Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Israel's Nazis: Fruit of the Land

BIG fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite 'em.

(1) An outbreak of the swastika plague

The news that Israel has a bunch of young Nazis who daubed swastikas on synagogues and attacked religious Jews and Muslims, seems to have taken a lot of the media by surprise, though it was known for some time, before the Israeli police decided to do something. Now even the Anti-Defamation League in the United States has felt obliged to comment, though I have not heard yet from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

Not long ago that outfit was featuring pictures of desecrated Jewish graves in Hampshire alongside its campaign against Ken Livingstone, so its politically illiterate followers could get the message that London's mayor, wihose anti-racist record is well-known in this country, was somehow responsible for neo-Nazi activity. I shudder to think what they'll make of Nazis in Israel.

The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight this month has articles about the shocking rise of racist and fascist activity in Russia, where 122 people have been killed over the past two and a half years, to add to the 20 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in the war against Hitler. Perhaps it could have added a supplement.

For Western liberals and guilt-stricken Christians, the Zionist State is presented as the resounding answer to Nazism. For Jews it is supposed to be as obvious as Night and Day that Hitler, and any other anti semite, and the Jewish State are opposites. No trip to Jerusalem is complete without the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum; and having hijacked Jewish history the Zionists assume no one will question why youngsters taken to visit Auschwitz will be paraded with Israeli flags, even an Israeli fly-past.

The fact is that these twisted young thugs in Petah Tikvah, reportedly Russian in origin, have grown up in a country where politicians can make racist speeches and call for ethnic cleansing without any comeback. One of them, also a Russian immigrant, ran for the Knesset on that program last time. Not just street demagogues but respectable academics hold seminars to discuss "the demographic threat" - meaning too many Arab babies. The law has confirmed that the main institutional landowner, the Keren Kayemet/Jewish National Fund can continue discriminating against non-Jews.

Although Palestinians have been the main victims of Zionist racism, Jews from non-white countries have also been treated as inferior, while Israeli leaders from east European backgrounds were especially keen to bring more Russian immigrants, whom they called "better human material". So keen that, helped by a massive campaign to "let my people go" in the West, they shlepped in Jews who would much rather have gone elsewhere, and they were not even particular about whether they were Jews. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate, who insisted on all kinds of restrictions and humiliating tests on Jews who had maintained their identity for centuries in India and Ethiopia, were much more obliging when the Jewish Agency brought in fair-skinned, blue eyed Russians.

To be sure, the new immigrants did not find a Land flowing with Milk and Honey. Some skilled professionals might be in demand, but well-educated Russians have found themselves in competition for low-paid catering jobs or even prostitution. As for housing you could enjoy freedom of choice - a cardboard box, a queue for an overcrowded flat, or a villa on the West Bank. (Ethiopians were sent there too, but to live in caravans).

Young people like those in the Nazi gang are called up for the army, and sent to the occupied territories where they can humiliate old people at road blocks, or look on while settlers run riot through Hebron. They can guard the wall that is encroaching on Palestinian land and turning the enclaves behind it into shrinking ghetto enclaves. They can stop people getting food and medical supplies under closure and curfews. Doesn't this remind you of anything? They can shoot schoolchildren and claim it was in "self-defence" - there is seldom an investigation and no one gets punished.

What a training for citizenship! The remarkable thing is that there are so many fine young people in Israel who have rejected the pervasive militarism and chauvinism, and taken up a struggle against it, like the Anarchists Against the Wall and those who refuse to serve in the Occupation. They are the true heirs to a radical Jewish tradition that was famous, and once came to the fore in Russia. Not the kind of legacy that Israel's leaders and imperialist backers wanted.

As for the Nazi thugs, though they may have felt unwanted by Israeli society, their perversion is but a product, however peculiar and twisted, of the general racism around them. Now the right-wing Zionists and religious fanatics will be looking for ways of not just locking them up, but locking the stable door after the horse has gone, by making Israel's Law of Return, immigration laws, and rules on "who is a Jew" even tighter

Anything but look in the mirror.

Big fleas have little fleas ....(2) The Property Man

LEFT-wing Italian MEP LUISA MORGANTINI, vice president of the European Parliament, has sent me this translated article about a man who apparently took Israeli land-grabbing in the West Bank as a good opportunity to grab what he could for himself, and took a lot of Israeli families to the cleaners in the process.

Italy should denounce Yona Boaz: he stole Israelis' money and Palestinian land!
by Luisa Morgantini*
Published in the Italian Newspaper LIBERAZIONE – 06/09/2007

The flight of Yona Boaz, the building magnate and managing director of Heftsiba, the biggest construction company in Israel, who has been sought by the police for weeks accused of having organized a colossal fraud in Israel, ended the night of August 30th at Castelnuovo del Garda, near Verona, when the 47 year old businessman was arrested. He had fled Tel Aviv at the end of July and covered his tracks well. An international arrest warrant was hanging over him, issued August 12th by the Israeli courts in relation to the scandal in which at least 500 families have lost more than 50 million Euro in deposits paid into his accounts for apartments that were never built. The money, in fact, was moved to other accounts and used by Yoni for his own personal ends.

Now he is accused of aggravated fraud, conspiracy to defraud, theft, and falsifying the company accounts. Up to this point the story is well known. The less-known part of the story is that Heftsiba, like many other Israeli construction companies, has based its business mainly on the construction of a good part of the settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories. In 2006 in the East Jerusalem area alone, the company built 330 new housing units in Har Homa, 180 in Maaleh Adumim, and more in Beitar, Adam, Barkan, Efrat, Ariel. In all the West Bank, despite the fact that the transfer of Israeli civilians to the occupied territories is illegal under international law, every year the number of settlers has grown by around 5.5%,reaching a population of around 450 Israelis (2.4 million Palestinians) in 2007.

Currently, 38% of the West Bank is occupied by settlements, check points, military bases, infrastructure and zones that are off-limits the Palestinians – reserved for Israelis. This leaves the Palestinians (including Gaza) around 12% of the territory of the historical area of Palestine, and even that is divided into Bantustans between which contact is difficult, since freedom of movement is not guaranteed.

The Israeli construction companies bear a great responsibility for this policy of continual appropriation of Palestinian lands - often the most fertile and those with the best access to water. It's not just a logic of occupation of land, but also a commercial occupation that profits from the current situation - Israeli military control and absence of any appropriate jurisdiction - to make easy profits on the backs of dispossessed Palestinians and swindled Israeli families in open violation of international law.

In January 2006, the Israeli courts had already closed down the Heftsiba building sites where 1,500 housing units were being built for ultra orthodox Jews in Modiin Ilit. The building was considered illegal because it was built on land that is the property of Palestinian farmers and because the project included double the number of housing units decided by the Israeli parliament. No construction company would have acted with such contempt for the law if the project had been within Israel. But companies like Heftsiba and their managers are not the only guilty parties: the finger must also be pointed at the Israeli authorities, the government ministers, and the local administrative powers who have, by their tolerance of such practices, created this Wild-West situation, facilitated the violence of a system - the Israeli system - that continues to annex Palestinian lands with 40 years of military occupation, with the building of the wall and the growth of settlements.

Like in Bil'in, a village to the north-east of Ramallah, around six km from the green line that should mark the 1967 borders - not far from the large and continually expanding settlement of Modi'in Illit- which is within zone A and so according to the Oslo accords should be totally under the control of the Palestinian authority. In recent years, Bil'in, has become a symbol for the non-violent struggle against the occupation and against the wall (, which has appropriated around 60% of arable land from the 1600 residents of the village, who are mainly farmers.

A real theft of lands and emblematic of what is happening in Palestinian villages in the entire West Bank thanks to construction companies who are without scruples, like Heftsiba, thanks also to the impunity that these companies are often guaranteed by the Israeli authorities and, finally, thanks to the complicit silence of an inert International Community. The protests against the wall, which started in 2005 on the initiative of a village committee supported by Israeli and international pacifists (last April they held the second international conference), have continued every Friday after prayers, with a march starting from the village and getting as close as possible to the zone where the wall is under construction, trying to block the bulldozers with non-violent actions, but each time subjected to brutal attacks, arrests, and injuries by the soldiers.

Thanks to a petition and to the non-violent resistance of the village, on Tuesday September 4th the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the revision of the path of a section of the 1.7 km section of the wall built on land owned Bil'in farmers. This section of the wall runs close to the Matitiyahu East neighbourhood of the Modi'in Illit settlement. According to the Israeli government, the wall is necessary to protect the residents. In reality, the wall occupies 260 dunams (1 dunam = 1000 m3) of village land and impedes access to another 1.700 dunam of cultivated fields and orchards that are between the barrier and the green line. For this reason, the residents of the village appealed to the court and now await the destruction of some parts of the wall "within a reasonable period of time".

"Wonderful" news commented the Bil'in committee, hoping that the ruling will really be applied. Cases of rulings not being applied are not rare.

It happened recently south of Hebron where the Israeli army refused to remove cement wall that is 82 cm high and 41 km long close to the villages for Palestinian shepherds, preventing them and their flocks from crossing the road 317, a road for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers. In December 2006, the court called for the removal of that part of the wall within 6 months, but "the Israeli armed forces have deliberately delayed the application of the ruling"- according to a new ruling by the Supreme Court, displaying arrogant behaviour, lacking in respect for every principle of legality and the clear will to protect the settlers in defiance of every sense of justice. These episodes demonstrate the state of things in Israel: voices that call for respect for the law exist but they are isolated, unheard, and even repressed by the Israeli security forces, showing a dangerous clash between justice and its application.

For this reason, the example of Bil'in, the protests and accusations of activists and associations like Peace Now - particularly active in denouncing the growth of settlements - are fundamental. Thanks to them, the construction of the Matityahu East settlement has been delayed for at least a year, a victory that in fact contributed to the collapse of Heftsiba, according to the settlers, who seem to be trying to illegally occupy the unfinished apartments. But the risk now, as the people of Bil'in remind us, is that it's doubtful that the Israeli courts will declare the whole settlement illegal and so the Israeli authorities will look for another construction company to finish the work, with or without Heftsiba.

For this reason, Mohammed al-Khatib of the Popular Committee of Bil'in and the people of the village are asking Italy to take up the case of Yona Boaz, to denounce him for violations against international law or for crimes against humanity, reminding us that his company has stolen not only the money of Israelis but also the land of Palestinians. Yona, who is now in the Verona jail will probably appear in court in Milan on 10th September to state whether or not he intends to oppose his extradition. If he chooses not to, he could be extradited to Israel within a few days, where he could be condemned to up to 27 years in prison for fraud, but naturally, with no mention of the violations against international law, the theft of Palestinian land, the illegal practices that are an integral part of the Israeli occupation that still continues.

The ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court on the Bil'in wall, the victory of the village committee and the case of Yona represent a chance to call on our government to take a clear position against the occupation and the wall, and the visit today in Rome of the new president Shimon Peres, should also be a chance to make an official protest to the Israeli authorities. But the pacifist movements, the associations for human rights, jurists and parties too should mobilize to help the non-violent popular resistance movement in Bil'in to achieve concrete results and to stop the continuation of the illegal building of settlements that precludes any possibility of peace and of an end to the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

*Vice President of the European Parliament

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