News From Palestine
- Masked perpetrators harass Palestinians, steal donkey
By Mijal Grinberg
Three masked individuals crept into a Palestinian village near the
southern Hebron Hills on Saturday morning, threw stones at residents
and stole a donkey, residents of the village of Um Tuba said.
Police arrived at the scene and requested that the owner of the stolen
donkey file a complaint at the Kiryat Arba police station.
Over the past few months, settlers from Moan have repeatedly harassed
Um Tuba children on their way to and from school. The children are
forced to pass on Maon property to get to school in the village of
Al-Tawani, south of the settlement.
Israel Defense Forces soldiers or police have had to provide escorts
to protect the children from the settlers.
About a month ago, dozens of settlers ambushed a military vehicle
escorting the children. They threw stones and bottles, and one settler
set his dog on the children.
Four of the children and two soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Another 9 Palestinians including two school children are murdered by
Source- Haaretz Correspondents,13 June, 2006: GAZA - Nine
Palestinians, including two schoolchildren, were killed Tuesday when
Israel Air Force aircraft fired two missiles in Gaza City at the
vehicle of an Islamic Jihad crew heading to fire rockets at Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces said that the militants were on their way to
fire Katyusha rockets, which have a longer range than the homemade
Qassam rockets usually fired from Gaza. Seven of the dead were
civilians, two were Islamic Jihad activists. One missile failed to hit
the crew's vehicle as it drove in the heavily populated Zeitoun
neighborhood, but the second missile struck its target. Palestinian
witnesses said the second missile came two minutes after the first,
after a crowd had begun to gather around the scene of the attack.
Witnesses said they saw rockets in the wreckage of the yellow van hit
in the strike.
Shrapnel from a missile apparently flew into an adjacent house,
causing casualties among children playing inside.
"There was an attack on a car that was heading to fire rockets at
Israel," an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said in Tel Aviv. One of
the militants was Hamoud Wadiya, Islamic Jihad's top rocket launcher.
The group identified the other militant as Shawki Sayklia. Among the
dead were two members of the same family, a father and son. Also
killed were three medical employees on their way to tend to the
wounded from an earlier explosion. Hekmat Mughrabi, tears streaming
down her face and her veil soaked with blood, said her 30-year-old
son, Ashraf, and a 13-year-old family member died when one of the
missiles hit the curb outside her home. She and her son were chatting
on her bed when they heard the boom of the first missile. The young
man ran to the door of the house after the initial explosion, seeking
to calm down the family's children, who had been on the rooftop making
paper kites during their summer vacation.
"He was shouting to the kids, 'Don't be afraid, don't be afraid'," and
hadn't even finished his sentence when the second missile hit, she
said. "My son died in my arms." Shrapnel from the blast flew into the
house, wounding several other family members, she added. Outside her
house, dozens of people surrounded Wadiya's mangled yellow van, whose
interior was a jumble of twisted metal and shredded upholstery. A man
wailed beside the van as people propped him up by the arms. A white
slipper lay in a pool of blood on the ground. Palestinian Information
Minister Yousef Rizka, of Hamas, condemned what he called "the
continuous series of Israeli massacres of our Palestinian people." "I
call on the international community to immediately intervene to
protect the Palestinian people from the increasing aggression of the
Israeli occupation army, which will definitely provoke a response that
will engage the entire region," said Rizka. "What happened today is a
brutal massacre committed against innocent civilians and fighters from
our group," said Kader Abib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza speaking
to protesters outside a hospital morgue. "The Zionist enemy insists on
shedding Palestinian blood and we insist on going ahead with our Jihad
and resistance. God willing the resistance groups... will have a harsh
response. All options are open for us." Khalid al-Baach, another
senior Jihad official, said Israel was "exploiting the war between
Fatah and Hamas in order to weaken and attack the Palestinian people."
Doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital found it difficult to work with the
large number of casualties, and some were being treated on the
bloodied floor. Ambulances screamed toward Shifa carrying dead and
wounded. One medical worker yelled out "he's dead" as teams removed a
victim from the ambulance. At the hospital's morgue, where the bodies
were brought, angry women shouted, "Death to Israel, Death to the
occupation!" Outside the morgue, an Islamic Jihad militant fired his
rifle in a show of anger. Other gunmen vowed revenge. One went inside
the morgue, put his hands on one of the bodies, and then smeared their
blood on his rifle. Angry crowds burned tires near the site where one
of the IAF missiles hit.Reports of an explosion minutes later in the
nearby town of Jabalya turned out to be a prank, Palestinians said.
Hamas calls for probe into arms transfer to Abbas
Khaled Abu Toameh
THE JERUSALEM POST
Jun. 18, 2006
Hamas on Saturday called on the Palestinian Legislative Council to
launch an investigation into the transfer of rifles and ammunition to
forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,
charging that the move was intended to trigger civil war among the
About 1,000 M-16 rifles and large amounts of ammunition were
transferred last week from Jordan to Abbas's security forces, a move
that Israel authorized to help Abbas and his Fatah party in their
confrontation with Hamas.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the decision last week in London,
causing senior PA officials in Ramallah to express outrage with Israel
for going public on the issue.
"The Israeli government should not have published this," protested one
official. "This is an extremely sensitive issue and the Palestinians
street will now think that Israel is arming us so that we could fight
Hamas. This makes us look like collaborators."
Another official told The Jerusalem Post that there was "nothing
unusual" with the transfer of weapons to the PA.
"Under the terms of the Oslo Accords and other agreements signed with
Israel, the Palestinian Authority is entitled to bring light weapons
for the security forces," he said. "This is not the first time that
rifles and ammunition have been transferred from Jordan or Egypt."
Although the transfer of the weapons was completed on Wednesday night,
Abbas and his top aides have publicly denied knowing anything about
the deal. On a visit to Nablus Thursday, Abbas accused Israel of lying
and insisted that no weapons had been sent to his security forces.
But Hamas officials said on Saturday that Abbas's loyalists in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip had received three trucks loaded with rifles
and ammunition. They said the shipment, which included 3,000 M-16
rifles and three million bullets, was delivered to Abbas's office in
Ramallah and Gaza City.
"We call on the Palestinian Legislative Council to launch an immediate
investigation into this matter," said a statement issued by the Hamas
leadership in the Gaza Strip. "We want to know the nature and type of
the weapons, why they are needed, and the party that paid for the
rifles and bullets."
The statement, which is seen as an indication of growing tensions
between Fatah and Hamas, noted that the decision to supply Abbas's
loyalists with weapons came at a time when the Palestinians were
suffering "under the yoke of financial siege and starvation."
Hinting that Israel and the US were behind the move, Hamas urged the
PLC to look into the "size of American and Israeli intervention in the
internal affairs of the Palestinians. We strongly condemn the exposed
American-Zionist conspiracy to spark dissension among our people by
arming and financing one side under the pretext of arming the
Hamas also accused unnamed Arab countries of being part of the alleged
conspiracy, calling on the Palestinians to work toward thwarting any
attempt to trigger civil war.
The latest charges came despite reports that Hamas and Fatah were
close to reaching an agreement on ending their dispute.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that he expected an
agreement with Abbas as early as this week.
"The dialogue has achieved significant results," he said. "I expect an
agreement within the next few days."
Haniyeh did not elaborate, but sources close to Hamas said they had
good reason to believe that Abbas would cancel his decision to hold a
referendum over a controversial document drafted by some Palestinian
prisoners. In return, Hamas would agree to the establishment of a
national unity government that would bring together several factions,
including Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In Palestine, a War on Children
by John Pilger
Arthur Miller wrote, "Few of us can easily surrender our belief that
society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost
its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And
so the evidence has to be internally denied."
Miller's truth was a glimpsed reality on television on June 9 when
Israeli warships fired on families picnicking on a Gaza beach, killing
seven people, including three children and three generations. What
that represents is a final solution, agreed by the United States and
Israel, to the problem of the Palestinians. While the Israelis fire
missiles at Palestinian picnickers and homes in Gaza and the West
Bank, the two governments are to starve them. The victims will be
This was approved on May 23 by the U.S. House of Representatives,
which voted 361-37 to cut off aid to non-government organizations that
run a lifeline to occupied Palestine. Israel is withholding
Palestinian revenues and tax receipts amounting to $60 million a
month. Such collective punishment, identified as a crime against
humanity in the Geneva Conventions, evokes the Nazis' strangulation of
the Warsaw ghetto and the American economic siege of Iraq in the
1990s. If the perpetrators have lost their minds, as Miller suggested,
they appear to understand their barbarism and display their cynicism.
"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet," joked Dov Weisglass,
an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
This is the price Palestinians must pay for their democratic elections
in January. The majority voted for the "wrong" party, Hamas, which the
U.S. and Israel, with their inimitable penchant for
pot-calling-the-kettle-black, describe as terrorist. However,
terrorism is not the reason for starving the Palestinians, whose prime
minister, Ismail Haniyeh, had reaffirmed Hamas's commitment to
recognize the Jewish state, proposing only that Israel obey
international law and respect the borders of 1967. Israel has refused
because, with its apartheid wall under construction, its intention is
clear: to take over more and more of Palestine, encircling whole
villages and eventually Jerusalem.
The reason Israel fears Hamas is that Hamas is unlikely to be a
trusted collaborator in subjugating its own people on Israel's behalf.
Indeed, the vote for Hamas was actually a vote for peace. Palestinians
were fed up with the failures and corruption of the Arafat era.
According to the former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter
Center verified the Hamas electoral victory, "public opinion polls
show that 80 percent of Palestinians want a peace agreement with Israel."
How ironic this is, considering that the rise of Hamas was due in no
small part to the secret support it received from Israel, which, with
the U.S. and Britain, wanted Islamists to undermine secular Arabism
and its "moderate"
dreams of freedom. Hamas refused to play this Machiavellian game and
in the face of Israeli assaults maintained a cease-fire for 18 months.
The objective of the Israeli attack on the beach at Gaza was clearly
to sabotage the cease-fire. This is a time-honored tactic.
Now, state terror in the form of a medieval siege is to be applied to
the most vulnerable. For the Palestinians, a war against their
children is hardly new. A 2004 field study published in the British
Medical Journal reported that, in the previous four years, "Two-thirds
of the 621 children killed [by the Israelis] at checkpoints on the
way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in
over half the cases to the head, neck, and chest the sniper's
wound." A quarter of Palestinian infants under the age of five are
acutely or chronically malnourished. The Israeli wall "will isolate 97
primary health clinics and 11 hospitals from the populations they serve."
The study described "a man in a now fenced-in village near Qalqilya
[who] approached the gate with his seriously ill daughter in his arms
and begged the soldiers on duty to let him pass so that he could take
her to hospital. The soldiers refused."
Gaza, now sealed like an open prison and terrorized by the sonic boom
of Israeli fighter aircraft, has a population of which almost half is
under 15. Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who heads a children's
community health project, told me, "The statistic I personally find
unbearable is that 99.4 percent of the children we studied suffer
trauma 99.2 percent had their homes bombarded; 97.5 percent were
exposed to tear gas; 96.6 percent witnessed shooting; a third saw
family members or neighbors injured or killed."
These children suffer unrelenting nightmares and "night terrors" and
the dichotomy of having to cope with these conditions. On the one
hand, they dream about becoming doctors and nurses "so they can help
others"; on the other, this is then overtaken by an apocalyptic vision
of themselves as the next generation of suicide bombers. They
experience this invariably after attacks by the Israelis. For some
boys, their heroes are no longer football players, but a confusion of
Palestinian "martyrs" and even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers
are the strongest and have Apache gunships."
That these children are now to be punished further may be beyond human
comprehension, but there is a logic. Over the years, the Palestinians
have avoided falling into the abyss of an all-out civil war, knowing
this is what the Israelis want. Destroying their elected government
while attempting to build a parallel administration around the
collusive Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, may well produce, as
the Oxford academic Karma Nabulsi wrote, "a Hobbesian vision of an
anarchic society ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious
ideologues and broken into ethnic and religious tribalism, and
co-opted collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today: that is what
[Ariel Sharon] had in store for us."
The struggle in Palestine is an American war, waged from America's
most heavily armed foreign military base, Israel. In the West, we are
conditioned not to think of the Israeli-Palestinian "conflict" in
those terms, just as we are conditioned to think of the Israelis as
victims, not illegal and brutal occupiers. This is not to
underestimate the ruthless initiatives of the Israeli state, but
without F-16s and Apaches and billions of American taxpayers' dollars,
Israel would have made peace with the Palestinians long ago. Since the
Second World War, the U.S. has given Israel some $140 billion, much of
it as armaments. According to the Congressional Research Service, the
same "aid" budget was to include $28 million "to help [Palestinian]
children deal with the current conflict situation" and to provide
"basic first aid." That has now been vetoed.
Karma Nabulsi's comparison with Iraq is apposite, for the same
"policy" applies there. The capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a
wonderful media event: what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called
"action as propaganda," and having little bearing on reality. The
Americans and those who act as their bullhorn have their demon even
a video game of his house being blown up. The truth is that Zarqawi
was largely their creation. His apparent killing serves an important
propaganda purpose, distracting us in the west from the American goal
of converting Iraq, like Palestine, into a powerless society of ethnic
and religious tribalism. Death squads, formed and trained by veterans
of the CIA's "counterinsurgency" in central America, are critical to
this. The Special Police Commandos, a CIA creation led by former
senior intelligence officers in Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, are
perhaps the most brutal. The Zarqawi killing and the myths about his
importance also deflect from routine massacres by U.S. soldiers, such
as the one at Haditha. Even the puppet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
complains that murderous behavior of U.S. troops is "a daily
occurrence." As I learned in Vietnam, a form of serial killing, then
known officially as "body count," is the way the Americans fight their
This is known as "pacification." The asymmetry of a pacified Iraq and
a pacified Palestine is clear. As in Palestine, the war in Iraq is
against civilians, mostly children. According to UNICEF, Iraq once had
one of the highest indicators for the well-being of children. Today, a
quarter of children between the ages of six months and five years
suffer acute or chronic malnutrition, worse than during the years of
sanctions. Poverty and disease have risen with each day of the occupation.
In April, in British-occupied Basra, the European aid agency Saving
Children from War reported: "The mortality of young children had
increased by 30 percent compared with the Saddam Hussein era." They
die because the hospitals have no ventilators and the water supply,
which the British were meant to have fixed, is more polluted than
ever. Children fall victim to unexploded U.S. and British cluster
bombs. They play in areas contaminated by depleted uranium; by
contrast, British army survey teams venture there only in full-body
radiation suits, face masks, and gloves. Unlike the children they came
to "liberate," British troops are given what the Ministry of Defense
calls "full biological testing."
Was Arthur Miller right? Do we "internally deny" all this, or do we
listen to distant voices? On my last trip to Palestine, I was
rewarded, on leaving Gaza, with a spectacle of Palestinian flags
fluttering from inside the walled compounds. Children are responsible
for this. No one tells them to do it. They make flagpoles out of
sticks tied together, and one or two climb on to a wall and hold the
flag between them, silently. They do it, believing they will tell the
GROWING CRISIS IN PALESTINE
16 June 2006
Trócaire's local partner in Jerusalem is appealing
urgently for over 1.5 million euro to help Palestinians
scrape by as salaries at the Palestinian Authority,
which provides jobs for more than 150,000 people, go
unpaid. The salaries have been frozen since Hamas won
the January elections, prompting Israel and
international donors to withhold funds destined for the
new government. Those government employees directly or
indirectly support a quarter of the entire Palestinian
population of 1.3 million people. Other international
organisations and donors also halted direct funding of
the Palestinian Authority. About 40 per cent of
children in Gaza already suffer from malnutrition
because of the area's absolute poverty.
"Birthright" kicks out young Jew for planning to hear views of others
June 5, 2006
Statement by accepted trip participant Birthright Israel removed from
trip because she planned to travel to the West Bank with Birthright
My name is Sierra. I signed up with Birthright Israel to learn about
my background and to develop a deeper understanding of my ancestry and
heritage. But I was removed from Birthright Israel's trip because of
their opposition to my planned tour with Birthright Unplugged, an
educational group touring the West Bank.
I'm biracial and grew up in a multicultural environment at home with
my parents. My mom is African-American and my father is
European-American Jewish. I am sensitive to cultural conflict and my
particular vantage point has shown me through my life and my community
that building bridges across such conflict is possible.
I want to travel to Israel to learn about and increase my connection
to Jewish culture and religion. I was very much looking forward to
this trip with Birthright Israel. I was excited to take advantage of
the fantastic opportunity provided by Birthright Israel and committed
to participating fully in all their
activities and learning from these experiences during their ten day tour.
I also want to learn about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I know
that there's a human rights issue going on in Israel/Palestine, a
conflict with people suffering on both sides. I don't want any
organization or the media to tell me what to think; I want to see for
myself and learn from different perspectives. Participating in
Birthright Unplugged's upcoming tour will provide me with this
Israel/Palestine has always seemed like an inaccessible place to me,
both because of the historic
violence and because of an almost otherworldly nature that the region
has due to its religious and spiritual importance.
Over the past few years I've had a couple close friends go and come
back, and they've made me realize that it's a real place; it has
layers and is not only accessible, but is a phenomenal region of the
world. I was excited to partake in my first trip and still hope that I
Wednesday morning, May 31st, I received a phone call from Tel Aviv
with Avi Green, the director of Israel Outdoors, on the other line.
Israel Outdoors is the trip organizer contracted by Birthright Israel
for the trip that I joined. He called me bearing "unfortunate news."
According to Mr. Green, it wasn't meant to be a value judgment on
Birthright Unplugged, but I must be removed from the pending
Birthright Israel trip due to my anticipated participation with the
Birthright Unplugged tour. When I asked if my removal was caused by an
email sent to Birthright Israel, informing them of my planned trip
with Birthright Unplugged, he said that he was not able to discuss
I asked him about the trip waiver form that I signed. It didn't refer
to the West Bank or Birthright
Unplugged; in fact it stated that the decision to extend my plane
ticket and participate in another
program is mine:
"Furthermore, and without derogating from the above, you understand
that should you decide to extend your ticket and remain in Israel
longer, or should you participate in a program which goes beyond the
days in which BRI participates financially, the decision to do so is
yours, and the said extension is in no way part of the program for
which any funding or assistance was provided by BRI and/or by BRI
Mr. Green said that Birthright Israel is a serious organization and
mustn't be taken trivially. I continue to agree with him and my
actions and intentions are very serious. I was excited and looking
forward to learning about Israeli and Jewish culture from Birthright
Israel, just as I am excited and looking forward to learning about the
Palestinian and Israeli conflict with Birthright Unplugged. I simply
want to learn about the conflict and learn about Israel. I do not
believe this is mutually exclusive or a reason to remove me from
Birthright Israel's trip. I hope that I can continue my plans to
participate with Birthright Unplugged's tour and fulfill my dream to
learn about my Jewish ancestry and learn about the Israeli/Palestinian
" I was devasted to find out that Birthright Israel removed me from
their tour group. They misunderstood an e-mail that was sent to them,
which included my plans to travel with Birthright Israel and
Birthright Unplugged. They made their decision without clarifying
the information by asking me about it. I was committed and excited to
learn about Israel by participating in Birthright Israel's trip.
Birthright Israel removes participant because she also planned to take
an educational trip to the West Bank with Birthright Unplugged.
Birthright Unplugged Press Release | June 1, 2006
Birthright Israel removes participant because she also planned to take
an educational trip to the West Bank. On May 31, 2006, one week before
Sierra's planned departure for Tel Aviv, she received a call from
Birthright Israel trip organizers telling her she was no longer
welcome on their free 10-day tour of Israel. The reason: she planned
to join the 6-day Birthright Unplugged trip through the West Bank
after the first trip was finished.
Sierra's stated goal was to go to the region to learn from both
Israelis and Palestinians about the situation there.
Birthright Unplugged offers opportunities for mostly young Jewish
North Americans to meet Palestinians and learn about daily life under
occupation. The trip takes participants through Palestinian cities,
villages, and refugee camps, and organizes formal and informal
meetings with a variety of Palestinians and Israelis.
According to Birthright Unplugged co-founder Hannah Mermelstein, "We
started this program to put trip participants in conversation with
Palestinian civil society, to learn firsthand about the situation in
Israel/Palestine, and to use their knowledge to make positive change
in the world. By denying Sierra the opportunity to have this
educational experience, Birthright Israel is further proving the need
for our existence."
Since 2000, Birthright Israel has sent 100,000 Jewish people, ages
18-26, on free trips to Israel. Participants are encouraged to extend
their tickets beyond the dates of their Birthright Israel trip, which
is exactly what Sierra intended to do. Apparently, any desire to meet
Palestinians living under occupation is reason to disqualify one from
Birthright Israel's trip.
Jewish individuals have already stepped forward and offered to
contribute towards the purchase of a plane ticket for Sierra in the
hopes that she can still participate in Birthright Unplugged and in
order to send a message to Birthright Israel that the quest for
knowledge is a value held by many Jewish people.
" Birthright Israel does not have a monopoly on Jewish people's
relationship to Israel/Palestine," said Mermelstein. "As hard as they
try, they will never be able to stop people from pursuing knowledge
and breaking down walls and barriers."
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1) Call Birthright Israel and tell them what you think about their
attempt to stop people from learning firsthand about the situation in
Israel/Palestine. Birthright Israel phone number: 888-99-ISRAEL
(994-7723). Israel Outdoors program (the specific program Sierra
planned to go on): 800-566-4611.
2) Support Sierra to come on Birthright Unplugged. Now that she is not
going on a Birthright Israel trip, she needs to raise the money for a
plane ticket if she wants to join our Unplugged trip. We want to send
a message to Birthright Israel that they can't stop people from
learning. Please contact us ASAP at info@... if
you are interested in sending a donation to help buy Sierra a plane
ticket, and let us know how much you are able to give.
3) Donate to Birthright Unplugged to support our important work at a
time like this! As walls and barriers continue to go up, we are more
committed than ever to continue our work and cross those barriers. To
send a tax-deductible donation to Birthright Unplugged, please make
checks out to the Gandhian Foundation, with a notation in the memo
line for "Birthright Unplugged", and send to Birthright Unplugged, 18
Northview Drive, Glenside, PA 19038. (If you don't need a tax
deduction you are welcome to make checks out directly to Birthright
Birthright Unplugged, info @ birthrightunplugged.org.
Crossing the Green Line: Birthright nixes woman with West Bank plans
By Chanan Tigay
June 6, 2005
A Birthright Unplugged tour views Israel's security barrier.
This week, the birthright israel program is celebrating the 100,000th
participant on its free, 10-day trips to Israel. But one person who'd
hoped to be among the thousands of young Jewish adults joining this
summer's festivities won't be.
That's because the woman, a 26-year-old resident of California, was
dropped from the program last week when birthright officials learned
that after participating in their program, she planned to join another
group in a trip through the Palestinian territories.
Birthright is standing unapologetically behind its decision on the
woman, Sierra, who has denied interview requests and asked that her
last name not be used.
Its program is meant to build Jewish identity, officials say, and if
participants are using the trip for other purposes, birthright
reserves the right to turn them away.
But a co-founder of Birthright Unplugged the name of the program in
the Palestinian territories, a clear dig at the birthright israel
brand says that by denying Sierra a ticket to Israel, birthright
simply confirms the need for alternative programs.
But while Birthright Unplugged launched a campaign to call attention
to the incident, here's the kicker: birthright learned about the
woman's plans from her mother, who apparently out of concern for her
daughter's safety in the Mideast forwarded them an e-mail in which
her daughter details her itinerary and explains that if birthright
israel learned of her plans, she would be dropped from its upcoming trip.
The spat highlights some complex questions with which birthright must
contend: how to keep out those it does not see as its target audience
while remaining open enough to meet its goals; and whether or not
keeping out people like Sierra, who was seeking to explore the
political issues in Israel as well as her Jewish identity, is the most
effective way of furthering the program's goals.
Since birthright's goal is to bring as many young Jewish adults to
Israel as money will allow, as few applicants as possible are turned
away, officials say.
This means that some who aren't birthright's target audience can slip
through the cracks, including non-Jews and those who have previously
taken part in a peer trip to Israel. Had birthright not been contacted
by this young woman's mother, its officials say, they'd never have
known of her plans.
"This is the best possible policy that we decided to endorse, bearing
in mind the need to be loyal to our partners and the goals that they
set for us," said Gideon Mark, national director of marketing for the
birthright israel program.
These goals, he said, include strengthening participants' Jewish
identities, their relationship with the State of Israel and Jewish
Of Birthright Unplugged, he said: "Theirs is a tiny organization which
tries to build on a very successful brand, taking part of its name,
trying to teach potential participants in Taglit-birthright israel how
to go to meet with Palestinians with a generous gift funded by the
Jewish people. And when Taglit-birthright israel does not cooperate,
then they go to the public and complain."
But Birthright Unplugged which says it has hosted just more than 20
young Jews on its programs since its first trip last summer, and
expects to bring an additional 15 or 16 this summer denies the charge.
"We started this program to put trip participants in conversation with
Palestinian civil society, to learn firsthand about the situation in
Israel/Palestine, and to use their knowledge to make positive change
in the world," said Hannah Mermelstein, co-founder of Unplugged.
"By denying Sierra the opportunity to have this educational
experience, birthright israel is further proving the need for our
Birthright Unplugged takes young Jewish adults through the West Bank
to "try to get people to understand what it means to live under
occupation," Mermelstein said. Some of those who've taken part in
Unplugged have previously been on birthright israel trips, she added;
others have taken part while on their year abroad in college, or while
visiting Israel with their families.
The program also takes young Palestinians living in refugee camps to
their ancestral homes in Israel.
The group's name, Mermelstein acknowledged, is a reference to
birthright israel, but also refers to something larger.
"We are against this concept of a Jewish birthright to this place,"
said the Boston-based Mermelstein.
"We're not afraid of people going on birthright israel, seeing what
they have to say and then coming and seeing what we're showing them on
our trip," she said. "It seems like birthright israel is afraid of
having people see things that would put into question the perspective
they're trying to give their participants, or provide information that
isn't controlled by birthright israel."
The group is funded largely by private donations from American Jews,
Mermelstein said, and recently received a grant from the Sparkplug
Foundation, which funds startup projects and innovations in music,
education and community organizing.
Birthright israel officials say that its programs are not political,
and that it employs no ideological litmus test for participants. When
politics are discussed, they say, its bent has to do with individual
tour guides rather than with any official birthright policy.
Other programs in Israel explore political issues with their
participants. The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, for example,
runs an entire "political week" as part of its five-week programs,
during which participants meet with political leaders from the right
and the left; Palestinians and Israelis; Arab and Jewish members of
"We try to have not too far right and not too far left, because it
gets a little crazy and nonrepresentative," said Rabbi Shimon Felix,
the program's executive director.
Still, Felix said, if his program were just 10 days, like birthright,
rather than five weeks, "I probably would not do the politics."
"It would be doing a disservice to the issues to squeeze that into a
half day of a 10-day trip," he said.
At least several birthright participants have gone on from the program
to work with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement in
the territories. Birthright did not know in advance of their plans.
Although birthright participants are interviewed before they're
granted a spot, there is no uniform roster of questions, and
information about post-trip plans is not always solicited, officials said.
Bronfman fellows have landed in the Palestinian territories following
the program, Felix said. But as for how the program would respond if
it knew in advance that a potential participant was planning to head
to the territories, he said, "We would have to think long and hard
about it. We don't have a policy. I don't think it's ever come up."
For her part, Sierra, the child of an African-American mother and a
Jewish father, said she had planned to take part fully in both
programs in hopes of learning about "a conflict with people suffering
on both sides."
"I simply want to learn about the conflict and learn about Israel,"
she said in a statement passed on to JTA by Mermelstein. "I do not
believe this is mutually exclusive or a reason to remove me from
birthright israel's trip. I hope that I can continue my plans to
participate with Birthright Unplugged's tour and fulfill my dream to
learn about my Jewish ancestry and learn about the Israeli-Palestinian
Birthright Unplugged has launched a campaign among its supporters to
fund a new ticket so that Sierra can still fly to the Middle East this
A Palestinian child puts a flag in the controversial security wall in
the West Bank town of Qalqiliya.
Come, See Palestine! Upstart tours of Palestine are challenging fully
paid "See Israel" holidays in a battle for the hearts and minds of
young American Jews
By Rachel Shabi
June 5, 2006
A Palestinian child puts a flag in the controversial security wall in
the West Bank town of Qalqiliya. The fight is on for the hearts of
young Jewish Americans. The battlefield is Israel and Palestine. It's
a hopelessly unequal battle -- one side has considerably more clout
and cash and, currently, appeal. But this struggle hits the core of
what it means to be an American Jew in a modern political context.
This summer, record numbers of young Jewish Americans will travel to
Israel -- despite concern over security. Most of them will arrive
courtesy of pro-Israel
-- despite concern over security. Most of them will arrive courtesy of
pro-Israel organizations that seek to reconnect Diaspora Jews to
Judaism and Israel. They will be on a free tour of the Jewish state,
presented to them as a gift, their "birthright."
But others will travel with Palestine solidarity campaigners who hold
that being both American and Jewish (as are nearly 6 million U.S.
citizens) brings with it a responsibility to at the very least
understand the Palestinian position. They'll visit the West Bank and
witness firsthand the effects of the occupation in Palestine. These
latter tours are still in infancy but word about them is rapidly
spreading through American campuses and Jewish networks. So, two camps
with diametrically opposed intentions are targeting exactly the same
audience of young American Jewry. And the cutting-edge cool tool on
both sides of the terrain is a holiday. Well, of sorts.
The context is about six years old. Having identified Diaspora Jews as
being hopelessly lapsed and in danger of intermarrying into
extinction, two New Yorkers, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman,
founded Taglit-birthright israel. Billionaire Bronfman inherited the
Canadian Seagram's liquor empire while Steinhardt made a small fortune
as a Wall Street wizard. The latter, a self-proclaimed atheist, is
nonetheless worried that Judaism is in danger of becoming obsolete.
Both feature high up on a list of Israel's most generous philanthropists.
" The vision is to ensure the continued existence of the Jewish people
because of the very high rate of assimilation," says Gidi Mark,
Taglit's director of marketing. He admits that what might appear to be
a severe stance against multiculturalism is a "bold and ambitious
plan." But he believes it has "changed dramatically the attitude of
Jewish young adults to Israel." Taglit offers Diaspora Jews between
the ages of 18 and 26 a free, 10-day tour of Israel, their
"birthright" or "homeland" country, courtesy of the Israeli
government, United Jewish Communities and private philanthropists.
Since 2000, Taglit has taken 100,000 young Jews, 75 percent of whom
are North American, to Israel. That's an impressive figure, although
one Israeli academic has noted that young American Jews might equally
be interested in a free trip to the Bahamas.
But the Taglit organization is indeed a success story. Prior to it,
around 1,500 Jews of the same cohort would come to the country each
year. Now around 22,000 visit Israel annually on Taglit trips; places
fill up rapidly and waiting lists are at bursting point. And these
trips achieve what they set out to do. They are, says Mark, "the most
effective Jewish educational project in the world." That's measured by
polls that question former birthrighters on their feelings of
connection to the Israeli state; those strong feelings don't diminish
even six years after Taglit trips.
Birthright trips to Israel are many-flavored -- there are
trek-focused, religious, secular or graduate and professional
varieties. It's a packed schedule, socializing is a key component and
sleep-deprivation is a given. Traveling in groups of 40 in
security-escorted buses, birthrighters might take in the Dead Sea, Tel
Aviv nightlife, a trip to Masada or a kibbutz visit. But the
essentials are the same. All trips in some way cover modern Israel,
Zionism and the Holocaust; all have Israeli escorts. And absolutely
non-negotiable is a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem -- the
remains of the second Jewish temple and therefore the holy of holies
Posters to the Taglit Web site enthuse about the birthright trip as a
life-changing experience that showed them the "gift of being Jewish"
and led them to conclude, as one trip alumini writes, "Wherever I
stand, I stand with Israel." They speak of the emotional charge and
the effects on young Americans just beginning to define their own
identity; for many, it is their first trip abroad.
But some former birthrighters say that there's no such thing as a free
holiday. They question whether Taglit may be pushing them a little too
hard to have a profound experience, particularly at the Wailing Wall.
"Our tour leader got everyone to close their eyes and put their hands
on the shoulders of the person in front of them," says one tripper.
"He walked us all in a line to a spot where we could get a high-up
view of the wall. Then he said something like, 'Your ancestors were
praying towards this wall for generations.' And you open your eyes and
there it is ... and there are tears streaming down everyone's faces."
One 25-year-old graduate student from Chicago describes the last day
of the trip, on a Tel Aviv beach. "It's a really hot day and one guy
from our trip runs into the water, and the sea's beautiful, at a
perfect temperature for swimming and he says, 'OK, OK, I'm a Zionist!'
It's facetiously said, but also ironic because that's exactly what
[tour leaders] want." This graduate is still with the young Jewish
woman he met while on the trip last summer. The matchmaking element is
a key component of birthright trips, say past participants. After all,
the idea is to stem the assimilation tendencies of Diaspora Jews.
What worries critics, however, is not the "I love being Jewish"
outcome of a trip to Israel but the underpinning political goals of
Taglit. Susan, a 27-year-old Seattle student, took the Taglit tour
last year. She was struck, she says, by "the levels of Zionism" and
the prevalence of anti-Palestinian comments during her trip, organized
through the University of Washington (campuses often coordinate
birthright trips). She didn't like the tour leader expressing his view
as universal truth while leaving out facts that supported the
The Taglit tour might encourage tears at the Wailing Wall, but the
8-meter-high, concrete separation wall snaking through the West Bank
is rarely mentioned. When it is, says Susan, the context is
dismissive. "At one point I saw what looked like the [separation] wall
in the distance and asked our guide about it," she says. "The guide
gave a very terse response about how, yes, that was the wall and, see
everyone, the Palestinians are trying to drive 'us' from 'our land'
and so we must keep 'them' out." Taglit trips do not go beyond the
Green Line marking the internationally recognized border between
Israel and Palestine. According to one former birthrighter, the Green
Line was not even marked on the map he was given on the tour.
The Taglit trip, one former participant says, does a good job of
"tugging at one's Jewish heartstrings," and then seeks to equate being
Jewish with the need for Israel to "protect us and all the Jews."
According to Susan, her attempts to redress the pro-Israel slant were
not welcome. Group discussions were zealously facilitated and stuck to
a narrow script that excluded any conversations about how participants
felt about Israeli policy.
Aaron took the trip in December 2004 when he was 22; he's now back in
Canada where he lives and works in community radio. He believes Taglit
aims to encourage pro-Israel activism overseas. His trip leaders, he
says, "kept emphasizing how much we could do to help on campus at
universities." He adds: "This point was driven a lot: that Israel is
suffering from constant insecurity and a state of war against them,
and the way we can prevent that is to try and promote Israel's good
image back home."
Taglit bats off any accusations of having a political agenda. "I don't
think it's political for Jews to support Israel," says Mark. "It
should be an integral part of every Jew's identity." Mark draws a
distinction between supporting Israel and supporting Israel's
policies. He adds that Taglit trips incorporate organizers and
speakers from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. As to why
Taglit trips don't go to the West Bank, he first cites the security
issue and then says, "We feel that people first of all should feel
strong about their own identity and then know about other ethnic groups."
For those who want a different experience of the region, there's now
an altogether different sort of trip on offer. Last year, around 30
young Jewish Americans took the first Birthright Unplugged trips to
the West Bank. "It changed my world," says Jessy Tolkan, 26, a
political consultant from Washington, D.C., who was on one of the
Unplugged trips last year. "Everything I had learned as a Jewish
person prior to the trip was turned totally upside down."
If Taglit trips gloss over the Palestinian experience, Unplugged trips
live it. Traveling on Palestinian transport and staying in Palestinian
homes, participants experience for themselves the difficulties of life
under occupation. "We are offering an opportunity for Jewish people to
be exposed to a narrative and life experience that they would rarely
encounter," says Hanna Mermelstein, an American Jew who co-founded the
project with Dunya Alwan, an American-Iraqi of Muslim and Jewish
descent. Both are members of the International Women's Peace Service,
which supports the nonviolent Palestinian struggle against the Israeli
occupation. An architect by training, Alwan became involved in social
justice work prior to the first Gulf War, and by 2002 was engaged in
human rights and education work in Palestine. Mermelstein has a degree
in international and intercultural studies, women's studies, and peace
studies; she turned her energies to the Israel-Palestine conflict
during the second intifada.
The two women met in Palestine in 2003. They both led various
international delegations in the West Bank. As a result of those
experiences, they identified a need to set up opportunities for Jews
who cannot otherwise visit the area or are simply too afraid to. The
conflict in Israel and Palestine has many distortions, one of which is
the perception that Jews are not welcome in the territories. "We
planned the itinerary with Palestinians and asked them, 'Look, do you
want American Jews to come here?' They said, 'Yes, these are exactly
the people we want to come to our communities.'"
Starting with an orientation meeting in Jerusalem, Unplugged goes to
Bethlehem and nearby Deheishe refugee camp, Hebron, Ramallah, the
northern region of Salfit, and finally a destroyed Palestinian village
on the Israel side of the Green Line. (The trips cost $350 excluding
travel to Israel.) "Mostly, it just takes you to places and you see
things with your own eyes, things that are self-evident and require no
explanation whatsoever," says one former Unplugged participant. It's
enough, he adds, just to see the effect of the separation wall and
countless checkpoints on daily Palestinian life. Many Unplugged
participants take the trip directly after a Taglit tour of Israel and
recommend doing so. Of course, at this point, with less than 100
participants, the Unplugged Tour's impact on young Jews is only a
footstep compared to the stampede of the established Taglit tour.
To Taglit leaders, the birthright trips have had some unwanted
consequences. Some participants have used the trips to either
"birthleft" or "desert," as they put it. Trippers ranging from a
handful to hundreds, depending on whom you ask, have crossed the Green
Line into the Occupied Territories after the Israel trip, to work with
the International Solidarity Movement. This organization defines
itself as "a Palestinian organization committed to resisting the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using non-violent,
direct-action methods and principles." ISM delivers food and medicine
to houses under curfew, supporting demonstrations -- currently against
the separation wall -- and documenting violations of human rights. In
March 2003, an American activist with ISM was killed by an Israeli
bulldozer while trying to protect a home from demolition in the Gaza
strip. The Israeli government accuses it of supporting terrorism and
often refuses entry to its volunteers.
Jacob Rosenblum, a 22-year-old from Portland, Ore., traveled with
Taglit in 2004. "I wasn't there for the birthright trip," he says. "It
was just my vehicle to get to Israel and Palestine. After the trip, he
participated in ISM training and volunteered in Nablus, Tulkarem and
Qalqilya. Similarly, says Aaron, the Canadian radio worker, "My plan
all along was to spend two months in the West Bank with the ISM."
While in the West Bank, he tried "to do as much independent radio
journalism as possible," while also involved with "general ISM things
like accompanying farmers who face settler harassment and delivering
bread and medicine to people under curfew." Lora Gordon, 24, from
Chicago, didn't plan on taking such a course of action after her
Taglit trip in 2002. But she ended up spending 10 months working with
ISM in the then heavily invaded Gaza strip, engaging in media work,
staying with families whose homes were threatened with demolition, and
teaching English to high school students.
Taglit is not too thrilled with these developments, mainly because it
funds the ISM volunteers' travel to Israel. "It is taking advantage of
the Jewish money that sends people to Israel, exploiting this money to
promote an agenda which is not the agenda of the people who funded
Taglit," says Mark. Potential candidates who are discovered to have a
"hidden agenda" are not allowed onto the trips.
But "birthlefters" have no qualms over misused money. They say the
idea of a blanket Jewish birthright to Israel is fundamentally flawed,
given that countless Diaspora Palestinians are accorded no such right.
"Billions of dollars are used to give free trips to American kids and
if the Israel government funds it then that comes through the U.S.,
people's tax dollars," says Gordon. She sees anti-occupation work as a
good use of that money. Others point out that in the P.R. battle
between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, the former has huge
resources while the latter "has to do bake sales to fund our next
event." Moreover, says Gordon, "If Birthright is going to weed people
out according to politics, then it's not really about Judaism
anymore." And yet this emerging dynamic, between Birthright and those
who seek to counter it or provide alternatives, is precisely about
Judaism. It comes up time and again when speaking to birthlefters who
say that, prior to visiting the region, they felt unable to find a
voice in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Raised on Jewish Sunday school
and years of Jewish summer camp, Jessy Tolkan says, "I purposefully
stayed away from the Israel-Palestine argument, unable to reconcile
myself with being a pro-Israeli Jew and also a left-wing person."
After seeing the situation on the ground in Palestine, she says she
felt "sad and angry that I had been lied to by the Jewish community
that I was and continue to be proud of." Until that point, she says,
she had been "using a different framework to view the Israel-Palestine
conflict that I use to view everything else in the world."
Many of those who traveled in both regions say they left with a deeper
connection to Judaism, challenging one very sacred cow: that a loyal
relationship to Israel is fundamentally a part of Jewish identity.
Gordon speaks of discovering the "joyful way of being Jewish, that
Shabbat can mean dancing on the roof and singing songs and having a
wonderful communal meal and then having a day working on your inner
self." Jacob Rosenblum says he returned from Israel and the
territories more committed to Judaism and engaged with more moderate
Jewish political groups. "I got really into claiming Judaism as my own
and finding the religious parts and practice that really speak to me
as a political activist," he says.
return to top
An Expedition into the Occupied Palestinian Territories
By Thorsten Schmitz | Suddeutsche Zeitung (A German Daily Newspaper) |
April 24, 2006 | Download the PDF
return to top
Flap over young Jews' visits to Holy Land
After free trips to Israel, some activists stay on in the Middle East
- to work for the Palestinian cause.
By Matt Bradley | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor |
March 9, 2006
HOLY LAND VISITOR:
Jessica, an American Jew, at a protest of Israeli policies toward
Palestinians in 2004.
About 10,000 young Jews from 29 countries will enjoy a generous gift
this winter: a vacation to Israel - with the Israeli government and
Jewish philanthropies picking up the tab for transportation, food, and
Those who fund the trips say the opportunity to experience Israel is
the birthright of every Jew. But to donors' chagrin, handfuls of young
activists have used the trips in recent years to volunteer for
pro-Palestinian organizations in the West Bank - some of which
directly oppose the Israeli government and Zionist ideology.
The small movement has some in the Jewish community wondering whether
the Taglit-birthright Israel program is being hijacked. But as the
Holocaust shifts from memory to history, it also points to efforts of
young diasporal Jews to define their own ideologies, symbols, and
institutions within a religious tradition that has long been at the
forefront of social change. "They have the right to explore" all sides
of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but not using the money given "to
explore certain values," says Allyson Taylor, with the American Jewish
Congress's Western Region.
"You have the right to buy a movie ticket, but do you sneak into
another theater to see a different movie?" While some American Jews
say the issue is much ado about nothing, others see a premeditated
attempt to defraud the Israeli government and Zionist advocacy groups.
Some young Jewish leftists, meanwhile, say volunteering in the
occupied territories is in keeping with the goals of Taglit-birthright
Israel: It is an essential part of their Israel experience.
"For me, being a Jewish person means supporting social justice. For
me, being Jewish doesn't mean supporting Israel," says Jessica, who
traveled to Israel with Shorashim, a Birthright travel organizer,
during the summer of 2004. "The lessons of the Holocaust and the
lessons of Jewish history mean we need to stand up for people's
rights. Otherwise, who's going to stand up for us?" Jessica asked that
her last name not be used so as not to jeopardize her work on behalf
Since Taglit-birthright Israel's inception in 1999, it has provided
10-day trips for some 88,000 young people - any Jew aged 18 to 26 who
has never been to Israel with a guided group. The goal, say
organizers, is to strengthen the commitment of a new generation of
Jews to the world's only Jewish state. As for the number who volunteer
for pro-Palestinian activist organizations while abroad, some say only
half a dozen while others cite growing ranks of activists trained to
exploit the program's generosity.
Taglit-birthright Israel declined to comment for this article.
Among pro-Palestinian organizations aided by non-Israeli Jewish
activists - including an unknown number of former Taglit-birthright
volunteers - is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The
organization, according to its website, is "committed to resisting the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action
methods and principles." The Israeli government, though, accuses it of
supporting terrorism. Since the group's founding in 2001, several
activists have been killed or injured while participating in ISM
protests and nonviolent resistance efforts.
"If you go to an organization like ISM, which clearly advocates
suicide bombers and things like that, I would say it's not a very
honest way of using this program," says Meir Shlomo, Israel's consul
general to New England.
ISM advocates an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian
territories, says cofounder Huwaida Arraf. But members deny that ISM
endorses violence or supports political terror. Beyond that, says Ms.
Arraf, ISM does not specifically encourage its Jewish volunteers,
which she estimates make up about 25 percent of the group's staff, to
travel for free via Taglit-birthright.
"Birthright Israel does nothing to expose these students to the
occupation that the Palestinians are living through," says Arraf. "To
... take the initiative to see more than what the Birthright
organizers want them to see - we guarantee their lives will be changed."
Last summer, this reaction to the Taglit-birthright program became
more institutionalized. Birthright Unplugged, a group that gives
guided tours of the West Bank, offers "an educational project that
primarily seeks to expose young Jewish people to the realities of
Palestinian life under occupation," its website states. By design, the
six-day Unplugged tours coincide with Taglit-birthright Israel's
programs. Geographically, chronologically, and ideologically,
Birthright Unplugged picks up where Taglit-birthright leaves off.
Last year Taglit-birthright Israel filed a "cease and desist"
complaint for trademark infringement against Birthright Unplugged and
charged it with "unfair competition." A lawsuit is pending.
For the many Taglit-birthright participants who don't volunteer in the
West Bank, their peers' actions can elicit feelings of betrayal.
Catherine Heffernan, a Birthright participant who attended Shorashim
with Jessica in 2004, felt outraged. "Whatever respect I ever had for
you and your beliefs is gone," she fired off in an e-mail last summer
after learning how Jessica had spent her remaining time in Israel.
But even Ms. Heffernan, who considers herself a "peaceful Zionist,"
says Judaism is what has informed Jessica's misguided struggle for
social justice. "Jessica ... [has] a desire to see justice done in the
region, and that is something [she has] learned through [her]
Judaism," says Heffernan. "It seems that it is very politically savvy
to be anti-Israel, and Israel has a lot of problems. I don't think
that should mean joining an organization that hurts Israel."
return to top
Birthright Unplugged's March 2006 Communique
Dear Birthright Unplugged friends and supporters,
We are writing to you because we have successfully completed our
second season of Birthright Unplugged trips!
This winter we again took two groups of mostly young, Jewish North
American people on 6-day trips into the West Bank, in order for them
to have a firsthand experience of Palestinian daily life under
occupation. This is our Unplugged trip. We are also proud to let you
know about our Re-plugged trip, a new program that we began this
winter, in which we take children from Palestinian refugee camps on
two-day trips to Jerusalem and their holy sites, to the sea, to stay
with Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to visit the villages that
their grandparents fled in 1948. The children documented their trips
with digital cameras and audio recorders, and the experience
culminated in a celebration and exhibit in Dheisheh refugee camp.
Without exception, the Jewish North American participants on our
Unplugged trips continue to be deeply moved by their experiences.
Most have told us that it has been a life-changing journey and even a
turning point for them. One of the most wrenching sights we witnessed
was a rural Palestinian family completely surrounded by Israeli walls
and fences. Our participants were also profoundly affected by seeing
settler attacks perpetrated by teenage girls against Palestinian
shop-owners, neighborhood residents, and human rights workers.
The program for each Unplugged group was similar, but as always, the
functioning of the occupation and the composition of the groups
provided for distinct experiences. This was reflected in the groups'
daily discussions as well as in our closing dinner, during which the
participants evaluated the program and thought about how to engage in
the future with the issues they encountered over the week.
Participants' commitments for the coming months include: inviting a
speaker from our trip to give a talk at a university in Israel;
hosting house parties, film screenings, photography exhibits,
concerts, and Shabbat dinners related to Palestine; developing a fund
for Jewish people to support Palestinian organizations; integrating
new knowledge into Sunday school curricula at synagogues; doing
outreach and media interviews for Birthright Unplugged; being present
where tough questions about Israel/Palestine need to be asked and
asking them; getting involved in community groups at home; and
continuing to learn about the issues brought up during the trip.
Our Re-plugged trips with children living in a West Bank refugee camp
complement our Unplugged trips described above. As Jewish people, the
participants on our Unplugged trips have an open invitation by the
Israeli government to move to a nation that has been superimposed on
the lands of displaced people. These displaced people, Palestinian
refugees, are denied their internationally recognized right to return
to their land. Strict movement restrictions require Palestinians to
obtain permits for themselves and their cars if they want to move from
place to place. Most Palestinian people do not have these permits and
are unable to enter Israel, which for refugees means they cannot even
visit the villages they were expelled from in 1948. Israel controls
Palestinian movement through the ID card system, which begins at age
16 for Palestinian people. Until that age, children are able to move
with fewer constraints, but rarely do because their parents,
grandparents, and older siblings are unable to do so. This is where
we come in. As internationals with foreign passports, we can move
with relative freedom, and we can escort the children our of their
refugee camp in the West Bank, through checkpoints, and to the places
they always talk about but are rarely able to visit.
We ran two Re-plugged trips, one for 8 girls and one for 8 boys. Some
of the most moving experiences we had with the children included their
first sight of the sea, discovering their ancestral villages and
connecting with the land, and seeing their community come together to
share and celebrate during the exhibit.
You can see the chrildren's photo exhibition at:
our photos of their journey at:
The girls' trip was first, and we had not emphasized the importance of
bringing towels and changes of clothing. When we arrived at the sea,
the girls ran straight into the water, despite the mid-January
weather. They played, danced, and ran around for an hour or two, and
came out of the water soaking wet. At this point, they realized they
would have to share towels, and many of the girls had to wear pajamas
for the rest of the day, not having any dry clothes.
The host families they met later, through the Yaffa-based Palestinian
organization Al-Rabita, took good care of them and their wet clothes.
Many of the children do not know Palestinian people who live inside
Israel, and vice versa, since Israeli travel restrictions prevent West
Bank Palestinians from entering Israel and Israeli citizens from
entering Areas "A" (or urban centers) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The experience was moving for both parties, and the kids invited
their host families to the exhibit in Dheisheh two weeks later.
Most profound for all the children was experiencing the villages they
have heard their grandparents talk about since they were born. The
boys ran around picking flowers and plants for each other, rolling
around on the land, and kissing the earth they have never touched
before. The girls dressed in traditional embroidered dresses in
preparation for the visit. In one village, they climbed the minaret
of the mosque that still stands amidst a newly built Jewish Israeli
community, its prayer space now filled with trash. In another
village, they ran up a hillside to find the remains of their
grandparents' houses, old water wells, and olive and fig trees
probably planted by their ancestors. Their exuberance at discovering
these things turned into a kind of hysteria as they laughed and<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
- Letter from Palestine
Written by : anonymous
Morning came and we found that 90 of the nation's best men were
captured by Israel from their homes in the night. Our mayor, who was
released from four years in prison just a month ago. Someone for whom
I have the utmost respect and admiration, as do his people here,
political allies and opponents alike. And our vice mayor, too. The
last time I talked with him, earlier this week, he was struggling a
lot with chronic back pain. I wonder where they are now. If they have
been fed today, or tortured. If they will sleep on beds tonight, or
not at all. If they will be home tomorrow. If we will never see some
of them again alive.
It's the first time Palestinians have captured an Israeli soldier in a
long time; families of prisoners have begged the resistance not to
release him until there is a prisoner exchange no matter what the
consequences to the communitybeing well acquainted with the suffering
Everyone went about their business today, wedding processions in the
streets, families eating icecream and watermelon in the sticky heat.
Some with the heavy numb shock of loved ones vanished suddenly, shock
without surprise; they expected that the price that has been paid, and
paid, and paid, for keeping one's spirit from being broken, must be
paid again. Myself, I couldn't keep from crying from time to time,
although for me it is just a very small taste of the shock, seeing two
good men that I know a little, powerful in their community with the
power the community has entrusted them with, suddenly made helpless,
pieces of meat for Israeli intelligence officers somewhere to enjoy,
and knowing that if I knew them more, if I knew others, the sense of
anger and sorrow and disbelief would be multiplied. I know that for
the people around me these tears formed years and years ago. The anger
and sorrow and loss and disbelief have happened too many times to
count, but it does not diminish, to the world it is one more added to
a large number, for each mother and sister and wife it is an
unconsolable agony, an irreplaceable loss, an unimaginable theft, a
violation of a family, a marriage, that might never be able to recover
from the traumas and abuses that are being suffered, will be suffered
in the days ahead.
Israel has over 10,000 Palestinian hostages, hundreds of them
children, and slaughters Palestinians of any age on a daily basis.
When Palestinians take 2 Israeli hostages and kill two soldiers,
Israeli bombs Gaza. Bombs out the power stations, the water
reticulation; no electricity, no water, bridges blasted severing
cities from each other. Gaza Strip, the most densely populated area on
earth on account of Israel using it as a specially designed human
garbage can where refugees are disposed off and hermetically sealed
off from the rest of the world. Brilliant, but unsuccessful. If you
treat humans as garbage and they know that they are humans and not
garbage, they will not quietly disappear. You will never sleep safe at
night. You will never have the right to sleep safe at night. May you
never sleep safe at night.
A young woman in my neighborhood asked, can you believe Israel
kidnapped most of our government last night? Imagine waking up to hear
that Palestinian forces had kidnapped 90 Israeli government leaders.
It's hard to imagine that Israel would leave one house standing, one
Imagine if Palestinians had the military capacity to punish Israel
on a comparable scale for every two hostages it takes and two it
kills. Imagine if Americans, and Europeans, valued the blood of
Palestinians and Iraqis as much as their own blood. Imagine if the
nations of the world used their armies to protect the lives of the
innocent and bring to justice thieving, raping, murdering states.
A couple days ago I sat with someone I know, who was taken hostage
last night. He explained part of Hamas' interpretation of the Qur'an
as follows: there are three kinds of people that Muslims have to deal
with. 1) Those who treat you with respect. In this case, it is a crime
against God to treat them with anything but respect, kindness, and
hospitality. In other words, if a Jew wanted to immigrate to Palestine
with full respect for the people here, wishing to become a member of
Palestinian society, he should be welcomed. 2) Then there are those
who do not respect you, and oppose you. You have no obligation to
extend hospitality to them. 3) Then there are those who have no
respect for your humanity, your property or your religion, they take
power over your land and your lives, destroy your land and kill your
people. In this case you have an obligation to fight against them to
protect your land and your people. If they kill your people, you can
kill their people.
Today I visited with another friend who thinks he may be captured
tonight; so many of his friends were captured last night. He said,
Israel doesn't care too much about the lives of the Israeli hostages,
in the past there were cases of them killing the hostages themselves
by indiscriminate bombing of communities. But Israel has been waiting
since Hamas' election for Hamas' first military operation, and so they
knew this massive attack on the community would come, sooner or later.
Even though different groups have participated in the Palestinian
military operations in the past few days, all of Israel's targets are
Hamas leaders. Israel wants to see Hamas destroyed, Europe and America
want to see Hamas destroyed, and Abu Mazen seems to be trying his best
to join them. Many of those arrested were among the Hamas members that
Israel exiled to the no mans land between Israel and Lebanon, a decade
He told me some of his friend's stories from those three terrible
years, living in tents through snowy winters. He talked about the warm
spirit that thrived in the tents during freezing months. He told of
how hungry men went to an apricot orchard and couldn't find the owner,
so they took some fruit and then tied some money in a handkerchief to
the tree. When the owner found it, he tracked them down, and said to
them, with tears coming down his face, what kind of men are you,
starving and rejected by the world, who have such principles that you
will not even take fruit that you find on a tree. I give you my fruit,
I give you my orchards!
I felt the poverty of being from the West, where the media can say
nothing about these men except to endlessly regurgitate simpleminded
slander of those captured I know just a few names, and little of
their stories. For anyone here, each of these names represents a rich
story, decades of struggles, of suffering, heroism, years of prison,
of pain, of courage, of trying again, of hopes betrayed, of
disappointment and endurance that continues forward to find new hope.
We had this conversation over lunch in his daughter's home. She and
her husband were active with Hamas and he was seized by Israel and
killed in prison, leaving her with their three small children. Don't
forget, it is America that gives Israel everything it needs to do this
to us, she said. When we left, she and her three boys kissed him over
and over, not knowing if tomorrow they will wake up to hear that her
dad, their grandpa, has become a prisoner.
This week I spent with a French student, an orphan of war in
Bangladesh, who is doing research on women's views of dignity. Dignity
is a word thrown around a lot in international law but without
definition; people have a "right to dignity" but since no one knows
what it is, when it comes right down to it violations of this right
cannot be prosecuted. I helped her interview dozens of women this
week, from Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, poor and wealthy, educated and
illiterate, young and old. We would sit down with strangers and as
soon as dignity, al karame, was mentioned, the room burst into life
with passionate opinions, terrible stories, and incredibly brave and
inspiring statements. Here are some of the things I heard about dignity.
There is no dignity in Palestine; we face humiliation at checkpoints,
restriction from visiting our families or going to school, soldiers in
our homes during the night, prison Israel's war is first of all
against our dignity which Israel attacks from every angle and with
every means possible, because if it can succeed in destroying our
dignity, we will not be able to resist anymore. There is tremendous
dignity in Palestine; perhaps more than anywhere else in the world,
because the occupation with all its mechanisms for humiliation makes
us aware of our dignity; the more they try to destroy our dignity the
stronger our dignity becomes; they are getting the opposite results
that they want. There are two kinds of dignity: one that you get from
others, when you are treated with dignity, the other comes from inside
of you, from what you know about who you really are before God, and no
one has the power to take this away from you unless you let them. Even
if as women we are captured by Israel, stripped naked and raped in the
prisons, if we resist every attack upon our dignity it will not be
lost. A woman was told at a checkpoint to remove her scarf. She
refused, and the soldier showed her a metal rod and said he would
drive it through her eyes if she did not take it off. You can have
your eyes, or you can have your dignity. She refused. He drove it
through her eyes. She survived, but she is blind. And she did not lose
her dignity. A friend of the Prophet Mohammad, a woman, was tied to
the ground by a man who made her choose between her dignity or her
life. The only thing she was able to do was to spit in his face, and
she did. He killed her. But he did not destroy her dignity.
Arab people have a great source of dignity from the rich and deep
history of our culture. But now all Arab lands are captive and only in
Iraq and Palestine are we free within ourselves, because we do not
accept the enslavement that is forced upon us; our resistance gives us
We get our dignity from our land. It is our life. As long as we are
in our land, no matter how much we suffer, we will have our dignity.
If they succeed in expelling us to Jordan, our dignity will be lost
forever. I have my family's olive trees. Every year I used to have
precious olive oil from my own trees that I could give generously to
my friends and neighbors. Now Israel has killed half of my trees and
imprisoned the rest. These trees are like my own children. It is a
terrible, terrible sorrow and shame for me each day to know that I am
powerless to help them. Now, when we need olive oil for ourselves, we
have to go to the store and buy it. But I was one who could generously
give olive oil to my friends and relatives.
We get our dignity from Islam, as women, and as human beings. In our
culture, before Islam, women were just seen as property, baby girls
could be buried alive. We see women in many parts of the world who
have no dignity. Islam has given us our full rights as women in every
sense, and full equality with every other human being. In the Qur'an
God says that he has given the same dignity to every human beingit
does not depend on whether you are male or female, or whether you are
Muslim or from another religion, each of us has the same worth.
What do you expect and hope for in the future?
Things will get much, much worse. It is written that we will suffer
like this until near the end.
Our hope comes from knowing that Jesus will come back and will remove
all injustice from the earth, and at last the race of mankind will be
free to live in peace and equality.
What do you believe should be the political outcome for Palestine?
If only they would all go back where they came from, we could live in
peace in our homes and land again.
We can never live with them; if someone has killed your children, can
you accept them as a neighbor?
We already live with them, of course we can in the future.
We cannot live with them, we must have a state, and they must have a
state. About all the refugees who have their homes and lands in
Israel, I don't know ..
We can live with them in one state, the refugees must be given back
their homes and their land.
If we have an Islamic state on all of Palestine, it is the only way we
will be able to live together, us and them, because Islam is the only
system where equality between people of different religions is protected
Do you think negotiations or armed struggle is the best strategy at
Of course, if we could get our rights back without violence, that
would be the best way. If negotiations ever worked, then we should use
that instead of armed struggle, but they have never produced anything.
We have to keep fighting to protect our land and our community. How
could it be right to do nothing when daily they are attacking our
lives and our land?
As a woman would you participate in armed struggle?
I admire women who do, but I myself don't think I'm capable of it. My
contribution is to study and be a good mother to my children.
No, I don't think women should carry weapons.
Yes! It would be a great honor to fight for my country!
Yes! How I wish we had the chance to be trained as soldiers like all
the Israeli women are. I am not married yet, but I hope that one day I
will have a son who will give his life for our country to be free.
The Americans, Europeans and Israelis place more value on the blood of
their dogs and cats than they do on the blood of Palestinians. None of
us can ever forget the sight of little Huda screaming for her father
on the beach of Gaza, throwing herself on the sand next to his dead
body over and over. No one in the world has expressed their outrage,
or even sorrow, to us about these atrocities against us. They care
deeply about the Mundial, and Huda's agony is an interruption, a
distraction, from the soccer score. Our blood is so, so cheap to the
world, and Israeli blood is so valuable. They do not see our humanity
How do you find your sense of your own humanity, when all the world is
telling you your life, your death, your blood is worthless?
When it comes down to that, we know that God sees us, even if we are
suffering in an Israeli torture chamber and no one in our family knows
if where we are or if we are alive or dead, we know that God sees us
and knows our value, our humanity. We belong to him, and in that is
our worth, and our hope, our fates are in his hands and our lives are
very precious to him, no matter how worthless they are to our brothers
and sisters in the human race, and in the end, that is what matters.
We know who we are. Our lives, our deaths, our suffering, our hopes,
our disappointment, are not insignificant. Yesterday I met a new
appointee from the German government in Jerusalem, a young guy with an
American accent. He was happy that Hamas and Fatah had agreed on the
Prisoners' Document. Great, we've gotten Hamas to recognize Israel, he
said. Now we just have to get them to renounce armed struggle, and
then get rid of these ideas of an Islamic state. The problem is when
we bring democracy to the middle east, we always have to deal with the
challenge of making sure there is a secular state when so many people
want an Islamic state. (Jewish states, apparently, are just dandy.)
What these Palestinians just don't understand, he said, is that armed
struggle won't get them anywhere. Haven't they learned anything, after
all these years? It's really hurting their image in the international
community. Well, I said sarcastically, since you understand this so
well, and none of the Palestinians have been able to grasp it, maybe
you should explain it to them then. Oh, I am, every Palestinian I
meet, he said with sincerity.
And what is that dazzling offer that Europe will extend, if
Palestinians promise to sit on their hands and open their mouths? In
exchange for your dignity, what? Maybe longlife, lifelong food
rations? Maybe the chance to clean toilets in Israel, and the dream
that your grandchildren could do the same?
I have not been here too long, but it is long enough to be sure of one
thing: It is the Europeans, the Israelis, and the Americans who fail
to grasp the central truth, after all these decades of trying to
finetune the catastrophe they have engineered in Palestine: these
women and men and children, who carry their heads so high, know who
they are. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives, but they are not
prepared to sacrifice their dignity. While the world discusses the
moral or strategic aspects of armed resistance, there is no confusion
about these issues here. Undefended, dignityand the landwould be
lost, and death would be better. With or without your permission, they
will continue to fight.
this letter was received by NECDP, New England Committee toi Defend
WHAT'S ALL THIS ABOUT A "KIDNAPPED" ISRAELI SOLDIER?
by Michael A. Hoffman II
June 26, 2006
What's all this about a "kidnapped" Israeli soldier? When Palestinians
are abducted by Israelis the US media terms it an "apprehension" and
describe the Palestinian victims as having been "taken into custody."
There is no international alarm or outcry.
Every time a Palestinian father or brother is spirited to an Israeli
concentration camp the operation is never, under any circumstances,
described as a kidnapping, but rather in terms of a legitimate police
action by legitimate authorities: "seizure, arrest, apprehension,
But when Palestinians apprehend an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit,
suddenly we have a "terrorist kidnapping" on our hands and the
Palestinian people are threatened by the Israelis with collective
punishment and mass murder.
Whenever an Israeli killer -- or potential killer -- is made a
prisoner of war by the Palestinian resistance that is one less state
terrorist available to shoot their children in the head.
It is absolutely incumbent upon the Palestinians, however, to treat
the Israeli combatant they have taken into custody better than
Israelis treat Palestinians, and Americans treat Muslims at Abu Ghraib
and Gitmo. The Israeli soldier must be treated humanely, according to
the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. The failure to do so causes
the Palestinians to descend to the level of the Israelis and the
regime of George W. Bush.
The Talmudic racism inherent in this latest incident is palpable. The
lesson here is that no one on earth has the right to arrest a Judaic
soldier. His person is sacred and inviolable. But the Israelis may do
whatever they like to disposable Palestinian Amalekites: put them in
concentration camps, shoot them and their children in the head, or
blow their religious leaders out of wheelchairs with missiles.
Judaism exempts itself from the rules it demands for everyone else.
Palestinians in Gaza have
NO cooling fans
NO water (pumped by electricity)
NO Drinking WATER (pumped by electricity)
NO sewage (pumped by electricity)
NO communication IN or OUT
NO cooking oil
Most critical of all is NO DRINKING WATER. Sitting ducks for 6
months minimum - what will people of Gaza do?
Just as importantly, what will we do?
Israel's Appalling Bombing in Gaza
Starving in the Dark
By VIRGINIA TILLEY
On the excuse of rescuing one kidnapped soldier, Israeli is now
bombing the Gaza Strip and is poised to re-invade. It has also
arrested a third of the Palestinian parliament, wrecking even its
fragile illusion of capacity and reducing the already-empty vessel of
the Palestinian Authority into broken shards.
In the shambles, Palestinians may be observing one bitter pill of
compensation: vicious angling by Fatah to reclaim control of
Palestinian national politics and its rivalry with Hamas are now
rendered obsolete. Even the dogged international community cannot
maintain its dogged pretense that the PA is actually capable of
any governance at all. The demise of the disastrous Oslo model,
Israel's device to ensure its final dismemberment of Palestinian land
and its fatal cooptation of the Palestinian national movement, may
finally be at hand. Perhaps Palestinian unity again has a chance.
But no one knows what will replace the PA. It is therefore not
surprising that this transformed diplomatic landscape is absorbing the
principal attention of an anxious international community.
Nevertheless, politics should not be the greatest international
concern. For over in Gaza, one appalling act must now eclipse all
thoughts of "road maps" or "mutual gestures": on Wednesday, Israeli
war planes repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza's only power
plant. About 700,000 of Gaza's 1.3 million people now have no
electricity, and word is that power cannot be restored for six months.
It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that
are monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No
lights, no refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer
heat. No going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel's
impending military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions
shake the cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are
doubtless wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: smashing
windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults,
old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing
with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding
of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops
(for the few who have them), and so no way to get news of how long
this nightmare might go on.
But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the
refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people
cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas.
When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking.
No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread the staples
Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is
no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)
And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no
water. Gaza's public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps,
too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the
electricity is out for at least six months.
The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage,
due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli
settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be
drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by
electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled
before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And
people will soon have neither.
Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera
breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely
packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and
clinics aren't functioning, either, because there is no electricity.
Finally, people can't leave. None of the neighboring countries have
resources to absorb a million desperate and impoverished refugees:
logistically and politically, the flood would entirely destabilize
Egypt, for example. But Palestinians in Gaza can't seek sanctuary with
their relatives in the West Bank, either, because they can't get out
of Gaza to get there. They can't even go over the border into Egypt
and around through Jordan, because Israel will no longer allow people
with Gaza identification cards to enter the West Bank. In any case,
a cordon of Palestinian police are blocking people from trying to
scramble over the Egyptian border--and war refugees have tried,
through a hole blown open by militants, clutching packages and children.
In short, over a million civilians are now trapped, hunkered in their
homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect,
within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children
that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.
One woman near the Rafah border, taking care of her nephews, spoke to
BBC: "If I am frightened in front of them I think they will die of
fear." If the international community does nothing, her children may
soon die anyway.
The astonishing scale of this humanitarian situation is indeed matched
only by the deafening drizzle of international reaction. "Of course it
is understandable that [the Israelis] would want to go after those who
kidnapped their soldier," says Kofi Anan (while the Palestinian
population cowers in the dark listening to thundering explosions
demolish their society), "but it has to be done in such a way that
civilian populations are not made to suffer." Even as Israel bombs
smash Gaza's roadways, the G-8 stands up on its hind-legs to intone,
"We call on Israel to exercise utmost restraint in the current
crisis." How about the Russians, now angling for position in the new
"Great Game" of the Middle East?
"The right and duty of the government of Israel to defend the lives
and security of its citizens are beyond doubt," says Russia's foreign
ministry, as though poor Corporal Shalit warrants any of this mayhem,
"But this should not be done at the cost of many lives and the lives
of many Palestinian civilians, by massive military strikes with heavy
consequences for the civilian population."
And what says noble Europe, proud font of human rights conventions,
architects of the misión civilizatrice? "The EU remains deeply
concerned," mumbles the mighty defenders of humanitarian law, "about
the worsening security and humanitarian developments." Seemingly soggy
phrases like "deeply concerned" are diplomatic code for "We are
seriously unhappy." But under these circumstances, "remains deeply
concerned" suggests that this staggering crime is just one more
sobering moment in the failed "road map."
Diplomatic bubbles of unreality in the Middle East are the norm rather
than the exception, but at some point the international community must
face the very unwelcome fact that it needs to change gear. A country
that claims kinship among the western democracies of Europe is
behaving like a murderous rogue regime, using any excuse to reduce
over a million people to utter human misery and even mass death.
Plastering Corporal Shalit's face over this policy is no more
convincing that South African newspapers emblazoning the picture of
one poor murdered white doctor over their coverage of the 1976 Soweto
Israel has done many things argued to be war crimes: mass house
demolitions, closing whole cities for weeks, indefinite "preventative"
detentions, massive land confiscation, the razing of thousands of
square miles of Palestinian olive groves and agriculture, systematic
physical and mental torture of prisoners, extrajudicial killings,
aerial bombardment of civilian areas, collective punishment of every
description in defiance of the Geneva Conventions--not to mention the
general humiliation and ruin of the indigenous people under its
military control. But destroying the only power source for a trapped
and defenseless civilian population is an unprecedented step toward
barbarity. It reeks, ironically, of the Warsaw Ghetto. As we flutter
our hands about tectonic political change, we must take pause: in the
eyes of history, what is happening in Gaza may come to eclipse them all.
Dr. Virginia Tilley is a professor of political science, currently
working in South Africa. She can be reached at tilley @ hws.edu.
In Gaza, Seeking Shelter From Israeli Fire
Missile Strikes Set Interior Ministry Ablaze
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 30, 2006; A23
BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip, June 29 -- Fatin Shabaat left home here
Thursday with her three hip-high children, looking for safety from a
slow-moving Israeli military assault launched to free a 19-year-old
soldier being held by Palestinian gunmen.
Israeli artillery batteries lobbed shells around this farming
community in the Gaza Strip's northeastern corner throughout the day,
after leaflets dropped from the sky warned residents to remain clear
of Israeli military operations. Shells whistled overhead, slamming
into the fields and dunes where Palestinian gunmen regularly fire
crude rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot, a white smudge along a
ridgeline three miles away.
Although she never received one of the written warnings, Shabaat
clutched her children, ages 2, 3 and 4, and headed to her father's
home in the town center, far from the dirt paths that have served in
the past as routes for Israeli tanks. An Israeli airstrike had already
left her without electricity, along with about 700,000 other residents
of the strip, and artillery shells were falling close to her back yard.
"This is only going to get worse," said Shabaat, 25, who despite the
impending clash favors keeping the Israeli soldier captive until at
least some Palestinian prisoners are released from Israeli jails. "We
will not get anything otherwise. And they are going to invade anyway.
This soldier is just an excuse."
Shabaat's grim prognosis regarding the crisis over the captured
Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was echoed in the West Bank, where
the Israeli military arrested more than 60 officials from the
governing Hamas movement in a pre-dawn sweep. The detainees included
two dozen members of parliament and nine cabinet ministers, more than
a third of the Hamas cabinet.
[Early Friday morning, Israeli military aircraft fired missiles at the
Interior Ministry headquarters in Gaza City, setting the building
ablaze. An army spokesman said the ministry, headed by Saed Siyam of
Hamas, was being used "for the planning and carrying out of terrorist
activities." Siyam's office was struck directly.
[Israeli airstrikes also hit several other targets Friday, including
the headquarters of a new Interior Ministry militia dominated by Hamas
members and a building that military officials said was used by
al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Fatah party's armed wing. Missiles also
struck roads in the north and south of the strip, some landing near a
key bridge that had already been hit this week. There were no
immediate reports of injuries.]
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government holds Hamas
responsible for Shalit's capture, which occurred Sunday during an
attack on an army post just outside Gaza's southeastern corner that
left two soldiers dead. The radical Islamic movement's armed wing was
involved in the attack and is one of three groups demanding the
release of 421 Palestinian women and minors in Israeli prisons in
exchange for information about Shalit's welfare.
Israel has arrested elected members of the Palestinian legislature
before, but never as many as it did Thursday.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the
detained Hamas officials would be either charged and brought to trial
or released in the days ahead. He said plans to arrest Hamas officials
for belonging to what Israel designates a terrorist organization had
been in the works since Hamas's armed wing ended a 15-month cease-fire
with Israel after the June 9 explosion on a Gaza beach that killed
seven members of a Palestinian family.
Regev denied speculation that the Hamas legislators would be offered
in exchange for Shalit's freedom. "Hamas's involvement in terrorism is
the reason for these arrests, nothing more," he said.
But Palestinian political analysts said they believed the arrests were
timed to undermine a rare political agreement reached this week by
leaders of the two leading Palestinian political movements, Fatah and
The two parties have been at odds since Hamas's electoral victory in
January over how to respond to the international economic sanctions
that have choked off most of the government's funds. The United States
and European Union also designate Hamas a terrorist organization, a
classification that led to a freeze of most foreign aid.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the secular
Fatah movement, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas agreed in
principle this week to a unified political program that would usher in
a national unity government in the weeks ahead and endorse the
creation of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East
Jerusalem, territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Since it was founded nearly two decades ago, Hamas has called for an
Islamic state across a far larger territory that includes Israel.
Abbas and others had hoped the shift in Hamas's position would
persuade Israel to revive peace talks, which have been dormant for
more than five years.
"I don't think that, at a time ministers are in prison, a national
unity government with Fatah can be established," said Ali Jarbawi, a
political science professor at Beir Zeit University in the West Bank.
"It won't have legitimacy with Palestinian public opinion. What Israel
did through these arrests is interfere in a process that would
stabilize internal Palestinian relations, thus allowing it to continue
to claim that there is no Palestinian partner" for peace talks.
This town, which has been under the arc of Israeli military fire for
months, readied itself in small ways Thursday for what many of its
30,000 residents feared was an imminent assault. But Israeli Defense
Minister Amir Peretz later postponed a ground incursion into Beit
Hanoun, which had been scheduled to begin Thursday evening, after
Egyptian diplomats requested more time to negotiate Shalit's release.
A senior Israeli military official said Peretz did so after signs that
Khaled Mashal, Hamas's political leader in exile, could be softening
his position. Israeli officials and Egyptian diplomats say Mashal, who
lives in the Syrian capital of Damascus, has been the most important
voice inside the organization opposing Shalit's release.
"If he would change his mind and come around, he really has a lot of
influence," the senior military official said. "We will try to wait as
long as we can if we feel pressure is being put on him. We are not in
But the official also said the operation here was not only about
freeing Shalit but also about "weakening the Hamas government" and
ending rocket fire into southern Israel. In that sense, the official
said, Shalit's release through diplomacy may not be enough to
guarantee "our strategy of making sure they know that there will be a
very high price to pay for future kidnappings."
Before the operation was suspended, some residents here decamped to
stay with relatives, while others prepared to retreat. Some accused
Israel of using the capture of one soldier -- at a time when the
Israeli government holds 8,503 Palestinians in prison -- to stage an
attack that would do little to free him.
Others fired rockets toward Israel. Two of the missiles traced white
contour trails against the blue sky during a brief lull in the Israeli
"We have a plan to withdraw if the Israelis attack," said Hamada
Abdullah Hamada, 31, a sergeant with the Palestinian national forces
who was manning a makeshift outpost between the town and the Gaza border.
From the five shipping containers that formed the post, Hamada could
see flatbed trucks moving Israeli tanks along the border. The two
rockets rose from behind a nearby agricultural school a quarter-mile
from Hamada's concrete pillbox, and Israeli guns answered minutes
later with steady, thumping fire.
Pointing to the tank movements, Hamada said: "Even before the soldier
was kidnapped, the Israelis were doing this. They will come in."
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this
Economic Boycott of the Palestinian Government
The Price of Not Talking to Hamas
The situation in Palestine is deteriorating dramatically. However, not
only Hamas is to be blamed but the EU and other international donors
as well their attempt to sideline Hamas has fuelled the current
crisis. A commentary by Bettina Marx.
B. Marx: "The lack of prospects is radicalising people." - Thousands
of civil servants haven't received salaries in nearly four months
The picture was highly symbolic. After several weeks of boycott, corn
was finally delivered again to the Gaza Strip from Israel in mid-May.
Through a hole in the thick concrete wall at Checkpoint Karni, a thin
stream of corn grains was transported on a conveyor belt and then
loaded onto a truck on the Palestinian side of the border.
Karni is the only place where goods are exchanged between Israel and
the Gaza Strip. Palestinians were handed the food and commodities they
urgently need as though they were prisoners who get their meals
through a flap in the door to their cell.
The election victory of Hamas has led to economic sanctions with
devastating consequences for the Palestinian territories. From the end
of January to mid-May, the border was completely closed on seventy
days. Thanks to international pressure, it was open on a few days, but
only few goods were delivered to the Gaza Strip on those occasions.
Direct dependency on the funds
Sometimes, only five trucks were dealt with; on better days, 150. The
norm would be 400. The consequences have been dramatic. Sometimes, the
territories with the world's highest birth rate even lacked milk and
The European Union and other international donors have stopped
transferring funds, thus exacerbating the crisis. Salaries that were
normally covered with money from the EU can no longer be paid. Some
165,000 public officials teachers, bureaucrats, doctors, security
forces directly depend on these funds. And they are the ones who
feed their families.
Normally, these salaries provide a living to some 1.5 million
Fierce power struggle with the Islamists
Poverty is getting worse. The lack of prospects is radicalising people
and fostering anarchy. Many are disgruntled, if not desperate.
Followers of the Fatah Movement, which lost the elections for
Parliament, refuse to accept their defeat. They feel that the
international boycott is supporting their cause, and they are engaging
in a fierce power struggle with the Islamists. Violence is escalating,
sometimes to a point resembling civil war, especially in the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas government faces an intractable dilemma. It is being called
on to dismiss its election platform and anti-Israeli ideology
without talks, without anything in return. Moreover, it is expected to
maintain peace and order in the Palestinian territories and prevent
terrorist and missile attacks on Israel.
At the same time, it has lost the means of doing so. It is neither
able to set up loyal security forces of its own, nor to pay the police
recruited by the previous government. Government head Ismail Haniye
and his ministers cannot even leave the Gaza Strip to make their
presence felt on the West Bank.
Demand for democratic institutions
The Middle East Quartet has proposed that limited financial aid be
reinstituted but given directly to the people, not to the government.
However, that approach will not solve the problem. Should funds be
channelled through Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian
National Authority (PNA), on the other hand, things will again be as
they were in the days of Yassir Arafat.
The late PLO leader and first PNA president paid those loyal to him as
he saw fit, funnelling funds to undisclosed recipients including
For years, Israel and the international community have demanded that
Palestinians set up democratic institutions, create the post of a
prime minister, and hold elections. Palestinians have now fulfilled
all of these demands. They have elected a government they hope will
deliver more than the corrupt Fatah leadership did.
Instead of punishing Palestinians for doing so and thus driving them
into the arms of extremist groups, one should contact the new
government immediately, offer support, and encourage it to start
negotiations with Israel. After all, if one does not talk with Hamas
today, one will eventually have to deal with Al Quida terrorism.
Dr. Bettina Marx works as a correspondent for German Public Radio
(ARD) in Tel Aviv.
American Muslims for Palestine
Call your Congressman and the White House and demand an end to Israeli
military operations in the Gaza Strip.
EMAIL AND OR CALL THE WHITE HOUSE
WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS LINE: 202-456-1111
WHITE HOUSE SWITCHBOARD: 202-456-1414
WHITE HOUSE FAX: 202-456-2461
The Israeli Army once again is amassing in large numbers for an
operation against Gaza¹s defenseless civilian population. Far from
being in response to the holding of a solider beginning on June 25th,
the Israeli Military has been conducting daily bombardment on Gaza the
result of which the killing of 50 civilians this month alone including
members of a whole family enjoying a day at the beach.
The US should send a clear message to the Israelis and the
Palestinians that all human lives are equal and both parties should
act with utmost restraint and take needed measures to ensure the
safety and well-being of all civilians.
We call on Congress, the White House and State Department to remind
Israel of its obligation as the top recipient of US foreign aid, which
should be directed at peaceful means and not at escalating the tension
in the region.
We call of the US Congress and Administration to fulfill their
obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention and ensure the safety and
security of persons under occupation. The US as a contracting party is
responsible and should act in accordance to bring an end to violations
of the 4th Geneva convention including the collective punishment
visited on Gaza¹s civilian population by the Israeli army.
We call on Congress, the White House and the State Department to
demand Israel¹s adherence to the guidelines governing the use of US
made weapons provided at tax-payers expense. It is the law of this
land that no US made weapons provided to a foreign government be used
in offensive military operations or targeting civilian population,
both of which have been violated regularly by Israel. Uphold US law
and demand Israel¹s compliance.
Israel¹s military actions supported by US funding and weapons only
increases the level of mistrust and continue the loss of US standing
across the Arab and Muslim World. The US should not have a double
standard in the conduct of its foreign policy and should heed the
results of the most recent Pew research, ³THE GREAT DIVIDE: HOW
WESTERNERS AND MUSLIMS VIEW EACH OTHER.² (www.pewglobal.org
We call for the immediate end of all military operations and embarking
on a diplomatic approach governed by the rich body of international
law and existing UN resolutions.
EMAIL AND OR CALL THE WHITE HOUSE
Congress and Senate e-mails contacts:
Enter your state¹s name to get the list of representatives and senators.
WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS LINE: 202-456-1111
WHITE HOUSE SWITCHBOARD: 202-456-1414
WHITE HOUSE FAX: 202-456-2461
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