Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's just murder

On Tuesday a 10 year old boy, Ahmed Moussa, was murdered by an Israeli border policeman in the village of Ni'lin. Ahmed had gone with some of his friends to try and remove a barbed wire barricade from village lands. From a distance of 10 metres the policeman shot him in the head, using live ammunition.

In response to ongoing protests over the continuing theft of village land the Israeli authorities have issued new instructions permitting snipers to use live ammunition if no Israeli or foreign nationals are present.

Israeli military forces have now killed twelve Palestinians demonstrating against the theft of their land and the construction of the apartheid wall. Seven of those killed were children.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I love Sderot

Sorry to keep banging on about the Awful Obama but we are going to see a lot more of him in the coming months and, if his "charisma" convinces a gullible American public, he is destined to become the most powerful man in the world.

During his 36 hour visit to Israel - from which he spared one hour to see Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah - Obama was taken to the border town of Sderot for another photo opportunity. As with a visit to the Holocaust Museum, this has become an obligitary ritual for visiting politicians.

Speaking about the home-made rocket attacks on Sderot by militants in Gaza, Obama declared such "terror is intolerable".

What this opportunistic politician failed to mention is that, in the first five months of this year, 362 Palestinians and just 14 Israelis have been killed in and around Gaza. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Obama, too, views the conflict through the distorting lens of race - that Palestinian lives count for less than Israeli lives.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama, Clinton and all the rest.

Barack Obama's fawning obsequiousness to his Israeli hosts last week will, no doubt, help to cement him in the favour of many Jewish voters in the USA. It does nothing, however, to advance the prospects for peace in the Middle East. It will have the opposite effect: by extending uncritical support for the Zionist state, it will encourage Israel to maintain its expansionist, colonialist regime.

The respected commentator, Uri Avnery, has pointed this out in articles written for the newspaper Haaretz and on the website for Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace bloc. In her recent blog, livefromoccupiedpalestine (see Useful Links on this page) the Australian activist Kim Bullimore laments Obama's failure to acknowledge the depth of Palestinian suffering under military occupation.

Forty years of military occupation of the remaining 22% of pre-1967 Palestine has resulted in continuing land thefts, the imprisonment of many elected politicians (amongst the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails), the suspension of human rights, and the brutalisation and humiliation of an entire people. This by a state which sanctions torture of political prisoners and the assassination of Palestinian leaders.

Obama and his advisers are well aware of the history of this conflict and of the situation on the ground today, just as was that other shameless presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton. Before succumbing to their political aspirations both Clinton and Obama took more measured and rational approaches to the Israel/Palestine question. In fact, both of them have spoken sympathetically of the Palestinians' plight. That was, before their naked, overweening ambition led them to defer to the power and influence of the Zionist lobby in the USA.

One can see the same influences at work here in Australia. It takes a brave politician indeed to speak up in support of justice and human rights for the Palestinians. Lyn Allison, leader of the Australian Democrats until her defeat at last year's elections, was one such. She will be sorely missed. Thank you, Lyn, for all your efforts on behalf of a downtrodden and dispossessed people.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Violent demonstrations

Most people would have been horrified and disgusted by the recent video footage showing a young man, Ashraf Abu Rahma, being shot from close-up by an Israeli soldier while in custody and while blindfolded and handcuffed. The video has been widely circulated on YouTube.

Israeli army sources claim that shooting helpless prisoners is against IOF policy and that the incident is being investigated. Meanwhile, according to local sources, the soldier responsible was back on duty next day. In the eyes of his superiors, I suspect, his crime is that he was caught on film.

Official Israeli spin doctors have gone into top gear, assuring us that Abu Rahma was only shot with a rubber bullet (read rubber-coated steel bullet) and that he was taking part in a violent demonstration. Both statements bear closer examination:
  • The so-called rubber bullets are designed to hurt and to incapacitate. They have the power to cause fractures, to blind, to penetrate the flesh and to cause severe trauma, even to kill. They are used routinely by Israeli troops against peaceful demonstrators.
  • The regular demonstrations at Ni'lin (where this incident took place) are organised along non-violent lines. Villagers, supported by Israeli and international activists and supporters, make speeches, wave flags and banners and attempt to march, through village lands, to the site of the latest land theft. They are met by lines of heavily armed troops and border police, who attack them with sound grenades, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets - sometimes with live ammunition. In this sense, yes, it is a violent demonstration - the Israeli troops use unprovoked violence.
I can attest to this violence. On May 27 of this year I, along with several scores of villagers and a number of Israeli and international supporters - including women and children - attempted to walk from Ni'lin village to the site where bulldozers were clearing olive trees for another land confiscation. As we approached we were confronted by a line of Israeli soldiers barring our way. Without warning, they lobbed sound bombs and commenced firing tear gas grenades into our midst. Blinded, tears streaming from our eyes, our lungs on fire, those of us at the front could only lurch about, unable to retreat or to get our bearings. Some were on their hands and knees, retching. At this point, the brave soldiers of the Israel "Defence" Force commenced firing rubber-coated steel bullets into the helpless crowd, from close range. I was hit in the lower back/hip (see above photo) and, while it hurt, others around me suffered much worse injuries.

This is the common scenario when Palestinian villagers attempt to peacefully demonstrate against the theft of their lands: they are met with violent, often brutal confrontation by the Israeli military. Veteran newsmen and photographers prepare for it by wearing flak jackets and military-style helmets. Ambulances and medical crews are always on standby to treat the inevitable injuries and wounds. Internationals always attempt to accompany any Palestinians who may have been arrested or detained, fearing what may happen to these detainees once they are taken out of public sight . Abu Rahma's experience confirms the wisdom of this practice. The helpless are easy prey.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Tautology: the redundant repetition of a meaning in a sentence, using different words.

The phrase "illegal Israeli settlement" is a tautology. All Israeli settlements are illegal. Whether they started out as an outpost, a few caravans dragged onto a hilltop in the middle of the night, or whether they are huge developments approved and funded by the government of Israel on confiscated land, all settlements are illegal. Each and every settlement, it must be understood, is built on land stolen from its Palestinian owners.

Since 1967, when Israel imposed its military occupation upon the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza , the colonisation of Palestine has grown apace. Today, more than 420,000 Israeli settler/colonists live in the captured territories, making the possibility of a viable Palestinian state an empty dream. While leaders have talked, while promises have been made, successive Israeli governments - whether of the Right or the Left - have gone about fulfilling the Zionist plan, of settling the land and ridding it of its indigenous inhabitants.

While government approval for several thousand more apartments in a settlement bloc is claimed as "natural growth" by the Israeli government, Palestinians are routinely refused permission to build on their land. From their overcrowded houses they gaze up to the look-alike condominiums, replete with swimming pools and lush gardens - built on t
heir land - of their uninvited Jewish neighbours.

The photo above shows the house of a Palestinian family on the outskirts of
Hebron, overlooked by the massive settlement of Kiryat Arba. They have been encouraged to leave by settler thugs who routinely threaten violence, spray racist graffiti on their walls and throw rubbish down onto their roof. They have been enticed to leave by offers of up to US $3,000,000,000 and the promise of USA passports for all family members if they will sell up. The settlers' honeypot is a large one: Jewish businessmen worldwide (not forgetting Australia's own Frank Lowy) are generous donors to the Zionist enterprise.

There is another form of
natural growth. One or two caravans or demountables are dragged onto Palestinian land, usually at night, by religious zealots. The squatters move in, equipped with a power generator and building tools, and fence off the land around the structures. Soon, a swathe of land surrounding the embryo settlement is declared off-limits to the nearby villagers, for "security purposes". This, in time, becomes, de facto, part of the settlement. And so it goes on, each settlement growing like a cancer. Add a settler-only road and the collusion and protection of the Israeli army, and we have another fact on the ground.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) produces maps detailing road closures and the spread of settlements throughout the West Bank. These maps reveal the stranglehold the settlements have on the Palestinian landscape and on Palestinian life. Dominating the hillsides, built atop the significant water acquifers, menacing existing villages and cutting off Jerusalem from its heartland, the pattern of settlement is revealed as one of calculation. A grand design. The Zionist dream coming to fulfilment.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The farmers of Atuf

The small farming village of Atuf is in the north east of Palestine, right next to the Jordan Valley. The land is fertile but nothing grows without water, of course, and what rainfall there is comes during the winter season. Fortunately, however, there is an abundance of artesian water to fill the village wells.

Or so it would seem. The Israeli army of occupation has forbidden the people of Atuf to draw more than a minimal amount of water from the village wells, scarcely enough to satisfy their domestic needs. No-one is allowed to use water for the purpose of agriculture. So, what limited crops are grown, are dependant on the scanty winter rains. If they had unrestricted access to their wells the farmers of Atuf could truly "make the desert bloom".

Much of the village land has already been lost to the voracious appetites of the Israeli settlements of Hamra and Beqa'ot. Seen from a distance (and the Palestinians cannot approach within a kilometre - on their own lands - for fear of being shot) the settlements are an oasis of green in the brown, arid landscape. Here there is no restriction on the amount of water which can be pumped up from underground and crops are grown all the year round.

The Jordan Valley is the eastern-most part of Palestine, running from north to south along the length of the Jordan River and borders the state of Jordan. It is a desolate, mostly barren and weirdly beautiful landscape, in stark contrast to the more intimate hills and valleys of the West Bank. Most of the indigenous inhabitants have been expelled from their villages and farms and, in their place, is an almost contiguous line of Jewish settlements, cutting off Palestine from its border with Jordan. Partly, this is due to demographic reasons, the desire to create "facts on the ground" if ever a Palestinian state came to be negotiated. Just as importantly, though, are the enormous water acquifers which lie below, making it a potential agricultural heaven.

The farmers of Atuf, and the farmers of the other Palestinian villages which still remain, cling to a bare existence and can only gaze with envy at the green fields of the Jewish settlements which surround them. One day, if the western world's leaders continue to look on and approve this grand experiment in ethnic cleansing, they too will be gone.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The heroes of Bil'in

Ibrahim Bornat, 25, was shot last month while demonstrating against the annexation of land from his village, Bil'in, in the West Bank. Continuing land grabs by the state of Israel will annexe 58% of the agricultural lands from this farming village. Bil'in is remarkable in that it has staged weekly demonstrations against the theft of its land for a number of years.

After midday prayers each Friday villagers march from the mosque in an attempt to reach the separation wall. They are joined by international and Israeli sympathisers and observers, who document and record the often brutal response of the Israeli Occupation Force. Leading the march, from time to time, are wheelchair-bound young men, crippled in previous demonstrations by the Israeli army's use of live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets.

The usual scenario is that the demonstrators are confronted by heavily-armed soldiers well before they reach the barrier. Without warning, sound bombs and tear gas cannisters are lobbed amongst the chanting villagers as a prelude to volleys of rubber-coated steel bullets. These are not the so-called "rubber bullets" as described by the army and the popular press. They can be lethal: they fracture bones, they sever arteries, they blind, they maim, they kill.

These brutal responses usually succeed in dispersing the crowd, who retreat out of range. This is the signal for the
shebab, the youth of the village, to throw stones or use slingshots against the soldiers and their armoured vehicles, usually from well out of range. Occasionally, a stone will bounce off an armoured car, to shouts of delight from the shebab. At best this is a token victory, a mere signal of defiance.

But the cost is enormous. Every week there are casualties, some minor, some requiring hospitalisation. Some of the wounds are just painful, some lead to the loss of limbs, of eyes, to major physical trauma. Nevertheless, in a continuing saga of remarkable courage and tenacity, the villagers come back, week after week, putting their bodies on the line in defence of their village.

What the Israeli army stands to gain from their habitual brutal response is more problematical. Why not let the villagers march to the barrier and make their speeches? Why not let them wave their flags and display their signs? Why put down a peaceful demonstration with such force?

On Friday June 13 Ibrahim Bornat and a few other young men had succeeded in approaching to within a few metres of the cyclone wire fence. The demonstration had all but fizzled out and most of the villagers had gone home. No internationals or Israeli activists were left at the scene. Before I left I saw Ibrahim throwing stones at a spy camera mounted on the fence, watched by a group of Israeli soldiers on the other side. When we were gone, with no outsiders there to observe their actions, the soldiers shot him, at close range, three times, using live ammunition. The dum dum bullets (which are banned under international humanitarian law) severed an artery and Ibrahim was rushed to hospital.
If he succeeds in walking again, he will be back, one day, at the Friday demonstrations. For the full story, follow the link on this page to the electronic intifada.

Ibrahim's story is one amongst many others. With the most powerful army in the Middle East, Israel is powerless, it seems, to destroy or even dampen popular resistance to its continuing occupation and theft of Palestinian land. Bil'in should be an inspiration to all who love freedom and value justice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Assyra al Qbliya

The small village of Assyra al Qbliya lies just to the south of Nablus, accessible only over some very rough, unsealed roads. In many ways it is typical of Palestinian villages - a mosque, an elementary school, a bakery, a few small shops and a collection of stone houses surrounded by olive groves and fields. Factional flags are everywhere and many of the walls are covered in political posters and graffiti. Typically, too, it is overlooked by a Jewish settlement.

Looming above the village - settlements are
always built on dominant hilltops - is the settlement of Yitzhar. It is illegal, of course, built on land stolen from the village, and surrounded by the usual high security fence. The settlers stay in their colonial enclave, cut off from the life of Palestine, except on Fridays and Saturdays. Some of them like to celebrate shabat, the Jewish holy day, by sneaking into the village and spray-painting the Star of David and Zionist slogans onto the walls of villagers' houses.

Shabat is the day the villagers fear. They sit on their rooftops, on the lookout for incursions, fearing violence from the heavily-armed settler gangs. When figures are seen on the hillside below Yitzhar, whistling goes up from the rooftops, warning the rest of the village to be prepared for what may befall them.

So, from week to week, the people of Assyra cling to the shreds of a normal life, fearing incursions and violence, fearing the time when more of their farmlands will be stolen, when more of their wells will be put off-limits.

As I say, in many ways a typical Palestinian village.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Doctor

The most frequent posters on walls throughout the West Bank are those commemorating George Habash, who died of a heart attack earlier this year. Known throughout the Arab world by the honorific, Al Hakim ("the wise one" or "the doctor"), Habash graduated as a doctor but devoted his life to the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.

He founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967, after the disastrous war with Israel which led to the ongoing military occupation and colonisation of the remaining 22% of Palestine.

Dr Habash, a Christian, is held in high regard throughout the length and breadth of Palestine, and everywhere people speak of his passing with regret. The red flag of the PFLP flies beside the green of Hamas and the yellow of Fatah in the towns and villages.

RIP George Habash.

Friday, July 11, 2008


We had been asked to accompany a farmer to his olive groves in the village of Zawata, on the fringes of Nablus. He was afraid that if he went to work these particular fields he might be harrassed or shot by Israeli soldiers using the nearby military-only road. (It was a Palestinian road on Palestinian land, but the army had told them that they could no longer use it.) Having a few "internationals" along - especially if they had cameras and video equipment - lessened the chances of him coming to harm.

So we went with him and enjoyed being in the country air while he and his son tended to the olive trees. He had brought along some freshly-made felafel sandwiches and some mint tea for us all to share, and the morning passed very pleasantly. Afterwards, back at his house, over yet more tea, cola and coffee, he explained how an older son had been martyred, at the age of twenty two, when fighting for the resistance in Nablus. He invited me inside to see the over-life-size portrait painting of his martyr son, and the framed photographs, hanging on the walls of the sitting room. The room had been set up as a shrine.

Now the armed resistance has been driven from the city of Nablus. Its members have been disarmed or imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority, who are in charge of the city during daylight hours. As midnight approaches, however, under orders from the Israelis, they return to their barracks and the night belongs to the Israeli army of occupation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The martyrs of Nablus

Nablus, in the northern West Bank of Occupied Palestine, lays claim to being the most beautiful city in the country. Built on two steep hills, or jebels, its main road runs on an east-west axis between the two. Alongside this thorougfare is the Old City, a maze of narrow streets, crowded markets and old stone houses. It is a magical place, reminiscent of the medieval bazaars and souks of Jerusalem's Old City.

Unlike Jerusalem, however, Nablus rarely sees a foreign tourist. Citing "security concerns", the government of Israel strongly discourages Westerners from visiting any part of the Palestinian territories. Those who do, discover a sense of safety and security which they do not find in, say, New York, Sydney or London. Indeed, experience of the famous Palestinian hospitality soon brings the realisation that the security warnings were nothing more than gross misinformation designed to instill fear of all things Palestinian. And, perhaps, to hide the evidence of the brutality of their military occupation from the eyes of the world.

In every Palestinian town and village one sees posters everywhere. Staring down are the faces of the shehada, the martyrs. Mostly young men, they are the victims of Israel's army of occupation. Some had taken up arms as part of the resistance. Some had been murdered in extra judicial assassinations. Some were just killed, as one crushes a cockroach, almost casually.

The most poignant, and the newest, was the poster of a sixteen year old boy, shot dead at the Huwarra checkpoint on 20th May, just before I arrived in Nablus. To get into or out of Nablus from the south everyone must pass through this checkpoint, suffering the indignity of queueing in long lines in an open-sided cattle pen, wondering if and when the gun-toting Israeli soldiers will let you through. On this day, like any other, this young Palestinian boy stood in the queue, waiting to be let through. He was listening to music through ear pods on his cell phone. Suddenly, spotting the wires from the ear pods trailing below his shirt, a young female soldier shouted "Bomb!" and shot the boy repeatedly with her automatic weapon. In the confusion that followed everyone was herded together and held under armed guard. The boy lay on the ground for two hours, bleeding to death while ambulances and medical personnel were refused access.

He was only sixteen years old. Like most young people he had his own cell phone. Like most young people he enjoyed listening to music. His misfortune was in being born Palestinian, in living under a brutal, callous military occupation. He became a shaheed. A martyr. A statistic.

The young female soldier who shot him will, no doubt, have her actions investigated by a military or civil court. She will, no doubt, be exonerated of any guilt. And so it goes on.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Extra Judicial Killings

This week Israeli forces entered the northern West Bank city of Nablus and assassinated two young men in their beds at a student hostel, claiming that they were "planning a terrorist attack".

They joined the 480 other Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli forces in the past six months.

Since 2006 Israel has
extra-judicially executed 380 Palestinian activists, politicians, and community leaders.

Thus the "only democracy in the Middle East" carries out state-sanctioned murder as part of its brutal military occupation of the past forty one years.