoners. Just weeks later and there have already been several instances which, on the contrary, include approximately 30 administrative detention orders being renewed, according to an Amnesty report. This apparent hypocrisy and that which characterises administrative detention, stemming from wider Israeli policy, is merely one of many tactics employed.
Palestinians are treated as second class citizens in their own land, and labelled as terrorists while the colonial power that dictates and governs their lives, is accused of committing real crimes- unchallenged. When viewed in this context it is clear that while the international community, remain complicit by their non action and apathy, occasionally verbally calling out the Israeli government for its human rights breaches, the Israeli government continues with its systematic use of oppression.
West Bank theatre pays price for freedom
Staff of Freedom Theatre in Jenin, whose co-founder was killed last year, complain of arrests and harassment.
Jillian Kestler-DAmours Last Modified: 11 Jun 2012 09:59
Jerusalem - Micaela Miranda woke up at 3am last Wednesday to the sound of dogs barking. When she reached her front door, she saw six armed Israeli soldiers jumping over the gate that leads to her Jenin home.
Minutes later, the soldiers took her husband away.
"I just saw him disappearing in the dark with the commander and another three soldiers," Miranda said. "The house was full of soldiers all around. They were at the house for one hour."
Miranda's husband, Nabil Al-Raee, is the artistic director of the renowned Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
According to Miranda, he is currently being held incommunicado at the Jalame detention facility in northern Israel, and his attorney has been unable to ascertain the exact reason for his arrest.
"Nabil is an artist. Everyone who knows him knows that he never committed a crime except for expressing what he thinks. He spoke out as a way to resist injustice," Miranda said.
String of arrests
The Israeli army confirmed Al-Raee's arrest, telling Agence France-Presse last week that he "was arrested overnight in Jenin on suspicion of involvement in illegal activity". No further details have been made available.
Al-Raee is the latest in a string of people affiliated with the Freedom Theatre who have been arrested over the past year. These included a 20-year-old lead actor, a member of the theatre's board of directors, and various staff members.
Additionally, the Israeli army has broken theatre windows and equipment and shot live ammunition during night raids conducted in the camp, and intimidated and ransacked homes of theatre employees.
The Israeli authorities originally said the arrests were related to the ongoing investigation into the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, a well-known Palestinian-Israeli actor and director who was shot and killed in April 2011 in front of the Freedom Theatre.
Mer-Khamis co-founded the theatre in 2006 as a way to empower Palestinian youth in the camp and encourage creative expression as a method of resistance to both the restrictions imposed by traditional Palestinian society and the Israeli occupation.
According to Freedom Theatre Managing Director Jonathan Stanczak, however, since Freedom Theatre employees have always co-operated with the investigation into Mer-Khamis' death, the arrests can be seen as part of an intimidation campaign meant to discourage people from joining.
"We were very clear that we want to participate and contribute to any investigation regarding the murder of Juliano, but we strongly oppose the means and methods they used to conduct these interrogations," Stanczak said.
He explained that three weeks ago, the Israeli intelligence agency (known as Shabak or the Shin Bet, according to its Hebrew acronym) called nearly half of all Freedom Theatre employees into interrogation at an Israeli army base near Jenin. Stanczak said that the questions asked during these interviews related to Mer-Khamis' murder, the activities of the Freedom Theatre, and things happening in the Jenin refugee camp.
"Everybody complied and came to the appointments and contributed any information they could, including Nabil and Micaela. Why, if only three weeks ago, people came and answered all questions they could, do they now come to Nabil's house, in front of his family, and take him from his house?" Stanczak said.
The Jenin refugee camp, a 0.42 square kilometre area in the north of the occupied West Bank, is home to over 16,000 registered Palestinian refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 24.
The camp was severely damaged during the Second Intifada, when it was a centre of armed Palestinian resistance. Clashes in the camp in 2002 between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters lasted 10 days and left many dead, 150 buildings destroyed and more than 430 families homeless.
Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has jurisdiction over the camp. It began a criminal investigation into Mer-Khamis' death immediately after he was killed in April 2011. The Israelis also began their own investigation shortly thereafter, run jointly by the Israeli army, police, and Shabak.
To date, no one has been charged. On the one-year anniversary of Mer-Khamis' death earlier this year, a demonstration was held in front of the Muqata, the headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, demanding justice.
Memorials were also held in Haifa and Jaffa to commemorate Mer-Khamis and the Freedom Theatre's work, which continues despite Mer-Khamis' absence and has expanded to not only include theatre and acting, but filmmaking, dance, and other forms of artistic expression, as well.
Pressure from within
In recent years, pressure on the Freedom Theatre has also come from within Palestinian society. According to Stanczak, attempts were made to burn down the theatre in 2008, and Palestinians in the camp levied threats against actors and staff, telling them to stop what they were doing.
"We are a place where creative ideas and new perspectives are generated. Of course, there are people in society that are against this," Stanczak said.
A play staged by the Freedom Theatre in 2009, for instance, was adapted from George Orwell's classic "Animal Farm" and dealt with the limits imposed within Palestinian society and the corruption of the Palestinian leadership. While it was well-received and was shown to packed audiences, it was also highly criticised.
"This is proof that we actually have an affect. When critical discourse starts to arise in society, this is very good. We are happy that some people are questioning what we do," Stanczak said.
The Freedom Theatre has also staged adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Waiting for Godot, and its actors have performed across the West Bank, Egypt, the United States and in various European cities.
For Micaela Miranda, while having no contact with her husband and no information about why he was arrested is painful for both herself and her young daughter, the outpouring of support she's received is a reminder of the impact the Freedom Theatre is having.
"This is the only positive side of it, to know that there are a lot of people that support Nabil and his work," she said, adding, "We are here to empower the [Palestinian] society about their identity and this is exactly what Israel is working against. It is a threat."
Follow Jillian Kestler-D'Amours on Twitter @jilldamours.
UN slams Israel settlement plans
JERUSALEM: ARAB NEWS
Thursday 7 June 2012
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to add hundreds of new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank is “deeply troubling,” the UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry said yesterday.
The statement from Serry, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, reiterated “the international community’s view that all settlement construction, whether on private Palestinian land or elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory, is contrary to international law.”
“The latest announcements, including adding 300 units in Beit El, deep inside the West Bank are deeply troubling,” Serry added.
The statement came a day after Netanyahu pledged to expand the Beit El settlement after MPs voted down a bill which would have saved five buildings in one of its neighborhoods from demolition.
The Knesset vote, which saw 69 MPs oppose the legalization bill against 22 in favor, effectively ended legislative efforts by the settler lobby and its right-wing supporters to avoid a court-mandated July 1 removal date.
But Netanyahu warned after the vote that he would not allow people to “use the legal system to harm the settlement movement,” and announced plans to add the 300 new homes to Beit El, which is near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Beit El will be expanded, the 30 families will remain in Beit El, and 300 new families will join them,” he said.
Later Wednesday, Israel’s housing ministry announced its intention to market another 551 units in other West Bank settlements.
Israeli settlement construction has proved a key sticking point in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want a settlement freeze before resuming direct talks that have been on hold since late September 2010.
Israeli settlers filmed firing guns at Palestinians
Video posted on YouTube shows settlers firing a pistol and rifles at a group of protesters while police and soldiers stand by
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 May 2012 11.08 BST
A video released by an Israeli human rights group appears to show settlers shooting at a group of Palestinian protesters while police and soldiers stand by.
The incident was filmed by Palestinians from the West Bank village of Asira al-Qibliya on Saturday afternoon. A 24-year-old Palestinian, Fathi Asayira, was taken to hospital with facial injuries following the shooting.
According to B'Tselem, which uploaded the footage to YouTube, a large group of settlers, some masked and armed, approached the village from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar and began throwing rocks and starting fires. After a group of Palestinians gathered and threw rocks in return at the settlers, Israeli police and soldiers arrived on the scene.
One of the settlers is seen crouching while aiming and then firing his pistol at the group of Palestinians. Two other settlers are seen firing assault rifles.
"The video footage raises grave suspicions that the soldiers present did not act to prevent the settlers from throwing stones and firing live ammunition at the Palestinians," said B'Tselem. "The soldiers did not try to remove the settlers and in fact are seen standing by settlers while they are shooting and stone throwing."
In a statement, the Israeli defence forces said it was investigating the shooting. Security forces arrived at the scene following stone-throwing by both sides in an effort to separate them. "There was a shooting during the incident and the matter is being investigated‚ but on the surface, the video that was released does not seem to represent the whole incident."
The Palestinian Authority demanded an impartial investigation into the incident and action from the international community over settler attacks and provocation. "The gravity of the footage lies not only in the settlers' provocations and shooting live ammunition towards unarmed residents, but also in the irresponsibility of the Israeli soldiers who stood watching the events," said a statement from the prime minister's office.
The settlement's spokesman, Avraham Binyamin, was quoted in the Israeli media as saying its security squad came under a hail of stones while trying to extinguish fires lit by Palestinians. "It is clear that use of arms by IDF forces or the security squad was done in a tangible life-endangering situation," he said.
Villagers in Asira say attacks and intimidation by settlers from Yitzhar are routine. Yitzhar has a reputation for being one of the most hardline settlements in the West Bank. Israel's education ministry closed down a state-funded yeshiva (religious school) on the settlement last November after the security agency Shin Bet said it had accumulated evidence that students were engaged in acts of violence against Palestinian villagers.
Ahmed Abdul Hadi, the leader of the village council, said the settlers had risked killing someone. "They don't normally fire, but unfortunately, this time the army was there and watching. We hope the Israeli government will prevent the settlers from attack us, not support them," he told the Associated Press.