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Not Settling for Nothing

October 15, 2010
My second op-ed in al-Jazeera, on 28 September.


Not ‘settling’ for nothing

The cessation of the settlement moratorium was never in doubt to the Palestinian residents of Wadi Rahaal.
Nora Barrows-Friedman Last Modified: 28 Sep 2010 12:51 GMT
Demolished Palestinian homes make way for further Israeli settlement expansion, in this case, one of many, it is Wadi Rahaal that experiences ‘downsizing’ of its resources.

The one-lane road to Wadi Rahaal weaves its way through impossibly deep, rocky valleys, whose perimeters are speckled by Israeli settlements and settler outposts cascading from the hilltops.

“It wasn’t always like this,” Shadi Fuwaghara, an energetic 23 year-old resident of Wadi Rahaal told me as we stepped outside in the searing afternoon heat.

Pointing to an empty asphalt road once used by villagers — and now behind the barriers of the nearby Efrat settlement, next to the rows of identical housing tracts — he said it used to take people five minutes to get to Bethlehem’s city limits. “Now, it takes us thirty minutes or more, and we have to pass by seven villages,” he continued. In the winter months, the roads are flooded, making the route impassable — and further locking the entire community of 1700 people inside a veritable prison.

A tiny village on the dry desert outskirts of Bethlehem, Wadi Rahaal has been suffocated by the settlement and its accompanying security apparatus: the path of the separation wall has been set with concrete curbstones, and when completed, it will pull more of the village inside the walled boundaries of the settlement.

Several homes were demolished when plans were drawn to re-route the wall deeper into Wadi Rahaal’s land, and there has been an Israeli military order in place since 2006 that prohibits any new homes from being built in the village — a punitive and cynical measure when compared to the 4,000 new, modern homes the mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi, says he will start building inside his settlement across the street as the ten-month moratorium ends this week.

“In the matter of practicalities it can be done within days, within a day or two we can have the tractors turned on and starting to work,” Revivi told ABC News this week. In other words, the villagers of Wadi Rahaal are bracing for more aggressive annexation, after years of slow and steady land confiscation that has devastated their village.

Efrat’s expansion has already taken nearly fourteen per cent of the village’s land, according to Fuwaghara’s statistics, and Wadi Rahaal’s residents feel that there is an atmosphere of incessant siege. “They dump the garbage from the settlement right next to our elementary school,” Fuwaghara said. It was not hard to guess what kind of message this sends to the village’s youngest population.

However, with all eyes on the theatrics surrounding the end to the moratorium — a moratorium that never was, declared settlement watchdog group Peace Now, which documented 600 housing units built in 60 settlements during the ten-month charade — the bigger issue has been obfuscated from the discussion.

What’s happening in Wadi Rahaal, and to the hundreds of villages, towns and cities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem held hostage by the encroaching settlement industry is entirely illegal under international law.

In June 2010, Israeli human rights group B’tselem released a report documenting settlement activities and land confiscation since 1967. “Some half a million Israelis are now living over the Green Line: more
than 300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality,” the report stated.

“One of the objectives of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is to preserve the demographic status quo in the occupied territory,” continued B’tselem in its report. “The article states that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” According to the commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the purpose of this article is to prevent a practice that was adopted by certain powers during World War II, ‘which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial
reasons, or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories.’”

Additionally, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in 2004 that the “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development.”

Ignoring the central legal violations of the settlement industry itself, in place of much hand-wringing over the distorted and ineffective theatrics of Netanyahu’s moratorium, is the elephant in the room; and it is not lost on Palestinians who ceaselessly watch their land annexed to growing settlement blocs.

The Americans’ soft-line tactics urging Israel to halt new growth — instead of demanding the dismantling of the hundreds of illegal settlement colonies as a substantive move towards lasting justice in the region — belies the agonizing reality of Israel’s colonialist project and ensures future negotiation failures.

Israel has effectively used the moratorium issue to distract attention away its rampant creation of irreparable “facts on the ground” — such as the continued demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and inside the state itself, in the Negev; the ceaseless granting of permission to violent, armed Jewish settlers in taking over Palestinian homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem; and the unremitting siege and blockade against the Palestinians sealed inside the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Shadi Fuwaghara, his family, the children and the elders in their tiny village of Wadi Rahaal are intently watching Efrat’s tractors fuel up, bracing for the worst but strengthening the determination of the community not to give up hope.

“You can see what’s happening here,” he said. “Soon, we’ll be surrounded on all sides by the settlements. So we cultivate the land. We hold meetings and protests. We fight to stay here.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a freelance journalist currently based in the West Bank, formely she was a senior producer for one of Pacifica Radio’s flagship shows, Flashpoints.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Al Jazeera

During War, There are No Civilians

October 15, 2010
My first op-ed in Al-Jazeera, on 8 September, writing from Haifa at the Rachel Corrie trials.


During war there are no civilians

Sitting in on the Rachel Corrie trial alarmingly reveals an open Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians.
Nora Barrows-Friedman Last Modified: 08 Sep 2010 15:28 GMT
Rachel Corrie’s plight symbolised the ruthless policy of Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the social psyche of millions of people outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip [Getty Images]

“During war there are no civilians,” that’s what “Yossi,” an Israeli military (IDF) training unit leader simply stated during a round of questioning on day two of the Rachel Corrie trials, held in Haifa’s District Court earlier this week. “When you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war,” he added.

For the human rights activists and friends and family of Rachel Corrie sitting in the courtroom, this open admission of an Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians — Palestinian or foreign — created an audible gasp.

Yet, put into context, this policy comes as no surprise. The Israeli military’s track record of insouciance towards the killings of Palestinians, from the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem to the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza that killed upwards of 1400 men, women and children, has illustrated that not only is this an entrenched operational framework but rarely has it been challenged until recently.

Rachel Corrie, the young American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer, as she and other members of the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement attempted to protect a Palestinian home from imminent demolition on March 16, 2003 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Corrie has since become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity as her family continues to fight for justice in her name.

Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Israel for Rachel’s unlawful killing — what they allege was an intentional act — and this round of testimonies called by the State’s defense team follows the Corries’ witness testimonies last March. The Corries’ lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that violate both Israeli and international laws.

Witnesses insisted that the bulldozer driver couldn’t see Rachel Corrie from his perch. The State attorneys called three witnesses to the stand on Sunday and Monday to prove that the killing was unintentional and took place in an area designated as a “closed military zone.”  Falling under the definition of an Act of War, their argument sought to absolve the soldiers of liability under Israeli law.

The Rachel Corrie trials focus on one incident, one moment, one death, one family’s grief. However it’s important to include the context within which the Israeli military operated on that day in March of 2003 in order to properly understand the gravity of the trial and the reverberations seven and a half years later.

Yossi, the military training leader, described the area where Corrie was killed as an “active war zone.” The State’s defense argues the same. Yet what was happening in Rafah that was so important to Corrie that she confronted a 4-meter high armored bulldozer in the first place?

According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, Israel had been expanding its so-called “buffer zone” at the southern Gaza border after the breakout of the second Palestinian intifada in late 2000. “By late 2002,” reports HRW, “after the destruction of several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter high metal wall along the border.”

The area that Israel designates as its buffer zone has since enveloped nearly 35% of agricultural land, according to an August 2010 report published by the United Nation’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA says that this policy has affected 113,000 Palestinians inside the Gaza strip over the last ten years as their farms, homes, and villages were intentionally erased from the map.

Rachel Corrie’s nonviolent action — standing in front of the bulldozer in direct confrontation to this project — cost her her life.

The home Rachel Corrie died trying to protect was razed, along with hundreds of others. The Gaza Strip remains a sealed ghetto. And countless Palestinian families have not seen justice waged in their favor after the deaths of their loved ones.

In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued against Major General Doron Almog — a senior soldier in charge of Israel’s Southern Command — by a British court related to the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah in
2002 under his authority. He was warned before boarding a flight to the UK that he could be arrested upon arrival, and canceled his trip.

Related to the Rachel Corrie case, Maj. Almog gave a direct order to the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short, according to Israeli army documents obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.

This indicates that the impunity of Israeli soldiers and policy-makers can — and will — be challenged in a court of law. And when the trials continue next month, the Corries will be back in the courtroom in anticipation of a long-sought justice for their daughter.

Al Jazeera

Independent journalists dismantling Israel’s hold on media narrative

June 15, 2010

My new piece published in Electronic Intifada today, co-authored by Abe Greenhouse.

Independent journalists dismantling Israel’s hold on media narrative
Abraham Greenhouse, Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 15 June 2010

Israeli naval ships trailing the Mavi Marmara. (Cultures of Resistance)

“The systematic attempt and very deliberate first priority for the Israeli soldiers as they came on the ships was to shut down the story, to confiscate all cameras, to shut down satellites, to smash the CCTV cameras that were on the Mavi Marmara, to make sure that nothing was going out. They were hellbent on controlling the story,” commented Australian journalist Paul McGeough, one of the hundreds of activists and reporters who witnessed the deadly morning attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on 31 May (“Framing the Narrative: Israeli Commandos Seize Videotape and Equipment from Journalists After Deadly Raid,” Democracy Now, 9 June 2010). McGeough was one of at least 60 journalists aboard the flotilla who were detained and their footage confiscated.

Within hours of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla being intercepted and besieged in international waters by Israeli commandos, who killed at least nine — some at point-blank range — aboard the Mavi Marmara, news of the bloody attack had spread across the globe. Rage, condemnation and calls for an international investigation followed.

Meanwhile, Israel’s campaign to spin the attack, distort the facts and quell an outraged public was already in full swing. Concurrently, activists and skeptical journalists began deconstructing the official story and assembling evidence to uncover the truth behind the violent deaths of activists on a humanitarian mission to the besieged Gaza Strip.

From the time the Israeli military apparently jammed the flotilla’s communications, and for the next 48 hours as survivors were held incommunicado, their cameras and potentially incriminating footage seized, Israel’s account of the raid dominated international headlines.

Central to Israel’s media strategy was the rapid release of selected video and audio clips which, the government said, validated its claim that passengers had violently attempted to kill troops without provocation — thereby forcing the soldiers to use live fire in self-defense. However, the initially and most widely-distributed clips bore signs of heavy editing, including the obscuring or removal of time stamps.

Although the clips apparently depicted passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara hitting Israeli troops with poles and other objects, the context of the images was completely unclear. It was impossible to determine at what point during the assault the clips had been filmed, raising questions about exactly which party had been acting in self-defense.

Al-Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, among others, corroborated accounts by other flotilla passengers, including Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, that the Israeli commandos had allegedly started firing before commandos began rappelling to the deck of the ship (“MK Zoabi: Israel wanted highest number of fatalities,” YNet, 1 June 2010; “Kidnapped by Israel, forsaken by Britain,” Al-Jazeera, 6 June 2010).

These clips were quickly supplemented by footage put on YouTube, also heavily edited, which Israel said had been taken from the ship’s security cameras and from the journalists whose equipment had been seized (“Flotilla Rioters Prepare Rods, Slingshots, Broken Bottles and Metal Objects to Attack IDF Soldiers,” 2 June 2010). The Israeli military spokesperson’s office also distributed numerous still images allegedly documenting fighting on the deck.

After the commandeered flotilla ships were brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod and were unloaded, on 1 June the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) began distributing via the Flickr website photographs of objects it said were found aboard. Materials the MFA classified as “weapons”– thus supposedly supporting its claim that activists had planned to conduct a “lynching” of Israeli troops — were identifiable to the public as standard nautical equipment and kitchen utensils (“Weapons found on Mavi Marmara“).

In addition, the ships were inspected multiple times prior to setting sail for Gaza, both by Turkish customs authorities and by an independent security firm, and had been found at both points to contain no weapons, according to a Free Gaza Movement press release (“Did Israel deliberately murder civilians aboard Freedom Flotilla?,” 3 June 2010). Participants also say that all passengers were subject to thorough security checks before boarding, regardless of where they embarked.

These photographs of “weapons” became the first flashpoint in the effort to analyze and expose inconsistencies in Israel’s claims. Shortly after the release of the images which appeared on the MFA’s official Flickr page on 1 June, commentators began calling attention to the fact that several of the images included digitally-encoded information indicating that they had been shot several years prior. The MFA responded to this by modifying the dates, and issuing a statement that one of its cameras had been incorrectly calibrated.

While this claim can be neither confirmed nor disproved, the gaffe exposed the fact that Israel’s rush to promote its version of events in the media was leading to significant mistakes and oversights. As surviving flotilla passengers began to be released and expelled following detention in Israel, the accounts they gave of events aboard the ships — and on the Mavi Marmara in particular — clearly diverged from the official Israeli narrative.

Journalists aboard the ship, some of whom had been able to broadcast via satellite for a limited time during the assault, told interviewers that they had been singled out for attack by Israeli troops. “We had cameras round our necks and our press cards in our hands, but the soldiers kept aiming the lasers of their guns at our eyes in order to intimidate us,” Turkish journalist Yuecel Velioglu of the AA news agency told Reporters Without Borders (“As Turkish photographer is buried, other journalists aboard flotilla speak out,” 9 June 2010).

In addition, much of the footage released by Israel (after heavy editing) was taken from journalists aboard the ship after their equipment had been confiscated. The move was strongly denounced by Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA), which stated on 4 June: “the use of this material without permission from the relevant media organizations is a clear violation of journalistic ethics and unacceptable.”

Determined not to allow the Israeli government to continue dominating public discourse on the flotilla attack with its questionable version of events, independent journalists around the world analyzed and identified inconsistencies with the Israeli narrative. This work played a pivotal role in making a more complete and accurate picture of the events available to an English-speaking audience: the vast majority of English-language corporate media outlets, with the notable exception of Al-Jazeera English, simply took Israeli statements at face value and conducted little or no investigative work to ascertain their validity.

Images and the elimination of context

Another photograph released by the Israeli military spokesperson’s office aroused additional controversy when it began appearing in news articles about the incident. The image, which featured an anonymous, bearded man holding a curved knife, was generally presented with a caption, also sourced from the Israeli military, claiming that the knife-wielder was an activist aboard the Mavi Marmara photographed after Israeli troops boarded the ship.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, immediately noticed clear inconsistencies with the context of the photo, casting its veracity into doubt. Abunimah pointed out on his blog that behind the man, natural light could be seen streaming in through a window — despite the fact that the raid was conducted during pre-dawn hours. Additionally, the man was surrounded by photographers who seemed unusually calm for onlookers in the midst of a firefight (“Israeli propaganda photo in Haaretz of man with knife make no sense #FreedomFlotilla,” 31 May 2010). Finally, a few days after the image first appeared, the image was re-used in a video montage, published on YouTube under the newly-registered handle “gazaflotilliatruth”, but this time with less cropping. In the new version of the image, the bearded man can be seen to be sitting down, not standing — again, an unusual physical position to display during a melee (“Gaza Flotillia – The Love Boat,” 2 June 2010).

Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal reports that the Israeli military-sourced caption — repeatedly used by media outlets such as the Israeli daily Haaretz — indicated that the bearded man was holding the knife after the commandos boarded the ship (“Nailed Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It Distributed Is Retracted,” 8 June 2010).

Following his query to the Israeli military spokesman’s office, Haaretz “scrubbed its caption of the suspicious photo.” Blumenthal adds that Haaretz “did not mention the retraction, probably assuming no one would notice. The retraction raises disturbing questions about the level of coordination between the IDF [Israeli army] and the Israeli media.” Nor did they mention that the bearded man was Yemeni Minister of Parliament Mohammad al-Hazmi, who was displaying his ceremonial dagger — an essential part of traditional Yemeni dress — to “curious journalists and foreigners on the ship,” as Blumenthal points out, obviously well before the attack.

New accusations instantly dismantled

As the accounts of surviving passengers began receiving increased attention in the mainstream Western press, Israel retaliated with a series of increasingly dire accusations to discredit them. The serious nature these accusations makes it difficult to understand why the Israeli government would have waited so long to issue them. As journalists began evaluating the new claims, they found Israel’s supporting evidence to be flimsy and periodically even nonexistent.

One such accusation, published in a 2 June MFA press release, was that 40 Mavi Marmara passengers had been identified as mercenaries in the employ of al-Qaeda (“Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries,” 2 June 2010). Later that day, US State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said that his office could not validate Israel’s story, and independent journalists on the ground in Tel Aviv promptly set out to investigate for themselves.

Blumenthal and his colleague Lia Tarachansky were told bluntly by the Israeli army’s press office that the military didn’t “have any evidence” to support the MFA’s contention. By the morning of 3 June, all references to al-Qaeda had been removed from the online version of the press release (“Under Scrutiny IDF Retracts Claims About Flotillas Al Qaeda Links“).

More significantly, on 4 June, Israel released a YouTube clip which it claimed was an excerpt from radio communications between the Israeli navy and the Mavi Marmara. The clip included a voice telling the Israelis to “go back to Auschwitz,” and another voice stating “We’re helping Arabs go against the US,” in response to Israeli statements that the vessel was “approaching an area which is under a naval blockade” (“Flotilla Ship to Israeli Navy: “We’re Helping Arabs Go Against the US, Don’t Forget 9/11 Guys,” 4 June 2010). The latter statement was made in an accent resembling that of the American south, despite the fact that no one from that region was present aboard any of the ships. Numerous bloggers commented that the accents sounded as though they had been faked, and ridiculed the quality of the apparent forgery.

One of the flotilla organizers, US citizen Huwaida Arraf, was astonished to find that the clip included her own voice as well — even though she had not been aboard the Mavi Marmara, but was on a different vessel. Tel Aviv-based journalist and blogger Mya Guarnieri noted that Arraf told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency that the clip of her voice, saying “we have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter,” seemed to have been excerpted from communications during a previous flotilla trip (there have been nine trips since 2008) (“Israel under fire for doctoring flotilla recordings,” 5 June 2010). “When they radioed us [on this trip], we were still 100 miles away,” Arraf remarked.

Blumenthal called attention to the mysterious presence of Arraf and other discrepancies in the clip in an article he posted on 4 June. The following day, the MFA issued a statement admitting that the clip had been substantially edited (“Clarification/Correction Regarding Audio Transmission Between Israeli Navy and Flotilla on 31 May 2010,” 5 June 2010). However, the clip including the “Auschwitz” statement remains on the MFA website in a new “unedited” version of the alleged transmission.

High-tech sleuthing uncovers a web of deceit

Perhaps most damaging to the credibility of Israeli accounts was a map published by Ali Abunimah on his blog and which was produced by using archived transmissions of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to plot the position of the Mavi Marmara as it sailed on the morning of the raid (“Did Israel press on with bloody attack on Mavi Marmara even as ship fled at full-speed?,” 7 June 2010). Using the map, Abunimah was able to determine the location and heading of the ship as it broadcast updates on its status. The map also plotted the position of the Mavi Marmara at the exact points when surveillance camera footage from the ship — which Israel had released without obscured time stamps — was apparently recorded.

According to AIS data, the Mavi Marmara had been heading south — parallel to the Israeli coast and more than 80 miles from the shore — until approximately 4:35am local time. At this point, the ship abruptly turned west, heading away from the Gaza coast.

The attack, which surviving passengers say began shortly after 4:00am, was reported to Greek activists in direct communication with the ship at some point before 4:51am. However, the time stamp seen in the released security camera footage and described in a caption as being the point at which “rioters initiate confrontation with Israeli soldiers,” indicates that the clip was filmed at 5:03am. This is reinforced by the fact that the sea is apparently lit by natural light, which would not have been possible an hour earlier.

This evidence directly contradicts Israeli claims regarding the sequence and timing of events, and throws its overarching narrative into doubt. While the vast majority of footage of the raid has been seized by Israel, along the flotilla’s Voyage Data Recorders (VDRs, the nautical equivalent of aircraft’s “black boxes”), activists have been diligently archiving all available evidence to prevent Israel from altering or destroying it. As more time stamped data becomes available, it will be aggregated by activists and plotted on mapping applications not only to help reveal what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara, but guarantee a greater level of accountability when Israel responds to future flotillas.

A significant amount of data is already emerging. Several of the survivors managed to conceal memory cards from their Israeli captors, the contents of which they proceeded to make available to journalists upon their return home. Some photos, published in the Turkish newspaper HaberTurk, depict passengers administering medical care to wounded Israeli soldiers and even protecting them from being photographed — which seemed to contradict Israel’s claims that passengers were intent on a premeditated “lynching” of the Israeli commandoes (“İsrail’den kaçırılan fotoğraflar,” 4 June 2010).

Recently-released video clips from flotilla survivors show Israeli soldiers kicking, beating and shooting passengers, including footage which Turkey’s Cihan News Agency says depicts the close-range killing of Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen, with automatic weaponry (“Israeli Soldiers Murdering Man Identified as Furkan Dogan,” 10 June 2010). An autopsy determined that Dogan was shot five times, including once in the back and twice in the head from almost point-blank range. Other footage shows helicopters hovering above the flotilla, with apparent muzzle flashes and sounds of gunfire, supporting the survivors’ contention that commandos were already firing before boarding the vessels, thus prompting the limited resistance demonstrated by terrified passengers.

International vs. internal investigations

The Israeli government continues to reject the idea of an international investigation in favor of pursuing its own. On 5 June, the United Nation’s Secretary General proposed an international panel to examine the killing of nine flotilla passengers, but Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, announced on FOX News the next day that Israel would refuse “to be investigated by any international board” (“Transcript: Amb. Michael Oren on ‘FNS’,” 7 June 2010).

Those who demand an international probe have good reason to doubt Israel’s ability to investigate itself. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which cited statistics from the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, between 2000 and 2008, “Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories killed more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians not involved in combat. Of 1,246 criminal investigations initiated during the same period into suspected offenses of all kinds by soldiers against Palestinian civilians, only 6 percent (78 cases) resulted in indictments. Only 13 of those indictments charged soldiers with killing civilians. As of September 2008, five soldiers had been convicted for the deaths of four civilians” (“Why No Justice in Gaza? Israel Is Different, and so …,” 1 October 2009).

HRW found a similar pattern in cases stemming from Israel’s infamous three-week attack on Gaza beginning on 27 December 2008. The invasion, which caused the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinians, resulted in only one criminal conviction — for the theft of a credit card belonging to a Palestinian family after soldiers looted their home.

Regarding the flotilla attack, some sources in the Israeli government have indicated that they would consider permitting one or more international “observers” to be included in their internal investigation. Governments around the world have insisted that this is not an acceptable alternative to a genuine international investigation. However, even a completely impartial group charged with investigating the raid would be analyzing “evidence” (such as seized footage and VDRs) that had been under the full control of the Israeli military since the time of the assault.

Accountability and independent journalism

With little hope for a formal investigation with any degree of credibility, independent journalists around the world have recognized the need to mount their own. The work of independent journalists is achieving a growing level of influence in the mainstream. And the story of the Mavi Marmara killings, despite the unwillingness of many professional reporters to publicly challenge Israel’s version of events, is no exception.

“This is an issue where, in the flotilla incident, the legal and moral circumstances of Israeli abuse were so flagrant and visible that independent media have a greater opportunity of being heard,” said Richard Falk, international law expert and United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Should the UN or another impartial body mount an international probe, it would “benefit greatly from [independent media’s] active undertaking to reinforce whatever investigation took place,” Falk commented for this story.

Independent journalists were able to crack the wall of Israel’s narrative in the corporate media, like how they were able to circumvent Israel’s restrictions on establishment journalists during the winter 2008-09 attacks on Gaza. For nearly an hour on the morning of 5 June, most mainstream reports about the status of the delayed fourth ship in the flotilla that had included the Mavi Marmara relied almost exclusively on information gleaned from messages shared between activists and independent journalists via Twitter. The work of Abunimah and Blumenthal in debunking much of the Israeli narrative was cited extensively in a post by The New York Times blogger Robert Mackey (“Photographs of Battered Israeli Commandos Show New Side of Raid,” 7 June 2010).

On 10 June, a United Nations press conference was devoted to presenting uncensored footage of the assault captured by filmmaker Iara Lee, which promises to make global headlines with countless images contradicting the Israeli version of events.

Paul Larudee, a San Francisco Bay Area-based activist who participated in the flotilla and endured a severe beating which required him to him to be hospitalized, believes that the success of independent journalists in unraveling Israel’s disjointed narrative has had a transformative effect on the popular consciousness.

“Something’s happening here. Perceptions begin to move,” Larudee said. “People are getting it — they understand that a humanitarian aid convoy was attacked, and the passengers were defending themselves, despite the spin that Israel is creating in the media. Israel is not going to be able to keep this up much longer. It’s all starting to crumble.”

Abraham Greenhouse is founder of the Palestine Freedom Project (, which specializes in studying and providing support for the work of grassroots Palestine solidarity activists worldwide.

Palestinian Youth Respond to Israel’s Attacks

June 11, 2010

My new blog piece on Huffington Post:

Palestinian Youth Respond to Israel’s Attacks

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

Cartoon by Latuff

By Nora Barrows-Friedman

“How fast everything happens in Gaza,” writes award-winning college student Fidaa abou Assi, in an email she sent to friends from Gaza on June 3. “Everything could turn upside-down over-night…In the blink of an eye, you could become homeless, parentless, jobless, penniless, hope-less, helpless, lifeless…You go to the university with hopes and ambitions only to figure out that your university is being targeted by the Israeli forces.”

Abou Assi was chosen to be an official governmental translator for the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which planned to arrive at the beleaguered Gaza strip on Memorial Day weekend and disperse thousands of tons of needed humanitarian aid — including paper and pens for students like her.

Since 2007, Israel has collectively punished the entire Gaza strip by blockading a wide-ranging, arbitrary array of items–medications, diapers, salami, printing ink, etc.–plunging Gaza and its 1.5 million Palestinian residents into a humanitarian crisis. Abou Assi writes that hundreds of Palestinians lined the shores of the Gaza strip last week in anticipation of the aid convoy, but as we know, the ships never arrived. Nine activists on one ship, Mavi Marmara, were killed by Israeli commandos.

Young Palestinians Speak Out from Gaza City
I contacted several young Palestinians in Gaza and asked them to respond to Israel’s attack and the 3-year long blockade against the Gaza strip.

Sameh Habeeb of Gaza City is the 24 year-old chief editor of the Palestine Telegraph, an online newspaper in English. He said that he wasn’t shocked at all by the attack itself, but was deeply saddened at the propaganda that followed.

“Israel says there is no siege or crisis in Gaza,” Habeeb remarks. “[But] OXFAM, Amnesty In-ternational, the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Human Rights Watch have all confirmed [the situation in Gaza]. Israel tries to discredit them. What a world. What we see now is that Israel says that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.”

Twenty three-year-old Omar Ghraieb, a reporter and translator in Gaza City, says he knows Americans have very limited knowledge of the reality in occupied Palestine. “Imagine yourself living in a prison where you wake up in the morning and only have this limited space to go out to when you are on a break,” he comments. “Well, welcome to the biggest open-air prison, Wel-come to Gaza.”

He says his community spent days tracking the Freedom Flotilla, anxious to welcome them. But when the news came down in the early morning of May 31 that the flotilla had been intercepted and people on the boats had been arrested, seized, attacked, and killed, he joined hundreds of people at the port to show solidarity and anger towards Israel’s actions.

“I saw children at the port crying, fishermen with sadness pouring down their faces, angry youth and shocked officials,” he recounts. “We will never forget those heroes nor those innocent brave souls who sacrificed their lives to show their solidarity with us and help us break the siege and end the imposed blockade. We felt overwhelmed with what had happened, and with the support that we felt from the people all over the world who marched in demonstrations protesting that massacre. Gaza will never forget what happened. We will forever commemorate this massacre.”

Israel Scrambles to Cover its Tracks

As news of the killings spread across the world, outrage and condemnation followed. In dozens of major global cities, thousands of people spilled into the streets in protest. Seventeen countries summoned their Israeli ambassadors, publicly calling for explanations. Turkey severed diplomatic ties with Israel and categorized the attack on the boats as a war crime.

Meanwhile, Israel’s PR machine quickly went into overdrive — painting the humanitarian aid activists as “violent;” “anti-semitic;” and “terrorists” linked with al-Qaeda — while Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, insisted that there is “no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. Most of the mainstream corporate media followed suit.

A Message of Resilience

As Israel opposes an international investigation into the massacre, Gaza City-based Omar Ghraieb measures the devastating impacts of the blockade, the regular air strikes and the daily paralyzation of normal life against the backdrop of a very resilient culture. “Within the circumstances and catastrophies that Gaza has been through…Gazans somehow find a way to keep the blood flowing in Gaza’s veins…Somehow, we remain positive, hopeful and filled with faith.”

Also from Youth Radio – Youth Media International

Gaza City Diary

Palestinians Regard Permaculture As a Necessity, Not Choice

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit

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Misinformation gone wild: corporate media ignores the real issues

June 3, 2010

Benjamin Netanyahu: "We were attacked by leprechauns with willow-branch clubs, and our Navy's Unit 13 had special orders from me personally to steal the rainbow, snatch the leprechauns and shoot them in the heads. Oh, and never forget the Holocaust."

I think I started off my post last Monday with “where do we start?” and it’s time to ask that again. Four days have passed since the outrageously illegal and lethal Israeli raid on the humanitarian aid flotilla, as the blood dries, the facts are boiling to the surface. And they don’t look good for Israel.

Problem is, Israel’s Orwellian PR campaign machine is in full effect; and the lobotomized American corporate media is once again its willing bullhorn. Since the Israeli naval commandos massacred people on the boat (9 confirmed dead; not all reports are in yet and Israel still won’t release all the names), the mainstream media has been saturated by Israeli officials, spokesmen, and those who lie on their behalf (534 year-old Ed Koch was apparently exhumed and re-inflated by AIPAC’s Special Forces to spew fanatical pro-Israeli government rants at our good friend and comrade in truth Jeremy Scahill, who reminded me of Ultimate Fighter champion Kimbo Slice as he pile-drived Koch’s racist diatribes again and again).

It’s really interesting to see the wheels of this conspiracy so well-oiled and homogenized. If one network or news agency begins a meme, so go the rest. Witness how AP, Reuters, the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Telegraph (to name just the top few searches on Google) all used the word “bungled” to describe Israel’s lethal, atrocious raid. As though the military’s true intent was to throw, as I said on Flashpoints earlier today, kittens and rainbows onto the boat instead of rappeling from helicopters IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS, shooting as they dropped in, according to eyewitness accounts now being released as activists return home following expulsion by the Israeli government.

But, luckily, some of us journalists are doing our jobs. As Max “Maxzilla” Blumenthal points out in his latest post, written from ground zero in Tel Aviv,

Statements by senior Israeli military commanders made in the Hebrew media days before the massacre revealed that the raid was planned over a week in advance by the Israeli military and was personally approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The elite Israeli commando unit known as Unit 13 was tasked with carrying out the mission and its role was known by the Israeli public well before the raid took place. Details of the plan show that the use of deadly force was authorized and calculated. The massacre of activists should not have been unexpected.

On May 28, three days before the raid, top Israeli military officials revealed details of their strategy to Maariv, Israel’s most widely circulated paper. The caption of the Maariv article reflected the military command’s plan to use force: “On the way to violence; one of the boats is on its way.”

Max, who rightly points out that this was another account of a premeditated attack by the Israeli military, in direct approval from the State’s top leaders, also reveals that the Israeli plan was to lay the foundation inside the Israeli public for blanket approval and backing to the military’s actions, whatever they happened to be. And now, across Israel, thousands are out in the streets with banners and flags, chanting for a full return of the fascist Kakh party, while others are publicly calling for the expulsion and assassination of Israeli MK member Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of the State who was aboard the flotilla. This is a democratic country? With a full and free press?

Israel’s revision of what happened Monday has gotten to the point of Monty Python-esque absurdity. With official claims of shooting activists with paint-guns, to their shocking announcement that humanitarian aiders attempted to kidnap several of the commandos, to Bibi Netanyahu invoking terrible 1980’s sitcoms in an attempt to classify the flotilla, to accusing the activists of being affiliated with al-Qaeda (something that Max B’s work may have forced the Ministry to publicly retract its statements), to claiming that the cement and other raw construction supplies included in the aid package would be used for building Hamas bunkers and rocket launchers (I almost expected them to say “the Death Star”), to belaboring the assertion that Gaza faces no humanitarian crisis, it’s become an all-out circus — as the spokesmen and federal officials sound less and less like leaders and more and more like 14 year old boys hopped up on Ritalin, internet porn, terrible sci-fi paperbacks and candy corn.

And the US corporate press, in its silence of the facts and its echoing of Israel’s ludicrous fairy-tales, has become completely and totally irrelevant, once again. Meanwhile, an American teenager is among the at least nine killed in Israel’s attack; Emily Henochowicz, a 21 year old art student from New York is left without an eye; and Palestinians in Gaza still can’t get enough to eat, enough medicine to take, enough pens to write with and enough paper to write on.

Things are really bad now. But they’re going to get worse: Israel announced that it will treat the next batch of flotilla ships as if it was “in a war” with the flotilla; to which Turkey — unflinchingly — countered that announcement with an interesting one of their own. The next few days are going to be tense, perhaps lethal. Welcome to Palestine.

Israeli Attack on Flotilla Sparks Wave of International Protests

June 1, 2010

My latest for Truthout:

Israeli Attack on Flotilla Sparks Wave of International Protests

Tuesday 01 June 2010

by: Nora Barrows-Friedman, t r u t h o u t | Report

This protest in Madrid, Spain, is one of many worldwide that are expressing outrage against Israel’s raid on humanitarian flotillas headed for Gaza. (Photo: Carlos Barbudo)

Rami al-Meghari watched the news unfold from live video feeds monitoring international waters 65km off the coast of the Gaza Strip Monday morning, one of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents anticipating a shipment of wheelchairs, prefabricated homes, crayons, raw construction supplies, dental surgery equipment and reams of paper brought by international humanitarian activists on board a flotilla of boats.

However, the flotilla was intercepted and attacked by Israeli naval commando units, flanked by armed speedboats and helicopters. Soldiers climbed on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ship and opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least 19 people and wounding 60, according to the latest reports.

A journalist living in Gaza’s Meghazi refugee camp, al-Meghari tells Truthout that the attack was a devastating blow to the Palestinian people in Gaza – who have suffered through a three-year-long blockade as Israel forbids the entry of essential goods and humanitarian supplies, including medicines. He says he was horrified at what took place on the ship. “I am in absolute sorrow for the human loss,” he said.

From the occupied Gaza Strip to the San Francisco Bay Area, global reaction in protest of the Israeli military’s attack on the flotilla has been swift. Outraged by Israel’s attack on the flotilla, and fueled by international news headlines and internet-based information swapping through sites such as Twitter and Facebook, tens of thousands of people across the world have taken to the streets in sustained anger against Israeli policies and the actions of its military toward the humanitarian aid flotilla, while the United Nations and the Turkish government work to impose diplomatic pressure.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank launched demonstrations against the Israeli military immediately following the attack, but the protests were quickly dispersed and banned by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. Earlier in the day, Israeli forces shot a young American journalist in the face with a tear gas grenade during a women-led demonstration at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. There were also protests inside the old city in occupied East Jerusalem, while others demonstrated outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house in the Western side of the city.

In the Palestinian city of Umm al-Fahem in northern Israel, Palestinian youth burned tires as Israeli forces attempted to lock down areas of the city. Elsewhere, Israeli and Palestinian protesters descended on the city of Ashdod, where detention camps had been set up by the military to hold those arrested from the flotilla and to where some of the ships on the flotilla were being towed. Protesters in Haifa and other northern Israeli cities also joined the day of action.

People in Egypt and Jordan took part in similar protests as thousands across the region demanded that their governments sever diplomatic and political ties with Israel. Lebanese demonstrators surrounded the UN headquarters in Beirut to condemn Israel’s policies and the violent attack against the flotilla.

In Turkey, thousands of protesters attempted to storm the Israeli embassy in Istanbul right after the killings. Later in the day, Turkish government officials categorized Israel’s attack as “state terrorism” and withdrew its ambassador to Israel as thousands of protesters hit the streets in spontaneous demonstrations demanding justice for those killed in the attack and for Palestinians in Gaza.

In Canada, protests were planned at Israeli embassies and Federal buildings in an “emergency response” to Israel’s aggressions. Seven thousand Swedish demonstrators hit the streets of Stockholm as the Swedish government summoned its Israeli ambassador, condemning the attack as “completely unacceptable” and demanding clarification by the Israeli government. Sweden had several of its citizens on board the ships.

Meanwhile, across the US, pro-justice activists took to the streets in anger and anguish over the killings. Protesters organized in New York City’s Times Square, and in Houston, Cleveland and Seattle, among other cities. University of Chicago freshman Sami Kishawi tells Truthout he joined a massive demonstration in downtown Chicago on Monday afternoon. “I will remain open and willing to participate in dialogue that will reveal to the public the grim reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people,” he said.

In the Bay Area, activists protested outside Israeli embassy in downtown San Francisco. Oakland resident Amir Qureshi told Truthout that he joined the protests in solidarity with the more than 600 activists on the flotilla, and is taking part in other actions as well, including countering some of the Israeli propaganda that’s filtered down inside the US corporate media and calling US representatives in Congress. “Ordinary unarmed global civilians from more than a dozen countries have the courage to take on Israel’s navy in support of the besieged population of Gaza and even give our lives in doing so,” Qureshi said. “Such global solidarity shows the power of people and how it can affect global causes.”

At the same time, condemnation of Israel’s attacks have come from global leaders and icons of civil rights and justice. The Elders – a contingent of past and present world leaders and Nobel laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter – released a press statement on Monday declaring Israel’s attack as “completely inexcusable.”

“This tragic incident should draw the world’s attention to the terrible suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people, half of whom are children under the age of 18,” The Elders’ statement said.

Back in Gaza, locally-based civil society groups sent out a press statement urging the international community to take direct action against Israeli policies. They wrote:

<blockquote>”We Gaza based Palestinian Civil Society Organizations and International activists call on the international community and civil society to pressure their governments and Israel to cease the abductions and killings in Israel’s attacks against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla sailing for Gaza, and begin a global response to hold Israel accountable for the murder of foreign civilians at sea and illegal piracy of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“We salute the courage of all those who have organized this aid intervention and demand a safe passage through to Gaza for the 750 people of conscience from 40 different countries including 35 international politicians intent on breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. We offer our sincerest condolences to family and friends who have lost loved ones in the attack.

“… The people of Gaza are not dependent people, but self sufficient people doing what they can to retain some dignity in life in the wake of this colossal man-made devastation that deprives so many of a basic start in life or minimal aspirations for the future.

“We, from Gaza, call on you to demonstrate and support the courageous men and women who went on the Flotilla, many now murdered on a humanitarian aid mission. We insist on severance of diplomatic ties with Israel, trials for war crimes and the International protection of the civilians of Gaza. We call on you to join the growing international boycott, divestment and sanction campaign of a country proving again to be so violent and yet so unchallenged. Join the growing critical mass around the world with a commitment to the day when Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as any other people, when the siege is lifted, the occupation is over and the 6 million Palestinian refugees are finally granted justice.”</blockquote>

From Gaza’s Meghazi refugee camp, al-Meghari said of Israel’s actions Monday morning, “violence only breeds violence. And as long as Israeli repression remains in place, Palestinian and pro-justice people around the world will keep up their resistance to that repression.”

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Israeli commando pirates attack Gaza flotilla in international waters

May 30, 2010

ok, where do we start? how many international laws were being breached, violated, broken, trampled?

ten activists, maybe up to sixteen by the latest reports, were killed today when Israeli commandos launched a brazen attack against the Gaza flotilla which was sailing to “break the siege” with humanitarian aid and hundreds of Palestinian, Turkish, American, British and many other international activists aboard.

i’ve had my issues with the internal machinations of the Free Gaza Movement or the Free Palestine Movement, whatever the factionalization drama it cycled in and out of, whatever it’s called now, but Israel’s open-fire assault on the boats really shocked me. and i’m not easily shocked by Israeli aggressions these days anymore.

Why should i be shocked, why should we be shocked anyway? apartheid militarism breeds outrageous aggression. israel has shown us, again and again, that nonviolent protests automatically warrant violent aggression. it’s leaders have shown us that because there has never been any international legal condemnation, nor political pressure, nor outright sanctions against the state, it can feel empowered to act and kill as it wants. shimon peres won a nobel peace prize, even.

these acts of war happen every day in palestine. on the ground. away from the spotlights and the live television feeds and the twitter posts. palestinians are fighting for their lives.

i’m worried about my friends on the boats, i’m worried about my friends in the refugee camps. i’m worried about those who have buried family members today, those who will bury more tomorrow. i’m worried about those who are buried with the memories of their villages long destroyed and buried themselves. i’m worried about those who want to scream but cannot use their voice. i’m worried about the israeli children who have inherited this paradigm of supremacy and fascist aggression.

here’s the latest, before i go to bed and dream of calmer waters, from Al-Jazeera.

Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet
Al Jazeera’s report on board the Mavi Marmara before communications were cu

Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country’s siege on Gaza.

Up to 16 people were killed and more than 30 people injured when troops stormed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday, the Israeli Army Radio said.

The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.

Footage from the flotilla’s lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara, showed armed Israeli soldiers boarding the ship and helicopters flying overhead.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, on board the Mavi Marmara, said Israeli troops had used live ammunition during the operation.

The Israeli Army Radio said soldiers opened fire “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects”.

Free Gaza Movement, the organisers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships.

They also said the ships were now being towed to the Israeli town of Haifa, instead of Ashdod to avoid waiting journalists.

Earlier, the Israeli navy had contacted the captain of the Mavi Marmara, asking him to identify himself and say where the ship was headed.

Israeli intervention

Focus: On board the Freedom Flotilla
Blog: Israel’s navy will have its work cut out
Aid convoy sets off for Gaza
‘Fighting to break Gaza siege’
Born in Gaza
‘The future of Palestine’
Gazan’s rare family reunion abroad
Making the most of Gaza’s woes

Shortly after, two Israeli naval vessels had flanked the flotilla on either side, but at a distance.

Organisers of the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid then diverted their ships and slowed down to avoid a confrontation during the night.

They also issued all passengers life jackets and asked them to remain below deck.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli action was surprising.

“All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation,” he said.


Condemnation has been quick to pour in after the Israeli action.

Thousands of Turkish protesters tried to storm the Israeli consulate in Istanbul soon after the news of the operation broke. The protesters shouted “Damn Israel” as police blocked them.

Turkey is also reported to have summoned the Israeli ambassador to lodge a protest.

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, has dubbed the Israeli action as “barbaric”.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists, including a Nobel laureate and several European legislators, are with the flotilla, aiming to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli embargo.

But Israel has said it will not allow the flotilla to reach the Gaza Strip and vowed to stop the six ships from reaching the coastal Palestinian territory.

The flotilla had set sail from a port in Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach Gaza by Monday morning.

Israel said the boats were embarking on “an act of provocation” against the Israeli military, rather than providing aid, and that it had issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.

It asserted that the flotilla would be breaking international law by landing in Gaza, a claim the organisers rejected.

Interview with Rawia abu Rabia of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel

May 25, 2010

Electronic Intifada published my piece today — an in-depth and very moving interview about the continued uprooting and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins inside the Green Line.

Israel denies Palestinians in “unrecognized villages” basic services like water and electricity. (Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills)

Al-Masadiya, al-Garin, Khirbat al-Watan, Bir al-Hamam, Khashem Zana, Sawin, al-Shahabi, Wadi al-Naam and al-Mashash are all Palestinian Bedouin villages facing destruction by bulldozers and cement mixers as Israel’s transportation ministry plans to lengthen its Trans-Israel Highway southward into the Naqab (Negev) desert. This means that more than 3,000 Palestinian Bedouins could be displaced if an injunction filed by Israeli civil rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) doesn’t succeed in the high court.

Spokespeople for Bimkom (Planners for Planning Rights), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, some of the groups filing the injunction, say that the Israeli government approved the highway construction without consideration for indigenous populations in the Naqab.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reports that the highway extension is part of the Israeli government’s plan for “development” of the Naqab, which also includes the construction of a massive Israeli military training facility at the Southern end.

More than 80,000 indigenous Bedouins live in the Naqab desert region, in dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages” — communities that the state has refused to acknowledge despite the fact that most of them have existed before the State of Israel was established. Moreover, Israeli politicians often refer to the areas as “empty” in order to create support for building new Jewish settlements, removing the indigenous populations in continuation of an ethnic cleansing project that is now more than 62 years old.

On a regular basis, Israeli bulldozers and squads of police invade Palestinian Bedouin villages, carrying out widespread home demolitions and leaving entire communities reduced to rubble. While such Israeli rights violations in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem have generated protest, it is less known that such policies are in place in Israel itself.

Rawia Abu Rabia, a social activist and human rights lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, represents her community and advocates for their human and civil rights as the state continues to discriminate and uproot citizens across the country. Nora Barrows-Friedman interviewed Abu Rabia for KPFA’s Flashpoints Radio on 13 May.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Rawia, can you talk about the current crisis facing the indigenous populations living inside the State of Israel? Explain what these so-called unrecognized villages are, and tell us about the level of institutionalized racism, discrimination and home demolitions right now.

Rawia Abu Rabia: First, we’re talking about the indigenous Bedouin community who are part of the Palestinian people. They are citizens of Israel, although they are not treated as equal citizens. Half of the Bedouin indigenous communities have existed before the establishment of the state, for many centuries, as agricultural workers. They were internally displaced by the State of Israel, starting from the Nakba in 1948, where they were transferred to a certain geographical area. They were restricted from moving from one place to another until 1966, as part of the military regime policy that Palestinian citizens of Israel were subjected to.

Then, the state decided to organize the Bedouins and established seven governmental townships that are among the poorest towns in Israel, forcibly moving the Bedouins into this tight geographical area known for its low agricultural fertility. The purpose was to have as many Bedouins as possible on minimum land. Their ancestral lands were given to new Jewish cities and other urban areas, while they were restricted from returning to their historical villages.

Then, the state started to make different laws in order to take over new areas of Bedouin land. In 1965, Israel’s implementation of the construction and building law, which designed the master plan for Israeli cities and villages, didn’t take into consideration any of the Bedouin villages. By doing that, the state used the law and the legal mechanisms to displace the Bedouins and make them illegal. That’s why today we have about 80,000 Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel who live in about 35 villages that the State of Israel refuses to recognize. What I mean by lack of recognition is that the villages don’t appear on official maps. They are denied basic services: running water, electricity, and garbage disposal. People aren’t allowed to build permanent houses, and those who do risk heavy fines and home demolitions.

In 2009, 254 houses were demolished in these villages. The State of Israel and state officials ignore their existence. They are invisible citizens in the eyes of the law. The other half of the Bedouins live in the seven townships that are among the poorest and underdeveloped towns of Israel. The rate of dropout from schools in these villages is almost 60 percent, the rate of unemployment is extremely high and the level of education is very poor … the Bedouins are not entitled to the same rights as the Jewish citizens.

The saddest thing is the institutionalized racism and discrimination that is written into the law. Especially laws related to the land issues — which are designed to criminalize the Bedouins and make them illegal.

NBF: What do the laws actually say; what is written in these laws?

RAR: First of all, the laws related to land issues are discriminatory. For example, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 until today, hundreds of Jewish cities and agricultural settlements were established, while no Palestinian villages or cities were established except for the seven townships that I mentioned. Another example is the issue that this area in which the Bedouins are concentrated, is basically the only place that Bedouins can live. If a Bedouin wants to live in another place, he will face all sorts of discriminatory mechanisms, such as criteria to be accepted to live in certain towns in Israel.

I mentioned this construction and building law from 1965, the Master Plan, that didn’t include any of the Bedouin villages. So by the law, the Bedouin villages are illegal. Today, in many Palestinian villages in Israel, when people want to build homes or expand their villages, they don’t get permits from the planning authorities to do so. By doing that, they are deprived from the basic right of housing and the state doesn’t provide any alternative.

Even when the homes are demolished in the unrecognized villages, no compensation or alternative housing is provided by the state, even though, according to international law, such an alternative should be provided.

There are other laws, such as the citizenship law, [that are discriminatory]. If you are a Palestinian Israeli citizen and want to marry a Palestinian from the occupied territories or another Arab country, your spouse will not get [Israeli] citizenship. He is deprived; while if you are a Jewish Israeli, and you want to marry a foreigner from a country abroad, he can move into the process of citizenship. There is also the law of return, which is a law that says that anyone who has a mother who is Jewish can come to Israel and get Israeli citizenship, while Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 — refugees, as we all know — cannot return. They cannot get any rights, and their properties and land are declared as “absentee property” even when the people who own these lands are not absent — they’re still alive.

NBF: In April 2010, the Bedouin village of Twail abu Jarwal in the Naqab was demolished for the fortieth time in the last few years. Tell us about these kinds of actions by the Israeli government, and what happens to people during these home demolitions.

RAR: We’re talking about home demolitions — but the “homes” we’re talking about are very poor shacks and tents that are being destroyed. And these are young communities. About 70 percent of the Bedouin community is below 18 years old. These bulldozers come into these poor places, these shacks and tents, and demolish them. The purpose is meant to pressure the Bedouins into leaving their land, so the state can take control over their land.

There are other mechanisms used to take over land as well, such as the Jewish National Fund — which recently planted trees on the land of the al-Araqid tribe. These are other forms and mechanisms to take over more and more land, and to pressure people to leave their land. The Bedouins know this, and based on the bitter experience of the Palestinian people, they know that the only way that they can have a chance to keep their land is to physically stay on their land — sumoud (steadfastness). [Israel’s policies are] a very aggressive way to push people off their land without any consideration of international law, or of the declaration of the rights of indigenous people, et cetera. This actually pushes people to be hostile, and to lose any trust in the Israeli authorities; legal or otherwise. People become bitter when they see this discrimination alive, in front of them; when they see the bulldozers come and destroy their homes without any compensation or alternative, nothing.

NBF: Walk us through one of these Bedouin villages. Talk about the kinds of conditions that Bedouins are living in right now as they face home demolitions, and what kinds of services people are prevented from accessing as villagers in these communities.

RAR: Most of the unrecognized Bedouin villages lack health services and other services as well. If they want to access services in the nearest Jewish city or elsewhere, they first have to walk for miles to get to the main road. And then they have to find transportation, since there is no public transportation within these villages. The few services, the few clinics that we have in some of the villages, are results of petitions to the supreme court. None of the villages are connected to electricity at all. So when a bulldozer comes and destroys houses during the winter time — we’re talking about the desert, which is very cold at night — you can imagine that they will be left with no ways to find heating or other protection, other solutions.

NBF: We’ve been following the story of the Palestinian “unrecognized” village of Dhammash, outside of Lydd near the Ben Gurion Airport, 20 minutes from Tel Aviv. The people there are in and out of the high court, hoping to get another injunction to prevent the bulldozers from demolishing 13 homes there. Can you talk about what’s happening to communities like this, which are inside more urban areas around the state, Palestinians who are forced into displacement as the Jewish communities grow and expand?

RAR: I think that the issue of the Bedouins is not disconnected from the issues of other Palestinian communities living inside Israel. This is part of the daily situation we all face as Palestinian Israeli citizens who are treated as second-class citizens or worse. The land is the main resource that has been denied to the Palestinians.

For instance, in Jaffa, which a mixed city of Jews and Palestinians, we see how Jaffa is developing for the Jewish citizens while the Palestinian citizens are kicked out of their neighborhoods. This is the issue of the Naqab with the Bedouins, it’s the issue of the mixed towns of Jaffa or Lydd, and it’s also the issue in the Galilee, where there are many home demolition orders as well. This is the same cause. This is the feeling of the Palestinian citizens of Israel — we were displaced in 1948, and in 1967, and the process of internal displacement is still happening all the time. Especially now, with the right-wing government that is following these racist policies and pushing Palestinian Israeli citizens more and more out of their villages, and are being delegitimized as a people.

I think this is what links the whole cause. It’s the cause of being Palestinian, and being a Palestinian Israeli citizen who is being treated in an unequal way.

NBF: You met the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People at the United Nations in New York recently, tell us what went on in the meeting and what the UN is doing to address the critical needs for the Palestinian and Bedouin communities inside Israel.

RAR: Yes, I had a meeting with the Special Rapporteur, Professor James Anaya, and I explained to him the situation of the Bedouins in the Naqab and the internal displacement, the home demolitions, and the decision of the Israeli government to triple the home demolition orders for Bedouin villages, and he’s very much concerned with the situation of the Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab. He mentioned that he will follow up with the situation. I urged him to come and visit these villages and see for himself. I could sit there and describe this to him, but the best thing is if he could come and see the demolitions that are taking place, the actions that are taking place to push people away from their land and houses. I hope he accepts the invitation and comes and visit. But he said that in the meantime, he said he will follow up the issues that I have raised with the Israeli government.

NBF: Talk about your work as a lawyer for these communities. What is it like representing their concerns as the state pretty much goes ahead and continues to de-populate, displace and discriminate on a daily basis?

RAR: As a lawyer for human rights, working at the Association for Civil Rights, I face challenges all the time. On the one hand, I face discrimination as a Bedouin citizen of Israel — when I came back from the UN on El-Al airlines, I faced a huge humiliation because I’m an Arab. But on the other hand, the only effective tool that I can use to advocate for my people is the legal tool. It’s a challenge all the time, because you have to be optimistic. My biggest dilemma is, how can I advocate for equality within a discriminatory reality? This is a big challenge — because sometimes, the supreme court makes good decisions, but sometimes, because of some discriminatory laws, it could make a decision that is not the best for my people … And I believe in the international mechanisms as well, that we have to use these to put pressure on Israel to change its policies towards the Bedouins.

People, sometimes, are very frustrated with the situation, especially when they see that the legal system is not equal … people think that the legal system is supposed to provide answers, but not in all cases. That’s the situation. We have to promote equality in an unequal reality. We don’t have any other options — we have to continue in this way.

NBF: Israeli politicians regularly describe the state as a moral democracy for all of its citizens, but it’s clear that it’s a democracy only for a preferred ethnicity, or a preferred religion. What can you say about what democracy looks like in historic Palestine today, and what’s your response to how Israeli leaders represent their policies?

RAR: Like Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi said, “Israel is a democratic state for the Jews, and a Jewish state for the Arabs.” This describes the situation … And others, like professor Oren Yiftachel, who said that it’s actually an ethnocracy, it’s not democracy. We could argue whether it is a democratic and Jewish state or not. Israel doesn’t have a constitution. It doesn’t have a separation between religion and the state. It has problematic issues related to violations of women’s rights because of a lack of separation between religious laws and the state. So, it’s a very problematic democracy. And we are also witnessing harassment of human rights activists and organizations that are the last refuge for a democracy. They are the only voice that talk about human rights violations that are taking place in the so-called democratic state.

NBF: You’re referring to your colleague, Ameer Makhoul of Ittijah – Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and others in the last few weeks who have been detained, prevented from leaving the country. And Makhoul’s story was under gag order in the Israeli media. What more can you say about this crackdown on Palestinian civil rights activists and organizations, who are trying to represent the interests of the indigenous populations there?

RAR: I think the gag orders are problematic and they’re happening more often. It’s very concerning, as Israel wants to see itself as a democracy. A democratic state is not supposed to let things happen in the dark. We’re very much concerned with these gag orders being issues easily. Actually, Adalah [the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel] and the Association for Civil Rights are asking the courts to remove these gag orders. And people know about these cases already. It’s a globalized world; people are reading about what’s happening on the Internet, they hear about it anyway, so [the gag orders] are kind of absurd.

But I think this is also part of the steps that are being taken against Palestinian leaders in order to silence them as they advocate for their cause. We’re doing our work according to the legal system, and this is a way to silence these voices.

“I wanted to send out a message that the sky, from which my son was killed, is a beautiful sky that has beautiful things to look at.”

May 4, 2010

My dear friend and colleague, Rami al-Meghari, wrote an exceptionally moving article today on the Electronic Intifada that I wanted to make sure people read.

In Gaza, the Israeli government has tried incessantly to suppress life and growth. Through the eyes of one astronomer, armed with The Bigger Picture through a telescope, this story paints a portrait of resistance and resilience, how grief and the cosmos interweave through all of our lives, no matter where we live. Thank you Rami, and thank you, Dr. Suleiman Baraka.

Bereaved Gaza astronomer opens up the heavens
Rami Almeghari writing from , The Electronic Intifada, 4 May 2010

Suleiman Baraka stargazing in Gaza. (Amjad Hammad)

As the sun set on a clear evening in Gaza City, Suleiman Baraka was setting up his telescope on the rooftop of the French Cultural Center as two dozen visitors waited anxiously to gaze into the stars. It was a rare occasion to break away — at least momentarily — from the siege on the ground in the Gaza Strip.

“It is such an exciting experience for me that I never imagined would happen,” said Suzan al-Barashly, one of the waiting star-gazers. “I’ve been used to nothing but Israeli warplanes and drones buzzing over our heads. I have never enjoyed the beauty of our sky. I am seeing the stars close to me — such a beautiful scene.”

In recent years, the Gaza Strip has witnessed widespread Israeli air raids that targeted many parts of the coastal territory, the latest and deadliest of which was in the winter of 2008-09. More than 1,400 persons, mostly civilians, were killed in the attacks.

That reality was not far from al-Barashly’s mind. “I just told a friend that I am afraid to look into this telescope,” she said. “It resembles a rocket launcher, so I am afraid the Israeli unmanned drones will hit us, thinking we are launching rockets.”

Ahmad, another amateur astronomer, said, “I feel glad to have experienced something that is unimaginable in Gaza. Really, thanks to Mr. Suleiman, who made us enjoy such an incredible moment.”

For the past several weeks, astronomer Suleiman Baraka has been touring the Gaza Strip with his telescope to allow as many individuals as possible to enjoy a few moments looking up into the heavens. His first stop was with the schoolmates of his late son, Ibrahim.

Ibrahim Baraka

Baraka, 46, hails from the southern Gaza Strip and holds a doctorate in astrophysics from an Australian university. In 2007, he spent a year doing research at the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States. In January 2009, he returned to Gaza after Ibrahim, aged 11, was killed in an Israeli air strike that hit his home in the town of Bani Suhaila. Baraka now lives at his brother’s home in Bani Suhaila along with his own four-member family.

“The killing of my son inspired in me a message of peace, a message that I decided to convey to his killers,” Baraka said. “I gathered Ibrahim’s fellow students and started teaching them how to be inspired to be scientists.”

“I didn’t teach them sources of horror or terror,” Baraka recalled. “Rather, I wanted to send out a message that the sky, from which my son was killed, is a beautiful sky that has beautiful things to look at.”

Along with the killing of his son and the destruction of his home, Baraka lost his large library of scientific books. With a smile full of pride, the astronomer also spoke about his experience at NASA.

“Man is great, man can do everything, once he is provided with the tools for creation. When you take off the social or economic burdens that always pose an obstacle in the face of achievement, man can do anything and can reach the moon. The Americans have been successful enough, ensuring such proper conditions for creation.”

Before his position at NASA, Baraka had spent time doing research at Virginia Tech. When he first joined NASA, Baraka said, “I felt so proud of being a part of this prestigious American agency,” he recalled.

Asked whether he planned to stay in Gaza or move abroad, Baraka replied that he is thinking of staying in Gaza to foster research for the benefit of the entire Gaza community.

“In coordination with a local university here, I plan to open up the first-ever space research department, hoping that in a course of five years, Gaza will see several space researchers, God willing,” Baraka said.

But even bringing his highly-advanced Meade LXD 75 telescope into the Gaza Strip was enormously difficult due to the strict blockade Israel has imposed on in the territory for almost three years.

“Three countries helped bring this equipment into Gaza, but I am not going to name any of them,” the astronomer said after an evening of star-gazing. As he spoke, he packed up the telescope, ready for the next stop on his tour.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Military Snatch Squad Kidnap Beit Ommar Youth, Settlers Attack Residents

May 2, 2010

As I’ve been reporting for quite some time, the Israeli military has stepped up their targeting of Palestinian children especially in areas where settlement colonies are expanding. (See the story i wrote for EI about Amir, 10 years old). Beit Ommar is right on the edge of the Hebron (al-Khalil) district in the southern West Bank.

From the Palestine Solidarity Project:

Israeli Military Snatch Squad Kidnap Beit Ommar Youth, Settlers Attack Residents

2 May 2010

At 19.30 today, May 2, an Israeli army snatch squad of 6 soldiers dressed as Palestinians drove into Beit Ommar in a white Ford Transit with Palestinian number plates and took away at least 6 youths aged between 13 and 16. Under cover of darkness the soldiers terrified villagers by throwing numerous stun grenades and firing tear gas into the narrow streets of the town. It is believed that the youths are being detained in Karmei Tsur settlement.
Later this evening a group of around a dozen settlers from Karmei Tsur settlement staged a demonstration on Highway 60 and have attacked Palestinian villagers from Beit Ommar. Reports are coming in that there are 10 Israeli army and Police units at the scene and using loudspeakers to order the villagers back to their homes. Soldiers are firing flares, stun grenades and tear gas. The army have again entered Beit Ommar. Jeeps are patrolling the main street and further arrests of local teenagers are expected throughout the night.

Four young men have been named as:

Hussein Shhda Soleiby 16
Rashid Mohammed Awad 16
Ali Said Sabarneh 16
Odai Fahry Ikhlayl 13

It is thought that the Israeli soldiers are punishing villagers for the rallies held at the illegal Karmei Tsur settlement protesting against the destruction of dozens of fruit trees on confiscated farmland. In recent weeks Israeli soldiers have been filmed beating villagers and attacking journalists filming their indiscriminate violence. Last month a 10 year old child was shot with a rubber coated bullet by soldiers from Karmei Tsur during one of their regular invasions to terrorise and intimidate villagers.