Thursday, August 26, 2010

[ePalestine] Israelis risk jail to smuggle Palestinians

The National 

Israelis risk jail to smuggle Palestinians  

Jonathan Cook, Foreign Correspondent 

* Last Updated: August 24. 2010 12:40AM UAE / August 23. 2010 8:40PM GMT 

NAZARETH, ISRAEL // Nearly 600 Israelis have signed up for a campaign of civil disobedience, vowing to risk jail to smuggle Palestinian women and children into Israel for a brief taste of life outside the occupied West Bank. 

The Israelis say they have been inspired by the example of Ilana Hammerman, a writer who is threatened with prosecution after publishing an article in which she admitted breaking the law to bring three Palestinian teenagers into Israel for a day out. 

Ms Hammerman said she wanted to give the young women, who had never left the West Bank, “some fun” and a chance to see the Mediterranean for the first time. 

Her story has shocked many Israelis and led to a police investigation after right-wing groups called for her to be tried for security offences. 

It is illegal to transport Palestinians through checkpoints into Israel without a permit, which few can obtain. If tried and found guilty, Ms Hammerman could be fined and face up to two years in jail. 

But Israelis joining the campaign say they will not be put off by threats of imprisonment. 

Last month, a group of 11 Israeli women joined Ms Hammerman in repeating her act of civil disobedience, driving a dozen Palestinian women and four children, including a baby, through a checkpoint into Israel. 

The Israeli women say they are planning mass “smugglings” of Palestinians into Israel over the coming weeks. 

“The Palestinians who join us are mainly looking to have a good time after years of confinement under the occupation, but for us what is most important is our act of defiance,” said Ofra Lyth, who helped establish an online forum of supporters after attending a speech by Ms Hammerman. 

“We want to overturn this immoral law that gives rights to Jews to move freely around while keeping Palestinians imprisoned in their towns and villages,” she said, referring to regulations that bar most Palestinians in the occupied territories from entering Israel, and Israelis from assisting them. Exceptions are made for Palestinians with permits, sometimes issued for a medical emergency or to some labourers with security clearances. 

For the Palestinian women, though, it is not about making a statement or defying an unjust law, according to Ms Lyth. 

“The Palestinian women tell us: ‘Go ahead and make your political point, but for us we’re breaking the law so that we can enjoy ourselves and remember how life was before the checkpoints and the wall.’ One woman told me: ‘I just want to be able to breathe again’.” 

For Palestinians in the West Bank, it is not often easy to breathe. The territory is home to a growing population of 300,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements. The settlers are able to drive into Israel on roads that the army oversees with checkpoints. 

It was through one such settler crossing, near Beitar Ilit, south of Jerusalem, that Ms Hammerman took the three Palestinian teenagers this year. 

For their protection, she has not identifed the young women or the West Bank village where they live. She refers to the women as Aya, Lin and Yasmin. They, too, could face jail for breaking the law. 

In Ms Hammerman’s article, published in Haaretz newspaper in May, she admitted that she was aware her actions were illegal. 

She told the women, who were 18 and 19, to take off their hijabs for the day and dress in western-style clothes to avoid attracting attention from soldiers at the checkpoint. She also taught them an easy Hebrew phrase Hakull beseder, or “Everything is okay” – in case a soldier spoke to them. 

She then took them on a tour of Tel Aviv, visiting the city’s university, a museum, a shopping mall and the beach, which she noted none of them had ever seen even though it is only about 40km from their village. 

Ms Hammerman wrote that the only dangerous moment during the trip was when a plain-clothes policeman stopped them and asked for the women’s identity cards. Ms Hammerman lied to the officer, telling him that the women were Palestinians from East Jerusalem and therefore entitled to enter Israel. 

In June, Yehuda Weinstein, the attorney general, was reported to have approved a police investigation of Ms Hammerman after a settler organisation, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, complained. 

The ranks of Ms Hammerman’s supporters have swollen since the group placed an advertisement, titled “We refuse to obey”, in Haaretz this month. The ad said the group was “acting in the spirit of Martin Luther King”, the US civil rights leader, and demanded that Palestinians be treated as “human beings, not terrorists”. 

Over the past week, the online forum has attracted more than 590 Israelis signing up to repeat Ms Hammerman’s act of civil disobedience. 

“That has really surprised and encouraged me,” she said. “I did not realise there were so many other Israelis who have had enough of this outrageous law.” 

Still, the coverage of Ms Hammerman and her supporters in the Israeli media has been largely hostile. During a television interview last week, she was accused of endangering Israelis with her trips. The show’s host, Yaron London, asked whether she had inspected the Palestinian women’s underclothes for explosives before allowing them into her car. 

She will will not be deterred, though. She said the group had discussed future trips for Palestinians, including taking them to pray at al-Aqsa, the mosque in Jerusalem that has been inaccessible to most Palestinians for at least a decade, and visits to Palestinian relatives they cannot see in Jerusalem and Israel. 

“We need to get Israelis meeting Palestinians again, having fun with them and seeing that they are human beings with the same rights as us.” 

She said her immediate goal was to kick-start a discussion among Israelis about the legality and morality of Israel’s laws and challenge the public’s “blind obedience” to authority. 

Ms Lyth added that the Palestinian women “who have gone on our trips are the heroes of their village. They and their families know they are taking a big risk in breaking the law, but harassment is part of their daily lives anyway”. 


ePalestine Blog:


Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

[ePalestine] The Observer: Israeli army's female recruits denounce treatment of Palestinians

"For two years I saw people suffering and I didn't do anything – and that's really scary," said Michelzon. "At the end, it felt like the army betrayed me – they used me, I couldn't recognise myself. What we call protecting our country is destroying lives."

The Observer 

Israeli army's female recruits denounce treatment of Palestinians  

Facebook images of an Israeli servicewoman posing with blindfolded Palestinians have caused a storm. Now two former female conscripts have spoken out about their own experiences  

* Harriet Sherwood  
* The Observer, Sunday 22 August 2010  

It was a single word scrawled on a wall at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that unlocked something deep inside Inbar Michelzon, two years after she had completed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defence Force.  

The word was "occupation". "I really felt like someone was speaking the unspoken," she recalled last week in a Tel Aviv cafe. "It was really shocking to me. There was graffiti saying, 'end the occupation'. And I felt like, OK, now I can talk about what I saw."  

Michelzon became one of a handful of former Israeli servicewomen who have spoken out about their military experiences, a move that has brought accusations of betrayal and disloyalty. It is impossible to know how representative their testimonies are, but they provide an alternative picture of the "most moral army in the world", as the IDF describes itself.  

Concerns about Israeli army culture were raised last week following the publication on Facebook of photographs of a servicewoman posing alongside blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinians. The images were reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. But the former soldier, Eden Abergil, said she didn't understand what was wrong with the pictures, which were described by the IDF as "ugly and callous".  

Israel is unique in enlisting women at the age of 18 into two years of compulsory military service. The experience can be brutalising for the 10% who serve in the occupied territories, as Michelzon did.  

"I left the army with a ticking bomb in my belly," she said. "I felt I saw the backyard of Israel. I saw something that people don't speak about. It's almost like I know a dirty secret of a nation and I need to speak out."  

Michelzon, now 29, began her military service in September 2000, just when the second intifada was breaking out. "I joined the army with a very idealistic point of view – I really wanted to serve my country." She was posted to Erez, the crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, to work in the radio control room.  

"There was a lot of tension, a lot of shootings and suicide bombings," she said. "Little by little you understand the rules of the game. You need to make it hard for the Arabs – that's the main rule – because they are the enemy."  

She cited a routine example of a Palestinian woman waiting at the crossing. Michelzon called her officer, asking permission to allow the woman through. She was told to make such a request once the woman had been kept waiting for hours. "I felt very alone in the army. I couldn't talk about the things I felt were misplaced," she said. "I didn't have strong views but I felt uncomfortable about the talk, about soldiers hitting Arabs and laughing. I thought everyone else was normal and I was the one who wasn't. I felt an outsider to the group experience."  

At the end of her service, in June 2002, Michelzon said she felt the need to escape and took off to India. "I went through a breakdown little by little," she said. It was only when she returned to enrol in university, and two years of therapy, that she began to consider her "duty" to speak out. She also came across Breaking the Silence, an organisation of army veterans who publish testimonies from former soldiers on life in the occupied territories to stimulate debate about the "moral price" of the occupation.  

Michelzon gave evidence to the group and two years ago appeared in a documentary, To See If I'm Smiling, about the experiences of young women in the army. The film, she said, was criticised by all sides. The left focused on "the bad things we did and not on the fact that we wanted to start a discussion. We wanted to put up a mirror and tell Israeli society to look itself in the eyes.  

"From the right, the reaction was, why are you doing this to your own people? Do you hate your country? But I did it because I love my country. We had to fight to say we want to talk about the political situation."  

The psychological impact of military service on women is undeniable, according to the testimonies of Michelzon and others, particularly those who serve in the occupied territories. "If you want to survive as a woman in the army, you have to be manly," she said. "There is no room for feeling. It's like a competition to see who can be tougher. A lot of the time girls are trying to be more aggressive than the guys."  

Her experience is echoed by that of Dana Golan, who served in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2001-02 as one of about 25 women among 300 male soldiers. Like Michelzon, Golan only spoke out after finishing her service. "If I had raised my anxieties, it would have been seen as a weakness," she said.  

Golan, now 27, said the "most shaky moment" of her military service came during a search for weapons in a Palestinian home. The family were awoken at 2am by soldiers who "turned their whole house inside out". No weapons were found. The small children of the house were terrified, she recalled. "I thought, what would I feel if I was this four-year-old kid? How would I grow up? At that moment it occurred to me that sometimes we're doing things that just create victims. To be a good occupier, we have to create conflict."  

On a separate occasion she witnessed soldiers stealing from a Palestinian electronics shop. She tried to report it, only to be told "there were things I shouldn't interfere with".  

She said that she also saw elderly Palestinians being humiliated on the streets, "and I thought these could be my parents or grandparents".  

Israel is discomfited by these testimonies, she said, partly because of the universality of military service. "We grew up believing the IDF is the most moral army in the world. Everyone knows people serving in the army. Now when I say we are doing immoral things, I am talking about your sister or your daughter. People do not want to hear."  

The IDF is proud that 90% of its roles are open equally to men and women. "Serving in a combat unit where you have daily contact with people who might do you harm is not easy – you have to be tough," said Captain Arye Shalicar, an army spokesman. "It's not only a female thing, it's the same for everyone. In the end, a combat unit is a combat unit. Sometimes things happen, not every deed is 100% correct or fair." The army, he said, has procedures for reporting misdeeds which soldiers are encouraged to follow.  

Both Michelzon and Golan have no regrets about speaking out. "For two years I saw people suffering and I didn't do anything – and that's really scary," said Michelzon. "At the end, it felt like the army betrayed me – they used me, I couldn't recognise myself. What we call protecting our country is destroying lives."  


ePalestine Blog:


Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to:

Friday, August 20, 2010

[ePalestine] THE HILL: Economic emptiness in Palestine and Israel (By Sam Bahour)


Economic emptiness in Palestine and Israel

By Sam Bahour - 08/20/10 11:31 AM ET

Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to enter direct negotiations (yet again) in Washington on September 2. The Obama administration is sure to hail this as a significant breakthrough. Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, and borders will all be on the table. But substantive Palestinian economic growth must also be addressed with guarantees that the Palestinian economy won’t be choked off as is currently the case.

The lead-up to these talks saw both Palestinian and Israeli leaders touting economic growth as a prelude to moving the political process forward. The growth they cite is hard to comprehend.

Palestinians were dispossessed from 78 percent of our homeland, 60 percent of Palestinians are internally displaced or dwell in refugee camps just hours from their homes and properties, 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza survive under siege conditions, hundreds of thousands have been illegally detained by Israel, and the economy is micro-managed by a foreign military. Yet leaders, foreign and domestic, laud the temporary West Bank economic growth that results from a brief respite in a harsh crackdown.

Very few in the U.S. Congress have done their homework to gauge if US policy is helping or actively impeding the prospects for peace. One brave congressman who has gone the extra mile is Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA). Rep. Baird sets a prime example of a legislator willing to challenge the current unhelpful US path. At a recent speaking engagement organized by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Baird advocated that his colleagues visit the West Bank and Gaza and see firsthand the results of the current policy. He noted that “they’re certainly ignorant about what’s happening on the ground in Gaza because they’ve never been” and they’re nearly as “ignorant about what’s happening in the West Bank because they haven’t been to a checkpoint, they’ve never seen Bethlehem as it is now surrounded…” He also expressed frustration with the constant “litmus tests” on the issue, referring to the pro-Israel lobby that uses heavy-handed tactics to push Congress to speak and act as if they were part of Israel’s far right.

I relocated from a comfortable life in Ohio to be part of building a Palestinian state. I advise some of the most strategic investors in Palestine. If my experience as a business consultant is any indication, Palestine’s investment community remains in a wait-and-see mode. More peace talks will not spark the significant investments required to build an economy that can serve an emerging state. Serious state-building economic development requires land, water, access, movement, ports, and spectrum, which Israel remains in full control of today. My clients, and many like them, refuse to be misled, yet again, by another round of empty talk from politicians as settlements go up in East Jerusalem.

Following the last meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House, President Obama declared, “…if we continue to make progress on that [economic] front, then Palestinians can see in very concrete terms what peace can bring that rhetoric and violence cannot bring – and that is people actually having an opportunity to raise their children, and make a living, and buy and sell goods, and build a life for themselves, which is ultimately what people in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories want.”

Fine words, but he ignores entirely the context of occupation and domination. What Palestinians “ultimately” want is their freedom and independence.

Israel, in extolling its virtues, skips the fact that the land and water it has acquired required military aggression in 1948 and 1967, compounded by the further illegal annexation of Jerusalem in 1980. Without the U.S. bankrolling Israel – approximately $3 billion per year – and exonerating Israeli military adventurism, its economy would be as feeble as its politics.

Palestinian banks hold over $8 billion in assets. Private sector credit from the banking sector was $1.56 billion at the end of January 2010. The loan-to-deposit ratio was 36 percent. To compare, the world average loan-to-deposit ratio hovers around 87 percent. Forty companies are listed on the Palestine Securities Exchange with a total market capitalization of approximately $2.4 billion. This is one of the smallest, yet most profitable, exchanges in the world. I estimate that 100 more companies would publicly list if indications on the ground pointed to a real end to occupation. And we have scarcely tapped the potential of Palestine’s diaspora community. What Palestine needs is not more peace process but an end to military occupation, which is delaying real progress.

A report titled, The Untapped Potential, conducted by the Peres Center for Peace and PalTrade (Palestine Trade Center) in December 2006 tried to quantify the missed economic opportunities if occupation persists. It noted, “The value of Palestinian exports could cumulatively rise to some US$11 billion per annum (compared to US$500 million in 2005). The cumulative contribution to the Palestinian GDP (in value added terms) would amount to approximately US$8 billion, thereby tripling the GDP from some US$4 billion in 2005 to approximately US$12 billion.”

But it is not only Palestine that stands to gain by ending the occupation. The Israeli economy would benefit significantly as well. Regarding Israel, the report noted, “The value of Israeli exports could cumulatively rise by over US$17 billion...Israeli employment would potentially benefit from the creation of more than 400,000 new jobs. In value-added terms, the contribution of economic cooperation to the Israeli GDP is estimated at approximately US$12 billion; this is the equivalent to approximately 10% of the current Israeli GDP.”

From the American side, President Obama is not in this peace-making effort alone. Like Rep. Baird, every member of Congress has a responsibility to put aside the tired politics of the Israel lobby in the interest of pursuing a more equitable approach to the conflict. Arming and massively funding one side of the conflict will almost certainly result in Israel refusing to negotiate in good faith and further entrenching its military occupation.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business management consultant living in Ramallah. He blogs at .

The contents of this site are © 2010 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., a subsidiary of News Communications, Inc.


ePalestine Blog:


Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

[ePalestine] Miami Herald: Second-class citizens (BY GEORGE BISHARAT and NIMER SULTANY)

The Miami Herald 
Posted on Sun, Aug. 15, 2010 

Second-class citizens 


Should Israel be encouraged to enact legislation guaranteeing equal rights for all of its citizens as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians? 

Israel's systematic discrimination against Arabs was highlighted recently when Donna Shalala, University of Miami president and former Health and Human Services secretary, was detained for three hours, grilled and subjected to an extended luggage search upon her departure from Israel. 

Shalala, of Lebanese Arab descent and a long-time supporter of Israel, had visited the country with other university leaders at the invitation of the American Jewish Congress, but had stayed beyond the planned itinerary for several days. It seems evident that, despite her stature, she was a victim of profiling. 

But the indignities that Shalala suffered pale in comparison to those faced by the 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel on a daily basis, and not just at the airport. 

Adalah, the Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, counts more than 35 Israeli laws explicitly privileging Jews over non-Jews. Other Israeli laws appear neutral, but are applied in discriminatory fashion. For example, laws facilitating government land seizures make no reference to Palestinians, but nonetheless have been used almost exclusively to expropriate their properties for Jewish settlements. 

Consider what it would be like if: 

• Our Constitution defined the union as a ``white Christian democratic state?'' 

• Our laws still barred marriage across ethnic-religious lines? 

• Our government appointed a Chief Priest, empowered to define membership criteria for the white Christian nation? 

• Our government legally enabled immigration by white Christians while barring it for others? 

• Our government funded a Center for Demography that worked to increase the birth rates of white Christians to ensure their majority status? 

These examples all have parallels in Israeli practices. 

While Israel's Palestinian citizens have rights to vote, run for office, form political parties and to speak relatively freely, they remain politically marginalized. No Palestinian party has ever been invited to join a ruling coalition. In recent years, Palestinian politicians and community leaders have been criminally prosecuted or hounded into exile. 

Nadim Rouhana, social psychologist and director of Mada al-Carmel (a center studying Palestinian citizens of Israel) reports: ``Our empirical research reveals that many Palestinian citizens are alienated from the Israeli state. At a deep psychological level, the daily message conveyed in Israeli public discourse is: `You are not one of us. You don't belong here. You are permanent outsiders.' Imagine: we, whose families have lived here for centuries, hear this even from recently immigrated Jewish Israeli politicians.'' 

Palestinian rights are not respected in the Israeli legal system. Israel has no written constitution, only ``Basic Laws'' that were enacted piecemeal over time. None enshrines equality, and efforts by Palestinian lawmakers in Israel's Knesset to add an explicit guarantee of equal rights have been rebuffed. 

The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence promised equal rights to all citizens in a Jewish state, and has occasionally been cited by the Israeli High Court. But a declaration of independence does not play the same legal role as a constitution or basic law. As students of American history know, the U.S. Declaration of Independence held that ``all men are created equal'' but failed to provide legal leverage to dismantle slavery, or to empower women to vote. Equal rights were only installed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and women's suffrage only by the 19th Amendment. Lacking the necessary tools, the Israeli High Court has failed to consistently protect equal rights for Palestinian citizens. 

Shalala's treatment in Israel was, no doubt, demeaning. The incident's effect nonetheless will be constructive if it serves to alert more Americans to Israel's discrimination against its Palestinian citizens -- and creates pressure on Israel to adopt equal rights for all. Only then will durable peace prevail in the Middle East. 

George Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Nimer Sultany is a civil rights attorney in Israel and doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School. 

© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. 


ePalestine Blog:


Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to: