Monday, January 30, 2006
Palestinians protest against Danish prejudice
Here in Palestine people are upset, not only because of the cartoon but because the majority of Danish people supported the cartoons in a recent opinion poll. Whilst there were some reports of Danish flag burning earlier, the protest that evening had chants focused on defending Islam and the occupation (Danish people weren't mentioned). The rally chanted against the occupation, because cartoons like those in Denmark reinforce the racist world we live in and the occupation of Palestine. The cartoons are just an aspect of reinforcing the idea of Islamic people as being backward and deserving less compassion then the west.
As a result of these comments and the backlash by Muslims, some of the Danish people working with the ISM don't feel safe in the West Bank and there embassy has advised them to pull out. This is a real loss to the Palestine solidarity movement.
Fatah and Hamas unite to demand release of US, British and Canadian hostages
Dr. Mahmoud Rahmahi (below), newly elected member of the legislative council representing Hamas mentioned the four activists one by one saying "Our friend from the United States Tom Fox, our friend from the UK Norman Kember..." He had no prejudice from where these people came from because "these people supported us against the occupation"
The same statement was then read out in arabic by Abdel Aziz Ahmad, newly elected member of the legislative council representing Hamas. Azam Al Ahmad, the former Palestinian Ambassador to Iraq and Fatah representitive as well as Abu Hassan, representing the Muslim scientists (Rabata Olama Al Muslimin) also called for the release of the four people (or so I was told as it was all in Arabic and this time I didn't get the english translation)
Jerry Levin a current CPT delegate who was held hostage for a year by Hezbollah in Lebanon called for the four mens release "in the interest of the Palestinian People and in the interest of the Iraqi people."
Tyseer Tamimi, Imam of the Al Aqsa Mosque, wanted to be there but was delayed for 2 hours at an Israeli checkpoint. Another example of a peaceful symbolic act of unity being hampered by the occupation.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Israeli's haven't responded yet to attack on Apartheid Wall
Whilst in Australia we would say that anyone who damages government property could face jail time, here the Israeli government posts signs on their illegal walls stating that anyone who damages it is in mortal danger. Of course they are in mortal danger, the army that erected the signs might shoot them, but at least they were warned!
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Fatah members take to the streets.
Protest in Bil'lin
Still it was a demonstration unlike any that I had seen before. Internationals and Israelis gathered at the ISM apartment in Bil'lin. One of the organizers of the anti-wall demonstration explained to first timers the significance of the wall and its impact on the local population. He also explained the importance of the non-violent resistance in fighting the occupation.
Much of what he said was covered in my last article on Bil'lin although an interesting statistic that I didn't know was that in the town of Bil'lin of the 1,700 villagers only 600 or so were over 18 and able to vote. The Palestinian population as a whole is incredibly young, which is a common factor amongst oppressed and underdeveloped countries where the birthrate is high and mortality rate is also significant.
We joined with the local population after the mid day prayers and marched down the road to where the wall was. From the distance we could see Israeli soldiers in front of the wall. From there people tried to run around and it became a matter of trying to pass the line of Israeli soldiers and move as far up the hill as you can.
The protesters climbed the hill with a group running up ahead to get around Army lines. The army moved to block the rest of us off as some of the children ran down the hill throwing rocks at some of the passing soldiers, causing some pursuing soldiers to seek refuge near their jeep. The kids defend there actions as legitimate under UN resolutions which allow occupied people to resist. Meanwhile even in land on the Bil'lin side of the wall the Israeli army was pushing demonstrators and restricting our movement. Many of the locals tried to argue with the soldiers asking why they couldn't move freely on their land, to which the army soldiers chose not to reply.
Instead they took photo's of demonstrators and threw tear gas at some of the young people. The tear gas quickly spread though with people such as myself who were at least 100 meter's away ended up gagging and crying like babies. Tear gas is very powerful, ironical even a few soldiers ended up in its wake. Some of the Israeli refusing (Those Israelis who refuse to serve in the occupied territories) ran up the hill onto a mound of dirt. The Army had a hard time working out how to respond as they couldn't face the backlash that hurting their own people would cause (unlike attacking the Palestinians).
They were forced back and the Israeli army were able to end the demonstration by creating a wall of tear gas between us and them that kept getting us closer to the village.
As I finish writing this blog post we have just received word that the people of Bil'lin have taken down a large section of the wall and we are going back out there tonight to make sure that there are no repercussions. I want to talk about a Fatah rally that occured today but I am running out of time. There is so much happening over here it is hard to find time to write about it.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Bil'lin Outpost resisting the occupation
I had first heard about Bil'lin in Australia. It was and is the base for many anti-wall demonstrations. The fence covers a security road near the town of Bil'lin and cuts the town off from much of its land. Whilst the wall is not made of large slabs of concrete (yet) it contains sensors throughout that are designed to detect any attempt to get through. The gap in the fence that you can see (pictured below) is the result of peaceful demonstration against the wall. Anti-wall demonstrations are now happening weekly the last being about 2,000 people strong (the largest yet).
Even if we were to go around the fence (rather then take a shortcut through the hole) we would only have to travel 50 meters. The fence isn't being built due to a court order that the people of Bil'lin were able to get against the wall. They also don't want to enrage the locals who's resistance is growing.
On the land that looks like being cut off from town Israel's plans seemed clear. 5 large settlements with a total of 100,00 people and growing- keep in mind that Jerusalem only has 600,000 people and the whole of Palestine is about 3-4 million. One of the largest settlements (Modi'en Illit) had 29,300 people in it late last year. 12.7% more then in 2004. The settlements are growing as can be seen in the photo of construction below. Many of the locals predict that one day there will only be one big settlement. These settlements that confiscate Palestinian land are not only exclusively Jewish but also exclusively orthodox. The housing in these settlements costs about half of what you would pay in Jerusalem or a major Israeli city and according to local activists the settlers pay no tax.
Not so far away from these amazingly large settlements stood a slightly more modest but none the less impressive little brick room. This room referred to as the outpost is permanently staffed by the local community and members of the ISM.
The significance of this building was explained to me by local shepherd and anti-occupation activist Wagi Brnat (who I think looks strangely like Xanana Gusmao) . Apparently not too long ago the villagers brought out a caravan and parked it on the hill opposite the settlements. The Israeli army confiscated the caravan so the village brought another one. The soldiers asked "why is it that you have brought another caravan to this spot. You aren't allowed a caravan here this is government land. We are going to have to remove this one."
Brnat (pictured above: right with ISMer's Asha Ashkar back and David Kreuer front) said they asked why the soldiers have not taken the settlements. The soldiers responded by saying the could not remove the settlements because they were constructed already. The army then left saying that if the caravan was still there in 24 hours it would be removed. So the whole community got together and constructed the outpost so by the soldiers logic it could not be removed.
It was raining that day but the community persisted in building this room. When the soldiers the next day to remove the caravan. They saw the structure and were upset. Israel will now have trouble destroying the outpost when even by Israeli law these settlements are illegal.
I stayed overnight in this one room with many members of ISM and the community. The settlement literally obstructs everyday life. We struggled to get water as the ground water can only be accessed by the settlements not the locals. We also had lunch delayed by several hours as the people supplying us with food had to wait for Israeli soldiers to leave before they could cross the illegal road on Palestinian land.
I was asked by Brnat as to why I was here. He thanked me for my solidarity and he said that "if they weren't facing occupation and Australia was that he would help liberate Australia." I then discussed with him the situation facing Indigenous people here in Australia. We talked about colonialism and occupation. He said "I am sorry that I was not around 200 years ago to help the people of Australia resist the occupation and that I have my own occupation here." I told him about the tent embassy in Canberra and how like the outpost it was a symbol of resistance that was under constant threat of being removed. I look forward to seeing the next demonstration which is taking place tomorrow.
An amazing election day!
There were hundreds of Palestinians surrounding the polling station as well as international observers- from former US President Jimmy Carter to different NGO's and peace groups- making the crowd outside the polling station number well over a thousand. Teens handed out election material, something that was actually in violation of election regulations however given the ban by the Israeli government on campaigning this seemed like a good thing. People were ecstatic. The place being a Fatah strong hold had several people chanting. Occasionally a candidate would come to the polling booth and there would be cheers from various sections of the demonstration.
Talking to people there was a real enthusiasm. The people I talked to were planning to vote for individual candidates rather then a list from a particular party. A man showed me a voting card for Fatah with 6 names in Arabic. He said "of these only two are good. The rest corrupt."
The crowd grew even more as a Palestine Peace Coalition (PPC) staged a hundred strong rally outside the polling booth. The rally was non-factional criticising the Israeli government for only allowing 6,300 Palestinians in East Jerusalem to register in this election.
A women was applauded for waving the Palestinian flag, illegal in Jerusalem under Israeli law. Yet the police stayed at bay and barely went past the polling both.
There was a large police presence about 500 meters away with a Zionist rally of 20 people congregated with Israeli flags saying that this land was Israel and the Palestinians had no right to vote for the PA if they wanted to live in Jerusalem. When I approached to ask why the rally was so small, an organiser told me that there were only 20 people because the police said they could only have 20. Yet it didn't look like they had any supporters near by and they packed up pretty early.
The voting went on till 7pm thankfully undisrupted. I went to the ISM office in Ramallah before checking out what celebrations were being had. I went past a place in Old Ramallah that was the headquaters for Hamas. I talked with them for a bit and they were relatively friendly. I talked at length with one of their leaders.
One of the things that concerns me about this election, which was backed up by my conversation with this Hamas leader and backed up by a conversation I had with a Palestinian ISMer, is that there really doesn't seem to be a strategy for how to resist the occupation. Fatah and Hamas had lots to say on the occupation but nothing on the types of demonstrations, negotiations, boycotts, warfare etc that they feel are needed to defeat the occupation.
What he said next scared me even more. I tried talking to him about some of the criticisms of Hamas that I had heard during the election about them being just for the Muslims and not relating to the Christian Palestinian population. He didn't seem to think that it was relevant and he talked about America being run by the Jews. I tried saying that in Australia many Jews are opposed to the occupation and many feel that after the holocaust that happened. He then tried to deny that the Holocaust had ever happened and that there could have been only 100,000 at most Jews killed. I asked him if it matters and didn't he think that was a lot anyway but I didn't get much of a response. All I can say is I hope if Hamas does end up running the PA that we hear more about resisting the occupation and less about holocaust denial.
After fleeing that quite uncomfortable situation I ended up in the centre of Ramallah watching the post election celebrations. Cars with different Palestinian flags drove around central Ramallah firing machine guns in the air. Whilst I think the PA is not going to do anything major hopefully the inspiration of this election will help build the actual activist movement in Palestine. With Hamas negotiation is less likely to occur. The Palestinian people have nothing left to negotiate with and so the resistance will need to find its own way.
One person said they voted for Fatah because if Hamas wins the US and Israel will not accept it. However as another person pointed out Israel wanted the Palestinians to elect Mahmoud Abbas, they did and there has been no progress so now they plan to do the opposite.
[Feel free to write feedback, questions etc.]
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Real Democracy in the Middle East (no it is not Israel)
Even before I reached Ramallah standing at the Qualandia checkpoint there were posters for the election everywhere. The service taxi's (a hybrid between a bus and a taxi) were shrines for various political factions. They were covered in stickers and posters inside and out. Flags and political murals likewise decorated the service's. Different service's played different songs supporting various factions, in a style that one could easily dance to. Even as the service's were taking off campaigners would stick more stickers on the windows.
In Ramallah the election fever was even more extreme. You could barely find a single shop that didn't have a candidate in the window (sometimes 10). From cafe's to hardware stores, to mainstream clothing and video outlets, they all presented their candidates. Banners were hanging every few meters across the streets with different factions represented. Cars, like the service taxi's, were covered to the brim in material. Some of them were even loudhailing the songs that I heard in the Taxi.
Houses down back streets were being used as campaigning centres as everyone set out promoting their material. Newspapers were being handed out on the street as well as pamphlets saying what the candidates stood for. The posters carried various symbols of Palestinian struggle with handcuffed pictures of candidates being a promotional point in material. Many of the posters also had pictures of Arafat and people who had been assassinated by Israel. Whilst in Australia most posters in the elections are limited to the smiling face of the candidate (or the leader of the party) with no description whatsoever, these posters had content.
Whilst I cannot read Arabic they had a fair few words on them, long slogans at the very least. Those that I had translated contained demands such as the right of return for Palestinian Refugees, and for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. There were also several small rallies that were taking place.
In the city square Fatah was holding a rally of about 150 people whilst only a few blocks away Hamas held a marching band of about 60 young people mostly about 6-15. I don't know enough about the young people here to comment on their political awareness, although I have my reservations about this.
Even in the small town of Bil'lin the town was plastered with posters and had a local Fatah campaigning centre.
I wondered, given that the passion here [in Bil'lin and Ramallah] was so high, why wasn't there any sign of the election taking place in East Jerusalem? According to the ISM media co-ordinator campaigning for the election has been banned by the Israeli government. Only 5,000 of the 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem will be eligible to vote in this election. People are able to vote only by obtaining tickets which were in limited number (I will find out more about this tomorrow).
At this stage it looks like Hamas will win. Hamas is expected to win for a few reasons. The first is a belief by many of the Palestinians that Fatah is corrupt. Fatah certainly has lacked internal democracy having not had a National Congress since 1989. This allowed Fatah and the PA leadership to act without scrutiny in the name of unity. Fatah has also been seen to compromise too much with Israel at times, such as in the Oslo accord when they agreed to Israel maintaining the Israeli roads and settlements that relegate any future Palestinian state to a series of bandtustan. Some of the people I spoke to defending Fatah felt that this election was a real shaking up of Fatah and that the Fatah list contained an emerging leadership that is different to the old Fatah.
The charges of corruption where not helped by allegations that the US is backing Fatah. The Washington post put out an article By Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler:
ISM holding strong despite numbers.
The last few days have resulted in some amazing experiences and I figure it is better to put them into separate entries then cramming it into this one report.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
New look Hamas hires image consultant (Guardian)
New-look Hamas spends #100k on an image makeover; Spindoctor admits he has 'work cut out' with group known forsuicide attacksBy Chris McGreal in RamallahThe Guardian20 January 2006http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1690565,00.html
"Hamas is paying a spin doctor $180,000 (#100,000) topersuade Europeans and Americans that it is not a group ofreligious fanatics who relish suicide bombings and hate Jews... Abdel Aziz Rantisi [the former Hamas leader killed byIsrael two years ago] was on television saying things thatforeigners cannot accept, like we will remove Israel fromthe map. He should have talked about Palestiniansuffering. He should have said we need this occupationended. Foreigners will accept this," he [Hamas' new media spokesperson] said."
Trouble getting through to Israel
They looked through my bags and asked me about odd items in my bag, not because they were a safety risk but to try and interrogate the reason for my trip. They also wanted to know why I came through Egypt. I told them it was cheaper (which it was), but I have the feeling that if I said I was hanging out with the Egyptian locals it would have been used against me. They also only gave me a 1 month visa compared with the 3 month visa you can get at the airport At least it isn't an Australian Temporary Protection Visa (TPV).
Media wrap up on Bahrain
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Bahrain less boring then I thought.
I talked to a few locals who said they were expecting a protest of unemployed people in Bahrain and they were expecting a clash. I asked if they were expecting a protest of a few hundred. Several people in separate conversations said they expected at least 1000. Now Bahrain only has a population of about 650,000 so for there to be that many people who would be prepared to defy the police weapons I saw is quite incredible. A few people said that against the police the protesters throw rocks. The police looked like making their stand at the square I was in but then they started to move. I took a photo, which I may post later. The police tried to detain me and insisted I delete the photo. Thankfully my camera ran out of battery at this point and I couldn't get in to delete it.
The photo only shows a few police and unfortunately doesn't capture the scale of the operation. I asked what was going on and that I was just a tourist. They said that I couldn't take photo's of police during "emergency measures." I asked what the emergency was and they quickly backed down and said no "this is a standard operation." Anyway the police vans moved to another location. I tracked them down there. Again they stayed waiting for demonstrators for another hour before driving off. I don't know if the protest was cancelled or they moved or what happened. I will check the news tonight but I doubt given their attitude to my camera there will be much.
I did a quick google and it turns out that there is a high at least 13% official unemployment rate in Bahrain. There has been a bit of a movement but fairly sketchy coverage. The protests were directed against the government and I wouldn't be surprised if it is targeted at the fact that Bahrain has a very high number of skilled laborers coming in, probably at the expense of training the local population. I don't know enough to comment. Shame to leave at this point but such is life. At least we can be certain that even in somewhere like Bahrain the struggle continues.
If anyone has any information on the Bahrain workers movement I would love to hear it.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Some Palestine Stuff in the Bahrain media
What was very clear looking at the newspaper as a whole though was the deep interest in Palestine with a front cover article on someone throwing a stone at an Israeli tank in Qaulquli (a town in the West Bank). If you go further into the newspaper it has an article on Mahmoud Abbas the head of the Palestinian Authority saying that he believes Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharron's replacement is "a man he can do business with." This close to the Palestinian elections I doubt it will win him any favors as it looks like Hamas will increase their vote and may win as the PA at this stage appears to be quite weak in taking action to end the occupation. I will see what happens when I get there.
Lastly there is also a report of a bird flue scare from a chicken farmer in Palestine. Although he was tested and came out clean so it looks like there is nothing to worry about.
US military control of Bahrain
It is huge. It took me about half an hour to walk around. It is right in the middle of Juffair which is about a 2km walk from the Centre of town. It is a huge obstacle for anyone who wants to get past.
After having talked to a Canadian soldier stationed in Dubai on the plane over it seems that western military has a very strong grasp on the Gulf region. I always knew that economicaly but seeing the base gave me a good idea of just how full on the military were here.
Later that evening I ended up wandering around central Manama (as you do) and ended up by total coincidence in an "Aussie/American" bar (actually looked like a restaurant from the outside). It was the first watering hole I had seen since I left Australia. They were very paranoid about security (taking ID and searching bags as you enter).
Interestingly the place was mainly full of US military with a few flight stewards from Gulf Airlines thrown in. So I got chatting with a couple of the military types and they confirmed all the stereotypes of US military. They were the most red neck, pro-bush people. They were still convinced that there was a direct link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda and thought the main problem the US had was Mexicans crossing the border.
But what was scariest was the fact that after we had a few drinks I asked them what their Mission was in Bahrain. They said they didn't know and I don't think they were lying, they just had the we trust our government speech. One of them was even second in command of a Navy boat and they couldn't even provide an official reason why they are hear. The blind (they didn't even try to hide their ignorance) patriotism these soldiers displayed makes you think Trotsky was right about the US being one of the last places a revolution could take place. I know there are smarter soldiers in the US army and there are issues with economic conscription but if this is the US population in Bahrain (and apparently there are Aussies stationed there as well). But no wonder westerners get such a bad rap in some places in the middle east.
Hello from Bahrain
On my way over to Palestine I have ended up in Bahrain. It is a small little Gulf state Island with a population of about 600,000. As I was taking the taxi between the airport and my hotel room they were selling copies of the Gulf daily news. It mentioned a Butchers strike at the central where the Butchers were refusing to receive their daily supply of meat from the Bahrain Livestock Company (BLC) which gets almost all of its meet from Australia. Apparently the cost of meat was raised suddenly from BD1 (about $5 a kilo) to BD1.1 (about $5.50 a kilo).
I went to the central market to check this out
It turns out that it wasn't a strike but a 2 day boycott by the small business owners who were reliant on BLC (leaving the meat market almost bare. BLC has a monopoly on Bahrain meat. BLC would not speak to the owners to explain why they were increasing their prices.