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Israeli War Crimes: Israeli army discharges soldier for shooting Palestinian civilian

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  • Zafar Khan
    Israeli army discharges soldier for shooting Palestinian civilian Investigation into death of Hebron man says soldier acted unprofessionally Harriet Sherwood
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 12, 2011
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      Israeli army discharges soldier for shooting Palestinian civilian
      Investigation into death of Hebron man says soldier acted 'unprofessionally'
      Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 January 2011 11.20 GMT


      The Israeli military has discharged a soldier for acting "unprofessionally" in shooting dead an unarmed 65-year-old Palestinian man in Hebron earlier this month.

      Another soldier, who initiated the firing, was exonerated by investigators because a "suspicious movement caused [him] to feel his life was threatened". The dead man was asleep in bed when soldiers entered the room, according to his family. He was shot multiple times in the head and upper body.

      The military said it deeply regretted the death of Amr Qawasme and acknowledged he was a civilian.

      On 7 January, a special squad from an elite unit mounted a raid in search of five Hamas militants who had been released from prison the previous day by Palestinian security services. The main target, Wael Bitar, lived in the apartment below Qawasme.

      The dead man's son, Raja'e, told reporters on the day of the killing that the soldiers must have thought Bitar was in the apartment. "They thought it was Wael so they fired bullets immediately after entering my father's room while he was sleeping in his bed. I guess they did not make sure of his identity," he said.

      The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said an investigation had concluded that "the initial firing at Qawasme was done following a suspicious movement that caused the soldier to feel his life was threatened." The shooting was in accordance with the IDF's rules of engagement, the inquiry found.

      The statement continued: "A second soldier who having watched the first soldier firing at Qawasme, began firing at him as well. While the second soldier did feel threatened, he acted unprofessionally. Therefore [Major General Avri Mizrahi, who conducted the investigation] has ordered that the soldier's term be terminated."

      According to the IDF, the soldiers were from the Duvdevan unit which it described as "a professional elite unit specialising in close combat, camouflage and assimilation into hostile territory".

      The five Hamas militants were arrested following the shooting.

      Israeli media reported leaked information today that a separate investigation into the death of a woman in the West Bank village of Bil'in, following a protest during which teargas was fired, had concluded that she died as a result of mistakes in her medical treatment.

      The IDF denied it was the source of the leak, saying the report of its investigation into Jawaher Abu Rahmah's death was not ready to be released.

      Anonymous IDF sources had earlier briefed extensively that the cause of Abu Rahmah's death was a pre-existing condition, which they said was leukaemia or asthma.

      Abu Rahmah's family and supporters insist she died as a result of teargas inhalation and have published medical records to support their assertion.

      Pregnant TV reporter objects to 'humiliating' Israeli security checks
      By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem
      Thursday, 13 January 2011


      A pregnant newswoman from the Arab Al Jazeera television network walked out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's annual foreign press conference after security officials asked her to remove her bra.

      Arab reporters, who were among several hundred foreign journalists invited to the briefing and cocktail reception held Tuesday evening, complained that they were subjected to humiliating and invasive security checks upon arrival, prompting an angry response from the Foreign Press Association in Israel. "While we appreciate the need for security, it is not remotely acceptable to invite people for cocktails at a five-star hotel and then make them undress at the door," the FPA said in a statement.

      Najwan Simri, a 31-year-old Palestinian producer at Al Jazeera, said that she was humiliated by the rigorous security search. "They told me to take off my jacket, my skirt and then my shirt, and finally, they told me to take off my bra," she said. "I then thought to myself, 'Enough, I won't do it'."

      Ms Simri, who is in the early stages of pregnancy, said she was ushered on arrival into a queue of other Arab journalists where she waited upwards of half an hour before she was taken out for a strip-search. A female officer then roughly groped her and insisted on using a metal detector even after being told her of her condition, the producer claimed.

      Ms Simri then demanded her clothes back, saying that she wanted to leave, but was forced to endure another lengthy wait in her slip. She and a female colleague who had not yet been searched walked out. "I have no problem with security, but I felt this was done not to check me, but rather because I am an Arab," Ms Simri said.

      Reporters and photographers from other Arab channels also complained about their treatment, but the FPA said that the invasive searches were not confined to Arab media. The Wall Street Journal's Jerusalem bureau chief, a white American, was also forced to undergo a strip-search, it said.

      In a letter of complaint, Walid al-Omary, the Jerusalem bureau chief of Qatar-owned Al Jazeera, reminded Israeli officials that its journalists had come to the press conference at Israel's invitation. "We demand that we be treated equally and are not discriminated against because we are Arab journalists," he wrote. "These humiliating methods... harm our [ability to] work."

      The invitations had asked corres-pondents to arrive at least an hour before Mr Netanyahu was due to speak to allow enough time for the security checks. Most Western journalists attending the event were processed swiftly, and were not asked to strip. "We regret the incident, however the issue of security checks is not the GPO's [government press office] responsibility," said Oran Helman, director of the GPO.

      Israel's security service said in a statement to Israel's Ynet website: "All guests were subjected to a security check in accordance with the customary security procedures in such events. Three female reporters refused to be examined under these procedures and chose not to attend the event."

      West Bank protester has jail term extended
      Leader of village demonstrations against barrier has sentence is extended by three months after appeal by Israeli military prosecutors


      West Bank protester Abdallah Abu Rahmah is facing a further three months in prison after the Israeli military court of appeal today extended his sentence.

      Abu Rahmah, a leader of protests against Israel's separation barrier in the village of Bil'in, was convicted in August of incitement and organising illegal demonstrations. This was criticised by Cathy Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, who described him as a "human rights defender committed to non-violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier".

      Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa also condemned the conviction.

      Abu Rahmah was due to be released in November, but military prosecutors argued for him to be detained until their appeal for a longer sentence could be heard. They wanted him to serve two years "as a deterrence not only to [Abu Rahmah] himself, but also to others who may follow in his footsteps".

      Today the judge extended the sentence to 16 months, of which Abu Rahmah has served 13.

      Diplomatic representatives from seven European countries - including the UK - as well as the European Union were present in court today.

      Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested in December 2009, and was sentenced to 12 months last October after an eight month military trial. He was cleared of stone throwing and possession of arms.

      Bil'in is the village where a Palestinian woman, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, died 10 days ago after Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at protesters. Her brother, Bassem, was killed in April 2009 when he was hit by a tear gas cannister.

      The village protests, which have involved Israeli and international activists as well as locals, against the route of the separation barrier in the West Bank have often included stone-throwing by youths, which the military counter with teargas and rubber bullets.

      Menawhile, Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack began a three month prison sentence today after being of illegal gathering during a bicycle protest in Tel Aviv two years ago over the blockade of Gaza. His conviction activated an earlier suspended sentence.

      Pollack has regularly attended the protests in Bil'in

      Palestinian mother tells of a family tragedy during protest against separation barrier
      Daughter becomes third casualty in a West Bank family dedicated to 'non-violent resistance' against Israeli barrier
      Ana Carbajosa, Bil'in, West Bank
      The Observer, Sunday 9 January 2011


      Sitting on a bed in the family house, surrounded by posters that commemorate the death of her son, Subhaia Musa Abu Rahme laments her latest loss. Jawaher, her 35-year-old daughter, died on New Year's Day after collapsing in her home village of Bil'in during a demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier. Despite assurances to the contrary from the Israeli army, her family insist that she died after inhaling massive quantities of tear gas.

      "How do you think I feel?" says Abu Rahme softly, a white scarf covering her head and an almost absent look in her eyes. She can hardly comprehend what has happened to her family or the repeated horrors that have been inflicted on it. The family has come to symbolise the Palestinian struggle against the occupation of the West Bank.

      Last year, Abu Rahme's son, Bassam – a charismatic member of the committees that organise "non-violent resistance" against the barrier – died after being struck by a gas canister at a demonstration. Another son, Ashraf, has been left with a limp after being shot at close range with rubber-coated steel bullets by an Israeli soldier. And now, Jawaher.

      "She was the nicest girl in Bil'in. Here, everyone liked her. The wall confiscated our lands, and now my children are gone. I have nothing left", says Abu Rahme, a 55-year-old widow.

      "But every time we lose someone we love, we gain strength to fight against the occupation," she adds. "This is our land and we are going to defend it. We will not stop until we tear down the wall."

      Outside the house, on the patio, a group of men mourn Jawaher. They eat dates, drink spiced coffee and chain smoke – but barely speak. Next door, the women gather in a separate room, as tradition dictates. Political delegations, friends, relatives and schoolchildren pass by to express their condolences for the kind-hearted young woman who had worked as a carer for two disabled children in nearby Ramallah.

      From the Abu Rahmes' neighbourhood, the barrier that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel – and which cuts off the famil y from its olive groves – is clearly visible. For more than five years, they have participated with their neighbours in the struggle against the construction. But for them, more than for any other family in the village, the battle has brought tragedy. And last week, Jawaher's death returned them to the headlines.

      Her family are adamant she died after inhaling the tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during the demonstration in Bil'in. The army questions the reliability of Palestinian reports, including the hospital documents, and has complained in a statement of "lack of co-operation with the Palestinians". It also says that although the army inquiry has not yet been completed, "a number of scenarios have been posited, among them the possibility that Abu Rahme's death was entirely unrelated to the demonstration last Friday."

      For a visibly exhausted Subhaia Musa Abu Rahme, there is no such doubt.

      "I was with my daughter, a bit far away from where the clashes were taking place, when the soldiers started shooting gas," she remembers. "The wind brought the gas. We were very affected. I was feeling bad when my daughter told me that she could not take it any more and started vomiting." Another of Jawaher's brothers, Samir Ibrahim, 34, recalls calling an ambulance to take his sister to the hospital in which she later died.

      "She was in a very bad condition," he says. "They took her to a house and she was vomiting foam from her mouth. In four or five minutes, an ambulance came. They [the doctors] told us that she lacked oxygen due to the gas."

      Every Friday, Samir attends the demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier, built in the aftermath of the second intifada.

      Clashes at the protests are common, with some Palestinians throwing stones and the army shooting tear gas, a fetid liquid known as skunk and employing other crowd dispersal weapons. A dense cloud of smoke fills the air and spreads over the village within seconds. It is not unusual for people to vomit in the streets, their eyes burning from the tear gas. But still, Samir, his family and friends keep up their display of defiance.

      "We go to show our suffering," he says. "It is our way to denounce that they are raping our land." When asked if the hardships his family has gone through make them special, he says no. "We are like the others. This is only a test from God."

      Bil'in, about two miles from the 1967 armistice border, or Green Line, has always been an agricultural village. But the villagers, according to Michael Sfard, the Israeli lawyer representing them, are now prevented from getting to about 50% of their farmlands by the barrier. The impoverished Abu Rahmes are among those who lost their land.

      Like the rest they can, in principle, enter their groves through a gate that the army is obliged to open for a certain number of hours a day. However, according to Sfard, the army does not always comply.

      Back in the family home, Ashraf, the brother who was shot two years ago, listens attentively to his mother and Samir, a red-and-white Palestinian scarf tied around his neck. His shooting was filmed by an Israeli human rights group and the images travelled around the world. He considers himself lucky; not only did he escape with relatively minor injuries, but the lieutenant-colonel who ordered the shooting is now being judged in a military court. But last week there was no reason to be cheerful. "Our family is destroyed," he says. "There will always be sadness in our family."

      Israeli military 'regrets' killing wrong man in Hamas raid
      Unarmed Palestinian Amr Qawasme was shot dead during IDF operation to arrest militants in Hebron
      Harriet Sherwood Jerusalem
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 January 2011 16.03 GMT


      The Israeli military has said it regrets shooting dead an unarmed 65-year-old Palestinian man who, according to his family, was asleep in bed in the West Bank city of Hebron when soldiers mounted a raid in search of Hamas militants.

      The Israeli defence forces (IDF) launched an investigation into the death of Amr Qawasme, the fifth Palestinian to die as a result of Israeli military actionsince the start of the year. One death is disputed by the IDF: that of Jawaher Abu Rahma after inhaling teargas fired by soldiers.

      Qawasme was killed after being shot in the upper body and face, according to medical sources at the Hebron Governmental hospital who were quoted by the Palestinian news agency Ma'an.

      An IDF statement said it happened during an operation to arrest five Hamas militants who were released from a Palestinian prison yesterday. "A Palestinian man who was present in one of the terrorists' homes was killed," the statement said. "The IDF regrets the outcome of the incident." Its investigation would present its conclusions "as early as next week".

      According to witnesses, soldiers broke into the house and entered Qawasme's bedroom. His wife, Sobheye, told Reuters she heard shots and found her husband lying in a pool of blood. "I was praying when they entered," she said. "I do not know how they opened the door. They put their hand to my mouth and a rifle to my head."

      A Reuters TV video showed bullet casings over the floor of the bedroom and bedding soaked with blood. Qawasme lived on the floor above that of Wael Mahmoud Said Bitar, a Hamas militant. Qawasme's son Raja'e told Ma'an that the soldiers must have thought Bitar was living in the apartment. "They thought it was Wael so they fired bullets immediately after entering my father's room while he was sleeping in his bed; I guess they did not make sure of his identity," he said.

      Qawasme's death follows the shooting dead of two Palestinians this week. The IDF said they had tried to cross the border fence between Gaza and Israel. Last Sunday Mohammed Daraghmeh was shot dead at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus after soldiers mistook a bottle he was holding for a knife and he failed to heed warnings to stop. A military investigation cleared the soldiers.

      Jawaher Abu Rahma died last Saturday after the IDF fired teargas at a protest in Bil'in over the Israeli separation barrier. The IDF has rejected hospital reports that she died as a result of tear gas inhalation, saying she may have had a pre-existing medical condition. It has offered no evidence to support its claim.

      Bil'in: A village in mourning
      One West Bank family has paid the highest price for their village's peaceful pursuit of justice.
      Renee Lewis Last Modified: 07 Jan 2011 17:55 GMT


      People say that time heals, but the Abu Rahmah family feels as though it is living in a recurring nightmare from which there is no respite. Their nightmare is set in the West Bank village of Bil'in, which has been cut into pieces by Israel's "separation" wall.

      It is a unique village: On the front lines of the conflict with Israel, it has also been the site of weekly non-violent protests since the wall was constructed 2005. It even has its own website, which describes "a Palestinian village that is struggling to exist" and "fighting to safeguard its land, its olive trees, its resources ... its liberty".

      But what really makes the village stand out is the people that inhabit it - in particular, the Abu Rahmahs, whose misfortunes really began about three years ago.

      All six Abu Rahmah siblings were non-violent activists - only four of them are left.

      Their tale begins in July 2008, when one of them, Ashraf, was detained by Israeli soldiers in the nearby village of Ni'lin. The soldiers tied him up, blindfolded him and, as their commander watched, shot him in the foot at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

      The term "rubber-coated" can be misleading; this type of ammunition is consistently mislabelled as 'rubber' bullets by the army, leading people to think that it is relatively harmless. But the rubber coating is, in fact, paper-thin and encases a marble-sized steel ball that can break bones or even kill.

      The whole incident was captured on video, making it impossible for the Israeli military to deny responsibility.

      Ashraf's case went to the Israeli Supreme Court where a strong indictment against the commander was unanimously ordered. The soldier who committed the deed was put under investigation, but just two weeks later the charges against him were dropped and he resumed duty.

      Bassem's story

      On April 17, 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmah, another of the siblings, made his way to the front of the weekly protest as he did every Friday. Reaching the wall, he stood before dozens of Israeli soldiers, who have a reputation for regularly using violent means of "crowd dispersal" against non-violent protesters.

      On this occasion, the Israeli military used a new type of high-velocity teargas canister - the sheer velocity of which, unlike the normal canisters, made it nearly impossible for the protesters to evade them.

      Several Israeli activists had become trapped between two fences and, disorientated by the teargas, were unable to escape. Bassem shouted in Hebrew at the soldiers that they were shooting teargas at their own people and should stop for a minute to allow the Israeli activists to get out from between the fences.

      One of the Israeli soldiers responded to Bassem's request by shooting a high-velocity teargas canister directly at his chest from a distance of about 40 metres.

      By this point, many of the protesters and media had been driven away by the billowing teargas, but those still present heard a desperate call for an ambulance. There was no ambulance in the village that day and, after, a few drawn out minutes, a small, beat-up car sped down the road to the spot where Bassem lay. As it approached, the soldiers shot at it with teargas canisters. Bassem's limp body, his chest covered with blood, was carried to the car and driven the 30 minutes to the nearest hospital.

      He died before reaching it.

      It was the first time that somebody had been killed at one of Bil'in's weekly demonstrations and it soon became clear that Bassem had left a considerable mark not just on his family, but on the entire village.

      Over coffee at her home, I told Bassem's mother in my broken Arabic that my own family in the US had heard about what had happened to Bassem on the news and that people all over the world knew of his story. It seemed to offer her little comfort.

      I remembered how Bassem had been the first person in the village to introduce himself to me, how he seemed to know everyone and was always going from one place to another, helping people and spending time with his friends.

      He worked with the Bil'in Popular Committee, which espouses non-violent and creative ways to attract attention to their cause, was deeply committed to non-violence and always spoke peacefully to the Israeli soldiers.

      Who will look out for them?

      I also recalled how on that fateful afternoon, Bassem had joined the other villagers and activists at the centre of Bil'in as they chanted slogans and began to walk towards the village's annexed land.

      As always, Bassem was initially at the back of the crowd, trying to finish a conversation before the march began. But he had a long stride and, with his mobile phone blasting Arabic music, he had passed everyone by the time we reached the wall.

      As he walked past me, told me, as he always did, to be careful and warned my friend to look out for me during the protest. But who was looking out for him?

      Bassem's family were devastated by his death, so when I heard about the death of his sister, Jawaher, a few days ago, I immediately thought of them.

      Jawaher died on New Year's Eve as a result of inhaling teargas at the village's weekly protest.

      There has been some speculation over the type of teargas used on that day, with other activists emphasising the large quantity and unusually strong effect it had on them.

      The Abu Rahmah family has been left to deal with yet more injustice, grief and loss.

      'Israel took bribes for Gaza entry'
      WikiLeaks releases US diplomatic cable indicating US companies had to pay bribes to get their goods into the Gaza Strip.
      Last Modified: 07 Jan 2011 02:55 GMT


      A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks indicates that a key Israeli cargo crossing for goods entering the Gaza Strip was rife with corruption, forcing American businesses to pay hefty bribes to Israelis to get their products across the border.

      The June 14, 2006, cable released on Thursday said distributors for major American companies that included Coca-Cola Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Motorola Inc. complained of widespread corruption at the border crossing:

      As of late May 34 shipments of American goods, amounting to nearly USD $1.9m, have been waiting three to four months to cross into Gaza. US distributors assert they are being asked to pay "special fees" which amount to as much as 75 times the standard processing fee as quoted by GOI [Government of Israel] officials.

      Israeli officials denied any wrongdoing at the Karni crossing, which was once a major shipping point for cargo entering Gaza. Its operations were scaled back after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

      The WikiLeaks document quoted a local Coca-Cola distributor as saying he was asked to pay more than $3,000 for each truckload of merchandise going through Karni.

      The executive was identified as Joerg Hartmann, an official with Coca-Cola's distributor in the West Bank.

      What does one get for $3,000 payment to move cargo? Hartmann said that for that price, your truck is promised the first place in line or a spot near the head of the so-called "Israeli line" which does move. Hartmann said that usually two or three lines at Karni are reserved for Israeli companies/shippers, which he speculated pay a much lower amount to get their products across the border.

      The company did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

      Hartmann claimed an unidentified "high-level official" at the crossing headed the corruption ring, but that it filtered further down, adding that Palestinian partners on the other side participated in the shakedown operation.

      Of bribes and blockades

      The cable says distributors from other companies, including Procter & Gamble Co., Caterpillar, Philip Morris, Westinghouse, Hewlett-Packard Co., Motorola., Aramex and Dell Inc., complained of corruption at the crossing.

      The document implied that at least two of the companies, Coca-Cola and Westinghouse, paid the bribes, while a Caterpillar representative said it refused to pay the $2,667 it was asked to provide to move two small generators through the passage.

      The alleged corruption occurred a year before Hamas overtook Gaza and Israel imposed an economic border blockade, restricting shipments into Gaza.

      Prior to that time, however, Israeli-Palestinian violence frequently closed the border crossings, and Hartmann told US diplomats that the cost of the bribes would rise after extended closures of the border.

      Under international pressure, Israel eased the blockade last summer after a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound international flotilla.

      Israeli military officials that co-ordinate movement in and out of Gaza refused to comment, and Israel's Airports Authority, which operates the actual crossing points, denied any wrongdoing.

      "We have looked into this. ... Nobody here had anything to do with it," said authority spokesman Adar Avisar.

      In 2006, a World Bank report found that problems in Karni's operations acted as a "magnet for corruption on both sides of the border".

      Palestinian killed in Israeli raid
      Family says soldiers mistakenly shot dead sleeping man during hunt for a Hamas fighter released from Palestinian jail.
      Last Modified: 07 Jan 2011 10:14 GMT


      Israeli troops have shot dead a sleeping Palestinian man during a dawn raid in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

      Family members found Omar al-Qawasmeh, 66, in a pool of blood in the bedroom after soldiers broke into several homes in the city's al-Sheikh neighbourhood on Friday.

      The raid came less than 24 hours after six Hamas fighters who had been on hunger strike in Palestinian jails were released on Thursday.

      Five of them were from Hebron, and one of them, Wael Bitar, arrested by the Israelis, lived one storey below the victim, residents said.

      "I was praying when they entered. I do not know how they opened the door. They put their hand to my mouth and a rifle to my head," al-Qawasmeh's wife told the Reuters news agency.

      "I was shocked. They did not allow me to talk. I asked them, 'What did you do?' They asked me to shut up."

      Later, the Israeli army issued a statement acknowedging that al-Qawasmeh's killing was unintended. It said he "was present in one of the terrorist's homes".

      An Israeli military spokesman told the AFP news agency: "There is no indication that [al-Qawasmeh] was involved in any terror activity at any stage and therefore we regret the incident."

      An immediate investigation has been ordered, with a report expected by next week, according to the Israeli army statement.

      Shot at close range

      Al Jazeera's Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramallah in the West Bank, said al-Qawasmeh was shot at close range with multiple bullets in the head and chest, and was already dead by the time he reached the hospital.

      "According to the family, the soldiers appeared very flustered after killing al-Qawasmeh and asked one of the sons whether that was Bitar. When told he was not, they went to Bitar's apartment one floor below to arrest him and left the building," she said.

      "The Palestinian Authority said they were very angry with this incident and called it the execution of an elderly Palestinian citizen. They consider it an incitement against the Palestinian Authority and an unjustified crime that will lead to instability in the region."

      Separately, the Israeli army confirmed the arrest of Bitar, who it described as a "senior member of the Hamas armed infrastructure in the Hebron region".

      The army said "Bitar was the assistant of Shehab Natshe, who planned the suicide bombing in Dimona of 2008".

      In addition to Bitar, four "Hamas operatives who were working alongside [him]" were also arrested overnight.

      "All five of the men were released from a Palestinian prison on Thursday," the Israeli army statement said.

      Gaza targets hit

      In other incidents, the Israeli military said fighter jets attacked two targets in Gaza overnight in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, which is governed by Hamas.

      One of the targets of the raid was a tunnel Hamas fighters dug into Israel under the border fence, the military statement.

      Friday's raids come as tensions continue to rise in Gaza. Overnight, between Wednesday and Thursday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians who they said were trying to get across the border fence into Israel.

      Earlier, on Wednesday, Palestinian fighters fired seven projectiles, most of them mortar shells, across the border, Israeli sources said. No casualties or damage was reported.

      Restricting Israel's Arab minority
      Legitimacy of Israeli democracy threatened as racism increases under discriminatory laws against Palestinian minority.
      Mel Frykberg Last Modified: 02 Jan 2011 13:50 GMT


      A number of recent incidents discriminating against Israel’s Palestinian minority has prompted Israeli Knesset (parliament) members to debate whether Israel is becoming increasingly racist.

      Ronit Sela from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri) has no doubts. "Israel’s democracy is under threat as an increasingly large racist element raises its collective head. A number of racist occurrences have taken place in a climate conducive to racism. This wouldn’t have happened prior to the current right-wing Israeli government," Sela said.

      Recently an organisation called Jews for a Jewish Bat Yam (a suburb near Tel Aviv) held a protest against "assimilation of young Jewish women with Arabs living in the city or in nearby Jaffa."

      "It's a local organisation of Bat Yam residents, because the public is tired of so many Arabs going out with Jewish girls," explained one of the organisers, Bentzi Gufstein. "In addition to the protest, we will hand out pamphlets explaining the situation."

      For all the fear of "being swamped by the Arabs", the amount of social, political and public interaction between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Palestinian minority remains restricted.

      Prof. Shlomo Hasson from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem argues that relations between the two communities are largely influenced by social and economic interaction.

      "There is very limited integration between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens. Unemployment amongst Israeli-Arabs is much higher than amongst Jewish citizens," said Orna Cohen from Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

      "In the public sector Arab employment is basically limited to the health and educational sector where they work with fellow Arabs. There is some integration in the private sector where Arabs are employed and they are also hired for private services," Cohen said.

      "There is also some mixing in mixed residential cities such as Haifa. But there are many Jewish communities where Arabs are refused the right to live and not allowed to buy land," added Cohen.

      "I don’t know the extent to which Arabs and Israelis are inter-dating, but that really is irrelevant."

      Several weeks ago Knesset members hotly debated an earlier development when a number of leading Israeli rabbis signed a religious ruling forbidding renting homes to gentiles, specifically aimed at Palestinians living in the Israel town Safed, while studying at a local college.

      "We don't need to help Arabs set down roots in Israel," said Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Beit El settlement. He stated that Jews looking for apartments should be given preference over gentiles and that the growing number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were becoming a nuisance.

      Israelis who have continued to rent to Palestinians have received threats and been publicly shamed by right-wing organisations who have drawn up lists.

      According to Israeli daily ‘Y Net’, a recent survey shows 41 percent of secular Israelis support municipal religious leaders' call not to rent apartments to non-Jews, as do 64 percent and 88 percent of Israel's traditional and Haredi Jews, respectively.

      Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset who participated in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara attempt to break the siege of Gaza in May, expressed outrage that some Israeli parliamentarians were feigning shock at recent developments.

      "Three months ago the Knesset approved a law that villages with populations smaller than 500 residents could remain Jewish to ‘maintain their cultural identity’. Furthermore, there have been approximately ten laws passed during the last year aimed against the Arab minority," Zoabi said.

      "Israel has double standards. Some Knesset members accused the rabbis of being racist despite the loyalty oath they supported and passed several months earlier. This calls for the Israeli citizenship of the Palestinian minority to be dependent on swearing allegiance to Zionism and Israel’s Jewish character despite this conflicting with their rights as an ethnic minority," she said.

      "These rabbis authored the letter despite the fact they are Israeli public servants and on the government payroll. We wrote to the justice minister and got a legal injunction asking the minister to look into the matter. We have received no reply and nothing has been done about it," added Sela.

      "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not rebuked the rabbis. The fact that public servants are able to incite to this degree, despite there being no major changes in Israel’s judiciary in the country’s 62-year history, speaks volumes about the current political climate in Israel," Sela said.

      Adalah, has meticulously documented the discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

      This includes over 30 laws ranging from the law of return applying only to Jews; the ease with which Palestinians can be stripped of their citizenship; under-representation in the judiciary and politics; under-funding of Arab education and social services; higher rates of unemployment; and inadequate access to land and planning rights.

      A version of this article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.

      Israeli authorities deny Palestinian prisoners access to lawyers
      Israeli security services deny Palestinian detainees access to legal advice or family before confessions are signed
      Ana Carbajosa in Jerusalem
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 28 December 2010 19.17 GMT


      Palestinian detainees are systematically denied the right to meet a lawyer during interrogations by Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, according to a report published today by an Israeli and a Palestinian rights group.

      The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and the Palestinian Prisoners' Club say detainees from the occupied West Bank are cut off from the rest of the world in Israeli detention facilities. The report also cited cases of "systematic violence" and torture.

      Between 70% and 90% of the detainees in the years 2005 to 2007 were not allowed to meet a lawyer able to provide advice and assistance prior to signing a confession, say the organisations. The average time prisoners represented by the group were isolated from the outside world was 16.7 days. Irit Ballas, a lawyer and one of the report's authors, said the situation has remained the same for the past three years. "The information we receive from our lawyers tells us that the incommunicado detention has not decreased," he said.

      Shin Bet refuses to reveal the number of detainees who had no access to legal services. Asked about the report, the agency said: "One of the tools, used in accordance with the law, is the authority to prevent meetings with a lawyer for a period of time established within the law." Shin Bet added: "The accusation that denying access to lawyers was being used to prevent the monitoring of 'mental and physical abuse' is completely baseless."

      In Israel, the legal period for detention in isolation is 48 hours for so-called regular violations and up to 21 days for "security" violations. In cases where military law applies, it can reach 90 days.

      "All the detainees who testified reported grave negative consequences of being held incommunicado, emphasising the feelings of fear, helplessness, confusion and despair," says the 67-page report.

      The document lists other forms of ill-treatment during the interrogation: "painful and prolonged shackling to a chair, painful cuffing of the hands, sleep deprivation, repeated threats to harm the detainee and his family, the conditioning of meeting an attorney with confession, giving of false information to the detainee and intentional deception of the detainee".

      The report reproduces, among others, the testimony of Ziad Shanti, 32, from Qalqilya in the West Bank, who was arrested in October 2006 while walking down the street with his friends. He was seriously injured during the arrest by two bullets. He was forbidden contact with his family or with a lawyer for 40 days, even during his stay in hospital and later while in a cell with no windows.

      "I asked [repeatedly] for them to inform my mother that I am alive. The interrogator said he would allow this only after I confess … the interrogator took me to the interrogation room and shackled me to the chair with handcuffs. I stayed until 3am and was then returned to the isolation cell. Around 8am I was taken to interrogation."

      The sessions were repeated for several days. Shanti confessed. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for stealing a truck and harbouring activists from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.
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