Friday, October 30, 2009

Student Blindfolded, Handcuffed, and Taken to Gaza by Force

This young Palestinian business student, pictured left, is not smiling anymore. Berlanty Azzam had a rough day yesterday, getting stopped at a military checkpoint on the way home from a job interview and then locked up. Wrong place, wrong time, no redress. She was not inside Israel at any time and posed no threat.

Sari Bashi, from GISHA, an Israel-based Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement which filed a petition on her behalf, guest-posts on Israelity Bites. Sari recounts how a military lawyer gave false promises to this Bethlehem University Student. Sadly, banishment to Gaza and denial of higher education is not an isolated incident.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement is filing an urgent petition to the Israeli Supreme Court today demanding the immediate return to her studies of Berlanty Azzam, 21, a student at Bethlehem University who was arrested and removed to Gaza last night by the Israeli military. The removal took place even as the Military Legal Adviser's office promised Gisha's attorney that Berlanty would not be removed to Gaza pending an opportunity to seek judicial review.

Israel bans Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, and it claims that Palestinians like Berlanty, originally from the Gaza Strip, have no right to remain in the West Bank. In recent weeks and months, the military has begun a campaign to search the West Bank for Palestinians whose ID cards are registered in Gaza and to remove them to Gaza by force.

Berlanty has been living in Bethlehem since 2005, after requesting and receiving a permit from the Israeli military authorizing her to travel through Israel to reach the West Bank. She is in her last semester of a Bachelor's Degree program in Business Administration, with a minor in Translation. She is due to complete her studies in just two months.

Yesterday afternoon, as she was returning to her home in Bethlehem from a job interview in Ramallah, the car in which Berlanty rode was stopped at a checkpoint. Seeing that her address was registered in Gaza, the soldiers detained her. Gisha Attorney Yadin Elam contacted the Military Legal Adviser's office and was told that the military intended to remove her and another Palestinian resident to Gaza. However, the military attorney promised that both individuals would be held in detention and not removed to Gaza until Gisha had an opportunity to petition the Supreme Court this morning, challenging the removal.

Despite that promise, Berlanty was blindfolded, handcuffed, and loaded onto a military jeep. The soldiers told her she would be taken to a detention facility in the West Bank, but instead – they brought her to Gaza late last night. The military now refuses to allow her to return to the West Bank. The second Gaza resident arrested remains in detention.

"Since 2005, I refrained from visiting my family in Gaza for fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in the West Bank", says Berlanty Azzam. "Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and taken to Gaza in the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree."

"For years, Israel has prevented Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying in Palestinian universities in the West Bank", says Gisha Legal Director Yadin Elam. "Now, the military is arresting those already studying and removing them to Gaza by force – violating their right to freedom of movement and to access education."

Can this be what Israelis want done in their name?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Provocative Digs undermine conflict resolution in the 'City of David' aka Silwan

Check out this editorial in today's Boston Globe. It has caused a furore:

As a dispute over land and statehood, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is combustible enough. But recent clashes over the site in Jerusalem that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram al-Sharif are injecting religious passions into one of the world’s most dangerous confrontations. Extremists on both sides are playing with fire. But since Israel is the dominant power, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bears primary responsibility for smothering that fire before it erupts into a much larger conflagration.

The current crisis originates in Palestinian fear and anger over archaeological excavations near, but not underneath, the Al Aqsa mosque. The digs are under the control of an ultra-nationalist Israeli group intent on justifying a Jewish claim to Jerusalem by locating remnants of what is called the City of David. Those excavations have weakened the foundations of nearby Arab houses and led critics across the Muslim world to warn of a plot to cause the collapse of the Al Aqsa mosque.

The furor over the excavations has given new force to Palestinian demands that Israel stop settling Jews in East Jerusalem, which would make it much harder to divide the ancient city between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel maintains that the influx of Jews into East Jerusalem is a simple matter of families buying homes in a neighborhood that appeals to them. But that’s not the whole story. The Israeli government knows that at least some of the people behind the purchases of Palestinian homes have a political motive.

Jordan, the Arab state most friendly to Israel, has called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to halt the excavations and to stop efforts to change the population balance between Arabs and Israelis in East Jerusalem. If President Obama wants to preserve hope of a two-state peace agreement, he must persuade Netanyahu to suspend the influx of Israeli Jews into East Jerusalem and put a stop to recklessly provocative excavations. The surest way to scuttle peace talks before they get started is for one side to give extremists on the other side a reason to call for martyrdom and holy war.

Izzy Bee agrees. Scientific archaeological excavations funded by academic institutes are preferable to these hasty digs, which are financed and carried out with a political and religious agenda. Shovelling shit along with the rubble does not advance anyone's historic understanding. The residents of Silwan are trapped in the trenches of Holy War if this is allowed to continue... and this dispute keeps simmering. Elad, the radical settler NGO, should not be given free rein to relabel the city and befuddle the past just because it has plenty of money!
The world expects higher academic standards from the Jews of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stoned in the Old City - a woman, a rock and a hard place to take cover

This past Sunday, 24 October, radio reporter Irris Makler went to cover some riots in Jerusalem's Old City. From a hospital bed, she recounts what happened in this guest post. Irris cannot work for the moment, because she cannot speak until she heals:

The riots over access to the Temple Mount /Al Haram al Sharif were only sporadic, but I thought it was best to go and see for myself. It was a slow morning and Canadian Broadcasting said they needed something -- which is often how these things go...

As I was driving down, top of the local radio bulletin was the Israeli chief of police saying that both extremist Jewish and Muslim groups were inciting their followers to defend the holy site. The closest I could get was an alley near the Lion's Gate where Palestinian boys were burning rubbish and throwing stones. There were lots of Israeli police, but it didn't seem particularly dangerous - I've been to lots of these which were at a much higher temperature.

I needed [to record] some sound , but did not go all the way up to the end of the alley where the rubbish was burning. There were journalists about 20 meters back from the boys and I was about 20 metres back from them, standing under a small balcony to protect me from the stones. As I was getting some sound of the stones being thrown I became aware they were getting larger, more like fist sized rocks, so I decided not to go any further and to turn back. My small balcony did not feel like sufficient protection any more. As I turned to go one rock caught me in the face.

It was a head snapping blow, coming I now think from someone on a nearby roof, since it came in from above, under the awning. It was incredibly fortunate that I had turned -- it hit me in the lower left jaw, and not in the eye. I never lost consciousness, never felt nauseous, was able to walk to the ambulance. No brain damage, no broken cheek bones or vision problems. That and the localised blow is all part of the good news. The bad news is my jaw is broken in two places, some of my teeth have been forced out of alighment and one of my facial nerves may have been severed. We won't know for sure about the nerve for a while.

One definite plus about being injured here is the high standard of the health care. I am writing to you from [Jerusalem's] Hadassah hospital where I have had the wound in my cheek stitched and an operation to wire my jaw closed so that the bones will knit and the teeth realign.

I look horribly like a werewolf, and will have to stay like this, for six (¡) weeks.

I am quite happy about the enforced diet, less so about the enforced silence, since I am talkative even by journalist standards...

Still my friends have rallied round, supplying me with clothes, magazines books, ipods, laptops. But most of all they have given me support and love, reminding me how lucky I am. This hospital is an amazing melting pot, Palestinians and Orthodox Jews in adjoining beds, kind, fierce Russian nurses, doctors from every nation in the world. It is an appropriately strange environment from which to reflect on this strange life we lead as correspondents...

I have been to so many dangerous places, for so long, and nothing bad has happened to me before... my friend Margaret who has been in plenty of dangerous situations herself says there is no point in brooding on fate and chance, but I find that I can't help myself...... if I come up with some answers I'll let you know. :-)

More bulletins from the Land of Silence soon.
and best wishes for rapid recovery!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rabin's Widow Called Netanyahu a "Nightmare"

Leah Rabin, the late widow of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu won the election held the spring after Rabin's death in 1995 and became prime minister again earlier this year. "Netanyahu is a corrupt individual," she wrote three years after her husband's assassination, "a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over." A few months later she returned to the same theme: "We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago." In her letters, Leah Rabin, who died in 2000, also emphasized that her husband opposed the settlements and supported giving up the West Bank.

Read original story in Haaretz

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No way home: the Palestinian diaspora

You might think Palestinian refugees would be welcomed by their Arab neighbours, yet they are denied basic rights and citizenship. In a guest post, Judith Miller and David Samuels examine the diaspora.

It is a cynical but time-honoured practice in Middle Eastern politics: the statesmen who decry the political and humanitarian crisis of the approximately 3.9 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza ignore the plight of an estimated 4.6 million Palestinians who live in Arab countries. For decades, Arab governments have justified their decision to maintain millions of stateless Palestinians as refugees in squalid camps as a means of applying pressure to Israel. The refugee problem will be solved, they say, when Israel agrees to let the Palestinians have their own state.
Yet in the two decades since the end of the Cold War, after two Gulf wars, and the rise and fall of the Oslo peace process, not a single Palestinian refugee has returned to Israel – and only a handful of ageing political functionaries have returned from neighbouring Arab countries to the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, failed peace plans and shifting political priorities have resulted in a second Palestinian "Nakba", or catastrophe – this one at hands of the Arab governments.
"Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines," a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Lebanon recently observed, "the refugee population constitutes a time bomb."

In the unlikely event that President Obama's vision of a swift and final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict materialises, millions of Palestinians would still live in decaying refugee camps whose inhabitants are forbidden from owning land or participating in normal economic life. The only governing authority that Palestinians living in the camps have ever known is UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Established by the UN on 8 December 1949 to assist 650,000 impoverished Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, UNRWA has been battling budget cuts and strikes among its employees as it struggles to provide subsidies and services to Palestinian refugees, who are defined as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948".

Click here to read all of this special report in The Independent

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rights Watchdog's Middle East conundrum

The founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, sounds off in today's New York Times about his dismay at how his organization has been tightening the screws on Israel and losing perspective.
Some points are well-taken. Yes - the cold war mindset has altered in the past few decades.

Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform...Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

What's off-putting is this quote: "Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Um, except for one little detail. There was no exit from Gaza allowed for any non-combatants, who all were effectively fenced into this dense battlefield. What's more, Israeli violations were rife - ie bombing of hospitals, mosques and refuge shelters. The British colonel is making his statement as a response to the Goldstone report, and has no personal experience of 'Operation Cast Lead' or its aftermath. He draws parallels to insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq who are fighting occupation forces. Kemp concluded that "mistakes are not war crimes." But these actions in Gaza were part of a strategy, not unavoidable blunders.
And the fact that American dollars fund much of Israel's domination in the area bothers many critics, who expect a high standard from a Middle Eastern country which was supposed to be exceptional from the get-go.
"Thou shalt not kill," Hashem wrte on the tablets. Well, Israel should not kill the possibility of an independent investigation into last January's cruel winter war.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hee-haw 'Zebras' to dye for - in Gaza zoo

You gotta give the folks at a Gaza zoo points for creativity. (Even if it smacks a bit of Pallywood ingenuity.)

According to a Reuters wire service report, the Gaza zoo didn't have the cash to bring a real zebra into the blockaded city through smuggling tunnels, so the zookeepers did the next best thing.

They took two white donkeys and gave them black stripes with hair dye, a paint brush and masking tape - and the kids who visited yesterday were none the wiser.

"The first time we used paint but it didn't look good," said Nidal Barghouthi, whose father owns the Marah Land zoo.

"The children don't know so they call them zebras and they are happy to see something new."

His father, Mohammed Barghouti, said it would have cost him $40,000 to get a real zebra because of the Israeli embargo against the Hamas-controlled territory.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past!

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat in today's Daily Telegraph shows. His family's previous name was Jewish, and translates as "weaver of prayer shawls."

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.
The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.
Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.
Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him.
"Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith.
"By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."
A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews.
"He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said it would not be drawn on Mr Ahmadinejad's background. "It's not something we'd talk about," said Ron Gidor, a spokesman.
The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.
Relatives have previously said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four.
The Iranian president grew up to be a qualified engineer with a doctorate in traffic management. He served in the Revolutionary Guards militia before going on to make his name in hardline politics in the capital.
During this year's presidential debate on television he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe.
However Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.
Mr Ahmadinejad has regularly levelled bitter criticism at Israel, questioned its right to exist and denied the Holocaust. British diplomats walked out of a UN meeting last month after the Iranian president denounced Israel's 'genocide, barbarism and racism.'
Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned denunciation of the Iranian leader at the same UN summit. "Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium," he said. "A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the State of Israel, the State of the Jews. What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations."
Mr Ahmadinejad has been consistently outspoken about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. "They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets," he declared at a conference on the holocaust staged in Tehran in 2006.

Hat tip to Irris Makler for this piece. She says when President Katsav was first accused of rape, Haaretz ran a black and white pic of him from the 70’s when he was an up and coming Likud organiser, and it was him beside Menachem Begin. She did a double take because he looked so much like Ahmedinajad.
She joked “What was Ahmedinajad doing with Begin?” The penny drops.... he and Katsav might just be related!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Verbatim - US consular message to Americans in Jerusalem

Forget the uplift and avoid the stun grenades and the riot sticks, folks.
This message, emailed to all registered yanks in the Holy Land, shows a disconnect between secular and religious concerns. Violence is becoming a sideshow to some of the religious celebrations It begs the question - what about Jewish Americans who want to pray at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount, or American Muslims who want to ascend the Noble Sanctuary and pray in the mosque. Or Christians or Messianic Jews who celebrate inside the churches in the Old City

WARDEN MESSAGE October 2, 2009

The final two of the local autumn holidays, Sukkot and Simhat Torah,
will be celebrated this weekend and next. American citizens should
avoid the Old City for one week from sundown Friday, October 2nd,
through sundown on Friday, October 9th, 2009. Vehicle traffic in and
around the Old City will be restricted by the Israeli National Police

Although it is a good idea to avoid the Old City for the entire week,
Monday, October 5th, is expected to draw the largest crowds due to the
annual pilgrimage by Jewish worshipers who will assemble at the Western
Wall for special prayers.

Additionally, political and religious tensions are expected to be high
in the areas immediately adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound
throughout this period. A large police presence in the area may provoke
spontaneous violence in the form of civil unrest and police actions.

Finally, the crowded environment could result in an uptick in criminal
activity to include pickpockets, physical assaults and other crimes.
American citizens should avoid crowds and walking or driving around the
Old City. Carry a mobile phone and stay cognizant of your surroundings.

For the latest security information, Americans should regularly monitor
the Department's web site at, where the current
Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for
Israel, West Bank and Gaza, and Travel Alerts can be found.