Archive for January, 2012

Joe Catron  The Electronic Intifada  Gaza City  30 January 2012

Obada Saed Bilal and Nili Zahi Safad (Joe Catron)

“This is the life of Palestinian people,” Obada Saed Bilal said one recent morning. “If I hadn’t been detained, I would have been wounded or martyred. I was in detention for over nine years, but I still resist. My marriage and university studies are my ways to keep fighting now.”

Obada and his wife, Nili Zahi Safad, sat in the lobby of the Commodore Gaza Hotel. The Ministry of Detainees in Gaza has temporarily housed them there, along with a number of other former political prisoners who, like Bilal, were freed in the prisoner exchange on 18 October 2011.

Israel forced Bilal, a native of Nablus in the West Bank, to relocate to Gaza following his release, along with 204 other prisoners expelled from their homes in the West Bank.

Safad moved to Gaza shortly after her husband’s arrival. They had been married for only twenty days when his arrest separated them on 16 April 2002.

“I was brutally beaten for two hours,” Bilal said, recalling the 1am military raid in the West Bank village of Aghwar in which he was detained. “Then I was taken to the Petach Tikva detention center in Tel Aviv. They interrogated me for ninety days. This was my most difficult time as a prisoner. I was kept in isolation, handcuffed and blindfolded, and interrogated for about twelve hours every day.”

After his interrogation, the Israeli authorities sent Bilal to Ashkelon, where a military court sentenced him to 26 years.

Isolation

Safad, also a former political prisoner, told a similar story.

“I was detained at a checkpoint,” she said of her arrest on 11 November 2009. “I was returning from Hebron to Nablus, when they arrested me and sent me to detention. They kept me in isolation for ninety days before transferring me to the HaSharon prison for women. About 17 women were detained at HaSharon then; now there are only seven.

“While being interrogated, women are treated exactly like the men,” she added. “We were deprived of food, sleep and even access to the toilet. They shouted insults at us. I was kept handcuffed and blindfolded. Once they chained my hands to the ceiling for four days.”

Bilal and Safad told The Electronic Intifada that their conditions barely improved after they were transferred to prisons following their ninety-day interrogation periods.

“Our daily life was harsh and difficult,” Bilal said. “Our basic human and medical needs were routinely denied. The jailers treated us poorly, the food was awful and we were routinely denied any contact with our families. I wasn’t able to see mine for three years. We were kept handcuffed for ten hours a day, and only given one hour for recreation. Sometimes they punished us by denying even this.”

The Israeli authorities seemed determined to prevent contact with family members inside the prison. “Once I met my two brothers in prison. But when the jailers learned that we were brothers, they separated us,” Bilal said. “And when my wife was arrested, I asked to be placed with her, but the prison administration refused.” Their reunion seemed less likely after Safad completed her sentence and was released on 10 July 2011.

Isolation

The authorities also tried to prevent inmates from forming any bonds with each other. “They transferred us among prisons only to confuse us. As soon as we made new friends, they would transfer us again. This was psychological punishment,” Bilal explained.

He had a problem with his eyesight before his arrest, and it became worse in prison. “But they refused to treat it,” he said. “It deteriorated until I couldn’t see at all.”

The International Middle East Media Center reported in late November that there were at least forty persons living with disabilities, such as Bilal’s blindness, among the prisoner population. Many prisoners have died due to systematic medical negligence and torture (“Forty disabled Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel,” 30 November 2011).

Today, Bilal and Safad’s lives go on in a new city, far from their families and community in Nablus.

Bilal, an An-Najah National University public relations student when arrested, has returned to his studies, this time in politics and religion at the Islamic University of Gaza. He and Safad continue supporting Bilal’s brothers, Moad and Othman, both current political prisoners.

The couple also marked the end of their separation by renewing their marriage vows. “We held another wedding party after I was released and my wife came to Gaza, to celebrate our life and resistance,” Bilal said. “This is our message to the world, that we must celebrate our struggle and keep fighting.”

Joe Catron is an international solidarity activist and boycott, divestment, and sanctions organizer in Gaza. He blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and tweets at @jncatron.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross introduces a photo essay entitled “Gaza: health care is in danger”:

There are restrictions on importing medical supplies into the Gaza Strip, leading to frequent shortages of essential disposables and drugs. This is having a serious impact on thousands of patients, especially those with kidney failure or cancer. (emphasis added)

“There are,” are there? Well, what can you do? Sometimes, unfortunate things just happen. Hurricanes, earthquakes, sieges …

Concerning the hundreds of Gaza patients whose lives these mysterious restrictions have ended, Philip Weiss offers the ICRC’s apparent explanation: “They up and died!”

The ICRC’s Mission Statement claims that the body “endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.” Keep up the good work, guys.

23 January 2012 | US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

A collective of students in Gaza has formed the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI). These students are seeking to expand their collaboration and participation in events and activities with solidarity activists at international universities.

PSCABI members participate in many activities here in Gaza and are heavily involved in supporting the international student solidarity movements, especially with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaigns. PSCABI members frequently write letters out of Gaza, some of which we have listed below, encouraging people to participate in the boycott and thanking people who have supported the Palestinian cause.

PSCABI members are available to share ideas, participate via Skype or other technology in remote events, organize and strategize together, hear about your activities and provide information and narratives as Palestinian university students for your distribution, and provide access to voices speaking directly from besieged Gaza.

If you are interested in:

  • communicating with PSCABI
  • hosting a Skype conference with a PSCABI member
  • developing your organization’s relationship with PSCABI

please contact us at pscabi@usacbi.org.

Past Letters from PSCABI:

The daughters of Mohammad El Mezain, Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, the Holy Land Five essentially imprisoned for giving charity to Palestinians, have released two new videos marking ten years of their fathers’ persecution at the hands of the United States government.

Many Palestinians remember the help the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) once offered them. As I wrote in his Gaza City office this afternoon, my friend Yousef Aljamal, sitting next to me, unexpectedly commented, “My sister was 18 when the HLF was closed. She had just gotten a scholarship from them, but because they were shut down, she wasn’t able to use it.” And I am reminded of the relief the HLF gave families struggling under apartheid every time I pass a worn sign marking one of their former sites here.

Shortly after a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court denied the Five’s most recent appeal, Ghassan Elashi, the former HLF chairman sentenced to 65 years, wrote to me from his Communication Management Unit in Marion, Illinois:

I was not surprised with the 5th circuit ruling. Despite agreeing that the district court made 4 major legal errors, they considered them harmless. Not a mention of the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians. It is unjust persecution of the Palestinian cause. Whatever Israel does is always justified. Amazingly non of the Zakat Committees board members have ever been prosecuted in Israel for what the US government charged us with. If we were prosecuted in Israel and got convicted we would have got 3 years prison term.

In the aftermath of the ruling a couple of weeks earlier, his daughter Noor wrote:

The case of the Holy Land Five comes down to this: American foreign policy has long been openly favorable towards Israel, and therefore, an American charity established primarily for easing the plight of the Palestinians became an ultimate target. As my father said during our 15-minute phone call on Thursday, “The politics of this country are not on our side. If we had been anywhere else, we would’ve been honored for our work.”

This month could have marked a milestone. The leaders of our country could have learned from our past. The day the towers fell could have been a time to stop fear from dominating reason instead of a basis to prosecute. The HLF would have continued to triumph, providing relief to Palestinians and other populations worldwide in the form of food, clothing, wheelchairs, ambulances, furniture for destroyed homes, back-to-school projects and orphan sponsorship programs. And more notably, my father would not have been incarcerated. My family and I would have been able to call him freely and embrace him without a plexiglass wall.

Yet my father was charged under the ambiguous Material Support Statute with sending humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers known as zakat committees that prosecutors claimed were fronts for Hamas. He was prosecuted despite the fact that USAID—an American government agency—and many other NGO’s were providing charity to the very same zakat committees …

In the next few weeks, defense attorneys plan to ask the entire panel of appellate judges to re-hear the case, and if that petition is denied, they will take it to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, my father waits in prison. This Thursday, when I spoke to him, it had been the first time in several weeks since he received a phone call ban for writing his name on a yoga mat, which prison officials saw as “destruction of government property.” I told him that during the tenth anniversary of the HLF shutting down, the name of the charity is still alive and that he will not be forgotten. My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights. In fact, when I asked him about the first thing he’ll do when he’s released, my father said, “I would walk all the way to Richardson, Texas carrying a sign that says, ‘End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.’ ”

Only days after the European Union’s top diplomats in Jerusalem and Ramallah publicly condemned Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and called for state-level boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against it, the EU itself drew attention for funding one of the most notorious settlement enterprises.

On Tuesday The Independent published a letter from an impressive list of 21 British scientists and public figures, including filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. They wrote:

It is extraordinary, but true, that one of our great national museums is co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law. That museum is the Natural History Museum, which is collaborating in research with an Israeli commercial firm located in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.

The firm is Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, whose business is manufacturing cosmetics out of mud, which it excavates from the banks of the Dead Sea. Ahava/DSL is located at Mitzpe Shalem, a settlement 10km beyond the Green Line. The collaboration with the Museum is through an EU-funded project called Nanoretox, in which Kings College London, Imperial College and a number of foreign institutions are also involved. The museum is the coordinating partner for this project.

Ahava/DSL is based on occupied territory. It extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement. Israel’s settlement project has been held by the International Court of Justice to break international law. Organisations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation. We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position.

We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in Nanoretox and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.

Following The Independent’s own story on the letter, coverage grew quickly. Articles have appeared in media ranging from Reuters and Press TV to Haaretz, The Jewish Chronicle, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to say nothing of concerned grumbling from the The Jerusalem Post.

While the initial letter targeted the Natural History Museum, the scientific press quickly focused on Nanoretox’s EU funding. Nature reported Thursday:

“I believe that the EU should not be allowed to fund companies that breach international law and so I have asked the commission to revise its research-funding regulations so that participating laboratories must declare the location of their research in order that, where that location is illegal, EU funding can be withheld,” says Keith Taylor, a British Green Party member of the European Parliament, who raised the questions about Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories in June 2011.

A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment on whether it would consider such changes in its next Framework Programme, called Horizon 2020. But in response to another question from Taylor, the Commission said on 13 September 2011 that it was “scrutinizing options to be able to evaluate and potentially address such a situation” under Horizon 2020.

Bateson says that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories should not be eligible for Horizon 2020 funding as long as it continues to operate in the West Bank. “The initial mistake was at Brussels. They shouldn’t have allowed this to go ahead,” he says.

ScienceInsider wrote on the same day:

Ahava/DSL is involved in two other projects funded by Framework Programme 7, the main source of E.U. research funding. Last summer, research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn responded to a query from the European Parliament about the company’s involvement in projects by saying that the company “is formally established within the borders of the internationally recognised State of Israel,” so that it meets the commission’s participation criteria. E.U. rules don’t stipulate that the research has to be carried out where the company is formally established, she added.

Jonathan Rosenhead, an emeritus professor of operational research at the London School of Economics who helped organize the letter, says he spoke with commission officials last year who were “clearly unaware” that the company had its operations in a settlement. “My guess and hope is that they tighten up their procedures” for the next major funding program, called Horizon 2020, which will start in 2014. A commission official says “the commission is currently scrutinizing options” to evaluate participants in Horizon 2020.

All of which raises an interesting question. With representatives of the EU’s own member states “call[ing] on the European commission to consider legislation ‘to prevent/discourage financial transactions in support of settlement activity’ … based on their illegality under international law,”  can the same body possibly attempt to justify direct funding for the pillaging of Palestinian resources by those same illegal settlements – even until 2014?

Meanwhile the Stolen Beauty campaign, part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continues to win impressive victories against Ahava. And considering the EU’s shady history of collaboration with Israeli apartheid, it is all but certain that only pressure from civil society can force it into any positive role – even in the face of unequivocal war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Grassroots pressure from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon forced Belgian-Italian singer Lara Fabian to cancel February 14 and 15 performances at Jounieh’s Casino du Liban, Al Akhbar English and NOW Lebanon announced Thursday.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners targeted Fabian for her previous violations of the cultural boycott of Israel, and particularly her celebration of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which entailed the ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians. NOW Lebanon reports:

In May 2008, she performed at a special concert in France to commemorate the anniversary of the creation of the Israeli state. At the end of the performance, she can be heard telling the audience, “I love you, Israel.”

In response to the announcement, Asad Ghsoub, an activist for the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon, which spearheaded the campaign against Fabian said, “We can’t be but happy because she knows that what she did has consequences… She cannot say ‘I love you Israel’ and expect us to welcome her. She would be out of her mind if she thinks we’re going to welcome her.”

Ghsoub had told Al Akhbar Monday, “The 60th anniversary of Israel is the 60th anniversary of the Nakba so she is not neutral. Some people try to defend artists as neutral but she has crossed the line.”

Of his organization’s plans, “Ghsoub said the exact nature of the protests against the concerts were still being formulated, but added that the group is planning to meet with Lebanese ministers to encourage them to back the ban.”

While arguing against the boycott, Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the SKeyesCenter for Media and Cultural Freedom, admitted to NOW Lebanon that it has recently attracted broad support from Lebanese civil society:

Mhanna noted that recently, and for the first time, the effort to boycott Israel has received the support of political parties in the country. On December 13, the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and several other parties signed a statement calling for the boycott of “all concerts, companies and troops supporting the Zionist enemy.”

“This shows how much culture itself is politicized… The political and sectarian debate is now automatically translating into to how people perceive a cultural work. People are no longer able to look at culture through an artistic perspective. Everything is through a political prism,” Mhanna said …

Ghsoub responded to critics who say the success of the Fabian boycott campaign is, in effect, a form of cultural censorship. “We are clearly against all forms of censorship,” he said. “As individuals we are socially liberal, open and progressive. We have nothing to do with censorship, and I think people who want to attack us, try to associate us with this, and we are completely against it. Israel is a state that is an enemy of Lebanon. And we are in a state of war… Can you imagine a pro-Hezbollah superstar singing in Tel Aviv?”

Nevertheless, Ghsoub left open the possibility of supporting a future performance by Fabian in Lebanon:

“She should reconsider her actions and join this global movement that many artists are joining. If she makes a statement at least distancing herself from Israel, we have no problem welcoming her next time. We’ll throw a red carpet down for her,” Ghsoub said.

These pictures from Hamas’ Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades Information Office show the funerals of two young men, both civilians, murdered by Zionist airstrikes and artillery fire east of Beit Hanoun yesterday:

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Had they been Israelis Jews, or foreign activists for that matter, newswires would have flooded with details of their deaths and lives. But because they were Palestinians, I’ve had to visit multiple sites to piece together that they were Ahmad Al-Zaaneen, age 17, and Muhammad Shaker Abu Odeh, age 23.

Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.