Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cable Street to Umm el Fahm

CABLE STREET MURAL. The uniforms and flags may change but the same struggle continues.

IT'S many years now since I sat with friends in the town hall at Umm el Fahm, listening to two young local councillors debate how much co-operation they could afford the State of Israel without surrendering their principles, and how little co-operation the State was prepared to give them when they tried to gather resources and improve the conditions for local people.

By the misfortunes of war and the 1949 Armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan, Umm el Fahm found itself separated from neighbouring Jenin and incorporated into the Zionist state, The inhabitants would have preferred not to have been swallowed up by Israel, the Israeli government would have been happier if it had been able to drive them out. Instead the state found itself with reluctant citizens and the people found themselves under alien rule - indeed, Umm el Fahm and the adjoining "Arab Triangle" were kept under military rule for two decades.

By the time I visited n 1985 however Umm el Fahm had grown as a major town, and just gained city status. The militants of Abna al-Balad and Ansar had become councillors arguing under the state's Menorah crest and a portrait of President Herzog. But they were frustrated by the State blocking funds sent from overseas, which it dubbed "terrorist", and a street cleaning machine which it maybe thought could be converted to a tank.

Umm el Fahm has developed, but its people have also suffered. In 1999 hundreds were injured opposing land appropriations, and the following year three Umm el Fahm residents were killed and more wounded when Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators at the start of the second Intifada. Israel's separation wall now separates Umm el fahm from Jenin.

In recent years Umm el Fahm has been a centre of the northern Islamic movement, from which it had a mayor, possibly elected to upset the Israeli authorities as much as for any fundamentalism. To confound stereotypes, it also has an art gallery which offers classes to both Arab and Jewish children, and a group called Green Carpet to promote tourism and care for the environment.

I was outside another art gallery, Whitechapel, the other weekend, to join a walk around the East End entitled "From Gardiners Corner to Cable Street". The significance of those two locations relates to what became known as the "Battle of Cable Street", on October 4, 1936, when thousands of people blocked the streets to stop Sir Oswald Mosley and his fascists marching through the Jewish neighbourhood. Police tried to force a way through the crowds at Gardiners Corner, and charged the barricades erected on Cable Street, but Mosley's march was stopped. The slogan of the day, adopted from the Spanish republicans, was 'No Pasaran -They Shall Not Pass".

We finished up under a piece of art, the Cable Street commemorative mural.
If you are wondering what that has to do with Umm el Fahm, here's an item a friend has sent me, from the Jerusalem Post.

Right-wing Umm-el-Fahm march okayed


Sep. 4, 2008

The High Court of Justice on Thursday ordered the police to find a "creative" way to allow a group of right-wing extremists to march through Umm El-Fahm waving Israeli flags even though the police warned that the event would "almost certainly" threaten public security and order.

During the hearing, Justice Edmond Levy said the group, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, who were senior activists in the Kach movement before it was declared a terrorist organization, should be allowed to march in the city and called on the police to find a "creative" way in coordination with the petitioners to let them do so.

The Internet news site Ynet quoted acting Umm el-Fahm Mayor Mustafa Sohel as saying, "On the day of the march, there will be a human blockade of 50,000 people. Itamar Ben-Gvir is not wanted in Umm el-Fahm."
Ben-Gvir and Marzel said they had originally requested to set up a kiosk in the Israeli Arab city on Independence Day to sell Israeli flags to "emphasize the obligation of the residents of Umm el-Fahm to be loyal to the State of Israel and its symbols."

They asked the police to hold a march after the Umm el-Fahm municipality refused to grant them a license for the kiosk.

The police rejected their request but proposed that the march be held on a highway that skirts Umm el-Fahm and has a road from inside the city leading to it. However, the petitioners insisted that the march be held inside the city, adding that although they had asked that the route go through the center of town, they were willing to compromise on that matter.

At the end of the hearing, the panel of three justices, including Levy, Hanan Meltzer and Edna Arbel, gave the state and the petitioners 15 days to find a solution acceptable to both sides.

Ben-Gvir said afterwards, "We are satisfied with the court's decision, even if not one hundred percent. It is important that the state prosecution internalize the message that freedom of speech and the right to march does not belong only to the Arabs and the leftists."

He was referring to an agreement reached several weeks ago by the state prosecution and the left-wing Breaking the Silence organization, allowing the human rights group to hold tours in the Israeli occupied part of Hebron despite the opposition of the settlers living in the area.
(Breaking the Silence is a group formed by Israeli soldiers to tell what they have seen. A tour group they organised, including British MPs, was violently attacked by right-wing settlers - Charlie Pottins).

In its arguments against holding the march inside Umm el-Fahm, the state's representative, Attorney Michal Tzuk-Shafir, said the state was "seriously concerned, based on past experience, assessments by the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and on information in their possession, that holding the march will lead, with almost total certainty, to a threat to public safety and order."

Sohel said he had received another phone call every minute after news of the High Court decision became known. He accused the court of living in an ivory tower and not being aware that for many years the city has been living in co-existence with the Jewish community.

"Dozens of Jews visit our city each Sabbath, we employ Jewish teachers, Jewish doctors work here and we have close cooperation with neighboring Jewish authorities," he said. "And then along comes a crazy man who wants to spoil the atmosphere and ruin the existing situation."


How familiar it is, that cry of the hatemonger that his freedom of speech and to march where he likes must be respected, though his aim is to crush everyone else, and his thugs will use violence as they already have against us.

The uniforms and flags have changed, the slogans are in Hebrew, and the thugs may wear a skullcap ...but if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck; or steps like a goose...

If this march goes ahead I hope there are more than 50,000 to stop it. I hope that left-wing Israelis join Palestinians at Umm el Fahm just as dockers and other joined Jewish workers against Mosley's fascists. (and I for one would not insist peaceniks have to remain peaceful). I hope also we won't be slow to raise our voices here in support of them.

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