Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Rockets from Gaza

This is just a very brief posting expressing my frustration and anger yet again for the BBC reporting of this incident. The fact is that Israel has broken the ceasefire agreement over 100 times since November. Farmers, fishermen and even children have been killed and maimed; agricultural buildings and land have been bulldozed; fishing boats within the area that is meant to be safe, have been confiscated and individuals taken into custody; not to mention the deaths in the West Bank of Palestinians demonstrating peacefully who have been hit by live rounds or imprisoned and abused and tortured. There are hunger strikes going on right now, with prisoners near death. One man has just died in an Israeli prison and the post mortem indicates that the death was caused by torture and not the heart attack that Israel claims.
Each time Israel extends a security zone it is done on Palestinian land. When the area is already small, that amounts to a lot of farmland, grazing areas as well as housing. Gaza is becoming more and more restricted by Israel's 'security needs', which means that when children or farmers or fishermen get shot and often killed, Israel claims that they had ventured into such security zones and were therefore killed or maimed legitimately. These zones can change frequently and are often reduced as a means of collective punishment. Many consider such Israeli  State behaviour as incitement to more violence rather than a means for securing greater security for Israelis.

Many people believe that Palestine is on the verge of the 3rd Intifada. Is that what Israel wants, because if not, they do seem to continually goad the Palestinians into action.

So yet again there is the bald simple news item on the BBC that a rocket has been fired from Gaza into Israel.  No one was hurt, yet you know as well as I do that this is likely to be either the pretext for more open violence from Israel or the excuse for lack of peace negotiations, even more settlement building and 'Price-Tag' incidents, because we all know that Israel does "not have a partner for peace"!

A quote from an article by Jonathan Cook:

The latest talks between Hamas and Fatah broke down in Cairo this month, even though unity, in the view of most Palestinians, is a precondition of their seeking viable statehood. The talks’ failure followed the “arrest” by Israel of 25 Hamas leaders in the West Bank, seizures that Palestinian human rights groups and Hamas warned were intended to disrupt reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly undermined Abbas’s rule, and kept his PA close to collapse, by turning on and off one of its major sources of income — tax monies Israel regularly collects on behalf of the Palestinians and is supposed to pass on.
As a result, Abbas is trapped between various pressures impossible to reconcile: the need to keep Israel happy, to maintain legitimacy with his own people and to foster a shared political agenda with other Palestinian factions.
The sticks that Israel wields force Abbas to keep the door open to negotiations even as most Palestinians recognise their utter pointlessness. Likewise, his constant need to appease Israel and the US serves only to widen differences with Hamas.
The Palestinians are stuck in a political and diplomatic cul-de-sac, unable to move forward either with the development of their national struggle or with talks on viable statehood. Whatever Obama’s intentions, the reality is that this will be another four years of diplomatic failure.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Fields of Heaven?

The University of Winchester asked me to make my next presentation a more positive one. They wanted me to show positive developments. I am all too aware that whatever the truth of what I have to say might be, hearing relentless negativity is unpalatable and also leads to the accusation of bias and much worse. So with that in mind I discovered an organic farm situated near Bethlehem called Fields of Heaven. I understood that it was an enterprise run jointly between Israelis and Palestinians and looked like the sort of development I needed. I decided that I would try to visit it on one of my spare days.

Unfortunately it does not look as if a visit is likely to happen, because although I have been in contact with the farm, I have not managed to make any arrangements to visit and I don't even have a specific address for it. In order to get there I have made extensive inquiries and contacted all the leads I have been given along with existing Palestinian and Israeli contacts.

However some of the responses I have received from both Israelis and Palestinians have been very telling. I have been told that the farm is not a good thing and that I should not visit it, because it is nothing but 'normalizing' the occupation'. So my understanding of this organic farm is that the land belonged to a Palestinian farmer. The Israeli settlers took it, but instead of doing what most of the other settlers have done, which is to drive the Palestinians off their land to make it wholly Jewish, they have decided to work with the Palestinians and to farm the land together.

It probably sounds quite positive to you as it did at first to me, but imagine this: I come and take your home and your land and am ever so kind and instead of driving you off it I agree to share it with you. Are you happy now? Yes, it is better than ethnic cleansing, but in effect it creates a 2-tier system of occupier and occupied, with the occupied having few rights.  That is dangerous from the Palestinian perspective because it normalizes a situation that is inherently unjust.

So there goes my positive spin. I can use the material I have gained from all this, but it is difficult to use it very positively and instead I will have to look further.

All this leads to the title I have used for my next presentations, which is 'Fields of Hope'.

I chose the title not just because of my intended visit to the jointly run farm, but because of Abraham's Field in Hebron. The Bible only tells us that he bought a field and not the whole area, but Hebron is where the tombs of the Patriarchs are situated and also where the Oak of Mamra can be found. It is here that Abraham entertained the 3 angels and pitched his tent. The site is now in the grounds of a Russian Orthodox Church. There is an ancient, half dead tree still there, but whether it is the original tree........

So a field is the cause of much disputed land and also the possible grounds for hope.....

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Aren't I going to Israel?

Well, yes I am.
It is difficult to get into the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) without going into Israel. Even going via Jordan entails passing through Israel checkpoints. I will be flying to Tel Aviv and then travelling to Jerusalem.  I don't suppose that most people realise that East Jerusalem, including the Old City, is actually part of Palestine? The area was annexed by Israel in 1967, which is a stage further than occupying it, but it remains part of the oPt. It is also an area where Israel is putting increasing pressure on the Palestinians living there and endeavoring to achieve the one-undivided Jewish capital that they want so much. Even the Dome of the Rock is frequently under attack these days, not just by Israelis and the IDF entering the grounds, but by excavations beneath it and the ever growing open intentions to destroy it and re-build the Jewish Temple.

I am now writing this blog in Jerusalem thankfully. I was very nervous before coming as
the first hurdle for anyone trying to get to Palestine is to get through airport security and be allowed into Israel. I imagine I am seen as an older, white, middle-class Christian who just wants to re-visit the roots of Christianity! It is NEVER advisable to give any real reasons as to why you have come, unless it is as a tourist and to visit holy places. To admit anything else; even to just mention the West Bank, is to open yourself to hours of interrogation with the danger of being refused admittance. It requires very little for that to happen. Both CPT and EAPPI have had participants denied entry with no explanation. So you can understand why going through airport security here is always worrying. Going home can also lead to interrogation and possible confiscation of photos or other material, but at least it is in Israel's interests to get rid of you if they are concerned, so it is usual to catch your flight home!

I took a shared taxi called a Sharut to go to Jerusalem. It takes time to drop everyone off around Jerusalem, but is efficient and much cheaper than a taxi. It felt strange to be travelling on fast modern roads in a very Western way, knowing that just accross the Wall, many Palestinians are living a very different life.

I am staying in the Golden Gate Hostel in the Old City, which so far looks good. I believe that the rest of the delegation arrives tomorrow evening or Wednesday when it officially begins.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Preparing to go.......

I receive so many emails on a daily basis that make me want to weep for all those who are suffering so much and with the frustration and anger that the world allows such atrocities to continue. I  spend a huge amount of time sharing information, signing petitions, complaining to the BBC and writing to my MP. Sometimes it all feels very pointless, because the results of all that are, at best hidden and, at worse non-existent. 

For those who believe that what I report is very one-sided and biased towards Palestinians, I ask these questions: 
What is it that Israel is trying to achieve right now? 
What is its end-game?  
If it is to have a secure and peaceful existence; is the settlement building; the demolition of Palestinian property making many families homeless; the violent breaking up of peaceful demonstrations; the use of long and sometimes abusive prison sentences for stone throwing; the use of administrative detention (basically detention without charge or trial that can be extended indefinitely); the building of a barrier on Palestinian land, dividing Palestinian communities; the IDF support of settlers who daily attack and destroy Palestinian property, etc. etc. not to mention Israeli policy in and around Gaza, then is that the way to achieve peace with another group of people who just happen to have lived on that land for generations?
If Israel wants a 2-State solution, then the settlement building needs to stop immediately, because how can peace be negotiated over territory that is shrinking before the eyes of those whose land it is? 
If it wants a one-state solution, then  how can it remain a Jewish democratic State without creating an apartheid system enshrined in law that by definition cannot give non-Jews the same rights as Jews? 
In all conscience can anyone claim that this is a dispute between equals when those who are occupying the land are a modern military power funded and supported by the USA, and those whose land has been occupied mostly live under the military law of the occupying power? People who have no freedom of movement or trade; no right to defend themselves even with the stones at their feet; who live under the constant threat of 'Price-Tag' revenge from settlers and destruction of property by the IDF and who are met with rubber bullets, skunk spray, tear gas and even live rounds if they so much as peacefully demonstrate against the injustice.

Fact: Israel continues to break both International and human rights law. That is not my opinion, it is fact. Please see below for more detail.

Between October 2009 and January 2010, I spent 3 months in Hebron as an EA with EAPPI. My mother was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia  in 1938. She had always been ashamed of the treatment of the Palestinians by her fellow Jews, so I've had it in the back of my mind for many years that I would like to go there to do whatever I could. I have been back a couple of times and now I will be traveling with a CPT delegation to the same area.

This blog seems a good way to record and share my experiences.

  • The pre-amble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was passed shortly after the 1967 War, in November 1967, stresses “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” The text of Resolution 242, which is the cornerstone of the two-state solution and international efforts to make peace in the region for more than two decades, calls for the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

  • Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

  • The Hague Convention also forbids occupying powers from making permanent changes in the occupied territory unless it is a military necessity.

  • In its 2004 advisory opinion that deemed the wall that Israel is building in the West Bank illegal, all 15 judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also found Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, to be in contravention of international law.

  • Successive Israeli governments have argued that settlement building does not violate international law, however a formerly classified document dated September 1967 shows that the legal counsel to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Theodor Meron, advised the government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention." Disregarding the opinion, in September 1967, Eshkol’s Labor government authorized the establishment of the first civilian settlement, Kfar Etzion, on the outskirts of Hebron in the West Bank.

  • International human rights organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all condemned Israel’s settlement enterprise as illegal.

  • Numerous United Nations resolutions have also affirmed that Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land in the occupied territories is a violation of international law. In 1979, the Security Council passed Resolution 446, which states: “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”