INTERVIEW WITH A MARTYR

Interview with the late Juliano Mer-Khamis: “We are freedom fighters”
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi*

A portrait of Juliano Mer-Khamis hangs outside the Freedom Theatre where he was killed one day earlier. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a masked gunman yesterday outside the Freedom Theatre that he co-founded in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin in 2006. Born in Nazareth in 1958 to Saliba Khamis, a Palestinian Christian leader of the Israeli Communist Party, and Arna Mer, an Israeli Jewish dramatist, Juliano memorably described himself as “100 percent Palestinian, and 100 percent Jewish.” 

Julian had tried to get his film Arna’s Children, (presented below) which documents his mother’s extraordinary transformation from a young settler in 1948 to a drama teacher in the Jenin refugee camp, shown widely. As he discusses in the previously unpublished interview which follows, the film was met with little success the first time. In 2006, he returned as indefatigably as ever, and I met him for the first time at a screening of his film at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Despite the scarce number of people in attendance that night (which Juliano loudly called attention to), one grasped the general astonishment that accompanied viewing this rare and unforgettable work. Juliano paced the room after the film, a passionate cadence rising in his voice as he described the devastations of occupation and the hazards of filmmaking.

Though Arna’s Children is a documentary, the time markers of the film relegate it closer to a work of fiction. Like other works of art centered on the loss of historic Palestine, most notably the characters who return to their pre-1948 homes in Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa, Juliano constructed a narrative that is almost impossible to recreate or imagine from any other point of view.

In one shot of the film, the sequencing of events binds a shot of Juliano alongside his mother’s wrapped body at a hospital with a subsequent shot of the Israeli army bulldozing Arna’s Stone Theatre in April 2002. The Stone Theatre was part of Arna’s larger cultural project, Care and Learning, founded to allow the children of Jenin — faced with a crushing and seemingly inescapable military occupation — a creative outlet for their chronic trauma. The theater was leveled by the Israeli incursion, which Juliano captured on film. The historical date of both these events align almost miraculously, but the montages of destruction — his mother’s corpse and the ruins of the beloved theatre — are superimposed as mutually ravaged bodies.

I interviewed Juliano at Boston’s South Station on 4 April 2006 just before he caught a train to the New York screening — exactly five years before he was killed just outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, the locus of his life’s most notable work.

Juliano’s resume as an actor is well-documented, and the details of his biography are sure to be revisited in the aftermath of his murder. It was his cinematic and personal relationship to the refugee camp in Jenin and his complex relationship to Israel that most concerned us in this conversation.

Juliano’s tone in this interview will be familiar to all who knew him: brutally honest, sardonic and always with an unflinching eye toward the original historic pitfalls of Israel and the Palestinians. He candidly discusses the social engineering of Israeli society, his mother’s visionary work in Jenin and his own path from paratrooper to filmmaker/activist. My hope is that it is read as a fragment of discourse alongside the rest of his film and activism work, which together formed the unlikely and uncompromising triumph of art, what artist Paul Chan has called “freedom without force.”

The following is an excerpt from my 2006 interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Maryam Monalist Gharavi: How long was Arna’s Children banned in Israel?

 

Juliano Mer-Khamis at the opening of the Freedom Theatre’s We Won’t Forget Lebanon 2006, January 2007. (Tess Scheflan/ActiveStills)
Juliano Mer-Khamis: It was not really banned. It was silenced. Journalists who wanted to write about the film could not get through the editorial decisions. There were two TV programs made about the film and cancelled at the last moment. We could not find a distributor in Israel for the film or cinemas to screen it. There were certain moments when some critics and journalists used the film as an outlet for their own frustrations, which were imposed on them by censorship and by directing or imposing a very certain discourse on the media by the government. I’m talking about issuing papers, in which were written ‘words you can use and cannot use,’ ‘certain questions you are not allowed to ask’ and the way you [are allowed to] ask those questions. If you speak to a Palestinian or to the military you have to change your expressions and the terms you use. So this outlet gave them the courage, I believe, to write, and since then they legitimized the film in Israel and it was screened all over the country. 

MMG: Arna gave a poignant speech upon accepting the Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish parliament. She said that as Rosh Pina [the Israeli settlement where she lived following the Palestinian Nakba of 1948] grew and developed, the nearby Arab village al-Jauna was “erased from the face of the earth,” its Palestinian inhabitants becoming refugees, along with 700,000 others, “through sheer robbery and forced displacement.” What do you think stops other Israelis from coming to the same conclusion as your mother?

JMK: That’s a very interesting question. I’ll give you just the framework in which I can analyze this process of history that enabled Israel to confiscate, to settle and to colonize Palestine and not go through the path my mother chose. The reasons are many but the main reason you must understand is that since the Zionist movement was created, it manipulated the history of the Jews, especially the Holocaust period, and used forces around it to create one of the most successful colonies in Palestine. And since then, the victim philosophy or victim theory or victim policy of Jews and Israelis used all means and all aspects in their history since the pogroms — what they call the persecutions in Russia during the Czar period — till the announcement of hundreds of suicide warnings coming to Israel. From that to here, we see a policy of fear, a ghetto mentality, a policy that distracts the average Israeli from the truth. Frightened and victimized people can justify any crime they do and it enables them to live with their conscience in a very comfortable way like most of the Israelis. Once you are a victim, it’s very easy to create dehumanization and demonization of the other, and this is the success of the first Israeli propaganda in the Zionist movement.

MMG: In the scene of your mother’s body at the mortuary, you comment somewhat half-heartedly that the only place that would bury her was the kibbutz. What happened after she died?

JMK: My mother could not be buried because she refused to be buried in a religious ceremony or funeral. Israel is not a democracy; it’s a theocracy. The religion is not separated from the state so all issues concerning the privacy of life — marriage, burial and many other aspects — are controlled by the religious authorities, so you cannot be buried in a civilian funeral. The only way to do it is buy a piece of land in some kibbutzim, which refused to sell us a piece of land because of the politics of my mother. It’s not a very popular thing in a civilian, non-religious way. And then I had to take the coffin home. And it stayed in my house for three days and I could not find a place to bury her. So I announced in a press conference that she was going to be buried in the garden of my house. There was a big scandal, police came, a lot of TV and media [came], violent warnings were issued against me. There were big demonstrations around the house, till I got a phone call from friends from a kibbutz, Ramot Menashe, who are from the left side of the map, and they came from Argentina. Nice Zionist Israelis, maybe post-Zionist. They offered a piece of land there. And the funny thing is that while we were looking for a place to bury my mother, there were discussions in Jenin to offer me to bring her for burial there, in the shahid’s [martyr’s] graveyard. They told me there was one Fatah leader, who was humorously saying, “Well, guys, look, it’s an honor to have Arna with us here, a great honor, the only thing is maybe in about fifty years’ time some Jewish archaeologists will come here and say there are some Jewish bones here and they’re going to confiscate the land of Jenin.” [Laughs] They do it. Even if they find the Jewish bones of a dog, they take the place. That’s the place they do it. Every place they confiscate they find the bones of a Jew and that’s how they justify the ownership of the land, by finding bones.

MMG: There was a recent, widely-publicized Haaretz poll that 68 percent of Israelis would not live in the same building as an Arab.

JMK: I have it here.

MMG: So the logic runs that if you don’t want to live next to a Palestinian, why be buried next to one?

JMK: Yeah. And almost 50 percent of Israelis think the Arabs inside the ’48 [boundary], inside Israel, are a [demographic] and security threat. These are their neighbors, so imagine what kind of relationships, imagine what kind of democracy this is.

MMG: I thought one of the most important scenes in the film occurred when Alaa’s house, as well as Ashraf’s [two of Arna’s theatre students in the film], had been destroyed in Jenin, and your mother asks them to express their anger, even to hit her. You end up with this tension, as elsewhere in the film, of a tragicomedy. You find the audience laughing through their teeth.

JMK: [Arna] was trained as a psychodramatist. She was successful at it.

MMG: How would you respond to pro-Zionists watching your film, that despite your mother’s “rehabilitation of the Arab mind,” the child actors become “terrorists?”

JMK: It’s a very sick question, not yours, but the pro-Zionist attitude that thinks the problem of violence is the violence of children and not the violence of the Israeli occupation and it’s exactly to turn the pyramid upside down again, and I mean to use the propaganda to turn the question [upside down]. The question is not about the Israeli soldiers’ violence. You don’t have to heal the children in Jenin. We didn’t try to heal their violence.

We tried to challenge it into more productive ways. And more productive ways are not an alternative to resistance. What we were doing in the theatre is not trying to be a replacement or an alternative to the resistance of the Palestinians in the struggle for liberation. Just the opposite. This must be clear. I know it’s not good for fundraising, because I’m not a social worker, I’m not a good Jew going to help the Arabs, and I’m not a philanthropic Palestinian who comes to feed the poor. We are joining, by all means, the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, which is our liberation struggle. Everybody who is connected to this project says that he feels that he is also occupied by the Zionist movement, by the military regime of Israel, and by its policy. Either he lives in Jenin, or in Haifa, or in Tel Aviv. Nobody joined this project to heal. We’re not healers. We’re not good Christians. We are freedom fighters.

MMG: The film was cancelled in many cities?

JMK: Yeah, the screenings of it. It was sold, but not broadcast and also in Israel in many places. I don’t know, this is for you to judge, but I believe that people will try to boycott or create difficulties to screen this film. Of course, that’s why we’re pushing it so hard, trying to do it by ourselves. But just to clarify the theatre , joining the Palestinian intifada, by our definition: we believe that the strongest struggle today should be cultural, moral. This must be clear. We are not teaching the boys and the girls how to use arms or how to create explosives, but we expose them to discourse of liberation, of liberty. We expose them to art, culture, music — which I believe can create better people for the future, and I hope that some of them, some of our friends in Jenin, will lead … and continue the resistance against the occupation through this project, through this theatre.

MMG: Israeli director Yehuda “Judd” Ne’eman says he came to filmmaking “through the slaughterhouse of modern warfare.” He says he was disillusioned by art in the face of war atrocities, but, I’m quoting, “When the situation in my country deteriorates politically, when my body deteriorates physically, it’s high time to believe in art.” Is that different or similar to your own mission across political and artistic fault lines?

JMK: The same aspects and same starting points apply for me. Art, in our case, can combine and generate and mobilize other aspects of resistance. All I care about is resistance. I’m not doing art for the sake of art. I don’t believe in art for the sake of art. I think art can generate and motivate and combine and create a universal, liberated discourse. This is my concern about art. On the other side there is the therapeutic level, and the therapeutic level is not to heal. This is very important if you can point it out — it’s not to heal anybody from his violence. It’s to create an awareness they can use in the right way. Not against themselves.

MMG: You served in the Israeli army but quit after you were asked to stop your father’s Palestinian relatives at a military checkpoint. How significant was that event as a turning point in your political and even artistic formation?

JMK: It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I was boiling since I tried to disguise myself. The outfit could not fit, you see? I could not fit the outfit. And it blew up in my face that certain day in the checkpoint, but I was boiling for years.

MMG: How long did you serve?

JMK: I served for one and a half years, but in a very intensive special forces unit [the Paratroopers Brigade]. I don’t regret it, I must be honest. First of all, from the practical side, it saved my life many times during this theatre-making and the film. I know all aspects of the Israeli army, I speak Hebrew, I know the language, I know how to deal with them. It’s like combat training for life. And on the other hand, I penetrated the deepest sources of the Israeli propaganda, the smallest cells of Israeli society, which is fertilized in the army. The army in Israel is the essence of life, the army in Israel is the discourse of life, the army in Israeli is the foundation of the society. Once you penetrate this and you understand the dynamics, you can oppose and create and use it for yourself.

*Maryam Monalisa Gharavi has contributed poetry and critical writing to various publications. Her films have been screened at Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Harvard Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive and elsewhere. She is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University.


Written FOR

WHAT McCARTHYISM AND ZIONISM TRIED TO SILENCE ON CAMPUS



Following is a video interview with Kris Petersen. Kris was involved in a battle less than a month ago with Brooklyn College, a battle that he won ….  for all of us!


EVENTS IN EGYPT OFFER HOPE TO EXILED PALESTINIANS


“It’s a reimagining of the middle east, what is possible,” says poet Remi Kanazi of the revolution in Egypt.

What does regime change mean for the Palestinian people? And what effect will the wave of civil rights protests and activism across Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Iran and Libya have?



Presented BY

WHO SULEIMAN REALLY IS …. BY ONE OF HIS VICTIMS

He stressed that Suleiman was a CIA/Mossad agent who was willing to do anything for a price


Mamdouh Habib interview on new US/Israeli Egyptian pet Omar Suleiman

By Antony Loewenstein

Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured and tortured in the years after September 11 in both Egypt and Guantanamo Bay.

For years, “war on terror” supporters defamed Habib and claimed he was lying about his allegations of mistreatment. However last year in just one case against the Australian Murdoch press, he won a small victory:

The courts have delivered another win to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib, declaring that he was defamed by News Ltd columnist Piers Akerman, paving the way for a hefty payout.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal overturned a 2008 judgment in favour of Mr Akerman’s publisher Nationwide News and yesterday ordered them to pay Mr Habib’s legal costs in the five-year-old battle.

It was the second win for Mr Habib in a month after the full court of the Federal Court upheld an appeal in his mammoth compensation case against the federal government for allegedly aiding and abetting his torture by foreign agents.

Another hearing will now be held to determine what damages he will receive for the 2005 article in The Daily Telegraph and other News Ltd newspapers, headlined ”Mr Habib, it’s time to tell the full story”.

Today, with the Egyptian uprisings in full swing, the man tapped by the US, Israel and the West to lead the country, Omar Suleiman, was one of Habib’s torturers and there is intense scrutiny of who this man truly is.

I interviewed Habib exclusively tonight in Sydney about Suleiman, his calls for the torturer-in-chief to be charged, his knowledge about all the figures complicit in his rendition and his support for the Egyptian protests. He stressed that Suleiman was a CIA/Mossad agent who was willing to do anything for a price:

I reviewed Habib’s book, My Story, in 2008 for the Sydney Morning Herald and it tells a powerful story. The extracts below are all the references to Suleiman:

pp.112-115

The guard quickly told me that the very big boss was coming to talk to me, and that I must be well behaved and co-operate. Everyone was nervous. I have since found out that the boss was Omar Suleiman, head of all Egyptian security. He was known for personally supervising the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and sending reports to the CIA. In the beginning, he was often present during my interrogations. He must have thought that he had a big fish when I was sent to him by the Americans and Australians.

I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English. He said, “Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands. Every single person in this building has his life in my hands. I just make the decision.”

I said, “I hope your decision is that you make me die straight away.”

“No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly.” He went on, “I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything, if you want to be saved. What do you say?”

“I have nothing to tell you.”

“You think I can’t destroy you just like that?” He clapped his hands together.

“I don’t know”. I was feeling confused. Everything was unreal.

“If God came down and tried to take you by the hand, I would not let him. You are under my control. Let me show you something that will convince you.”

The guard then guided me out of the room and through an area where I could see, from below the blindfold, the trunks of palm trees. We then went through another door back inside, and descended some steps. We entered a room. They sat me down.

“Now you are going to tell me that you planned a terrorist attack”, Suleiman persisted.

“I haven’t planned any attacks.”

“I give you my word that you will be a rich man if you tell me you have been planning attacks. Don’t you trust me?” he asked.

“I don’t trust anyone”, I replied.

Immediately he slapped me hard across the face and knocked off the blindfold; I clearly saw his face.

“That’s it. That’s it. I don’t want to see this man again until he co-operates and tells me he’s been planning a terrorist attack! he yelled at the others in the room, then stormed out.

The guard came up to me, upset that I hadn’t co-operated.

I said to him, “You have to let me go soon; it’s nearly 48 hours.”

He looked at me, surprised, and asked, “How long do you think you’ve been here?”

“A day”, I replied.

“Man, you’ve been here for more than a week.”

They then took me to another room, where they tortured me relentlessly, stripping me naked and applying electric shocks everywhere on my body. The next thing I remember was seeing the general again. He came into the room with a man from Turkistan; he was a big man but was stooped over, because his hands were chained to the shackles of his feet, preventing him from standing upright.

“This guy is no use to us anymore. This is what is going to happen to you. We’ve had him for one hour, and this is what happens.”

Suddenly, a guy they called Hamish, which means snake, came at the poor man from behind and gave him a terrible karate kick that sent him crashing across the room. A guard went over to shake him, but he didn’t respond. Turning to the general, the guard said, “Basha, I think he’s dead.”

“Throw him away then. Let the dogs have him.”

They dragged the dead man out.

“What do you think of that?” asked the general, staring into my face.

“At least he can rest now”, I replied.

Then they brought another man in. This man, I think, was from Europe – his exclamations of pain didn’t sound like those of someone from the Middle East. He was in a terrible state. The guard came in with a machine and started to wire up the guy to it. They told the poor man that they were going to give him a full electric shock, measuring ten on the scale. Before they even turned the machine on, the man started to gasp and then slumped in the chair. I think he died of a heart attack.

The general said that there was one more person I had to see. “This person will make you see that we can keep you here for as long as we want, all of your life, if we choose.”

There was a window in the room, covered by a curtain. The general drew back a curtain, and I saw the top half of a very sick, thin man. He was sitting on a chair on the other side of the glass, facing me.

“You know this guy?” the general asked.

“No”, I replied.

“That’s strange – he’s your friend from Australia.”

I looked again, and was horrified to see that it was Mohammed Abbas, a man I had known in Australia who had worked for Telstra [Australian telecommunications company]. He had travelled to Egypt in 1999, and had never been seen again.

“He is going to be your neighbour for the rest of your life.”

It was then that I knew I was in Egypt, without a doubt. They then took Abbas away and closed the curtain.

p.118

After the first interrogation with Suleiman, I believed the Egyptians weren’t interested in where I had been; they only wanted me to confess to being a terrorist and having plotted terrorist attacks so they could sell the information to the United States and Australia. I decided then that I wouldn’t answer questions or explain anything; but, as a consequence, I was badly tortured in Egypt.

p.133

The Egyptians didn’t like Maha [Habib’s wife] at all. One day, I overheard Omar Suleiman saying to someone, “I would love to bring Maha here.” I have no idea when this was but the memory of these few words is very vivid in my mind. Fortunately, though, Suleiman could never have gotten hold of Maha, because she is Lebanese born and an Australian citizen. Suleiman, before my release from Egypt, often threatened that he would get me back if I ever said anything bad about Egypt.

After years of slamming Habib’s claims of torture, the Australian government has recently implicitly acknowledged the validity of his allegations:

Last December 17 in Sydney, officers representing the federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland signed a secret deal with former terror suspect Mamdouh Habib.

It featured an undisclosed compensation payout in return for Habib dropping his long-running civil suit claiming commonwealth complicity in his 2001 arrest, rendition, detention and torture in Pakistan, Egypt and Guantanamo Bay.

The secrecy clause preventing details of the deal being made public prolonged a decade-long cover-up of exactly what the Australian government and its officers knew about Habib’s CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was held in barbarous conditions and tortured for seven months, before being transferred to Cuba. Since Habib returned to Australia in January 2005, successive governments and the security agencies have denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, this ugly episode.

The commonwealth has used every legal device at its disposal to keep the sordid details under wraps, routinely frustrating media and legal efforts to get to the truth, in the name of national security.

In 2007 a judge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal lashed out at ASIO’s repeated refusal to release information on Habib, asking: “Why should we take your word for it when again and again we find things that are said to be the subject of national security concerns turn out not to be? I mean it looks like an easy way out for ASIO: when in doubt, just say ‘national security’.”

The hush-hush settlement seemed set to stamp the Habib case closed for good. But with the ink on it hardly dry, startling claims have emerged about Australia’s connivance in the brutal maltreatment of one of its citizens.

The new testimony is in the form of witness statements obtained by Habib and tendered to commonwealth lawyers – but not until now made public – which apparently precipitated the December deal.

These accounts have not been tested in court but, if true, they provide damning evidence of Australia’s collusion, and expose as lies the repeated insistence that Australia had no knowledge of or involvement in Habib’s ordeal.

A decade after the event, it is now possible to piece together the sorry story of Australia’s treatment of Habib, based on court testimony, witness statements, government documents released from court files and under freedom of information, and insider accounts. It is a disturbing tale.

Habib was arrested in Pakistan days after the September 11 attacks on the US. He has always maintained he was there to look at relocating his family, while Australian investigators claim he had been in an al-Qa’ida training camp, which Habib still denies.

Either way, he was of keen interest to the authorities, particularly the CIA, because of his acquaintance with the militants who carried out the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993.

Australian officials visited Habib, along with FBI and CIA agents, three times while he was detained in Islamabad in late October 2001.

A few days later he was handed over to the Americans, handcuffed, shackled, hooded, with his mouth and eyes taped and a bag over his head, and flown to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Egypt.

For the next seven months there he was subjected to relentless interrogation, beatings, electric shocks, water torture, sexual assault, cigarette burns and more.

For years, the Australian authorities denied any knowledge of Habib’s detention in Egypt.

It was only in 2008 that the Australian Federal Police revealed that his pending transfer had been raised by US officials in Pakistan before the event, and then discussed in Canberra among officers from the AFP, ASIO, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the attorney-general’s and prime minister’s departments, who “agreed that the Australian government could not agree to the transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt”, evidence to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee in May 2008 shows.

“Plausible deniability” was thus achieved, while Habib’s transfer went ahead anyway. US terrorism investigators have said it is inconceivable the rendition would have proceeded without Australia knowing, and intelligence insiders say those involved in Habib’s case were in no doubt as to where he was being sent. Habib has always maintained Australian officials were present during his transfer to, and detention in, Cairo.

For their part, the government and security agencies have steadfastly denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, his time in Egypt, even insisting they were never sure he was there at all.

Both ASIO and the DFAT have stated they had no contact with Habib in Egypt. But the untested witness statements obtained for Habib’s civil suit, and now reported exclusively in The Weekend Australian, tell a different story.

One statement, by a former Egyptian military intelligence officer who worked at the Cairo prison where terror suspects were held, says Australian officials were present when Habib arrived and throughout his detention.

“During Habib’s presence some of the Australian officials attended many times . . . The same official who attended the first time used to come with them,” the statement says. “Habib was tortured a lot and all the time, as the foreign intelligence wanted quick and fast information.”

The officer, whose name does not appear in the translation of his statement seen by The Weekend Australian, said he was prepared

to testify in court, if he was given protection.

Another statement was obtained from a fellow detainee of Habib’s in Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, Pakistani-Saudi national Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni. Madni was captured by the CIA in Jakarta in January 2002 and rendered to Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, accused of being a member of al-Qa’ida. He was finally released in August 2009 and reunited with his family in Lahore, Pakistan.

Madni describes spending three months in a 6 by 8 foot (1.8m by 2.4m) underground cell, and being tortured by similar methods to those described by Habib.

He recounts, “I could hear Mamdouh Habib screaming in pain during his interrogation”, and recalls being told by prison staff that the Australian was very sick and possibly dying.

Madni also claims Australian officials were there.

“Egyptian, Australian, Israeli (Mossad) and US intelligence agencies were involved in my interrogations . . . The Egyptian interrogator told me that the Australian intelligence organisation wanted to ask me questions about Mamdouh Habib . . . An officer . . . asked me questions like ‘How did you know or where did you meet Mamdouh Habib?”‘

These disturbing allegations will presumably be central to a fresh inquiry ordered this week by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, the watchdog that oversees our intelligence and security agencies.

Julia Gillard requested the inquiry, apparently after the settlement was reached, and after Habib wrote to the Prime Minister telling her he had witnesses who could confirm the presence of Australian officials in Egypt.

The Prime Minister’s office confirms Gillard has asked the Inspector-General to inquire into “the actions of relevant Australian agencies” in relation to Habib’s arrest and detention overseas. A spokesperson tells Focus: “A number of serious allegations have been made in relation to this matter and it is appropriate for the Prime Minister to request that they be properly examined. The IGIS Act requires inquiries to be conducted in private.” But the spokesperson did not say if the results will be released.

Furthermore, Canberra has now launched an investigation into Habib’s allegations that Australian officials were present during his interrogations in Egypt in Cairo in 2001 when Suleiman was abusing Habib.

Habib is a key witness able to reliably confirm the real role Suleiman plays in today’s Egypt. Barack Obama and his Western allies should strongly condemn the abuses in Mubarak’s Egypt and demand accountability for the crimes committed in his name.

As Habib told me tonight, it is impossible for Suleiman, with his bloody record, to lead Egypt into a better future. With the latest reports indicating that Suleiman and Mubarak are ramping up torture against protesters (here and here), Habib’s voice and experience should be heard loud and clear.

FROM

INTERVIEW WITH THE LATEST VICTIM OF AMERICAN ZIONISM

An Interview with Kristofer Petersen-Overton

 


Another Professor Fired for Views on Middle East

By JOSHUA SPERBER

Brooklyn College fired PhD student Kristofer Petersen-Overton yesterday, one day after New York state assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) sent a letter to BC president Karen Gould accusing Petersen-Overton of being an “overt supporter of terrorism.” Hikind has complained in interviews that Petersen-Overton’s academic work is anti-Israel, and that his attempt to “understand” suicide bombing is unfathomable. Petersen-Overton and I are colleagues at the CUNY Graduate Center.

JS: You were preparing to instruct a course on the Middle East and were fired. What happened?

KPO: I was hired by Mark Ungar at Brooklyn College’s political science department on the recommendation of Dov Waxman at the Graduate Center. I went in for an interview, and he was impressed with my credentials. I have an MA and I’ve published on the situation [in the Middle East], and he said “I would be honored to have you.” And this was for a grad level seminar, which is not lecture-based, meaning that our classes would be discussion-oriented and not some sort of alleged platform.

JS: What was the official explanation for your firing, and why doesn’t it make sense?

KPO: I have not once been contacted by the department itself, but I was told that the official reason I have been fired is that I don’t have a PhD, which is untrue, because no student teaching this course has a PhD, and there are of course many student teachers at BC who do not have their PhD’s. And I’ll point out that I am somewhat more qualified than many student teachers because I came into the program with a Master’s degree, which many students who are teaching for CUNY don’t have.

I was fired immediately after Dov Hikind contacted the school. He is an especially radical assemblyman who goes after people who he perceives as being anti-Israel. He’s actually made a career out of targeting people for alleged anti-Israel bias.

JS: And the charge of bias is doubly problematic. Because, one, it’s inaccurate. But, two, even if it were accurate, what does it imply?

KPO: We all come to the table with our personal political views; there’s not a single professor who doesn’t have their own views. So it all comes down to how one approaches those views, and I devoted an entire class in the syllabus to the subject of objectivity and humanism, meaning I wanted to put this issue of bias on the table to facilitate open and productive discussions.

JS: What does your firing suggest about contemporary politics and higher education?

KPO: They’ve targeted professors up for tenure for so long and have been relatively unsuccessful except for several cases, like with Norman Finkelstein (JS: and, among others, Nicholas De Genova and Thaddeus Russell, at Columbia University and Barnard College, respectively), now I think they’re going after graduate students before their careers even begin. One of the most direct implications of this which is deeply troubling is not the fact that people take issue with one particular class, which is inevitable, but the way in which the college administration caved so quickly – for it to occur within 24 hours is incredible to me, and the school never even consulted me. For this to be decided by a state official poking his nose in a college syllabus is Orwellian. I’ve received tremendous support, which I’m very grateful for. Norman Finkelstein wrote me, and after I contacted Neve Gordon he (Gordon) contacted BC’s provost, writing that he reviewed my syllabus and that it was excellent and reflected a number of different perspectives, noting that the textbook was mainstream and “emphasizes the Zionist narrative.” He also read a scholarly paper I had written, and wrote that he was “struck by (my) academic rigor.”

JS: What can people do to lend support?

I would be greatly appreciative if people can send an email to the provost, even better a letter, and tomorrow it would be great if people could call, and more importantly if people could disseminate this story. It’s especially disgusting that they would go after a grad student, because they have not only impacted my career but also my income and health insurance.

Office of the Provost (William A. Tramontano)
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
718.951.5000
tramontano@brooklyn.cuny.edu

 

 

Source

 

 

 

Also see This related post from Muzzle Watch

 

 

 


TRY TO IMAGINE CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YOUR HUSBAND OR FATHER

These families don’t have to imagine as they attempt to ‘celebrate’ the

Eid without a father and husband

Evie Soli

An interview with the wives of Abdallah and Adeeb Abu Rahma

Al Eid is a holy time of the year for Muslims. Families gather and visit each other over the four holidays, which are for most a time for families to be together. When one member of the family is missing, it makes it hard to enjoy Al Eid in the same way. Thousands of families of Palestinian political prisoners are suffering because a family member is in prison. For Majida, wife of Abdallah Abu Rahma who has now been held for one year in Israeli jail under the accusation of “incitement,” every day without her husband is difficult. She expresses the pain of seeing her children missing their dad not only during Eid, but every day. Louma (8) and Layam (7) used to go with Abdallah on family visits, and are now crying when talking about their dad. His 1 and-a-half-year-old son Layath does not even remember his dad as he was only 7 months old the night Abdallah was arrested. “He says Baba when he sees Abdallah’s picture, but of course he does not know him, since he was just a baby”, Majida says. Also, for Adeeb Abu Rahma’s children, Eid is not the same without their father. Both families were hoping to have their fathers home for Eid, but the military prosecution managed to postpone the release in both cases.

Arrested in front of his children

Abdallah’s wife Majida and daughters Louma (8) and Layam (8) during preparations for Eid.

 

I meet Majida and her children during the preparations for Eid. Louma and Layam are helping their mother in the house, while she is making the Palestinian dish “dawali” (rice rolled in grape leaves). She recalls the night when the family was brutally woken up by the Israeli Army breaking into their house: “I woke up by someone knocking the door 1:30am on the 10th of December (2009). Abdallah said it might be soldiers – because who else would come to pay a visit at that time?” Suddenly the door was broken down, and armed soldiers stormed the house. Abdallah was taken out in the stairway, with four soldiers blocking him from seeing his wife and children. He was not allowed to go back to say goodbye or to change his clothes, only his two daughters could pass the soldiers to see him one last time. He had to change from night clothes in the stairway. Nine army jeeps and dogs were waiting outside the house. Majida explains how the daughters reacted: “Louma asked: Am I dreaming? Did soldiers take my dad? Layam was asking the same – they both thought it was a nightmare.”

Missing their father

In the months before Abdallah was arrested almost one year ago, the army was carrying out frequent raids to look for him. The children were used to being woken up by masked soldiers entering the house at night, and were traumatized. After her father was arrested in the last night raid, 8 year old Layam told her mother that she was happy that the soldiers would not come back now. “Imagine how sad it is to hear that for a mother”, Majida says, “But now, when we speak about Abdallah, she cries. They both laugh and cry in the same time, because they miss him and they love him and remember him as a caring father and a friend. And I miss him too.”

While we are talking, Layath is grabbing a 2 meter long flagpole, saying “la, la l’jdar!” (no, no to the wall!), seeming as if he is on his way to a demonstration. “His name means ‘Lion’. He is small, but he is strong. He has to be strong” his mother says. He does not know what happened to his father, but he will when he gets older. The families of the people involved in Bil’in’s non-violent struggle against the Wall and settlements cannot sleep safely at night. Dozens of houses have been raided at night, and children are suffering from trauma after seeing fathers and brothers brutally taken away by masked soldiers. Sleep difficulties, bedwetting, and disorders are common consequences among children who have experienced Israeli soldiers storming their homes at night. Many, like Abdallah’s children, have also seen soldiers beat someone up during a raid.

“Eid is not Eid”

Three of Adeeb’s children: Ahmad (10), Batoul (4) and Falasteen (8)

 

Five months before Abdallah was taken from his home, his cousin Adeeb Abu Rahma was arrested in a demonstration in Bil’in. His wife has only been allowed to visit him once at Ofer Military Prison where both Adeeb and Abdallah are held. Adeeb’s daughter Radja (20) has not been able to see him at all, due to what Israel calls “security reasons”. This Eid is not the same as before for the family consisting of Adeeb’s wife and 9 children, aged from 4 to 20. Radja says, “This Eid there is not happiness like there used to be in this family. In Eid our family used to be together, visiting and having guests. Our father is not here, and we all miss him. Eid is not Eid without him.”

After Adeeb’ arrest, the family hoped he would be released shortly. However, after weeks and then months of waiting, the Israeli Military Court sentenced him to 1 year, and his family hoped that they would see him soon since he had almost served his sentence. But the military prosecution appealed and now Adeeb is to be released the 12th December. Exactly 1.5 years will have passed since Radja saw her father the last time.

Struggling financially

The financial situation has been hard the last 1.5 years. There is no big brother to help support the family financially. The eldest son Mohammed is 16 years old and still in school. Two daughters are in university, and are now struggling to pay the fees. The family’s income is from their small market, but their household is suffering from the absence of Adeeb’s income as a taxi driver. Umm Mohammed is also alone in her responsibility to raise the children; though they are all helping out as best they can, most of the children are not old enough to have responsibility. She misses her husband, and has been present in every court hearing so that at least she can see Adeeb. But she has not been allowed to talk to him except for the one time she was allowed to visit. Radja explains how Batoul (4) reacted when she visited her father in prison: “She did not understand why he could not be home. At home she cried and was constantly nervous. She asked: Why did they take him? When she saw him in prison she was in shock, she would not speak. After a while, when she realized that he is not coming home, she started to talk. But what can we answer to her question? It’s clear that they took him and still are keeping him because they are afraid of the success of the non-violent demonstrations. It scares them that through the demonstrations the world can see what Israel is doing to us, so they fabricate evidence against the leaders and put them in prison. All Batoul knows is that her father is taken away from her and she does not understand why.”

Success in spite of suffering

Both Adeeb and Abdallah’s families are obviously strong, though given no choice but to manage without their husband and father. They have been waiting in uncertainty for months before the trials, and suffering severe disappointment since the appeal, which deprived the children of their fathers for another half a year. Adeeb Abu Rahma was in July sentenced to 1 year for “encouraging violence”, and another 6 months may be added on Thursday when the state prosecution appeals his sentence. Abdallah Abu Rahma was, according to the first court decision, supposed to be released this week, but his release is now postponed. Despite the frustrations and constant ache, both Adeeb’s and Abdallah’s families express hope because they know why they were arrested. Majida says:

“My husband was visible. He went to every demonstration, and spoke up against the Wall and the settlement. In spite of our suffering, and his son now growing up without knowing his father, we know that his actions were successful. Israel was so threatened by the demonstrations that they had to remove strong characters like my husband and Adeeb.”

Background

Abdallah Abu Rahmah

Abdallah Abu Rahmah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements since its conception in 2004.

At 2am on 10 December 2009 (international Human Rights Day), exactly one year after Abdallah Abu Rahma received the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal from the International League for Human Rights, nine military vehicles surrounded his home in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers broke the door down, extracted Abdallah from his bed, blindfolded him and took him into custody.

After being convicted in September of incitement and organizing illegal marches, on October 12th, Abdallah Abu Rahmah was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years and a fine of 5,000 NIS.

Following Abu Rahma’s convicition, the European Union put out a statement condemning the Persecution of Abu Rahmah. Representatives of all EU member states declared that they consider the route of the separation wall built on Palestinian land to be illegal, and that, as Abu Rahmah was “a human rights defender” participating in peaceful protests against this wall, they are concerned about his sentence of 12 months in prison by an Israeli military court.

The military prosecution against Abdallah Abu Rahmah will be petitioning to extend his detention on Thursday, November 18th, the day of his scheduled release.

 

Adeeb Abu Rahmah

Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a leading activist in the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested at 1:30pm on 10 July 2009 while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the wall in Bil’in.

He was sentenced to 12 months in prison for crimes of “incitement” (urging the villagers to come to the weekly protests), but the military prosecution appealed his sentence so he is still in prison after 15 months, pending the decision about the prosecution’s appeal.

Adeeb’s case relied on the forced confessions of four Bil’in youth – 14, 15 and 16 years old – arrested during a night raid by Israeli soldiers and forced to state that Adeeb told them to throw stones at the soldiers.

 

Source

DEFAMATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND SELF DETERMINATION

The ADL wants to pretend that people who speak out against what Israel has done and continues to do are not motivated by the Nakba, the occupation, the siege of Gaza, apartheid, war crimes, etcetera, but by something else. It has to pretend that’s the case in order to dodge the real issues. That’s a deliberate strategy. The ADL doesn’t want Americans to judge Israel based on the facts; it wants to judge Israel based on marketing images.

Image by David Dees
ADL: Hate Bills, Our Specialty


‘The Burning Truth of White Phosphorus’: Responding to the ADL’s ‘Anti-Israel’ List

by Alex Kane

Among the groups on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” was Students for Justice in Palestine, a  nationwide group of organizations on a variety of college campuses working on Palestine solidarity in universities.

SJP chapters have been instrumental in moving the cause of Palestinian justice and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement forward in the United States.  At Hampshire College, the SJP chapter successfully pressured the college’s board of trustees to divest from holdings it had in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation, a first in the United States.  Last academic year at the University of California, Berkeley, the SJP chapter there attracted international attention for its groundbreaking effort to push their college to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, although their initiative was ultimately felled by a veto from the president of the student government.

It’s no wonder why the ADL is targeting the group.

Immediately after the ADL’s release of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” list, a number of SJP chapters quickly organized to put out a response, calling the list a “disingenuous and misguided attempt to vilify students that criticize Israel’s occupation, which denies Palestinian human rights and self-determination.”

For more on SJP’s response to the ADL, I recently caught up with Yaman Salahi, a student at Yale Law School who is involved with SJP at Yale.

Alex Kane: What was your immediate reaction to SJP being included on the ADL’s list?

Yaman Salahi:  Given the ADL’s record for smearing anyone speaking out for Palestinian freedom, for justice and human rights, it was not surprising. But the idea was kind of creepy — what kind of person would be interested in this kind of Top 10 list? What’s the point of the list? Why did the ADL create it? There’s no real useful substance in it at all, there are not even compelling factual findings. To the extent that the ADL smears activists supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality, it just didn’t seem like a very effective smear.

I think that the list really has a marketing function. The ADL list is an exercise in branding. The ADL recognizes that SJP and groups like JVP [Jewish Voice for Peace] have a growing influence on fair-minded people. It recognizes that these groups are breaking out of the activism circle and have growing influence on the mainstream. It recognizes that these groups are getting savvier by the day and are learning how to mobilize and intervene effectively.

Nowhere in its report does the ADL challenge the basis for our activism. Nowhere in its report does it say: “Israel should, in fact, be allowed to use white phosphorous as a weapon against civilians.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel should be allowed to bomb, indiscriminately, the civilians of Gaza.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel has a right to demolish the homes of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and hand their properties over to Jewish settlers.” Those are all the implications though because that is the kind of stuff we speak out against. But the ADL report constructs a vacuum completely devoid of moral principles and ethical concerns, nowhere acknowledging our motivating principles, and implies that if you object to any of these kinds of injustices, that you are simply “anti-Israel.” It can avoid the burning truth of white phosphorous by relying on these kinds of sophomoric labels. But if its definition of “anti-Israel” is nothing more than holding Israel to universal standards of decency and justice, then “anti-Israel” can only be a badge of honor.

So the ADL is engaging in a branding campaign to combat the fact that we are social justice and human rights activists coming together to put a stop to a real wrong. It wants to dismiss all of these legitimate and compelling concerns and rely simply on the label “anti-Israel.” It doesn’t even define “anti-Israel” — instead, the ADL relies on whatever preconceptions exist in readers’ minds to define the term for themselves. So you can see, it brings together not only ten very different organizations, all over the political spectrum, in order to imply some sort of “guilt” by association, but also to brand all these groups as nothing more than “anti-Israel.” It wants to distort the causality by suggesting that we are irrationally “anti-Israel,” that we have no legitimate reason for our attitudes. In fact, activists speak out against Israel because of what we know about Israel’s history and because of what we know about what Israel does every day to the Palestinians. The ADL wants to pretend that people who speak out against what Israel has done and continues to do are not motivated by the Nakba, the occupation, the siege of Gaza, apartheid, war crimes, etcetera, but by something else. It has to pretend that’s the case in order to dodge the real issues. That’s a deliberate strategy. The ADL doesn’t want Americans to judge Israel based on the facts; it wants to judge Israel based on marketing images.

AK: What do you think SJP’s inclusion on the list says about the state of the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S., and specifically on campus?

YS: I think it reflects the tremendous growth of student activism on the issue. By and large campus organizations are autonomous of one another, but now, networks are beginning to form. I think that these networks have a lot of potential. I believe that the response issued by SJP and signed by over 60 campus groups is the first coordinated action of that scale. It’s really promising because such networks can be leveraged in support of much more ambitious and effective campaigns, on a national scale. I think that the ADL sees the writing on the wall, and that is why it wants to focus on SJP. I think it believes that the divestment Debate at UC Berkeley was just the tip of the iceberg, and that because it can’t argue on the merits, the ADL has to resort to ad hominem attacks instead.

Nevertheless, it’s important not to react triumphantly. Just because the ADL puts us on its blacklist doesn’t mean we are guaranteed to succeed. We will succeed, but only if we are serious and work hard. The best way to honor this report is for students to find ways to provoke meaningful discussion and action on their own campuses. Students must always re-focus the discussion on Israel’s actions, because the ADL and other groups like it want to derail all discussions about Israel’s actions. We have to provoke the discussions that they can’t win.

AK: What do you think the list itself tells us about the ADL?

YS: It re-affirms that the ADL can’t be taken seriously when it comes to the Middle East. It has no moral authority. It is nothing more than a cheerleader for Israel, with absolutely no fidelity to values of justice or equality. It can’t cite a single progressive value that would support the creation of such a McCarthyist list. Seriously, what value does it promote? None. That’s not the ADL’s only unprincipled position lately. It took the shocking position that Muslims trying to build a mosque in New York City were doing something “offensive.” It’s almost as if the ADL was saying that, in order to avoid offending anyone, Muslims should only build mosques at the back of the bus. As far as the ADL is concerned, Muslims and Arabs have fewer rights than others. It can’t be taken seriously. It just honored Rupert Murdoch — what kind of organization that cares about racism, equality, civil rights would celebrate Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News?

AK: Do SJP chapters plan on capitalizing on the attention the ADL has given you guys, and if so, how will you capitalize on it

YS: I can’t really speak for any SJP chapter on this. I think the fact that so many groups came together to issue that joint statement says that there’s definitely an intention to use this opportunity to contribute to the public discourse, to defend student activism, and to make sure that Israel is accountable for its actions. However, to be honest, the ADL’s report itself didn’t get very much attention. Generally, only Israeli newspapers and a couple Jewish-American publications covered it, and most focused on the inclusion of Jewish Voice for Peace.  This focus itself reflects a characteristic of public discourse that I think can only be described as a form of racism: many people only pay attention when the right-wing Israel defenders attack Jews or Israelis, but insofar as they’re only attacking Arabs, Muslims, or other human rights activists, not very many people are interested. It’s funny, in a way, though, that the ADL would include JVP on this list. It goes back to the whole guilt by association thing. Here, the ADL is basically saying: “Look, JVP hangs out with Arabs & Muslims!” In other words, they’re Arab-lovers! Last time people talked like this, they lost. I think this attack by the ADL is a good opportunity for SJPs to gain access to public forums and respond. I hope people can use the opportunity to draw more attention to the real issues, like Israeli war crimes and the occupation of Palestinian land.

Source

GIDEON LEVY … ISRAELI DEVIL OR SAINT?

Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling his readers the truth about what goes on in the Occupied Territories.

Interview by Johann Hari

ASHLEY COMBES / EPICSCOTLAND

Gideon Levy, Israeli journalist and author

Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.” This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.

The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.

I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.

He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us? So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”

In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.

Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9,  “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”

Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”

He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”

I “Who lived in this house? Where is he now?”

How did Gideon Levy become so different to his countrymen? Why does he offer empathy to the Palestinians while so many others offer only bullets and bombs? At first, he was just like them: his argument with other Israelis is an argument with his younger self. He was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv and as a young man “I was totally nationalistic, like everyone else. I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”

He was fourteen during the Six Day War, and soon after his parents took him to see the newly conquered Occupied Territories. “We were so proud going to see Rachel’s Tomb [in Bethlehem] and we just didn’t see the Palestinians. We looked right through them, like they were invisible,” he says. “It had always been like that. We were passing as children so many ruins [of Palestinian villages that had been ethnically cleansed in 1948]. We never asked: ‘Who lived in this house? Where is he now? He must be alive. He must be somewhere.’ It was part of the landscape, like a tree, like a river.” Long into his twenties, “I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’”

Levy says he became different due to “an accident.” He carried out his military service with Israeli Army Radio and then continued working as a journalist, “so I started going to the Occupied Territories a lot, which most Israelis don’t do. And after a while, gradually, I came to see them as they really are.”

But can that be all? Plenty of Israelis go to the territories – not least the occupying troops and settlers – without recoiling. “I think it was also – you see, my parents were refugees. I saw what it had done to them. So I suppose… I saw these people and thought of my parents.” Levy’s father was a German Jewish lawyer from the Sudetenland. At the age of 26 – in 1939, as it was becoming inescapably clear the Nazis were determined to stage a genocide in Europe – he went with his parents to the railway station in Prague, and they waved him goodbye. “He never saw them or heard from them again,” Levy says. “He never found out what happened to them. If he had not left, he would not have lived.” For six months he lived on a boat filled with refugees, being turned away from port after port, until finally they made it to British Mandate Palestine, as it then was.

“My father was traumatised for his whole life,” he says. “He never really settled in Israel. He never really learned to speak anything but broken Hebrew. He came to Israel with his PhD and he had to make his living, so he started to work in a bakery and to sell cakes from door to door on his bicycle. It must have been a terrible humiliation to be a PhD in law and be knocking on doors offering cakes. He refused to learn to be a lawyer again. He became a minor clerk. I think this is what smashed him, y’know? He lived here sixty years, he had his family, had his happiness but he was really a stranger. A foreigner, in his own country? He was always outraged by things, small things. He couldn’t understand how people would dare to phone between two and four in the afternoon. It horrified him. He never understood what is the concept of overdraft in the bank. Every Israeli has an overdraft, but if he heard somebody was one pound overdrawn, he was horrified.”

His father “never” talked about home. “Any time I tried to encourage him to talk about it, he would close down. He never went back. There was nothing [to go back to], the whole village was destroyed. He left a whole life there. He left a fiancé, a career, everything. I am very sorry I didn’t push him harder to talk because I was young, so I didn’t have much interest. That’s the problem. When we are curious about our parents, they are gone.”

Levy’s father never saw any parallels between the fact he was turned into a refugee, and the 800,000 Palestinians who were turned into refugees by the creation of the state of Israel. “Never! People didn’t think like that. We never discussed it, ever.” Yet in the territories, Levy began to see flickers of his father everywhere – in the broken men and women never able to settle, dreaming forever of going home.

Then, slowly, Levy began to realise their tragedy seeped deeper still into his own life – into the ground beneath his feet and the very bricks of the Israeli town where he lives, Sheikh Munis. It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return. Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands.” He adds that it is “stupid and wrong” to compare it to the Holocaust, but says that man is a traumatized refugee just as surely as Levy’s father – and even now, if he ended up in the territories, he and his children and grandchildren live under blockade, or violent military occupation.

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now… dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.”

II The scam of “peace talks”

Levy looks out across the hotel bar where we are sitting and across the Middle East, as if the dry sands of the Negev desert were washing towards us. Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, he says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when? Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”

“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence – did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”

He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”

Even the terms we use to discuss Operation Cast Lead are wrong, Levy argues. “That wasn’t a war. It was a brutal assault on a helpless, imprisoned population. You can call a match between Mike Tyson and a 5 year old child boxing, but the proportions, oh, the proportions.” Israel “frequently targeted medical crews, [and] shelled a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents, who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling… A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation. They say as a justification that Hamas hides among the civilian population. As if the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population! As if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population!”

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster. A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed, and his father humiliated will not easily forgive.”

These supposed ‘friends of Israel’ are in practice friends of Islamic fundamentalism, he believes. “Why do they have to give the fundamentalists more excuses, more fury, more opportunities, more recruits? Look at Gaza. Gaza was totally secular not long ago. Now you can hardly get alcohol today in Gaza, after all the brutality. Religious fundamentalism is always the language people turn to in despair, if everything else fails. If Gaza had been a free society it would not have become like this. We gave them recruits.”

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, “at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!”

Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”

He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipip Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations” – and he was later caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.” If he bragged about “stopping” the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: “And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?”

These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes. “If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer… The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”

III Waving Israeli flags made in China

According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.

In Israel, the nation’s “town square has been empty for years. If there were no significant protests during Operation Cast Lead, then there is no left to speak of. The only group campaigning for anything other than their personal whims are the settlers, who are very active.” So how can change happen? He says he is “very pessimistic”, and the most likely future is a society turning to ever-more naked “apartheid.” With a shake of the head, he says: “We had now two wars, the flotilla – it doesn’t seem that Israel has learned any lesson, and it doesn’t seem that Israel is paying any price. The Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative.”

It sounds like he is making the case for boycotting Israel, but his position is more complex. “Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel’s behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It’s a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”

He shifts in his seat. “But I do not boycott Israel. I could have done it, I could have left Israel. But I don’t intend to leave Israel. Never. I can’t call on others to do what I will not do… There is also the question of whether it will work. I am not sure Israelis would make the connection. Look at the terror that happened in 2002 and 2003: life in Israel was really horrifying, the exploding buses, the suicide-bombers. But no Israeli made the connection between the occupation and the terror. For them, the terror was just the ‘proof’ that the Palestinians are monsters,  that they were born to kill, that they are not human beings and that’s it. And if you just dare to make the connection, people will tell you ‘you justify terror ’ and you are a traitor. I suspect it would be the same with sanctions. The condemnation after Cast Lead and the flotilla only made Israel more nationalistic. If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America.” He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”

For progress, “the right-wing American Jews who become orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys” would have to be exposed as “Israel’s enemies”, condemning the country they supposedly love to eternal war. “It is the right-wing American Jews who write the most disgusting letters. They say I am Hitler’s grandson, that they pray my children get cancer? It is because I touch a nerve with them. There is something there.” These right-wingers claim to be opposed to Iran, but Levy points out they vehemently oppose the two available steps that would immediately isolate Iran and strip Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh of his best propaganda-excuses: “peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians, both of which are on offer, and both of which are rejected by Israel. They are the best way to undermine Iran.”

He refuses to cede Israel to people “who wave their Israeli flags made in China and dream of a Knesset cleansed of Arabs and an Israel with no [human rights organisation] B’Tselem.” He looks angry, indignant. “I will never leave. It’s my place on earth. It’s my language, it’s my culture. Even the criticism that I carry and the shame that I carry come from my deep belonging to the place. I will leave only if I be forced to leave. They would have to tear me out.”

IV A whistle in the dark

Does he think this is a real possibility – that his freedom could be taken from him, in Israel itself? “Oh, very easily,” he says. “It’s already taken from me by banning me from going to Gaza, and this is just a start. I have great freedom to write and to appear on television in Israel, and I have a very good life, but I don’t take my freedom for granted, not at all. If this current extreme nationalist atmosphere continues in Israel in one, two, three years time?” He sighs. “There may be new restrictions, Ha’aretz may close down – God forbid – I don’t take anything for granted. I will not be surprised if Israeli Palestinian parties are criminalized at the next election, for example. Already they are going after the NGOs [Non-Government Organizations that campaign for Palestinian rights]. There is already a majority in the opinion polls who want to punish people who expose wrong-doing by the military and want to restrict the human rights groups.”

There is also the danger of a freelance attack. Last year, a man with a large dog strutted up to Levy near his home and announced: “I have wanted to beat you to a pulp for a long time.” Levy only narrowly escaped, and the man was never caught. He says now: “I am scared but I don’t live on the fear.  But to tell you that my night sleep is as yours… I’m not sure. Any noise, my first association is ‘maybe now, it’s coming’.  But there was never any concrete case in which I really thought ‘here it comes’. But I know it might come.”

Has he ever considered not speaking the truth, and diluting his statements? He laughs – and for the only time in our interview, his eloquent torrents of words begin to sputter. “I wish I could! No way I could. I mean, this is not an option at all. Really, I can’t. How can I? No way. I feel lonely but my private, er, surrounding is supportive, part of it at least. And there are still Israelis who appreciate what I do.  If you walk with me in the streets of Tel Aviv you will see all kinds of reactions but also very positive reactions. It is hard but I mean it’s?it’s?what other choice do I have?”

He says his private life is supportive “in part”. What’s the part that isn’t? For the past few years, he says, he has dated non-Israeli women – “I couldn’t be with a nationalistic person who said those things about the Palestinians” – but his two sons don’t read anything he writes, “and they have different politics from me. I think it was difficult for them, quite difficult.” Are they right-wingers? “No, no, no, nothing like that. As they get older, they are coming to my views more. But they don’t read my work. No,” he says, looking down, “they don’t read it.”

The long history of the Jewish people has a recurring beat – every few centuries, a brave Jewish figure stands up to warn his people they are have ended up on an immoral or foolish path that can only end in catastrophe, and implores them to change course. The first prophet, Amos, warned that the Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because the Jewish people had forgotten the need for justice and generosity – and he was shunned for it. Baruch Spinoza saw beyond the Jewish fundamentalism of his day to a materialist universe that could be explained scientifically – and he was excommunicated, even as he cleared the path for the great Jewish geniuses to come. Could Levy, in time, be seen as a Jewish prophet in the unlikely wilderness of a Jewish state, calling his people back to a moral path?

He nods faintly, and smiles. “Noam Chomsky once wrote to me that I was like the early Jewish prophets. It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. But… well… My opponents would say it’s a long tradition of self-hating Jews. But I don’t take that seriously. For sure, I feel that I belong to a tradition of self-criticism. I deeply believe in self-criticism.” But it leaves him in bewildering situations: “Many times I am standing among Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, and they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I’m standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It is…” He shakes his head. There must be times, I say, when you ask: what’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you. Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”

Source

THE ‘CHANGE’ MUST COME FROM US…NOT THE GOVERNMENT; INTERVIEW WITH ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN

With “peace talks” between the Palestinian Authority and Israel seeming more and more like a dead end, many people around the world, including dissident Jewish voices, are turning to grassroots activism to pressure Israel to end the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Governments Are Not Going to Change This. We Have To’: Antony Loewenstein on Israel/Palestine, the Internet and more

By Alex Kane

With “peace talks” between the Palestinian Authority and Israel seeming more and more like a dead end, many people around the world, including dissident Jewish voices, are turning to grassroots activism to pressure Israel to end the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Recently, Jewish Voice for Peace launched a campaign to pressure TIAA-CREF, one of the largest financial services in the U.S., to divest from companies that profit off of the Israeli occupation.  Yesterday, the Olympia Food Co-Op, located in the hometown of Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer, announced a decision to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations.

Journalist, activist and blogger Antony Loewenstein, a Jewish Australian, has become a must-read voice on Israel/Palestine.   Loewenstein, the author of the bestselling book My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, is currently in New York City, where he will be speaking at Revolution Books in Manhattan this Sunday, alongside author Michael Otterman, whose new book is titled Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage. The event, which begins at 1 PM, will center on the occupations of Iraq and Palestine.

Loewenstein, who yesterday appeared on Laura Flanders’ Grit TV show with Ali Abunimah, is currently working on a project that examines privatization in Australia, as well as a book about Israel/Palestine.  I recently reached Loewenstein by phone while he was still in Australia, and had a wide-ranging discussion on Israel/Palestine, the role of the Internet and blogs, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) targeting Israel.

Alex Kane:  How did you get so involved in writing about Israel and Palestine?

Antony Loewenstein:  Well, many years ago when I was growing up—I grew up in Australia, in a very liberal, Jewish home—Israel was never a central part of my family but it was something, as most Jews will understand, that was important to support.  My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany, my family were killed in the Holocaust, so the idea of Israel being a homeland for the Jews was sort of seen as a given.  My grandparents have never been to Israel, my father’s only been once, my mother has never been, and I remember when I was a teenager, well before the Web, talking about something that happened that week, a suicide bombing or something in Israel, and I would sometimes express disdain or criticism of the official Israeli line, and it was met with unbelievable anger and ferocity by my family, by my parents, my other family, and there was a real, clear racism that was existing back then.  Two things:  one, that we can’t expect Arabs to behave any better because, after all, that’s what Arabs do, i.e., be violent against Jews, it’s sort of inherent in their system, and secondly, that whatever Israel was doing was always defensive.

Fast-forward twenty years in Australia, about seven years ago, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician came out to Australia, she was awarded the peace prize, a prominent peace prize out here, and the Jewish community establishment reacted with apoplexy.  She was a “Holocaust denier,” a “terrorist,” all the usual kind of things, and Ashrawi then and now is very moderate.  And the argument I said at the time was that if the Jewish community can’t accept someone like her—in fact then she was talking about a two-state solution, she’s hardly a radical—if the Jewish community can’t accept her, then there’s a serious problem.  I felt, as a Jew, and I had never written about this publicly, but I felt as a Jew, as a journalist, it was important to put my position strongly, to say that there are some Jews who are critical of Israel, who believe in open and free debate.  I wrote about that, got a lot of coverage down here in Australia, was then picked up by Robert Fisk in the Independent in London, and as you could imagine, that caused this issue to go global.  He came out and said that it’s important that there are dissenting views.

So, over the years, I spent time in the Middle East, in Israel, in Palestine, I was in the West Bank and Gaza again last year, I’ve spent time in most of the Middle East, in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc., and feel, I suppose, in many ways that it is important, although I see myself as a human being first and a Jew second, that it’s vital to articulate an alternative Jewish perspective.  I mean, years ago, my position was fairly conventional:  I believed in the two-state solution, and I believed that because when I was in Israel, many years ago, the people I was speaking to, the one-state solution, people often forget this now, but the debate about this has moved so fast, that there’s obviously a tactical question and a moral question, but certainly, practically five years ago a two-state solution was arguably impossible anyway.  Putting aside the moral question of whether there should be a two-state solution, my position about that has changed, and in my latest edition of My Israel Question, my book, I sort of articulate why that is.  In its simplest form, it’s because, practically, the colonization process is so far advanced, and its continuing, even during the recent so-called “settlement freeze”–in fact there wasn’t a “freeze” at all, there was settlement building happening, as many journalists, including Max Blumenthal, documented in the last month.  And secondly, as a moral question, the issue of a Jewish state existing I think is fundamentally problematic because it inherently discriminates against those who are non-Jewish, which is 20 percent of the population within Israel.  I should also say this, finally, that my point is not just being opposed to a Jewish state, I have equal issues with religious states, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Iran, Saudi Arabia, Muslim states that inherently discriminate against non-Muslims.  Now clearly, they’re not democracies, they don’t claim to be a democracy, and Israel does.  I’m not comparing Israel to Iran or Israel to Saudi Arabia, I’m simply saying that my opposition to the concept of a religious state, and Israel is undoubtedly based inherently on an interpreted Jewish history, I think the problem is far bigger than just a Jewish state, I think it’s also the question of religious states oppressing minorities, and we see that across the Middle East.

AK:  A lot of the discussion about Israel/Palestine, in the U.S. press obviously, but also in the Palestinian press, the Israeli press and the European press, it centers on the very big role that the United States plays, and that’s obviously true for good reason, but I’m curious to know what Australia’s role is in Israel/Palestine, because we don’t hear much about that.  And how are Australian activists tackling that role?

AL:  Australia is, in many ways, one of the largest economies in the world, so it’s not a small player, it’s smaller than America or China, of course, and much of Europe, but it certainly is a relatively major economy.  So, Australia is a so-called “important country.”  But when you talk about Israel/Palestine, when Israel was formed in 1948, Australia was one of the first countries to come out to support Israel in the United Nations, and since then, 50 years since, keep in mind a shift here or there, Australian governments have been incredibly supportive of Israel.  What I mean by supportive of Israel is that they’re very uncritical towards Israeli policy.

During the Bush years, we had a prime minister here called John Howard, who supported Bush in the Iraq War, Afghan War, rendition, and that was a period where, in the UN, Australia shifted some of its key votes to line up alongside a tiny handful of others, and Norman Finkelstein has talked about this in a disparaging way and he’s right, that in many of the key votes, and Australia is still sometimes on this side, you have America, Israel, Australia, Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, talking about occupation, expansion of settlements, etc.  And clearly, Palau and Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are doing it because they are client states of the U.S. and they need the cash.  In some ways, that’s more understandable.  It’s regrettable, but understandable.

So my question is, what’s Australia’s excuse? Now, Australia is very close to the U.S., we have troops in Afghanistan despite the fact that most people are opposed to it here.  We’ve had successive prime ministers who have been to Israel, the last prime minister, Kevin Rudd, said that Israel was “in his DNA.”  Our current prime minister, Julia Gillard, who is Australia’s first female prime minister, recently came out and said one of the key points of her foreign policy will be support of Israel.

But I think what is shifting is public opinion in Australia, and indeed, in much of the West.  We’re seeing in the last six, twelve months, particularly since “Operation Cast Lead” and even more so since the flotilla massacre, a growing awareness in civil society that governments are not going to change this.  We have to.  And in the last six months, some of the key unions down here have put forward motions to divest and boycott Israel, which is significant, and there is a campaign to try and increase that.  In fact, recently, Diana Buttu, who is a Palestinian from Canada but living in Ramallah, who is very involved these days in speaking to unions globally about instituting an effective BDS campaign, she was brought out here to speak.  So she spoke to two unions about the role they can play, comparing it of course to the campaign against South Africa.  A recent study found that support for Israel in the general public is declining.  After the Gaza conflict a year and a half ago, the majority of Australians who were polled were opposed to the Israeli position and supported the Palestinians.

But of course, like in America or many other states, there’s a disconnect between what the political leaders and mainstream corporate media talk about and what the public thinks.  And I’ve noticed, even since I’ve been writing about this issue for the last seven years, that although the corporate media here is still slavishly following a U.S. line, there are cracks appearing.  So, for example, you do read, not often, but more often, Arab people in the press, Palestinians, dissidents, and not just the usual Zionist spokespeople, who until recently were the only ones you heard.  Something happens about the Middle East, and who are the first people you turn to?  If Mark Regev is not available, who’s actually Australian by the way, the key Israeli spokesman from the Prime Minister’s office in Israel and who was born and bred and taught in Melbourne, unfortunately, you go to the Israel lobby.  Although their voices are still there, and they’re clearly powerful, I’m not going to deny that, they have less power than they once did, publicly at least, and that’s significant, and you see that in many countries around the world.

So, Australia is not, on the one hand, massively influential in the Middle East—that would be a lie.  But for example, you can look at New Zealand, which is even smaller than us, and four years ago, you may remember, they caught a number of Mossad agents forging passports, which is reminiscent of what happened recently, and they basically severed diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Israel for a number of years.  Now again, that didn’t bring down apartheid Israel, but it’s significant and I think that countries that are smaller can often lead by example, and the Australian government doesn’t seem to be doing it anytime soon, but I think civil society certainly is becoming far more vocal, to say why is Australia, as a democracy, backing a brutal occupation and apartheid in Palestine, and still talking about the shared values we have with the Jewish State.

AK:  You’ve also written a lot about the Internet and blogs and how it can be a very powerful tool in fighting oppression.  Generally speaking, can you talk about that and more specifically, how you see that being played out with Israel and Palestine.

AL:  I think one of the things that is really clear about the rise of Web activism, or whatever we’d like to call it, is that it has fundamentally shifted how many of us engage in political issues via the world.  I mean, one of the things that became very clear about the uprising in Iran last year, was, although it was fascinating and traumatic and Iran has become even more mired in dictatorship than it was before, one very quickly realizes, although mostly the American press chose to ignore this, is that it was framed as a “Twitter revolution”—I’m sure you remember it from last year—the truth is that the majority of people in Iran a) don’t Twitter, and secondly, most of those Twitter accounts that were talking about the streets in Tehran were coming from the U.S.  Now, I use that as an example because I don’t argue that the Internet is about to bring democracy.  There are undoubtedly many in the neo-conservative movement who talk actively about empowering Web activists in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia to become more pro-U.S., to believe in the overthrow of a dictatorship, and install a more pro-US government—that’s not what I’m saying at all.  What I’m saying is that there has undoubtedly been a shift in the abilities of citizens in most countries to articulate their views on gender issues, political issues, issues about their personal lives, how they feel about foreign policy, frivolous things, whatever it may be.

When it comes to Israel/Palestine, what happened in the past, I suppose, five years particularly, and I’ve often used many of these sources, there’s been an explosion of two things:  one, dissident Jewish bloggers in Israel proper, and I’m talking about people like the blog the Promised Land, Joseph Dana, amongst others, interesting people who are actually fed up with what they generally see as the pro-government line that they see in the Israeli corporate press. Ha’aretz, to some extent, is an exception to that, although it obviously has a left, Zionist line as an editorial position, but it certainly publishes a lot of wonderful journalism, there’s no doubt about that, alongside some pretty, not-so-good journalism as well.  So those bloggers are important, and I think they’re being funneled into a wider context because of blogs like Mondoweiss, which give it a more global platform.

And of course, there are also Palestinian bloggers, and we shouldn’t forget about those.  It often takes more effort, sometimes, for those who don’t write in English to be read, and so a blog like Global Voices often does translation, other websites did translation during the course of the Gaza conflict a year and a half ago, some of the only voices, in fact, we were hearing were Palestinians or Gazans who could blog.  That’s significant because it provides a more nuanced view of what occupation means, what invasion means, what the dropping of white phosphorus means on civilian areas, what does that mean.  Photographing it, videoing it, detailing it, and of course making it far more difficult, then, for Israel and its supporters internationally to deny what the evidence shows very clearly.  If you simply rely on corporate media to get your information on the Israel/Palestine conflict, as has been documented time and time again, the sad problem is that virtually every single one of those corporate journalists live in one city, or two cities:  Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv.  And they’re very interesting cities, although I’ve yet to understand why, although I do, particularly Western outlets, don’t base people in the West Bank and Gaza.  And the argument is often made that it’s not safe, but that’s not a good enough reason.

AK:  Nor is it really true.  The notion that Western journalists being based in the West Bank or Gaza is dangerous is a very overblown notion.  Many Western journalists, if they were based there, would be completely fine.

AL:  I agree completely.  The truth is, it’s sort of funny in a way isn’t it, because journalists, or some corporate journalists go into Iraq or Afghanistan, which are war zones and are dangerous places and journalists risk their lives, and often they do wonderful work in the line of duty.  But the West Bank, for example, is pretty safe, and Gaza is actually very safe, they’re both very safe areas.  There still seems to be, with exceptions, a journalist from the New York Times, Ethan Bronner, others, will go there for a few days and come back.  And I spent time with Ethan Bronner last year when I was in Israel, interviewed him I should say, and he’s a very friendly guy, he’s obviously the bureau chief for the New York Times, he’s friendly enough, but I think one of the things that comes out very clearly when you speak to someone like that is a failure to understand that one cannot simply primarily have Jewish, Zionist voices reporting the conflict.  Let me just explain, for the record, I would be equally against if every reporter for the New York Times was an anti-Zionist Palestinian.  There needs to be different perspectives in there.  This is not a question of saying it should be all one side or the other.  And I don’t want to use the term balance, because that’s a bad term as well.  I’m saying there needs to be a diversity of views, and this is where, of course, the Web becomes central.  We often joke in Australia and elsewhere, that to find out what goes on in the halls of the Pentagon, one reads the New York Times.  But if you actually want to find out what goes on on-the-ground in many countries, you rarely would read the New York Times.  You would read blogs, or whatever it may be.

I think with Israel/Palestine, there is in fact a responsibility, I would argue, that if the mainstream press was more honest about listening to different views, on the opinion pages, for example, they would regularly publish bloggers from different countries.  And I’m astounded, although I use that term very loosely—I’m not very surprised that the mainstream press, who constantly whines about the fact that they have no money to pay for content, aren’t more often utilizing the role of bloggers in many countries.  In Iran, in Palestine, in countries where journalists for whatever reason choose not to go.  The content is there; I think that really shows that there is a tendency often, and a desire, to want to avoid seeing the real effects of U.S. foreign policy on civilians, whether it’s in Palestine, in Iraq or Afghanistan.  To this day, I read the New York Times most days, Washington Post, I look at most of these papers online, and they rarely publish articles by Iraqis or Afghans or Palestinians.  It’s as if you need to be a white person, and go to Palestine, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and say this is what I’m seeing.  I’m not dismissing that—I’m a white person too.  But I’m saying is that it seems that there is a complete inability or unwillingness to actually publish people in their own voices, and bloggers, I think, can obviously provide that.

AK:  I really only have one more question.  It’s sort of a broad question, but what are your thoughts about the future prospects for justice in Palestine?

AL: Oh, the big question, Alex.  Well, I think only a fool could say that the short-term is going to be pretty.  I presume that you would agree with that.  It’s always difficult to predict this sort of thing, and I get asked this question a lot.

One of the things that I fear during the Obama administration, whether it’s three more years or seven more years, is an imposition of a two-state solution.  I worried about this, in fact, during the Bush years, believe it or not.  I thought it was conceivable that George W. Bush would simply say, “here’s a Palestinian state.”  I mean, the truth is, with the power of the U.S. and the international community, nothing stops them from declaring a Palestinian state tomorrow.  It wouldn’t be viable; I’m not suggesting it would be a good thing, but nothing stops them from actually doing it.  You have a complicit Palestinian Authority who are more than willing to accept the largesse and the support of the U.S. and Israel.  They are being built up as wonderfully effective colonial masters.  I just read a few days ago in Ha’aretz that Israel’s top security officer increasingly spends time with West Bank security forces, the way in which the PA and Israel works together, i.e. silencing dissent from Hamas and others.  So the fear that I have, potentially, is a two-state solution is declared, and it would not be viable, and it would not be a pleasant thing for Palestinians, it would not be with East Jerusalem as its capital.  It would not be anything that honest Palestinians would want, in the diaspora or in Palestine itself.  So that’s something I think which is possible, and I worry about it, and I think that it needs to be more talked about, Ali Abunimah in particular has talked about that and I praise him for that, the fear that this may be happening.

I think the reality is that the one-state solution is not going to happen tomorrow, or next week, but it’s certainly gaining traction, certainly in the diaspora.  In Palestine itself, the figures are hard to see, but it appears that within Israel proper, the Jewish population’s support, as you know, let’s just say is very slim.  It’s very, very slim, there’s no way to get around that.  In the Palestinian communities, both in Israel proper and in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s much higher and growing.  In fact, in the last studies I’ve seen, it’s close to fifty percent, which is quite high, considering that two years ago when I saw other results it was about thirty percent.  So it’s growing, and there’s no doubt, because people are disillusioned with the possibility of a two-state solution.

I think what is also happening, which I am more encouraged by, is the fact that there is a growing awareness in the diaspora about what is going on.  And I just saw, and I’m using this as one example, there was a five-minute report on Fox News about the virtual impossibility of Palestinians being able to obtain land in Jerusalem.  Now again, Fox News is very pro-Israel, and I’m not suggesting that suddenly changed, and they’ve become in love with Palestine, obviously not.  But those sort of stories are increasingly appearing in the corporate press, and the effects of those is causing, which I am pleased about, the growing disillusion within American Jewry towards Israel.  This is something that of course Mondoweiss and I write a lot about too.  The Israel lobby in the U.S. realizes that its so-called fan-base is shrinking.  One of the things that I did agree with in Peter Beinart’s recent article, despite much of it being not to my liking, was when he talked about the future of the Israel lobby in America being made up particularly of Orthodox Jews whose views on Israel are more extreme than those who are in charge now.  And you could argue, in a cynical way, that’s in fact very good for Palestine, because that will show to more Americans that if that’s what is required to be pro-Israel, is to hate Arabs, I don’t want to be a part of that.  And I’m encouraged by that trend, if you get my drift, rather than the status quo continuing.

I think hoping and praying for Obama to bring change—nothing’s impossible—but he’s moving towards a situation, as I said, where some kind of Palestinian state, a truncated state, a complicit Palestinian state, is on the cards, and I think the task of all of us, particularly in the diaspora, and within Israel and Palestine, is to support a BDS campaign.

A BDS campaign is important because, as Neve Gordon wrote a few days ago in the Observer, the BDS campaign doesn’t have a particular platform.  It doesn’t say two-states, one-state.  Admittedly, many of the people I know have a one-state view, but there’s no official position.  What he says is that it’s to try and make Israeli Jews realize that the occupation must come with a price.  You cannot simply continue to occupy and expand settlements, colonizing the West Bank and blockading Gaza, and expect the world to treat you as friends.  And although the BDS campaign, one can hardly say that at this stage it has changed the political situation over there, because it hasn’t, what it has done is increasingly change the conversation in the diaspora.  And the fear of BDS in Israel, as we see in the Knesset, growing numbers of legislation moving through there to try and ban people who advocate for it, such as Neve Gordon, I think is an indication of how much they do fear it.

And let me just finish on this point.  A lot of people have been writing about the World Cup in South Africa, and I only bring this up as an example because of two things:  one, that the end of apartheid there, in many ways, was sort of a false end to that hideous regime.  Anyone who reads about that country realizes that the truth is that, although politically apartheid is over, economically it’s actually continued.  But if one looks at the studies of how blacks and whites view the other, it’s actually quite remarkable how many, a majority in fact, there is an ability to be forgiving or have a desire to move on.  That would not have happened unless there was some justice for the crimes that happened.  I use that as an example to say that for anyone who claims that Israel/Palestine is intractable, and it’s never going to be solved, and there’s no way to move forward and it’s always going to stay the same, that South Africa—which is an incredibly imperfect society, poverty is rampant, as I said I’m not idealizing it for a second—but what there has been is at least a beginning, a beginning of racial reconciliation.  And I think without Israeli Jews and the Israeli state and the Jewish, Zionist diaspora realizing that they cannot continue with the way things are, and in the U.S., which is a key country and I’m encouraged by what’s happening on university campuses, etc.  So, although politically I’m quite disillusioned, I’ll be honest, as an activist, as well as a journalist, I’m more encouraged by what I’m seeing.

Source

CARLOS LATUFF ~~ ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS OF ZION

Click here… The cartoon that rocked the foundations of zion this week ….

It was created by Carlos Latuff, a long time Associate of this Website and a longtime friend. Below is a recent interview with Carlos which will give you an idea what kind of person he is and why he is loathed by the state of Israel, yet loved by all who strive for Justice throughout the world:

Interview With Carlos Latuff

Kourosh Ziabari
Independent freelance journalist, Iran

Interview with Carlos Latuff:
I don’t trade ideology for money
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari for Iran’s Jame-Jam newspaper

The hero of “freedom of speech”, boycotted by the corporate, mainstream media that are irresistible against the astringent truth: this is the most precise and accurate introduction which I can present about Carlos Latuff. Born in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he is an artist of conscience whose artistic commitment and morality prevented him from becoming the pawn of imperialism.

Carlos Latuff is a world-renowned cartoonist who has long brought into existence artistic works and cartoons in which the footsteps of creativity, novelty, intelligence and decency can be traced noticeably. He has never been given the opportunity to showcase his matchless cartoons in the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, BBC or CNN; however, the narrow hallways of personal blogs and independent media outlets which allowed his cartoons to breathe in the atmosphere of publicity, made him a man of genuineness and reality, known by those who seek something beyond the outdated, obsolete propaganda of “all options are on the table”.
Carlos Latuff has drawn numerous cartoons which depict the pains of oppressed nations around the world; from the Palestinians being suffocated under the Israeli occupation to the Iranians receiving the spates of psychological operation co-manufactured by the White House and Tel Aviv.

Here is the complete text of my interview with Carlos Latuff, conducted for Iran’s best-selling newspaper Jame-Jam, where we elaborately discussed his intellectual mission and the prospect of his artistic trajectory.

Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Carlos; it seems that you’ve dedicated your entire mission to independent, freelance journalism and one can clearly figure out that you are not usually paid in lieu of what you draw for the magazines, newspapers and websites since a complete set of your cartoons and caricatures are available on your website for free. Do you accede to draw cartoons which are contrary to your ideological mindset should you be offered remarkable, irresistible payments?

Carlos Latuff: No way! I will only make artworks according my own Leftist beliefs. I don’t trade ideology for money. I work for Leftist trade union (workers) press since 1990, that’s what I make for living. Mainstream media would never pay me for making anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist artworks. But I have what I call of “artistic activism”, producing cartoons and making them available on the Web for free of charge reproduction; cartoons with a different point of view from the Western mainstream media; cartoons exposing what Michael Moore would call of “the awful truth”. I already refused payments for my drawings about Palestine. Solidarity can’t be measured by dollars.

KZ: You’ve received serious death threats from the Zionist circles and Israeli groups a number of times. Would you please explain for us a little about the details of these threats and the consequential events that followed them? Have you ever thought of putting aside your professional and artistic mission in order to preserve your safe, tranquil life?

CL: In 2006 a website associated to Likud (Likudnik) published a long article about me, my art, my support to Palestinians and labeled me as an agent at the service of a supposed “Iranian propaganda machine”, comparing me with Nazi propagandists. The author of the article argued why Israel didn’t take care of me before and urged readers to take steps against me. Let me be straight, I really don’t care about threats. Along the Palestinian cause I also support human rights organizations against police brutality in Brazil. This kind of activism alone could put me in high risk of life. But, as I said, I don’t care; I will continue with my artistic support, ’cause if Zionists worldwide are pissed off about my cartoons, it’s because I’m doing something right. Death can stop me yes, but not my cartoons. That’s why I make them run free around the world through Internet.

KZ: You belong to a prosperous country which is the 8th economic power of the world and the 10th trade partner of the United States. Brazil also maintains normal ties with Israel and this is something which many anti-war and anti-imperialism activists dislike. Coming from such a country, you profoundly grasped the essence of oppressed nations’ suffering and sympathized with them wholeheartedly. How did you rise from Brazil and came to assist the oppressed nations?

CL: I grown up in the suburbs of Rio and my parents worked hard to give me study and a humble but decent life. Being the 8th economic power makes no difference to the ordinary people in Brazil. We have poverty, corruption, criminal and police violence, influent and strong landowners in countryside, people dying of dengue fever and malaria, and a mainstream media which is always trying to convince public opinion that everything is ok with capitalism. As someone living in a Third World country I can’t turn a blind eye to this situation here and in other parts of the world. Last year I was in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, places very similar to Brazilian slums (favelas). It wasn’t hard to realize that the language of poverty is universal, as universal must be the solidarity with people in need.

KZ: You’ve for years cooperated with a number of media outlets in the Western countries and can precisely estimate the veracity of the slogan of “freedom of expression” in the countries who introduce themselves as the harbingers of liberty and tolerance. I clearly remember the spates of verbal and political attacks on the artists who had participated in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. Even the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan had condemned the contest and this could simply demonstrate the lopsidedness of “freedom” which they claim to be the pioneers thereof. What’s your idea about that? Are the western media outlets really free?

CL: Still today I’ve been accused of denying Holocaust because of that artwork for which I won the second place in the Iranian cartoon contest. It’s funny since the cartoon shows a Palestinian elderly wearing a concentration camp uniform, which not only affirms the existence of the Nazi Holocaust as well as making a comparison between it and the suffering of the Palestinians. I believe that this contest had exposed the Western’s double standard. When you ridicule and attack Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islam or Muslims, then this is called “satire”, “humor”, “freedom of speech”, whatever. Joking about Islam is pretty acceptable. Islamophobia is popular in the US and Europe, specially after September 11. However the same freedom you have for making cartoons about Islam and its Prophet you won’t have while dealing with Holocaust and Israel. If you dare draw Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians (isn’t a fact?), you will be automatically labeled as anti-Semitic. While Muhammad cartoons were wide spread in Europe, Holocaust cartoons weren’t not reproduced in any European newspaper.

KZ: Your stance towards Iran’s nuclear program (Iran intends to meet its energy, electricity needs through nuclear reactors) and Israel’s nuclear program (Israel possess up to 200 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists) is delicately accurate and specific, indicating your extensive acquaintance with the regional equations and developments. Iran is being lethally pressured to halt its civilian nuclear program and Israel has been unconditionally safeguarded by Washington to keep up with its military atomic program. What’s your take on this?

CL: In fact all this turmoil about Iranian nuclear program has more to do with the fear of US, Europe and Israel of having a country in Middle East with nuclear capability. It will change the geopolitics in the region, since no Arab country was ever allowed by US of having anything nuclear. Only Israel can have not only nuclear plants but also nukes, immune to inspections and international law. If Iran will develop nuclear capabilities for civilian or military use, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if US, Europe and Israel are so concerned about threats to peace, why don’t they start proposing sanctions against Pakistan and India, since both countries have a nuclear arms race since long time? Because both countries are allies of Washington? Why not a single word about the Israeli nuclear program? Why Mordecai Vanunu is prevented to speak about it?

KZ: Most of your critics accuse you of arising anti-Semitic sentiments by drawing cartoons which condemn the State of Israel and its leaders for the atrocities and felonies they commit. Is this the case that you’re opposed to Jews as the followers of a divine religion, or do you simply go up against the expansionist Zionists who commit crimes against humanity and massacre the defenseless people of Palestine?

CL: I’m not a religious man, and none of my cartoons deal with Judaism. You won’t find any of my artworks attacking the Jewish. My issue with Israel and their supporters is only about politics, imperialism. Even not being Muslim, I do support Muslims against Islamophobia, since I can’t agree with prejudice against religion. Of course anything that may be slightly perceived as criticism towards Israel will be associated with hatred towards Jews. This old trick is applied to anyone who dares speak against Israeli apartheid. But everyday more activists understand this misuse of anti-Semitism and keep the struggle regardless of the false allegations and smear campaigns from Zionists.

KZ: Have the global mainstream media outlets (the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and so forth) which universally rule the public opinions ever published your cartoons? Why don’t such media outlets which assert to be the pioneers of freedom of expression accept allowing the publication of disparate viewpoints which are contrary to their focal approach?

CL: Reuters made a video interview with me last year about my art and views. I had some of my cartoons shown on Al Jazeera and George Galloway show at Press TV, but this is an exception. Usually only Arab media outlets are interested in my opinions. Western mainstream media isn’t interested in giving space to a Leftist artist who supports people’s struggle in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere. But in a way or another, I find a place to make my opinions visible. Internet is my best ally. You see, even not being a famous artist promoted by mainstream media, you and your newspaper know about me and my cartoons. Internet has broken the obstacles imposed by corporate media. And I won’t make concessions for mere 15 minutes of fame; will keep fidelity with my principles.

KZ: The subjugated people of Palestine and other countries which have been subject to the brutality of imperialism throughout the history will be encouraged and hopeful when they find conscientious artists like you sympathizing with them. Have you ever felt the courage and valor you present to the people of Palestine with your artistic endeavors?

CL: I’m very suspicious for talking about the Palestinians. I have never seen such a brave and courageous people like them. I started making cartoons about Palestinians since my trip to West Bank in 1999 and since then my sympathy for their cause only grow up. After my recent visit to Jordan and Lebanon, invited by Al Hannouneh Society for Popular Culture, I realized that my relation with Palestinians is not only political. I have pure love for that people.

KZ: Please tell us about your latest activities. How was the experience of winning a prize in the Iran-based International Holocaust Cartoon Competition? Do you like to come to Iran once again and touch the pains and difficulties of the Iranian people in person?

CL: Usually I don’t participate in contests, since I’m not interested in the prizes and stuff. The purpose of my art is supporting social movements, rather than feeding my own ego. But I saw the Holocaust cartoon competition as a timely opportunity for making visual comment about Palestinian suffering. In that occasion, I was invited by my good friend Massoud Tabatabai to attend the prize award ceremony in Teheran but unfortunately I wasn’t able to travel. But of course if I had another chance, I would be more than glad to visit Iran.


The above interview appeared on this Blog in April of this year.

BOYCOTT MOVEMENT ~~ IT’S GROWTH AND IMPACT

Palestinian boycott coordinator: “The movement has a huge impact”
Adri Nieuwhof

Hind Awwad (Adri Nieuwhof)
Hind Awwad, national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), recently toured Europe to support the growing worldwide campaign. The movement aims to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel, and calls for respect for the rights of Palestine refugees. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviewed Hind Awwad in Bern, Switzerland.

Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?

Hind Awwad: I work as a coordinator for the BNC in Palestine. I am a third-generation Palestinian refugee. My grandparents come from Lifta which was ethnically cleansed in 1948. My grandfather’s house is still there. I have visited it. I went to college in the US and was active for justice in Palestine groups. Our Caterpillar campaign brought awareness to campus. The college announced it did not hold shares in Caterpillar. After graduation I came back to Palestine and I contacted the BNC to find out if I could contribute to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

AN: As BNC coordinator you are in touch with activists around the globe. Can you discuss the development of the BDS movement?

HA: I think it is growing at a pace that is surprising, in a positive way. It took the South African BDS campaign 25 years to achieve what we achieved in five years. That is what South Africans and anti-apartheid activists tell us. And we see [new tactics] of BDS activities by the young generation with flash mobs, actions in supermarkets, dances and songs. It takes the BDS campaign to new levels. A growing number of Palestinian trade unions signed the BDS call [and] trade unions in France, Scotland and Ireland are considering ending their relationship with the Israeli Histradut trade union.

Students are active on campuses in the UK and the US. The students of the University of California at Berkeley made us very proud with their amazing fight for divestment of university funds from General Electric and United Technologies. Palestinian youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in 1948 [historic Palestine] closely followed the events at Berkeley. Another important development is possibly my favorite. Recently, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced [the cessation of] speaking tours of Israeli officials to the UK and the US, because of the protests they expect.

AN: Are there BDS activities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 1948 or what is now called Israel?

HA: It is important to note that boycotts are not new to Palestinians, especially during the first intifada they played a more prominent role. My favorite part is the student BDS activities. For example, Birzeit University has no Israeli goods on its campus. All Palestinian universities adhere to the principles of an academic boycott. In April, an initiative was launched by all student councils in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian youth groups in the diaspora to end their involvement in normalization projects that dilute our rights. It was a united stand, a start to work together, an initial step. There is also a new boycott campaign in Bethlehem.

The majority of Palestinian student groups in Israel support the academic and cultural boycott. A boycott of Israeli products in Israel is not feasible.

AN: How does the Palestinian Authority (PA) respond to the BDS movement?

HA: One has to look at it in perspective. The PA is unelected. It is there because of the US. It does not represent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It is complicit in Israel’s oppression. It is a sub-contractor of the occupation.

The PA has engaged in a small part of the boycott of settlement products. It is the only part the Oslo accords allow for. It is a step in the right direction. If the PA had a different stand, all governments would react differently. But civil society says Israel is the oppressor, not the settlements. It is clear to people that the PA should be dismantled, especially since [its response to] the Goldstone report on Gaza.

The PA is strict on customs; they sometimes destroy whole shipments of goods. They stopped the selling of Israeli mobile phone cards, although in some areas in the OPT you can only use Israeli phones. The goals of the PA boycott of settlement products are not realistic.

AN: What do the international BDS activities mean to Palestinians?

HA: I think the BDS campaign has done a lot … it has ended the Israeli left’s domination of the discourse which was limited to the occupation, dismissing the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the rights of the refugees. BDS has allowed us to set the terms of the discourse and define our rights. We work towards a complete rights-based solution. It keeps us going. It shows there is hope in the midst of home demolitions, land confiscations, violations of rights and discrimination in Israel. Every victory of the BDS movement feels like we are a step closer. We are not alone in ending the oppression. It has a huge impact.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.


Source

Click HERE for Boycott updates

PHOTO ESSAY ~~ MOMENT OF SILENCE RESOUNDS IN NEW YORK FOR VICTIMS OF THE FLOTILLA MASSACRE

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at the All Souls Unitarian Church in midtown Manhattan Wednesday night. They gathered to hear a first hand report from Ann Wright, a retired US Army Colonel who was a passenger on the ship that was hijacked by the Israeli Navy.

The meeting started off with a moment of silence in honour of those massacred, a moment of silence that resounded throughout New York.

Another gathering is planned for this coming Sunday, a full report will follow.

Interview with Huwaida Arraf, Chairwoman of the Free Gaza Movement follows the photos. She is the wife of Adam Shapiro (shown speaking in the photo).


Photos © by Bud Korotzer
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‘We’ll be Back – With Bigger Flotillas’

Mel Frykberg interviews HUWAIDA ARRAF, a leader of the Free Gaza flotilla

In an exclusive interview with IPS Huwaida Arraf, the chairwoman of the Free Gaza (FG) movement, which tried to break Israel’s crippling blockade on Gaza, explains what happened on the night of May 31 when Israeli commandos raided the FG humanitarian flotilla, shooting nine people dead and injuring dozens more.

Controversy surrounds the events following the deadly commando raid with survivors from among the 700 activists on board the flotilla giving a very different version of events from that of the Israeli government.

Q: Critics have accused FG of deliberately provoking a confrontation with the Israelis and argued that the attempt to break the siege was political and not just a humanitarian relief operation.

A: They are correct to say that FG’s aim was more than just bringing humanitarian relief. We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s deliberate and calculated creation of a humanitarian crisis in the coastal territory and we intended to draw international attention to this.

We are not interested in simply perpetuating the siege and the humanitarian crisis by bringing in aid alone. Gazans are not interested in being aid dependent either. Eighty percent of Gaza’s population is dependent on food aid. This is not the result of a natural disaster but a deliberate and cruel Israeli policy. We are concerned that the human rights of Gazans be respected and they are allowed to live a normal life as human beings.

Q: Did the activists provoke the Israeli commandos into using deadly force?

A: This is nonsense. We went out of our way to inform the Israelis that we were an unarmed civilian boat delivering aid, that we presented no threat to them and there was no need to board our vessels. We explained repeatedly who we were and what our mission was. Our boats were checked by different security at the various ports of departure and we also hired independent security personnel to verify that we were arms-free.

We were attacked in international waters, in the middle of the night when most people were asleep. The Israelis used a highly-trained naval force, not the coastguard, against unarmed civilians.

Q: But videos show activists beating Israeli navy seals with bars.

A: Let’s not forget the Israelis confiscated all equipment from the media and released selective video footage so as to try and justify their extreme violence.

Furthermore, this was the response of a small number of individuals out of nearly 700 people. The FG organisers specifically held workshops for passengers prior to departure to explain how to respond in a non-violent way to an attack on the boat. However, the Israelis attacked first by shooting even before the commandos had boarded.

When such unjustified violence is used against a civilian vessel, in international waters, which poses no threat to Israel’s security it is not always possible to control the response of some people who are scared, angry and who may wish to defend themselves.

Q: You were not on board the ‘Mavi Marmara’ where the violence took place. How do you know the Israelis attacked first?

A: I was on board ‘Challenger One’ which was sailing right next to ‘Mavi Marmara’. I saw the Israeli dinghies surrounding the ‘Mavi Marmara’. I heard the explosions as they started shooting. They were unable to board because activists trained hoses on them. This was before the helicopters arrived and the navy seals succeeded in boarding. It was after this that people were shot dead.

Q: Reports are coming out that a number of the dead were shot several times in the head from above.

A: I’ve heard this too from eye-witness accounts but am awaiting further information.

Q: Activists have also claimed that during the first few hours after the assault the dying and seriously injured were deliberately denied medical treatment.

A: This is true.

Q: The Israelis state that violence was only used against the passengers on the ‘Mavi Marmara’ who resisted. Do you agree with this?

A: This is a lie. The Israelis used excessive force and violence on all the boats even when no resistance was offered. Journalists were attacked, some activists were beaten so badly that they needed to be hospitalised when they arrived in Ashdod.

An Israeli commando stood on my head with his boot and ground my head into the deck until I screamed. I was handcuffed and a hood was put over my head. Later on in Ashkelon I was hit through the face by a policeman, elbowed in the jaw and dragged by my hair when I refused to get into a police car.

Q: The Israelis claim that some on board were ‘terrorists’ and had ties to ‘terrorist’ organisations including al-Qaida and Hamas. What is your response?

A: This is part of their propaganda and an attempt to discredit FG. They can’t de-legitimise the hundreds on board, who included European Union parliamentarians, international journalists and ordinary citizens from over 40 countries as ‘Jihadists’, so they focused on a few individuals. I don’t know all of the activists personally so I don’t know what their political views are but the FG is not connected to any political organisation.

The Turkish charity Isani Yardim Vakfi or IHH which helped organise the flotilla, and had volunteers on board, provides humanitarian aid all over the world. It has an office in Gaza and probably has to deal with the Hamas authorities there as they are in charge. So do all the other international NGOs including the Red Cross and the U.N. It is just a fact of life in Gaza. There is no military association.

Q: The Israelis distributed doctored videos which they confiscated from journalists on board, as well as an edited audio tape which they later retracted and corrected. In the audio an ‘activist’ is alleged to tell the Israelis, amongst other slurs, “to go back to Auschwitz.” What are your comments?

A: I was near the VHF radio the entire time the captains communicated with the Israelis. The captains were the only people who spoke with the Israelis apart from myself. They spoke in a professional manner and I can confirm none of those slurs were made. The so-called ‘activist’ who made the alleged slurs spoke in a phony American accent from the south. We had no Americans on board from the south. They also said I was on board the ‘Mavi Marmara’ but I was on the ‘Challenger One’.

Furthermore, the Israelis were forced to retract and correct the original tape. A new one was released five days later but there are still discrepancies.

Q: Do you believe that despite the bloodshed and loss of life that the FG campaign has helped highlight the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

A: I believe increased international attention has been drawn to Israel’s inhumane siege of Gaza and that there will be more pressure on Israel to ease the blockade. This is part of an overall snowball effect to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in general following campaigning by grassroots activists. This in turn has led to political involvement on an international and diplomatic level.

Q: The Israelis possibly hoped that the extreme force they used would prevent future FG boats trying to reach Gaza. Have they succeeded?

A: Quite the opposite actually. We have been inundated with people from all over the world, from various organisations, wanting to participate in future flotillas. People everywhere are outraged by Israel’s behaviour.

Q: What are the future plans of GF?

A: More boats and bigger flotillas until we break the siege on Gaza completely. We will be back.

Source

THE LUNACY OF ISRAEL; FINKELSTEIN AND OTHERS ATTEST TO THIS

‘Israel is a Lunatic State’ – Finkelstein on Gaza Flotilla Attack

Political scientist Norman Finkelstein spoke to Russia Today to give his assessment of Israel’s raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

My Associate, Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote the following…
Of cowardice, dignity, and solidarity
Read his report HERE

More Statements from Activists – Israeli Massacre of Freedom Flotilla

2000 people came out in an emergency protest against the Israeli massacre of unarmed peace activists bringing aid to Gaza. Israeli forces boarded the Freedom Flotilla in international waters and began shooting. This is the first of 2 NYC demonstrations. There were many Turkish flags present at the demonstration as well as Palestinian flags. People called for boycott of Israel and an end of U.S. support. As one person put it, we want money for jobs not for war on poor people abroad.


From The People’s Video Channel

NOAM CHOMSKY: “I REGARD MYSELF AS A SUPPORTER OF ISRAEL”

It’s a wonder that Israel didn’t let this man in…. but a bigger wonder why they apologised about it. Perhaps the following interview will explain why…


“I don’t regard myself as a critic of Israel, I regard myself as a supporter of Israel”…..
In his own words….. from his own mouth! (At 4:00 on video)

THE UNSPOKEN ALLIANCE ~~ ISRAEL & APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA

The Unspoken Alliance: Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s full two part interview on DN!

“The Unspoken Alliance”: New Book Documents Arms, Nuclear and Diplomatic Ties Between Israel and Apartheid South Africa

Israeli President Shimon Peres has denied reports he offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa when he was defense minister in the 1970s. On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper of London published top-secret South African documents revealing that a secret meeting between then-defense minister Shimon Peres and his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha, ended with an offer by Peres for the sale of warheads “in three sizes.” The documents were first uncovered by senior editor at Foreign Affairs Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of the new book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.

Guest:
Sasha Polakow-Suransky, senior editor at Foreign Affairs and author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.


Part 1

Part 2

YES DAVID, THERE IS ETHNIC CLEANSING IN ISRAEL

I received comments on THIS post from an Australian zionist stating that Israel is not guilty of ethnic cleansing….
If the following isn’t ethnic cleansing, then what would YOU call it?

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.

Interview: ethnic cleansing inside the green line
Nora Barrows-Friedman

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.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is the co-host and Senior Producer of Flashpoints, a daily investigative newsmagazine on Pacifica Radio. She is also a correspondent for Inter Press Service. She regularly reports from Palestine, where she also runs media workshops for youth in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.


Source

A PALESTINIAN’S ADVICE TO THE ‘DOT.COM’ GENERATION

Interview with Dr. Sari Nusseiba

Dr. Sari Nusseiba

By Khalid Amayreh

Proffesor Sari Nusseiba, President of al-Quds University, near Jerusalem, is one of the most prominent liberal intellectuals in the Occupied Palestinian territories. A political moderate, Nusseiba whose family history in Palestine goes back more than 1300 years ago, repeatedly spoke up in favor of peaceful Jewish-Arab existence in occupied Palestine. However, in recent years and largely thanks to the rampant proliferation of Jewish settlement expansion,  it seems that Nusseiba, like many other Palestinians, has lost the hope for a peaceful resolution of the enduring conflict with Israel based on the two-state solution strategy.

The following is a recent interview with Nusseiba conducted by Khalid Amayreh:

1. You think the creation of a viable  Palestinian state is virtually impossible? What is the alternative?  Also, don’t you think that Palestinians, or more correctly their leadership,  could be cajoled or even coerced to accept a state that is neither viable nor territorially contiguous?

Prof. Nusseiba: Yes. Theoretically,  it may still be possible to have a viable and territorially contiguous state. However, practically and  politically, it seems it is it is too late for the-two state solution unless the international community exerts tremendous pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and undo the settler scheme. As to the Palestinian leadership, I don’t think they will compromise Palestinian rights including the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which I think represents the essence of the Palestinian problem.

2. Why do you think  Palestinians are obsessed so much with the issue of statehood? Can’t they realize their rights and interests without statehood, e.g. coalescing into federation with either Jordan?

Nusseiba: Our problem is this overwhelming  Israeli occupation which is making our life a an unending nightmare. When the occupation ends, and we attain our freedom, we can decide what to do in terms  of partnership with neighboring countries, especially Jordan. But ending the occupation is always a sin-qua-non for any prospective move toward possible integration or confederation with Jordan.

3. The idea of  the one-state solution is likely to gain wider acceptance if the current peace talks doesn’t succeed, do you think this concept is realistic or just another fantasy  illusion given Israel’s  vehement rejection of it?

Nusseiba: We are already more or less living under a unitary state structure. But I don’t think Israel can maintain this apartheid structure indefinitely. All we are demanding is to be able to live as decent human beings. And really I don’t care too much if it is a  one-state or two-state structure. The important thing is not the title but the substance.

4. The Israeli society is drifting menacingly toward Jewish fascism especially religious racism, in your view, is Israel moving toward a situation similar to that faced by Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s?

Nueseiba: I don’t if Israel is walking in the same path that Germany pursued  prior to the Second World War. But as Palestinians we must do all we can and all we should in order to consolidate our survival in our homeland. We must calculate our steps carefully and cautiously lest we make blunders that might seriously undermine our ability to survive as a people.

5. In light of the virtually genocidal onslaught against Gaza last year, do you think that Israel would be capable of embarking on the unthinkable against the Palestinians, namely carrying out a genocide of some sort?

Nusseiba: I wouldn’t completely rule out this possibility. Indeed, Israel is already waging a protracted war of terror and  killing against our people. But I think we must always not allow ourselves to be provoked by Israel as this works against our national interests. In philosophy there is a principle called “quietism” which I believe we should adopt in order to neutralize the Israeli propensity to launch wars and wage aggression.

6. Israeli leaders  insist that the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which implies that the sizeable Palestinian community in Israel might  be expelled to any future Palestinian state? Indeed, even the relatively moderate  Opposition Leader Tzipi  Livni was quoted a few years ago as saying that Israel’s Palestinians would have to seek national fulfillment in any prospective Palestinian state? How would you relate to this t?

Nusseiba: I understand their fears. However, Israel will have to make a choice. Does it want to keep up this apartheid regime, which could eventually lead to the disintegration of Zionism, or remain democratic, even according to their concept of democracy?  In the final analysis, a non-democratic Israel is also a road leading to the death of Zionism.

7. Israelis don’t stop invoking the mantra of Israel being both Jewish and democratic?  Do you think Israel can be both  Talmudic and Democratic? how would you read the Israeli mindset in this regard? And would you say that if this trend of thinking  continues, Palestinians would face a precarious future?

Nusseiba: The Israelis could go on and on in indulging in their whims. But they can’t escape the existential fact of the existence of  millions of Palestinians living in this land. They must accept that we are  humanely equal and that we are entitled to freedom and equality just like anyone lese.

8. Do you think apartheid, or an extended occupation by Israel, is a  tenable  option for Israel?

Nusseiba: Of course, Not. They have been adopting apartheid for decades, so, has the problem disappeared? Have the Palestinians disappeared? In fact, the opposite is true, the Palestinians are now determined more than ever to wrest our usurped rights from Israeli hands.

Interview with Dr. Sari Nusseiba9.You are often described as an “accomodationist” vis-a-vist Israel in the sense that you are not against a Jewish state in principle? Do you support a pure Jewish state in return for a Palestinian state, which would imply the transfer or expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens into a prospective Palestinian state?

Nusseiba: I am not against the principle of Jews living in Palestine. However, Jews, too, should declare rather unequivocally that the Palestinians, too, have an absolute and inalienable right to live  in peace and equality.

10.How would you foresee the situation in this part of the world 50 years from now?

Nusseiba: Jews and Palestinians have much in common. They also have much to offer the world. I foresee a vigorous community of Jews and Arabs living in this land in peace, equality  and harmony.

11. Despotism and political tyranny still prevail all over the Arab world, do you see any prospect that the Arab world will emancipate itself from this enduring  nightmarish reality?

Nusseiba: I am concerned first and foremost  about the situation in Palestine. But I wish the Arab world good luck.

12. How would you  see the geopolitical face of the world half a century from now? Do you think, for example, the US will become a second-class power? How about china? Europe?

Nusseiba: I think the world is moving toward more harmony and integration.

As to the balance of power in the world, I think the US will continue to be the dominant power in the coming two decades. Afterward, things could change.

13. How would you see  the future of Islamism?

Nusseiba: I don’t see any problem with Islam itself. I think it can accommodate modernity and meet challenges. As to  Islamist groups I think they would have to meet certain challenges. In my opinions, they need to give more attention to universal and humanistic dimensions.

14. Do you think the rift between Fatah and Hamas is bridgeable under the current circumstances?

Nusseiba: The rift between the “people” of Fatah and Hamas is  certainly bridgeable. The problem lies elsewhere.

15. There is a widespread impression in occupied Palestine that the quality of general education, including school and college education, is being constantly  compromised and eroded? Do you share this view? What can be done to remedy the situation?

Nusseiba: I agree with you.  And the answer is “Investment.”

16. Do you have any advice for the present generation of youth, which some would call the dot.com generation?

Nusseiba: seek  knowledge and more knowledge, and prepare yourself to deal with challenges.

CARLOS LATUFF: I DON’T TRADE IDEOLOGY FOR MONEY (INTERVIEW)

Interview with Carlos Latuff: I Don’t Trade Ideology for Money

Interview by Kourosh Ziabari for Iran’s Jame-Jam newspaper.

Renowned Brazilian anti-imperialist activist and cartoonist, Carlos  Latuff
Renowned Brazilian anti-imperialist activist and cartoonist, Carlos Latuff, who is known internationally for his insightful and significant cartoons about the oppressed people of Palestine.
Photo courtesy: autresbresils.net

(TEHRAN / RIO DE JANEIRO) – The hero of “freedom of speech”, boycotted by the corporate, mainstream media that are irresistible against the astringent truth: this is the most precise and accurate introduction which I can present about Carlos Latuff.

Born in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he is an artist of conscience whose artistic commitment and morality prevented him from becoming the pawn of imperialism. Carlos Latuff is a world-renowned cartoonist who has long brought into existence artistic works and cartoons in which the footsteps of creativity, novelty, intelligence and decency can be traced noticeably.

He has never been given the opportunity to showcase his matchless cartoons in the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, BBC or CNN; however, the narrow hallways of personal blogs and independent media outlets which allowed his cartoons to breathe in the atmosphere of publicity, made him a man of genuineness and reality, known by those who seek something beyond the outdated, obsolete propaganda of “all options are on the table”.

Carlos Latuff has drawn numerous cartoons which depict the pains of oppressed nations around the world; from the Palestinians being suffocated under the Israeli occupation to the Iranians receiving the spates of psychological operation co-manufactured by the White House and Tel Aviv.

Here is the complete text of my interview with Carlos Latuff, conducted for Iran’s best-selling newspaper Jame-Jam, where we elaborately discussed his intellectual mission and the prospect of his artistic trajectory.

Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Carlos; it seems that you’ve dedicated your entire mission to independent, freelance journalism and one can clearly figure out that you are not usually paid in lieu of what you draw for the magazines, newspapers and websites since a complete set of your cartoons and caricatures are available on your website for free. Do you accede to draw cartoons which are contrary to your ideological mindset should you be offered remarkable, irresistible payments?

Carlos Latuff: No way! I will only make artworks according my own Leftist beliefs. I don’t trade ideology for money. I work for Leftist trade union (workers) press since 1990, that’s what I make for living. Mainstream media would never pay me for making anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist artworks. But I have what I call of “artistic activism”, producing cartoons and making them available on the Web for free of charge reproduction; cartoons with a different point of view from the Western mainstream media; cartoons exposing what Michael Moore would call of “the awful truth”. I already refused payments for my drawings about Palestine. Solidarity can’t be measured by dollars.

KZ: You’ve received serious death threats from the Zionist circles and Israeli groups a number of times. Would you please explain for us a little about the details of these threats and the consequential events that followed them? Have you ever thought of putting aside your professional and artistic mission in order to preserve your safe, tranquil life?

CL: In 2006 a website associated to Likud (Likudnik) published a long article about me, my art, my support to Palestinians and labeled me as an agent at the service of a supposed “Iranian propaganda machine”, comparing me with Nazi propagandists. The author of the article argued why Israel didn’t take care of me before and urged readers to take steps against me. Let me be straight, I really don’t care about threats. Along the Palestinian cause I also support human rights organizations against police brutality in Brazil. This kind of activism alone could put me in high risk of life. But, as I said, I don’t care; I will continue with my artistic support, ’cause if Zionists worldwide are pissed off about my cartoons, it’s because I’m doing something right. Death can stop me yes, but not my cartoons. That’s why I make them run free around the world through Internet.

KZ: You belong to a prosperous country which is the 8th economic power of the world and the 10th trade partner of the United States. Brazil also maintains normal ties with Israel and this is something which many anti-war and anti-imperialism activists dislike. Coming from such a country, you profoundly grasped the essence of oppressed nations’ suffering and sympathized with them wholeheartedly. How did you rise from Brazil and came to assist the oppressed nations?

CL: I grown up in the suburbs of Rio and my parents worked hard to give me study and a humble but decent life. Being the 8th economic power makes no difference to the ordinary people in Brazil. We have poverty, corruption, criminal and police violence, influent and strong landowners in countryside, people dying of dengue fever and malaria, and a mainstream media which is always trying to convince public opinion that everything is ok with capitalism. As someone living in a Third World country I can’t turn a blind eye to this situation here and in other parts of the world. Last year I was in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, places very similar to Brazilian slums (favelas). It wasn’t hard to realize that the language of poverty is universal, as universal must be the solidarity with people in need.

KZ: You’ve for years cooperated with a number of media outlets in the Western countries and can precisely estimate the veracity of the slogan of “freedom of expression” in the countries who introduce themselves as the harbingers of liberty and tolerance. I clearly remember the spates of verbal and political attacks on the artists who had participated in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. Even the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan had condemned the contest and this could simply demonstrate the lopsidedness of “freedom” which they claim to be the pioneers thereof. What’s your idea about that? Are the western media outlets really free?

CL: Still today I’ve been accused of denying Holocaust because of that artwork for which I won the second place in the Iranian cartoon contest. It’s funny since the cartoon shows a Palestinian elderly wearing a concentration camp uniform, which not only affirms the existence of the Nazi Holocaust as well as making a comparison between it and the suffering of the Palestinians. I believe that this contest had exposed the Western’s double standard. When you ridicule and attack Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islam or Muslims, then this is called “satire”, “humor”, “freedom of speech”, whatever. Joking about Islam is pretty acceptable. Islamophobia is popular in the US and Europe, specially after September 11. However the same freedom you have for making cartoons about Islam and its Prophet you won’t have while dealing with Holocaust and Israel. If you dare draw Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians (isn’t a fact?), you will be automatically labeled as anti-Semitic. While Muhammad cartoons were wide spread in Europe, Holocaust cartoons weren’t not reproduced in any European newspaper.

KZ: Your stance towards Iran’s nuclear program (Iran intends to meet its energy, electricity needs through nuclear reactors) and Israel’s nuclear program (Israel possess up to 200 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists) is delicately accurate and specific, indicating your extensive acquaintance with the regional equations and developments. Iran is being lethally pressured to halt its civilian nuclear program and Israel has been unconditionally safeguarded by Washington to keep up with its military atomic program. What’s your take on this?

CL: In fact all this turmoil about Iranian nuclear program has more to do with the fear of US, Europe and Israel of having a country in Middle East with nuclear capability. It will change the geopolitics in the region, since no Arab country was ever allowed by US of having anything nuclear. Only Israel can have not only nuclear plants but also nukes, immune to inspections and international law. If Iran will develop nuclear capabilities for civilian or military use, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if US, Europe and Israel are so concerned about threats to peace, why don’t they start proposing sanctions against Pakistan and India, since both countries have a nuclear arms race since long time? Because both countries are allies of Washington? Why not a single word about the Israeli nuclear program? Why Mordecai Vanunu is prevented to speak about it?

KZ: Most of your critics accuse you of arising anti-Semitic sentiments by drawing cartoons which condemn the State of Israel and its leaders for the atrocities and felonies they commit. Is this the case that you’re opposed to Jews as the followers of a divine religion, or do you simply go up against the expansionist Zionists who commit crimes against humanity and massacre the defenseless people of Palestine?

CL: I’m not a religious man, and none of my cartoons deal with Judaism. You won’t find any of my artworks attacking the Jewish. My issue with Israel and their supporters is only about politics, imperialism. Even not being Muslim, I do support Muslims against Islamophobia, since I can’t agree with prejudice against religion. Of course anything that may be slightly perceived as criticism towards Israel will be associated with hatred towards Jews. This old trick is applied to anyone who dares speak against Israeli apartheid. But everyday more activists understand this misuse of anti-Semitism and keep the struggle regardless of the false allegations and smear campaigns from Zionists.

KZ: Have the global mainstream media outlets (the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and so forth) which universally rule the public opinions ever published your cartoons? Why don’t such media outlets which assert to be the pioneers of freedom of expression accept allowing the publication of disparate viewpoints which are contrary to their focal approach?

CL: Reuters made a video interview with me last year about my art and views. I had some of my cartoons shown on Al Jazeera and George Galloway show at Press TV, but this is an exception. Usually only Arab media outlets are interested in my opinions. Western mainstream media isn’t interested in giving space to a Leftist artist who supports people’s struggle in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere. But in a way or another, I find a place to make my opinions visible. Internet is my best ally. You see, even not being a famous artist promoted by mainstream media, you and your newspaper know about me and my cartoons. Internet has broken the obstacles imposed by corporate media. And I won’t make concessions for mere 15 minutes of fame; will keep fidelity with my principles.

KZ: The subjugated people of Palestine and other countries which have been subject to the brutality of imperialism throughout the history will be encouraged and hopeful when they find conscientious artists like you sympathizing with them. Have you ever felt the courage and valor you present to the people of Palestine with your artistic endeavors?

CL: I’m very suspicious for talking about the Palestinians. I have never seen such a brave and courageous people like them. I started making cartoons about Palestinians since my trip to West Bank in 1999 and since then my sympathy for their cause only grow up. After my recent visit to Jordan and Lebanon, invited by Al Hannouneh Society for Popular Culture, I realized that my relation with Palestinians is not only political. I have pure love for that people.

KZ: Please tell us about your latest activities. How was the experience of winning a prize in the Iran-based International Holocaust Cartoon Competition? Do you like to come to Iran once again and touch the pains and difficulties of the Iranian people in person?

CL: Usually I don’t participate in contests, since I’m not interested in the prizes and stuff. The purpose of my art is supporting social movements, rather than feeding my own ego. But I saw the Holocaust cartoon competition as a timely opportunity for making visual comment about Palestinian suffering. In that occasion, I was invited by my good friend Massoud Tabatabai to attend the prize award ceremony in Teheran but unfortunately I wasn’t able to travel. But of course if I had another chance, I would be more than glad to visit Iran.

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The latest writer to join Salem-News.com’s team; Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian media correspondent, freelance journalist and the author of Book 7+1. He is a contributing writer for websites and magazines in the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, South Korea, Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. He was once a member of Stony Brook University Publications’ editorial team and Media Left magazine’s contributing writer, as well as a contributing writer for Finland’s Award-winning Ovi Magazine. As a young Iranian journalist, he has been interviewed and quoted by several mainstream mediums, including BBC World Service, PBS Media Shift, the Media Line network, Deutsch Financial Times and L.A. Times. Currently, he works for the Foreign Policy Journal as a media correspondent. He is a member of Tlaxcala Translators Network for Linguistic Diversity and World Student Community for Sustainable Development.

Source

DANGERS AND DIFFICULTIES OF REPORTING FROM GAZA

Mohammed Omer is presently on a speaking tour of the United States. He is interviewed here by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now……

Image  ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff

(click on image to enlarge)

The Dangers and Difficulties of Reporting from Gaza: Two Journalists Recount Their Experiences

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two journalists who have covered Gaza extensively. Mohammed Omer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. On his way back home to Gaza after receiving the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in London in July of 2008, Omer was interrogated and beaten by armed Israeli security guards. He’s been living in the Netherlands ever since, receiving medical treatment. Omer is now on a US speaking tour; he’s joining us from Houston, Texas. And joining us here in New York is the Gaza correspondent for Al Jazeera English, Ayman Mohyeldin. He is one of the only international journalists reporting from inside Gaza during Operation Cast Lead last year.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mohammed Omer, let’s go first to you in Houston. And I’m glad you were able to get into this country. I know you had trouble at the beginning. But describe what happened to you after receiving this prestigious award, the Martha Gellhorn Prize.

MOHAMMED OMER: Well, it was upon my return from London, where I received the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, where I have been taken by the Israeli security personnel and forced to take off clothes under gunpoint. Those who attacked me, they were basically looking for the money that I won from the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, and they wanted to humiliate me by asking me different types of questions.

And before that, I was literally beaten on my chest and neck and ribs, and I was also attacked inside a closed room, where one of the officials, who is called Avi, a man, a tall man who is bald, and he’s trying to grab me from the bones, taking the bones and using his nail fingers beneath under my eyes, trying to pinch, and kicking me in different places in my body. This is because I failed to present the money that I won from the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize. That was on the 26th of June, 2008.

After several hours of attack and kicking and beating, I fainted. And after that, I was taken into Jericho Hospital. And from there, I went to the Gaza Strip. It took nearly three months to get me out of the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in the Netherlands.

To read the rest of the interviews and to watch it on video, click HERE

A RARE ISRAELI JOURNALIST, A RARE VOICE OF COURAGE

Gideon Levy is a name that should be known to the regular readers of this Blog, his articles appear a few times weekly on this site. But who is this man? What makes him so special? The following interview should answer those questions….

A rare voice of courage: journalist Gideon Levy interviewed
David Cronin

Gideon Levy (Haim Taragan/Haaretz)

Gideon Levy is a rare voice of courage in an Israeli media generally supine towards the political establishment. Since 1988, he has written the “Twilight Zone” column for the Israeli daily Haaretz, documenting unflinchingly the myriad cruelties inflicted on the Palestinian people under occupation. In his new book Gaza, a collection of articles which has just been published in French, Levy utters phrases that, by his own admission, are considered “insane” by most of his compatriots. The Electronic Intifada contributor David Cronin spoke with Gideon Levy about his background and journalism.

David Cronin: You were born in Tel Aviv in the 1950s. Were your parents survivors of the Holocaust?

Gideon Levy: They were not Holocaust survivors, they just left Europe in 1939. My father was from Germany, my mother Czech. Both were really typical refugees because my father came on an illegal ship, which was stopped for half a year in Beirut by the British and only after half a year on the ocean could it make it to Palestine. My mother came on a project with Save the Children. She came without her parents directly to a kibbutz.

My father always said he never found his place in Israel. He lived there for 60 years but his life was ruined. He had a PhD in law but never practiced it in Israel. He never really spoke proper Hebrew. I think he was really traumatized all his life.

At the same time, he never wanted to go back [to Europe] even for a visit. He came from Sudetenland, which became Czechoslovakia. All the Germans were expelled.

DC: How did your parents’ history affect you when you were growing up?

GL: I was a typical first-generation immigrant. When my mother used to talk to me in German, I was so ashamed that she spoke to me in a foreign language. Her name was Thea; I always said it was Lea. Thea is a Greek name from mythology. It is a beautiful name but as a child I always said Lea just to cover up the fact they were immigrants.

My father’s family name was Loewy and for so many years I was called Loewy. But then I changed it to Levy and now I regret it so much.

DC: Tell me about your military service in the Israeli army.

GL: I did my military service in the [army’s] radio station. I was always a good Tel Aviv boy; I had mainstream views; I was not brought up in a political home.

I was at the radio station for four years instead of three [the standard length of military service] but for the fourth year as a civilian. It’s a very popular radio station; the army finances it but it is totally civilian.

I was totally blind to the occupation. It was a word I didn’t dare to pronounce. I was a typical product of the Israeli brainwash system, without any doubts or questions. I had a lot of national pride; we are the best.

I remember my first trip to the occupied territories [the West Bank and Gaza Strip]. There were a lot of national emotions visiting Rachel’s Tomb and the mosque in Hebron. I didn’t see any Palestinians then; I just remember the white sheets on the terraces. I was even convinced that they were happy we had conquered them, that they were so grateful we released the Palestinians from the Jordanian regime.

DC: What was the turning point that caused you to criticize the occupation?

GL: There was no turning point. It was a gradual process. It started when I started to travel to the occupied territories as a journalist for Haaretz. It is not as if I decided one day, “I have to cover the occupation.” Not at all. I was attracted gradually like a butterfly to a fire or to a light.

My political views were shaped throughout the years; it’s not that there was one day that I changed. It was really a gradual process in which I realized this is the biggest drama: Zionism, the occupation. And at the same time I realized there was no one to tell it to the Israelis. I always brought exclusive stories because almost nobody was there. In the first [Palestinian] intifada, there was more interest in the Israeli media. But between the first intifada and the second intifada, I really found myself almost alone in covering the Palestinian side.

DC: Have you completely rejected Zionism?

GL: Zionism has many meanings. For sure, the common concept of Zionism includes the occupation, includes the perception that Jews have more rights in Palestine than anyone else, that the Jewish people are the chosen people, that there can’t be equality between Jews and Arabs, Jews and Palestinians. All those beliefs which are very basic in current Zionism, I can’t share them. In this sense, I can define myself as an anti-Zionist.

On the other hand, the belief about the Jewish people having the right to live in Palestine side by side with the Palestinians, doing anything possible to compensate the Palestinians for the terrible tragedy that they went through in 1948, this can also be called the Zionist belief. In this case, I share those views.

DC: If somebody was to call you a moderate Zionist would you have any objections?

GL: The moderate Zionists are like the Zionist left in Israel, which I can’t stand. Meretz and Peace Now, who are not ready, for example, to open the “1948 file” and to understand that until we solve this, nothing will be solved. Those are the moderate Zionists. In this case, I prefer the right-wingers.

DC: The right-wingers are more honest?

GL: Exactly.

DC: As an Israeli Jew, have you encountered hostility from Palestinians during your work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

GL: Never. And this is unbelievable. I’ve been traveling there for 25 years now. I’ve been to [the scene of] most of the biggest tragedies one day after they happened. There were people who lost five children, seven children in one case.

I was always there the morning after and I would have appreciated if they told me, “Listen we don’t want to talk to an Israeli, go away.” Or if they would tell me: “You are as guilty as much as any other Israeli.” No, there was always an openness to tell the story. There was this naive belief or hope that if they tell it to the Israelis through me, the Israelis will change, that one story in the Israeli media might also help them.

They don’t know who I am. The grassroots have never heard about me; it’s not like I have a name there. The only time we were shot in our car was by Israeli soldiers. That was in the summer 2003. We were traveling with a yellow-plate taxi, an Israeli taxi: bullet-proof, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now. It was very clear it was an Israeli taxi. We were following a curfew instruction. An officer told us: “You can go through this road.” And when we went onto this road, they shot us. I don’t think they knew who we were. They were shooting us as they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets.

DC: Have you been in Gaza recently?

GL: I have been prevented from going there. The last time I was there was in November 2006. As I mention in the foreword of my book, I was visiting the Indira Gandhi kindergarten in Gaza the day after a nurse [Najwa Khalif], the teacher in the kindergarten, was killed in front of all her children [by an Israeli missile]. When I came in, they were drawing dead bodies, with airplanes in the sky and a tank on the ground. I just went to the funeral of the nurse. It was called the Indira Gandhi kindergarten not because [assassinated Indian prime minister] Indira Gandhi was involved but because the owner of this kindergarten was named Indira Gandhi as an appreciation of Indira Gandhi.

DC: You have often talked about how you enjoy complete freedom to write anything you wish. But do you get the impression that life is getting more difficult for people with critical voices in Israel and that the government is actively trying to stifle dissent?

GL: Me personally, writing for Haaretz, appearing on TV, practically I have never gained such freedom. I’m appearing every week on Israeli TV on a discussion program. There were years in which I had to be more cautious, there were years in which the words “crimes of war” were illegal, even in Haaretz. Today, those words are over and I’m totally, totally free. No pressure from government or army — nothing.

But for sure, in the last year there have been real cracks in the democratic system of Israel. [The authorities have been] trying to stop demonstrators from getting to Bilin [a West Bank village, scene of frequent protests against Israel’s wall]. But there’s also a process of delegitimizing all kinds of groups and [nongovernmental organizations] and really to silence many voices. It’s systematic — it’s not here and there. Things are becoming much harder. They did it to “Breaking the Silence” [a group of soldiers critical of the occupation] in a very ugly but very effective way. Breaking the Silence can hardly raise its voice any more. And they did it also to many other organizations, including the International Solidarity Movement, which are described in Israel as enemies.

DC: Did you ever meet Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer seven years ago?

GL: I never met her, unfortunately. I just watched the film about her last week. Rachel, James Miller and Tom Hurndall were all killed within six or seven weeks, one after the other, in the same place in Gaza, more or less. It was very clear this was a message.

DC: What do you think of her parents’ decision to sue the State of Israel over her killing?

GL: Wonderful. I saw them both when they were in Israel. They are really so noble. They speak about the tragedy of the soldier who killed their daughter, that he is also a victim. And they are so low-key. I admire the way they are handling it and I hope they will win. They deserve compensation, apologies, anything. Their daughter was murdered.

I participated in a film about James Miller, a documentary by the BBC. James Miller’s story is even more heart-breaking. There was a real murder. They knew he was a journalist, he was a photographer, he had his vest saying “Press.” It was very clear he was a journalist. And they just shot him.

DC: How do you feel about Israel’s so-called insult toward the US, when it announced the construction of new settlements in East Jerusalem during a visit to the Middle East by US Vice President Joe Biden?

GL: I really think it is too early to judge. Something is happening. For sure, there is a change in the atmosphere. For sure, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is sweating. And the question is: do the Americans have a clear program?

One thing must be clear: Israel has never depended so much on the United States like it does today. Until now [Barack] Obama has made all the possible mistakes. His first year was wasted. But still we have to give them [the Americans] a chance because for sure there is a change in the tone. But I’m afraid their main goal now is to get rid of Netanyahu. And if this is the case, it will not lead anywhere. Anyone who will replace him will be more of the same, just nicer. It will be again this masquerade of peace process, of photo opportunities, of niceties which don’t lead anywhere. From this point of view, I prefer a right-wing government. At least, what you see is what you get.

DC: Spain, the current holder of the European Union’s (EU) rotating presidency, appears keen to strengthen the EU’s relationship with Israel. What signal would deeper integration of Israel into the EU’s political and economic programs send?

GL: I think it would be shameful to reward Israel now. To reward it for what? For building more settlements? But I think also that Europe will follow changes in Washington like it follows almost blindly anything the Americans do.

DC: There was a minor controversy recently about the fact that Ethan Bronner, The New York Times’ correspondent in Jerusalem, has a son in the Israeli army. Do you have any children in the army and do you think that Bronner was compromised by this matter?

GL: My son is serving in the army. My son doesn’t serve in the territories but I have always disconnected myself from my sons. They have their own lives and I haven’t tried to influence them.

About Ethan Bronner, it’s really a very delicate question. The fact there are so many Jewish reporters, Zionist reporters who report for their national media from the Middle East, for sure is a problem. On the other hand, I know from my own experience, you can have a son serving in the army and be very critical yourself. I wouldn’t make this a reason for not letting him cover the Middle East for The New York Times, even though I must tell you that I don’t see the possibility where The New York Times’ correspondent in Jerusalem is someone whose son is serving in the [Palestinian resistance organization] al-Aqsa Brigades, for example.

DC: What role can journalists play in trying to achieve a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

GL: There is an enormous historic role that the Israeli media is playing. The Israeli media, which is a free media, free of censorship, free of governmental pressure, has been dehumanizing the Palestinians, demonizing them. Without the cooperation of the Israeli media, the occupation would not have lasted so long. It is destructive in ways I cannot even describe. It’s not Romania, it’s not Soviet Russia. It’s a free democracy, the media could play any role but it has chosen to play this role. The main thing is about the flow of information. It is so one-sided, so much propaganda and lies and ignorance.


Source

Gideon Levy’s latest article , ‘Let’s Talk’, can be read HERE.

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