Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Blind men (A possible terrorist threat to illegal Israeli settlements???)

I am now back in Hebron. Every day there are new human rights abuses here it is difficult to keep up. Whilst I was away one of the Internationals was stoned by about 20 settlers and was rushed off to hospital. Yesterday a Palestinian man was ordered onto the ground by an armed soldier before being hit in the head with a gun. There is so many abuses across Palestine that I don't think there is one comprehensive place to find them all. Certainly I encourage people to check out the ISM website as it records far more then I could hope to.

A few days before I got back to Palestine a shift in Hebron began to emerge and we are still trying to work out why. When I was last here the main problem was the settlers and we would try to convince the better soldiers to intervene. Now the problem seems to be the soldiers. They seem to be going on a real power trip lately, checking ID's longer and conducting more intense searches at the checkpoint (having people remove shoes etc.). The soldiers have also been moving around the place testing out their military training with no regard to the civilian population. Even without an emergency they are pointing guns around corners (in all directions for that matter), and running around like something from a Tom Clancy novel. They have been entering buildings randomly as well. Occasionally kicking the odd person in the ankle

But one of the latest things they have been doing is refusing to allow the Palestinians who don't live in the area to enter H2. This refusal to allow Palestinian outsiders is inspite of the reality that settlers regularly bringing large numbers of Jews from around the world here on a tour bus. They have been blocking Palestinians from freely moving around their area to visit friends etc. Today a blind man was denied entry to H2, he has always been allowed into the area before (we see nearly him every day) but today they refused him entry. They kept saying he wasn't allowed in because he didn't live there. It turns out that he did live there and the whole community knows it, but it took 3 ISM activists, one Tel Rumeida Project activist and 3 Machsom Watch (older Israeli women who monitor checkpoints) people; 45 minutes of harassing the Hebron DCO (military command centre) in order to get the soldiers to allow.

This is just another day in Hebron. In Australia you could barely list all the state injustices that are going on. Here there is no comprehensive record. They all become white noise in the ongoing occupation. After this full on day there was a bit of a high point. We went to the community centre in Tel Rumeida where there was a graduation of 20 Palestinians who had completed a course in Hebrew. Apparently a lot of them are looking forward not only to understanding the soldiers and settlers who harrass them but also to having conversations with other Israeli's. Very few of the Israeli's speak arabic. Even the Maschom watch women and many of the activists haven't learnt arabic. I asked Issa (one of the local ISM co-ordinators) about the local communities attitude towards Israelies. He said that most people welcomed them and many had worked with activists here. He said that some locals were fearful that if an Israeli slept the night at a Palestinian house that the settlers might use that as a way of justifying taking over that house (saying it was Israeli land), so many would prefer Israeli activists to come just for the day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Cairo Conference- A lot of Hype but little substance.

I attended the 4th annual Cairo conference in Cairo (funnily enough). It's an activist conference this year the theme was "With the Resistance in Palestine and Iraq.. Against Globalization, Imperialism and Zionism." The conference's two main participants were the International Socialist Tendency (their various branches from the Australian ISO, the British SWP, the Greek SWP etc.), and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of students.

On the International front the conference also had representation from the Red Alliance in the Netherlands, The Canadian Palestine solidarity movement, the Turkish Kurdish Communist Party Marxist Leninist, and group of Anti-Imperialist from Europe. On the Egyptian front there were also Nationalists, Nassarists, Socialists, Islamists etc. With a few journalists etc. However the politics of the IST and the Muslim Brotherhood clearly dominated the conference.

Much of the conference was less a learning experience then being ranted at by people in such a way that sounded like the defeat of imperialism was just around the corner. In terms of Palestine, despite almost every second sentence being about fighting Zionism, it was clear that very few people there had any sense of what was actually going on in Palestine. The IST in a session on the left and Palestine said the Hamas victory was important for 4 reasons:

1. They Refuse to Recognise Israel
2. They Put Refugees back on the agenda
3. Put pressure on other Arab countries to supply aid (with the US withdrawing theirs)
4. Have stated they are not against the Jews

The main problem for Palestine is at this stage not an abstract one of prefering one or two states, but the very real question of how is Palestine going to put pressure on Israel to win any state at all. Fateh has a strategy of negotiation, which they still talk about despite the fact that they have nothing to negotiate with. Hamas has no immediate strategy as to how to apply pressure on Israel to win anything, they have retreated from military action at this point (much more so then Fateh, given that Hamas have not been involved in any attacks for the last 2 years).

Rather then talk about the need to build up popular committees in Palestine like the first intifada the IST kept putting forward their bizarre schema that the road to liberation in Palestine lies in 'Middle-East wide Arab revolt.' .

This strange formula implies the same sort of ridiculous pan-arabism in the same way that Zionists just refer to Palestinians as Jordanian. It is similar to their abstract approach that East Timor should just wait for an Indonesian wide working class revolt top defend them rather than achieve their independence on their own, with whatever assistance they can get. It totally obscures the question of national self determination and works like their attitude towards Scotland or East Timor in the past, that these countries just need to be part of a regional revolt to solve their problems.

All IST delegates said there was no way that Palestine could achieve independence on their own. One even saying to me that "Palestine could not achieve independence because Palestinians are divorced from the means of production in Israel and any general strike by Palestinians could at best hurt 20% of the Israeli economy." Like this stopped East Timor who's GDP was a lot less then 10% of Indonesia.

There wasn't even mention in their speeches of the need to build up the civil movement in Palestine, or any analysis of the decline in 'leftist' Palestinian factions. The IST gave no concern to the need to build up the Palestinian left, or any left for that mater, as an ideological alternative to Islam. Far from it, the whole conference appeared to consist of the IST sucking up to Islamic forces in a fairly opportunist manner.

Rather then using the conference to debate and discuss the real differences between socialist and Islamist solutions, the IST seemed perfectly content to ride on the wave of Islamist popularism without seeing the need to be critical in its support and trying relate to the most progressive elements in the Middle East or trying to politically convince them. This seems to be the same approach the IST is taking with Respect in Britain at the moment choosing to abandon building a real left (a Socialist Alliance) in favor of popularist formation for short term gains.

But then the force of extremism seems to be their call. They expressly stated throughout the conference that they refused to condemn suicide bombings of civilian targets (even though it hurts the cause). They also kept talking about refusing to accept Israel which denies the reality, that Israel has built up a national identity that can't just be sweaped aside in one night. This also simplifies Israeli national identity. Sixty years after the creation of Israel it can not be simply defined in terms of its 'Jewish' characteristics.

The Muslim Brotherhood displayed similar contradictions. They had films on their stalls, interspersing images of legitimate armed Palestinian resistance (currently a small part of the resistance) with suicide bombings of civilians. They even had a T-shirt with the image of a Palestinian fighter and the text on the front "Jihad is the only language they understand" and on the back "When negotiating with the Israelis to get your rights, use the ONLY Language they understand."

The Muslim Brotherhood like the IST seemed to totally oblivious to the fact that the intifada has slowed down. Also Hamas who they support have diverting most of their energy to social programs, not armed resistance as they continue to fetishise. I kept trying to convince some of the delegates that they should travel back with me to Palestine to get a real sense of what is going on. I still can't understand why a Palestine solidarity group would send people to Cairo and not Palestine to develop their understanding of the Palestinian struggle.

Anyway there were some interesting moments at the conference, the democracy movement in Egypt seems to be making progress, particularly there was talk about fighting the 1989 laws banning political free speech on campus. It was rather bizarre though to hear the Islamic Brotherhood argue on one hand for the right to free speech and then complain that the government was diverting people away from being able to engage in serious study and politics on campus by having campus social activities (read parties, possible sexual interaction etc.) .

There was also talk about sending people to Iraq similar to the 'human shields.' A call was also made for an international day of action against war on Iraq to occur on May 6, to coincide with the European Social Forum in Athens.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death 2

After the Bil'in demonstration last week I went to another memorial for the anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death. Even though the event was the anniversary of Corrie's death, the memorial also served to remember the deaths of Tom Hurndall the ISM activist killed only weeks after Rachel and the death of Tom Fox from the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) who worked in Palestine before being executed in Iraq.

The evenings event attracted around 70 people but it felt more flat then anything. The 3 speeches lasted for about 5 minutes each and there was really little emotion in the affair. I don't think a single person cried and could be likened to Macbeth's reaction when his wife died (in Act 5, scene 5, Line 16 if interested). I think people here in Palestine are just really tired and that the pain is just so constant that moments like this become more marking an occasion then engaging a real response.


John - King of the Bil'in outpost

Last Fridays Bil'in protest was significant in a few ways. The soldiers were certainly rougher then usual but the main reason the day was so special was that the village of Bil'in were saying thank you and farewell to my friend John. John has been in Palestine for two months this trip. However unlike most ISMers who move around. John has chosen to spend his entire 2 months living in the 3x3 meter room we so endearingly call the outpost.

Apart from a few days off and the occasional trip into Bil'in to have a shower, John has been hanging around with the kids of Bil'in who visit and getting to know the local wildlife. He even had a little pet mouse until one of the young people in the village killed it (they didn't realise it was his pet and quickly tried to replace it). John new every inch of the outpost and the surrounding area. He had made it his home, having renovated it with a door, storage system etc.

Algazera heard about Johns story and came to John's final Bil'in demonstration to do a documentary about John the 37 year old from Ireland who slept in a shed. We marched down from the village carrying a wall made out of an iron frame and Styrofoam. We used this mock wall to try and get to the real wall and the police responded with absolute violence. They hit us and pushed us around breaking my camera (this and the next post could be the last pictures on my blog that you see, sorry). Finally the soldiers just maintained a fairly thin line in front o the demonstration.

The soldiers tried to declare the area (Bil'in land) a closed military zone and instructed the demonstration to move back. However they were unsuccessful. And we continued to protest. Because the demonstration was out in the open moving around or occasional through the soldier line was easy. Many of us moved to the wall and started hitting a small fence in front of the wall with stones. The soldiers would then come to drag us back one by one, but more of us kept coming (as well as the original people coming back).

The rally ended on a high with the people of Bil'in carrying John in the air and handing him a plaque from the Bil'in Popular Committee. The village chanted John's name and it looks like one of the outposts will now be named after him.

So if you want a camping holiday, learn some Arabic with a wonderful community and become a local legend, come to Bil'in there is still an unnamed outpost.


Anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death.

Last Week marked the 3rd Anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death. Corrie was an ISM activist who was run over by a bulldozer and murdered whilst preventing a home demolition in the west bank To commemorate the occasion ISM organised for a film about Rachel Corrie to be projected on the apartheid wall near Qalandiya checkpoint. Unfortunately there were several technical errors and the night was particularly cold preventing people from watching the whole film. However people streamed past to express their solidarity and thanks for her life.



Mary my 75 year old comrade [see earlier posts] in Hebron wrote this poem 2 years ago about her thoughts on the human face of the soldiers carrying out Israel's bidding.


Faces without expressions, poker faced,
So tense that I can feel the strain.
So young, they are almost children.
Innocence lost.
Responding to questions like parrots.
The youth of Israel conscripted
And following orders.

Hawari checkpoint into Nablus.
The young Israeli girl.
Speaking no English.
More confused than I at my first checkpoint.
A twenty odd year old makes a phone call.
And I am through.
Thanks to a special letter.
From Avi a senior officer.

Kalandia checkpoint,
So much destruction.
]The wall looming above.
Long queues of Palestinians.
I join the queue.
Palestinian bags and papers are checked.
Slowly, carefully, slowly, slowly,
Oh so slowly.
Through the swimming pool like turnstile.
I struggle with a suitcase,
Thankfully not full size,
I'm 73 years old.
I hold up my passport.
And suddenly the girl's poker face
Turns to brilliant smile.
"Is everything alright", she calls.
"Yes" I reply.
And I am through unchecked,
So fast.

Small village in the west
Bulldozers with jackhammers,
So close to the village,
Cutting off and cutting down
Olive trees.
Two hundred trees that are loved
And have given life to the people
For so many years
To be destroyed, to build a wall.
A wall that if it exists at all
Should be further from the village.
Irreplaceable trees.

Demonstrations at Budrus.
Soldiers behind us as we turn away
Are suddenly in front of us.
Soldiers given orders to detain us,
For no clear reason.
Cannot tell us why.
One looks away.
A whispered order to attack a Palestinian,
With batons.
We cover him for protection.
I cannot take the weight,
So I'm on top.
I feel the baton coming.
It stops just before my head
My hands are undone gently.
I'm pushed aside,
International men are bashed,
The Palestinian bashed and arrested
Together with a German girl and
Twenty Israeli human rights protestors.

Beit Awwa.
A women's demonstration.
Men babysit or follow behind.
The peaceful aim
To save the olive trees
And the cemetery
From destruction.
In order to build a wall,
So close to the village.
We're close to soldiers,
Close enough to touch.
But that is not allowed.
It may be construed as assault.
Soldiers with rifles pointing to the ground.
Relating to them.
Safe next to them.
The commander yelling
Other soldiers yelling.
Running amok.
Yelling for us to go
But shooting tear gas, sound bombs,
Rubber bullets, live bullets
At those who leave.
People, Palestinians, Danish Israeli,
Shot in the back.
Safer where we are
Pushed over by commander.
Leave and overcome by gas.
It's rough terrain.
Can't scramble at 73.
Safe thank God.
The one God, in whom, we all believe.
Others in hospital in Hebron.

I thought I could hate Israeli soldiers.
But I was a University Lecturer
For thirty years,
A teacher of young men and women.
I cannot hate those whom I love.
The youth of Israel held captive.
How can a nation treat its children so?

Mary Kingsmill Baxter 2004


Its a party and I am not invited.

Purim came to Hebron and I wasn't invited. Like the Palestinians and the other internationals I was told that I had to leave the area outside our apartment because the streets were declared a closed military zone. The reason, a purim march down the main streets of H2. Despite being Jewish I was forced onto the roof of our apartment as the settlers took to the streets in funny costumes. The night before settlers threw stones and fire crackers at Palestinian houses.

That day they were rewarded with exclusive control of the streets. For once the settlers didn't do anything (apart from denying us our basic freedom of movement). The carnival style atmosphere would have been really nice except for all the Palestinians sitting on their roofs while a population that has done everything possible to intimidate them had a party downstairs.
Trying to make the most of the experience Mary and an ISM activist called Margaret started dancing much to the amusement of many of our neighbor's. I actually read the Purim story again that evening. It is a dreadful story about how a women was able to be killed for disobeying her husband. The Jews were saved from being persecuted but then they go on to kill thousands of others. I am not quite sure why the event is worth celebrating but I think the whole from victims to genocide thing probably sums up the settlers ideas rather nicely.


Melbourne Invades Hebron???

After missing Australia for so long I was surprised just how much worlds would be colliding when I arrived in Hebron. One of the Human Rights Volunteers I was working with in Hebron was a 75 year old (deaf) women from the conservative Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. Mary Baxter has traveled to Palestine a few times in recent years and was working with me to escort Palestinian kids to school, so for any person under the age of 75 reading this blog with all their senses in tact you have no excuses to not get involved.

Mary is an absolute inspiration, she is out at 7am on most mornings escorting Palestinian kids to school. Continuing to keep an eye out for the young boys in H2 despite having been physically attacked by settlers on two separate occasions. Mary was a delight to work with. She was great with the kids and very practical when a frequent emergency occurred. The former lecturer in statistics who in retirement actually went back to uni and studied Psychology under the tuition of my mum a few years ago (who gave her High Distinctions).

But the local connection didn't end there. One of the soldiers I talked to was from Israel but has Australian parents. He spent his final two years of High School at Bialik College in Melbourne. He was actually arguing with me against one of his fellow soldiers. I raised with the two soldiers the fact that many of the people I met in Israel learnt about the contradictions between maintaining a Jewish State and maintaining a democratic state. Whilst the other soldier said that ultimately he would choose a Jewish state over a democratic one, the Australian disagreed saying that Israel needs to strive for a democracy inclusive of the whole population.

But the Melbourne connection did not end there. Sadly whilst exploring around the settlements in Hebron I came across a building called "The Gutnick Center" which was renovated by Rabbi Joseph Gutnick former President of the Melbourne Football Club and a Melbourne local capitalist. There are plaques right around the settlements indicating that the settlers are supported by Zionists abroad.

I remember when I was a kid and we were told that some of the money we were donating to the local synagogue was to go to help Israel. Sadly looking at things now I suspect that most of the money donated by Jews from Australia was being used to expand into the West Bank and Gaza rather then helping poor Israelis.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Village of the Damned- Comes to life in Hebron Settlments

Hebron or Al Kalil (Arabic name), is the second largest Palestinian city (the largest being Jerusalem even if you were to just count its Arabic population).

The city is amazing its hills provide an amazing mosaic and it has some of the best savory food in the West Bank (Nablus still has me for sweets), even if the vast majority of food outlets close by 8pm. But there is a major problem in Hebron an extremist settler population that believes the whole of Palestine should belong to Israel.

Hebron is divided into two sections H1 and H2. H1 like most other major Palestinian Centres is meant to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In reality the Army can enter H1 whenever it likes, however H1 Hebron is rare according to locals in that Israel hasn't put a curfew on the town for more then 3 day since the start of the occupation. The reason for this is that Hebron has for a long time been a major business centre with links to Israel and any sustained lock down on Hebron would severely hurt the Israeli economy (business comes first).

The Settler population occasionally illegally enters H1 from H2 (will discuss H2 later). Waving their guns around. Harassment in the Old City markets caused the shops to close. Now a few shops have started to re-open but without the traffic it used to get, the shop owners in the old city barely manage to make ends meat.

Some of the settlements border H1 and rubbish is frequently dropped on the street. Today wire mesh covers those streets to prevent rubbish and random items like bits of concrete from hitting people on the head.

But H1 is a fairly nice place compared to H2 (20% of the city). To get from H1 to H2 you have to walk through a little train carriage looking checkpoint, stepping through the looking glass. H2 is where 3,000 soldiers guard 500 settlers, some of them armed.

These settlers aren't just standard orthodox like those in Modi'in Elite (one of the settlements near Bil'in) these people are rabid in their attempts to scare Palestinians from their homes.

5 year old settler children throw stones and bricks at Palestinians and internationals who are trying to defend the Palestinians right to be there. I have even seen a couple of them attack soldiers who tried to tell them what to do. Stone throwing and other settler violence is usually the domain of the kids 5-13 who can't be charged for their actions. As an ISM activist who works for child protection in Canada points out in the West such children would be classified as juvenile delinquents and be taken away from their parents.

The parents fully support there kids though attacking Palestinians laughing behind lines of kids (and even attacking when no one is looking). They will do all sorts of things to intimidate foreign activists such as taking pictures of them with telescopic cameras and telling them that they "prey each day that the Arabs will come and kill them."

But the people who continue to intimidate and commit violence are the settlers and here just getting Palestinians to school each day is a challenge. The staircase in this photo (right) is the single largest point of contact between settlers and Palestinians. This photo is of two internationals taking some kids down the stairs when some of the older settler girls were hanging around outside the school tormenting the kids.

The settlers kids appear like they are possessed and the most innocent looking kids (of all ages and both genders) will attack you without saying a word the second you say hello. They are also fairly indiscriminate in who they attack with their victims ranging from a Palestinian 10 year old who was stoned and fell down a hill breaking his arm, to a 75 year old women from Melbourne who was kicked last week (second time she was attacked).

The soldiers in H2 play a real contradictory role. Some soldiers will tell you that there job is just to protect the settlers. Other soldiers just want there to be peace in the neighborhood and will intervene and stop the settlers from acting up. Part of our job was trying to convince the soldiers and police to do what should be their job, and to work with the best soldiers against those who stand idly by whilst settlers attack people and then deny it later.

The soldiers often accuse the international activists of provoking the settlers, saying that aggravate them by filming when they do something wrong, especially if it is Shabat. Settler kids will be preventing Palestinian kids from getting home and vandalising their houses and six soldiers in one incident I was involved with would rather stick their guns into an internationals chest and tell them to stop filming rather then do something about the settlers. Even though we never film the settlers unless they are doing something they shouldn't

But then the soldiers often have a funny idea of provocation shutting down the Palestinian shops on Shohada street, because they are too close to one of the settlements. Palestinians, but not settlers are frequently asked to have their ID's checked for half an hour. But the settlers and their visitors are never checked. And some of the settlers are allowed to carry guns. According to the soldiers the settlers with guns are only a "select trusted group," the question that needs to be asked is why do 500 settlers with 3,000 soldiers to protect them from a disarmed Palestinian population need guns?

Most of the settlers are only there for about 6 months as the small transient population is unable to sustain an economy despite heavy subsidisation. The question needs to be raised, in a country with one of the highest rich poor divides surely there has to be a better way of spending money then defending a colony of extremists.

Looking through some of the Palestinian houses where the inhabitants had been scared off by settlers I found a lot of racist graffiti. Amongst the Cartoons of Arabs hanging and graffiti saying Mohammad is a Pig I found this particularly disturbing logo (see below). It is the logo of Kahane Chai a Jewish Terrorist group that is even considered terrorist by Israel and their ally the United States. The group seeks to purge what they consider Israel of Arabs and they have been connected to several terrorist attacks including the gunning down of 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque 12 years ago. Their website and their philosophy can be found at . This is the sort of hate message that drives these extremist settlers who are propped up by Israel.


Beit Sira rallies continue but lacking exit strategy.

Sorry I haven't posted for a while but there has been a lot happening and I am playing catch up. The demonstration in Beit Sira on Friday the 10th mobilised a large section of the local population (at least the towns male population), as well as Israelis and Internationals.

The rally in usual fashion marched up the road. The road was half the size it had previously been. Where there was once road the army placed olive trees replanted from a few meters west where the wall is set to be. Yet again a generous act to try and soften the blow of land confiscation.

When we marched down the road instead of being confronted by the regular soldiers or even border police we were confronted by the armies special operations unit. The soldiers formed a thick block on the road a line and declared the area a closed military zone. They instructed the people to leave but the people of Beit Sira refused to be intimidated. However with no plans or any sort of creative action the people of Beit Sira simply stayed for what seemed like an hour and then left. This caused frustration amongst many of the young people who began the usual play of throwing stones.

Part of the problem in Palestine at moment is that there are some small villages that are protesting against the wall but they are small and other villages aren't backing them up. There are internationals and Israelis who travel the country but the only Palestinians who seem to be backing up the struggles in other towns is a handful of ISMers. The Palestinian struggle seems tired after 5 years of intifada and whilst Beit Sira and Bil'in are inspiring at the moment they are isolated.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


International Womens Day in Jerusalem

International women's Day (I'D) near Jerusalem. There were 118 women and 5 men (including myself) gathered at AR Rum checkpoint. Apparently it was advertised as a women's march but the organisers were happy for men to be there.

The organisers asked that the men stay near the back/sides not so much because it was a women lead demonstration. But as one of the women who did checkpoint watch explained to me, "Palestinian women feared getting arrested and the police would be more likely to obstruct or arrest a group with men who could be more easily be portrayed as starting violence."

Amongst the women there appeared to be a fair mix of Israel's and Palestinian women, as well as internationals. The proportions difficult to calculate give the number of Palestinian women without head coverings that could have been Israelis (and vice versa). Needless to say that it was a really melting pot of women, old, young, alternative and more conservative in appearance etc.

The rally was organised by the Jerusalem Centre for Women (JCW). There were placards throughout the rally in Hebrew, Arabic and English with slogans like 'War means unemployment,' 'Dismantle the settlements NOW,' 'House Demolitions Violate Women,' etc. The rally also had many placards particularly reflecting the politics of the Jerusalem Centre For women with the words "Jerusalem two capitals for two states.'

The rally was a fairly quiet one. Mid march the women moved from the footpath to line the Apartheid wall. Apparently many of the Israeli activists who would have attended were attending another IWD demonstration in Nazareth.

We marched from AR Rum checkpoint to Qalandiya checkpoint which isn't too far away. These two checkpoints like many other checkpoints are very close together (especially by car) forcing Palestinians to go through a gauntlet of ID checks. When we marched to Qalandiya we received a very positive reaction from all the Palestinians walking out of the check point.

The Rally provided a rare opportunity for me amongst the various media people take a few pictures of Qalandiya's entrance something I am not normally able to do because it like all other checkpoints are 'closed military zones'


Update on Mohammad Mansour's trial

Mohammad Mansour (the older one in the photo) appeared in court on the 8th of February for his 11th court appearance relating to "crimes" committed at a demonstration in 2004. See "Palestinian activist to face apartheid court and "Mohammad Mansour: Still free, but still pursued by the occupation" both written in mid February for more background information on the case.

After Mansour's last court case he was "invited" to two meetings with Israeli Intelligence [see the previous posts]. He appeared for his first interogation in the latest series of interview but they never saw him. They just kept him waiting in a small room for hours. Days before his second interview Mansour had a heart attack at the age of 34. He was able to avoid waiting again with the Israeli Intelligence, by showing the note from his doctor.

His court appearance date was changed without reason however from March 21st to March 8th. Mansour's attendance in court was made difficult like all the previous court appearances by the fact that Mansour's Palestinian ID does not authorise him to be in Jerusalem, forcing us to avoid checkpoints in order to reach Jerusalem. When Mansour arrived in court on March 8th the prosecution again asked for more time (as though 20 months wasn't enough time). The case was put off for the 11th time, this time until September 10th.

Mansour really just wants this to be all over, so he can continue peacefully resisting the occupation.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Soldiers shamed by checkpoint

Yesterday there was a demonstration against the wall and checkpoints in Tulkarem. We were at a checkpoint called Jebara where the wall has cut off a small village of about 500 people. Obviously 500 people aren't a self sufficient economy and they desperately need free access to the town of Tulkarem and surrounding villages for basic supplies and things like school. When we got there the army was hardly pleased to see us. They had already fired shots in the air and unlike most demonstrations where the army keeps their fire arms by their side, here they kept them raised upwards. They were rather annoyed by the fact that there were so many press and activists with cameras.

The Army kept threatening to have peoples camera's confiscated and they even threatened to "break" me if I proceeded to take pictures. But there was nothing they could do as we continued to take photo's whilst chanting and gathering around the checkpoint. '

The people of Tulkarem are planning on making this a weekly Saturday demonstration, which is great especially given that there are already so many Saturday rallies. There was also a very healthy number of women at this rally, which I think was in no small part due to an active Women's Union in Tulkarem.

One thing which hit home for me just how this Apartheid system works was a sign at the checkpoint with the words "Dear Citizen: Entrance to this village is forbidden for Israeli Citizens by order of the IDF commander of the region.

I couldn't get a look at the second half of the sign but just as the South African Apartheid regime didn't want White South Africans to see how the Black population lived, Israel also wants to deny its citizens from seeing how the Palestinian people live.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Aboud Stops Construction on the Wall

The people of Abud recieved a court decision on Thursday by the Israeli High court to cease construction og the wall in that area for 14 day. Despite this on Thurday at around 11am villagers still saw the bulldozers hard at work, confiscating their lands. A rally of 100 Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals marched down holding the court decison in their hands to make sure the decision was enforced.

We marched down from the village and onto the road but the millitary were expecting us to march over the hill. When the Army couldn’t physically block us because they were too far away, they resorted to tear gas, but the rally pushed through. The army finally caught up with us. After a sound bomb was fired and a lot of shouting they were finally prepared to talk. They promised that they had ceased construction 1 hour ago and that they were no longer going to violate the court order (maybe it was just because it was the start of their weekend). The villagers said they would be watching and that they would be back if they violated the court order again.

The barrier near Aboud has already been completed on the Green Line 6 kilometers west of the village and now an additional fence on Aboud land close to the village will annex the Israeli Bet Arye and Ofarim settlements. These settlements were illegally established in the 1980’s on Aboud’s land. The separation barrier will annex more of the villages farmland to Israel in violation of international law.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Meeting with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)

This post has been a long time coming. Two weeks ago I had an interview with Nihad Abugosh the Media co-ordinator for the DFLP and Mohammad Salameh the National Co-ordinatior of the Palestinian Democratic Youth Union (PDYU), the youth organisation connected to the DFLP. I wanted to post this a lot sooner but as you can understand from my other recent posts I have been held up. So this is the information I gathered from them.

The DFLP is a split from the Peoples front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). They split in 1969. At that time they felt the PFLP weren't socialist and had a Pan Arab ideology (Bathast). At the same time they didn't want to support the Jordanian Communist Party (the precursor of the Palestinian Peoples Party (PPP, see "Initial impressions of the Palestinian Peoples Party and the Israeli Communist Youth." posted Feb 9). The DFLP were critical of the PPP for not supporting the armed struggle and for being too close to the soviet union.

As Abughosh put it "we were the only group to combine the Marxist Lenist tradition with the question of National Liberation." Although Abughosh said later on they developed relations with what he viewed as soviet countries "Cuba, Algeria, etc." In 1973 the DFLP, felt that Israel had formed as a nation an changed its position to a 2 states for 2 nations solution. By 1975 all major political factions adopted the DFLP program. This program called for:
  1. 2 states
  2. The right of return for all Palestinian refugees
  3. Self determination for Palestine. (this point sounds like a repeat of point one but it was actually to highlight conflicts with Jordan

From this position unlike the other Palestinian factions the DFLP decided to limit their armed struggle to the occupied territories rejecting attacks on Israel. Later on when the first intifada began, the DFLP tried to put forward a program for the intifada. In this program the first thing they wanted to do was make sure that people recognised that it was an intifada. Many of the other Palestinian factions just thought it was a number of spontaneous actions and that there was no qualitative change in the movement. The program that they put forward for the movement argued that the intifada needed a leadership and that it be "popular, democratic, civilian based, strikes etc."

Abugosh had high praise for the early years of the intifada but due to a lack of local leadership and Fateh's control of the money etc. Hamas was formed and the intifada became more elite in its focus, more focused on the armed resistance.

The DFLP thought that Oslo wasn't a good thing, not because they didn't support a peace process but because Oslo failed to take up any of the Palestinian concerns "settlements, checkpoints, land, refugees etc." They felt the exiled Fateh leadership didn't represent the interests of the Palestinian people and that local negotiators were more effective.

The DFLP felt that the the Palestinian people need the right to resist the occupation but that the main nature of the resistance needed to be civilian. They saw the reasons why the second intifada were less effective had to so with this change in emphasis away from mass actions in the cities, as well as Israel's immediate response of shooting unarmed demonstrations.

I asked the DFLP about ideology and they said that in the "daily struggle we don't speak much about ideology." I pushed this a bit further and as it turns out that whilst they don't run like Marxist forums they said that it comes out in there strategy and it comes out "in the practical application of their theory." He explained this in terms of confronting the Hamas ideas of "moral corruption," that the problem is people aren't following Islam etc, with the reality of ideas for mass struggle opposing the ideas of individual heroism etc. They like the PPP have summer camps but in these there is actually ideological training, for their activists if no one else. And they are trying to take up various issues of culture, the environment and trying to involve women as activists. One of the websites for their organisation that they showed me had a series of pictures of thinkers who had influenced the party, amongst them Lenin, chi Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Trotsky (although they did sort of question Trotsky being there)

They talked about how the party organises itself into fractions around areas of work or study. On Campus the DFLP and the PDYU are very weak according to Salameh because the other factions bribe students to vote for them rather then spending student money on organising students. Salameh is in his early 40's but is the co-ordinator of the youth organisation. The PDYU has a maximum age of 35 but Salameh was elected at the age of 34 at their last national congress in 1998, they are trying to organise a new congress this year.

Interestingly Salameh was at the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) meeting in Venezuela last year and met with Chavez (apparently there are still DFLP people over there). They also are maintaining relations with Cuba.

After my interview with the DFLP people I watched a brilliant movie called Matzpen about a split from the Israeli Communist Party that was "anti-capitalist and against the occupation." Apparently this group was doing a lot of work with the DFLP during the 70's. I haven't seen much of the activist work of the DFLP but I hope to be able to maintain links with the DFLP comrades and find out more.


Beit Sira a tactical retreat?

Tuesdays demonstration at Beit Sira was the shortest demonstration I have been to in Palestine and maybe one of my shortest ever. Palestinian Hussni Rayan (Right) and Matah Cohen were both seriously injured when shot with rubber bullets at last Fridays Beit Sira demonstration. Rayan was shot with a blunt rubber bullet so close that it punctured 8 centremeters into his body almost hitting vital organs, whilst Cohen was shot in the ey with a similar bullet and may loose his eyesight in that eye.

The impact of this was a much more tame and symbolic action at Beit Sira. There was large amounts of media keen to see a repeat of what they missed on Friday. We marched up to the road to plant olive trees to replace those that had been torn out by the bulldozers. We were stopped at the edge of the village by the soldiers, well before the points that we had previously been stopped. The popular committe negotiated with the soldiers that we be allowed to have a few people pass to plant trees. The soldiers allowed it. Even with the eyes of the world and the Israeli masses on the demonstration they decided not to push through. On the one hand the symbolic demonstration worked yet on the other hand a lack of being able to channel the young peoples anger again resulted in stone throwing at the end.

In my opinion the popular committee were too quick to negotiate and too quick to accept the armies terms. The people need to be able to resist what is happening to their village. It is funny in Australia pushing through police lines at many demonstrations would be seen as ultra-left in that it would alienate people from coming to demonstration but here the masses are already convinced of the need to act against the occupation. My fear is that people are starting to find the demonstrations ineffective. The real question that remains unanswered is how are we going to win?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Palestinians collectively punished for my 'mistake'

Having been through the stress and anxiety of the Balata invasion, I wanted to take some souvenirs back with me. After you experience something like that you worry that if you don't have anything tangible coming out of it maybe none of it ever happened and it was all some sick twisted nightmare. It was hard for me to believe what I went through so why would anyone else?

So I packed one of the many Israeli smoke grenade that littered the ground into my bag before leaving for Ramallah. I walked with it in the bottom of my bag through Huwwara checkpoint. After passing through the checkpoint I jumped into a service taxi (like a cheap taxi but the driver waits for it to fill up with people going in the same direction before heading off). The car was stopped at a flying (non-permanent) checkpoint, by Israeli soldiers. Our car was picked for a random search and they instructed us to all leave the car. The soldier then instructed the driver to open all of our bags and rummaged through them.

When they reached my bag they found the smoke grenade in my bag. The army proceeded to take all of our ID's and radio them in. They instructed us to tip out the content of all our bags and for the driver to empty the car. Even though the smoke grenade canister was empty, the Israeli army still brought in the bomb squad. They searched every inch of the car. Yet despite having searched every inch of the car they still felt the need to hold while they transmitted the details of the Palestinians ID cards and my passport.

We were held for four hours, over that time I kept talking to one of the soldiers who said there was nothing he could do about it. He said that it was a necessary process. In Australia a police officer could tell you in 2 minutes if you had a record and whilst I can understand a bit of leeway 4 hours for 7 Palestinians and myself. After the 3rd hour they offered us some rations (cold couscous and pasta).

The soldier kept telling me how dangerous Nablus was and that there was nothing to see there etc. After talking to him it was clear that he had never been to Nablus or had spent any time in the occupied territories outside of uniform. I told him that since he searched the car he should let all the Palestinians go and I would take full responsibility for my actions (which still weren't a crime). The soldier refused and when I compared the collective punishment of the Palestinians and his following orders attitude to being akin to what the Nazi's did he was clearly shaken. He told me I had crossed a line and he refused to discuss things any further. I persisted saying that he was treating these people like animals. He attempted to disprove this by the fact that he offered us cold food after 3 hours.

Finally they handed me my passport and the ID's to 5 of the 7 Palestinians. Apparently the other two were on a list as being "of interest." The soldier couldn't tell me what that meant but he did say that "it wasn't necessarily a bad thing." He said this as though we were waiting in the cold for four hours because they could have one the lottery. What he meant was that they weren't necessarily guilty of something but they were to be interrogated. The thing that I found the most frustrating was that they checked their ID's because my bag was suspicious, not because of anything they did.

We then waited for an hour before they announced that the two Palestinians would be detained. We tried to insist that we should be allowed to go with them but the soldiers refused. So we had no choice but to leave them with the army. I felt really awful because my actions may have been the only reason why they checked the Palestinians ID's. But even if they hadn't of found the empty grenade in my bag, they could have still checked everyone's ID. I was at Huwwara once before and they found magazines in my bag which they confiscated (even though I got those magazines in West Jerusalem).

The occupation is horrible makes Palestinian people feel so powerless, unable to control their own lives. One of the Palestinians commented that Israel was probably worried that I would show people in Australia. I thought he just meant I would show the Australian people that Israel was attacking civilians, but he also meant that Israel was worried that outsiders might test the traces of weapons that Israel was using to find out if they are legal. Israel after all has used chemical weapons that they refused to identify and continue to deny their nuclear weapons program that is common knowledge.


School Students Protest??? Questionable politically

Whilst students cutting class to demonstrate against racism and war in Australia is an act of defiance (particularly if they are junior students). Here in Palestine the schools bring them out in buses.

I stumbled upon a group of students from a girls school in Nablus protesting against the defaming of the prophet Mohammad by European newspapers. I think the students generally believed it and part of me thinks that it is no worse then when I was in year four and our teacher encouraged us to write letters to the French embassy about Nuclear testing. The only difference is that it is teaching them a mass action way of doing things rather then lobbying politicians through letter writing. Still I kind of think it takes away from the whole rebelling against the system thing.


Funerals and Memorial for those killed in Balata (and those left behind)

The people of Balata gathered for the funeral of those that had died in the incursion. Here in Palestine everyone knows their entire village. Houses don't have street numbers and often there aren't even street names. Directions can be given relative to everyone else's house.

This left the internationals franticly running behind the local Palestinian who knew the area during the incursion. Statements from the various Palestinian factions were passed around those gathered stating what they thought that the deaths meant in terms of the 'peace process' about the need to resist the occupation etc. They put these deaths into the broader context of the occupation, previous martyrs, etc.

Far from it being taboo to talk politics at the funeral or discussing the details of death the people of Balata are so used to it that they will share what ever information they can at such times in order to further the anti-occupation struggle.

After the funeral we were taken around to a house where some of the fighters were killed. The army surrounded the house and exploded everything inside killing the fighters who were hiding in the roof. Palestinians are aware that the choice to become a fighter is the reality that they will either die young or face life in prison.

We then proceeded to the hospital where we met many of the people that were injured during the "incursion." Many of them were just young kids shot with live rounds.

The activists who were here for the latter part of the invasion left for Ramallah for a debrief. I stayed for a memorial service for those who had died.

There was no one with me who could translate but from what I could tell it was a political rally, with rally sounding speeches, talk of intifada and guns being fired in the air. There were many fighters there waving guns in the air. I couldn't help but wish these fighters were actually there to help Balata when the army was there. It is a society where everyone seems to talk tough to deal with tragedy. Friends of mine don't acknowledge pain publicly but when you get to know them, you know they are hurting but this is the way they deal with it.


Armed groups propaganda distorts a civilian death.

In my post on the invasion of Balata, I mentioned 2 boys who were shot in Balata on the roof of their house. The boys both aged 17 are believed to have been killed with a single bullet by a sniper in an occupied house across the road. The brother of one of the boys was also shot in the leg.

We met up with Mohammed (holding baby) another one of the brothers in the family. The Israeli army has put out press statements stating that the two boys were making a bomb, but as Mohammed pointed out "everyone knew the house across the road was occupied by soldiers, so why would the pair be dumb enough to make a bomb in plain sight." The actually room we met Mohammed in was about to become a computer store run by his brother, who had a whole career in front of him (hardly the profile for a bomber).

Yet despite his brothers civilian status, both he and the other boy were made out to be militants appearing in an Al Aqsa Martyr poster. The poster below (unfortunately I forget if it is Mohammad's brother or the other guy), shows him carrying a rifle. The whole image has been photoshoped on a computer to turn the boy into something he isn't and try to turn a victim into some sort of armed hero to spur on the fighters. The side effect of this is to reinforce the Israeli propaganda machine which tries to make out that they only kill militants et.


Personal mistake, passion tactics and continuing the struggle

As we walked from the demonstration at Beit Sira [last post], I heard that the army had re-invaded Balata and that friends of mine, internationals and Palestinian medics were hurt. I raced up to Nablus against the advice of ISM who said they needed me for the next Beit Sira demo, taking place the following day.

When I got to Nablus the army had already left. Whilst I was there an Israeli activist was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet at Beit Sira and a Palestinian was shot with a rubber bullet at close range. The army isn't meant to fire rubber bullets within 70 meter's of the target but the Palestinian was shot so close that the rubber bullet penetrated his skin by about 8 centremeters.
Whilst facing the dangers of a war zone may have potentially been more exciting and felt more urgent, my experience in non-violent direct action would have been more useful in Beit Sira (particularly given we already had people in Nablus and our numbers are down). I might have been able to help prevent casualties in Beit Sira (probably not), or at least helped with the demonstration. I chose the selfish option of going into Nablus to deal with my own crap rather then doing what was right for the team and putting faith in my comrades to deal with the situation.

So why am I telling you that I screwed up. I guess because there are a few lessons that I think activists can draw from my experience. Firstly that the struggle needs people everywhere and organising the "back lines" can be as important as the front. This is particularly important for activists in countries like Australia who need to continue the struggle back home to give courage to those who are facing all sorts of injustice around the world. It is also important in this context to recognise the importance of collective struggle and trusting comrades in different areas.

The Israeli activist may loose his eyesight but the Palestinian will be fine. The Israeli activists organised a protest for Matan Cohen (the Israeli who's eye was shot), on the streets of Tel Aviv. The demonstrators particularly wanted to make the point that this sort of thing happens to Palestinians on a regular basis but it doesn't make the news.

Anyway I ended up in Nablus for the funerals which I will talk about shortly.


Beit Sira: Getting better at effective action Part 2

I arrived late for the Beit Sira demonstration (Wed 23rd of Feb). By the time I got there a large group of people had already formed up right in front of a line of soldiers and behind them drills and bulldozers had stopped. Apparently just before I arrived some of the Israeli activists had jumped on top of the Caterpiller equipment. This time we were actually holding the soldiers and stopping the equipment where we wanted it. They tried to move us but were unsuccessful. So instead the soldiers moved the equipment to start digging up the villages olive trees. When we commented on this, the soldiers reactions varied from "we are just relocating them," to "it's ok, they have plenty of olive trees."

We advanced towards where the olive trees were, pushing our way through lines of soldiers. For the first time I saw people in the village pushing through lines of soldiers. One Israeli activist was taken by soldiers, was hog tied and was left in the sun by the army. The army then shot rubber bullets into the middle of the protest. People dispersed but then we regrouped again and again.

This photo (left) shows just how little regard the Israeli soldiers had for peaceful protest (remember that I was holding the camera in order to take this shot). Meanwhile the bulldozer continued to tear up the trees and cruelly laid them at the feet of the demonstrators. We left, with plans to come back and continue the struggle the following day.

Compared to where the Beit Sira demos had started it looked like the popular committee were starting to be a bit more bold in pushing the occupation forces. What is clear is that both sides were intensifying. The Palestinians (with Israeli and internationals) were pushing forward in united action.


Beit Sira: Getting better at effective action Part 1

If you read my post on Saturday Feb 18, "Protest in Beit Sira: Disciplined Mass Action fails to reach potential" there were several criticisms I made of that protest. Some of which I think were corrected in the demonstrations I saw there a week later on Tuesday 22nd and Wednesday 23rd of February.

On Tuesday the 22nd we had a discussion about the situation in the village with a man called Farouk. One interesting thing that he told me, was that despite the settlements surrounding the village and confiscating their land up until the 2nd intifada started, settlers used to go to Beit Sira to do their shopping and play football (soccer) with the kids. Farouk said that he still had a friend in one of the settlements that he spoke to regularly on the phone. This blew me away and I asked him how he could be friends with someone who had taken his land away. He was so nice about it but one of the villagers who was translating for us said he also found it weird that Farouk and others did that. He likened it to someone offering you flowers and stabbing you in the back.

We marched from the village towards the wall. On the way the popular committee stopped and instructed all the young people in the village that they wanted to make sure that it was a peaceful demonstration and that no stones would be thrown. They motivated this saying that the throwing of one stone would undermine the message we wanted the rally to present.

We marched down the road stopping in front of Israeli Jeeps. There was a number of machines tearing up the road behind the jeeps. Again we didn't try to push through the military lines but the popular committee didn't instruct us to pull back this time.

Instead we set up a tent in the middle of the road. We kept the tent there for several hours while the road demolition was happening before our eyes. It was a good chance for the Internationals, the Palestinians and Israeli activists to talk and discuss some ideas. The army and the popular committee reached a "deal" where the army would cease construction of the wall and the village would also move the tent. It was the end of the working day for the construction company so the soldiers didn't care. The soldiers tried to arrest a few people at the end of the demonstration. They grabbed an Israeli activist and they beat me up (not too badly) and detained me for trying to de-arrest him.

As they arrested me they kept yelling stuff in either Hebrew or Arabic. I kept saying I only spoke English. When they released us they said something in Hebrew which I told them I didn't understand. One of the soldiers then repeated "the problem is you were not following instructions." I am not sure how I was supposed to follow Arabic or Hebrew instructions but it didn't seem to matter to them.

Anyway we packed up and the Israeli construction people finished work for the day so we went home without a stone being thrown or a rubber bullet being fired.

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