Witnessing the violence at Hebron
ISRAEL'S London ambassador Ron Prosor almost kept a straight face when he almost denied knowledge of the murder of Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai. Prosor said it was not Israeli practice to either deny or acknowledge responsibility for such operations. But then in an unofficial briefing aimed at deflating indignation over the use of British passports, we were told via Friday's Daily Mail that Mossad had given the British Foreign Office advance warning that it intended carrying out such an operation.
The FCO has dismissed this as "nonsense", though remembering how the British government denied at one time having prior warning of the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, which it ignored, we will keep an open mind. We don't know how much MI6 tells ministers anyway. What we do know is that Israel uses assassinations and kidnappings, and counts on its allies to assist or turn a blind eye (as when Mordechai Vanunu was taken while under MI5 surveillance in London).
The people whose passports were stolen and/or copied were in Israel, and this weekend the British embassy in Tel Aviv said it had traced five of them and invited them to get new passports in place of the ones the Dubai police publicised. The names and numbers on the original British passports are the same as those used by the alleged agents. "This step will reduce the risk that these people might be inadvertently detained," said an embassy spokesman, Raffi Shamir. But a sixth man, James Clarke, who had served in the Israeli army, had apparently disappeared. Incidentally while the papers are discussing what, if anything, the British government might do, from a metaphorical slap on the wrist to expelling diplomats, I wonder if anyone has considered the appropriateness of taking away the British passport of anyone going to Israel, and serving in its armed forces?
Some people, including Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, see nothing wrong with the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, who is routinely described as a "terrorist" chief and not an official of an elected government. The Hamas official was apparently on a mission to arrange aid, and perhaps arms supplies from Iran to the Palestinians (much as Israeli and US officers arranged clandestine arms supplies to Iran during its war with Iraq). Perhaps then those approving the killing will see nothing wrong with Iranian intelligence borrowing suitable passports to assassinate those in the West who have organised, or at least aided and abetted, bombings in Iran, as well as flying munitions into Israel? As for those applauding from the United States, being fair-minded fellows they will I guess, admit Cuba's right to send a hit team into Miami (and release the five Cubans who were detained for gathering intelligence there about emigre attack plotters).
Much of this readiness to condone Israel's right to do as it likes, and be exempt from international law, rests on maintaining the myth of plucky little Israel, pursuing nothing but peace and progress, threatened on all sides by aggressive neighbours. A survey some years ago of the British public found of those who had heard the word "occupation" a sizeable percentage were not sure who was occupying whom. It may be harder to keep such ignorance when we have seen the bombs raining on Gaza. But for some people in this old colonial power, even those who resent the Israelis s crude upstarts, Arab lives don't count, especially if not attached to oil wealth (Palestinians only have olive oil, and Israeli bulldozers are even threatening that).
What is particularly missing from newspaper headlines and television coverage is the daily grind of occupation and siege, the low level violence and humiliation of roadblocks, deprivation of resources, harassment and interference with everyday life, by which Israel makes war in the name of peace against an entire people. But truth will out, despite increasing efforts to censor it, and that is why so many young people with a sense of injustice identify nowadays with the Palestinians.
Violence against shepherds
"A rise in violence against Palestinian shepherds shows settler-military collaboration," reported the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in a report on Friday. Unlike some of the loud-mouthed and financially over-endowed Christian campaigners in the United States who only complain that the Zionist state isn't aggressive enough, the Christian Peacemakers' believe in "getting in the way" of Israeli human rights abuses. Focussing on the southern West Bank, the teams have members stationed in Hebron, and at the village of At-Tuwani, 25 kilometers south of the city. The observers said they had been notified of attacks against Palestinians by setters 19 times in the last 19 days.
A report from CPT said, "The past two weeks have seen a marked rise in settler activity outside the illegal settlements of Ma'on and the Havat Ma'on (Hill 833) outpost," citing rock throwing, intimidation, harassment, physical violence and even the abduction of a young shepherd "with the aid of the Israeli military and police."
According to the group, settlers from the Carmel colony directed soldiers to seize the goats of a 12-year-old shepherd on Friday afternoon. The boy testified to CPT field observers that soldiers walked downhill from the settlement dairy barns, grabbed his two goats, and told him, “If you want your goats back, you better come here.”
The boy said he was worried about the health of one of his goats, who is pregnant. The team was notified of the assault by another shepherd from the nearby village of Tuba, who CPT workers said had heard " the boy's shouts of panic as the Israelis grabbed him." The shepherd said he had been struck and restrained by the soldiers. Police reportedly told inquiring CPT workers that the boy had criminally trespassed on Ma'on Settlement land. "The boy reported having no idea the land was not open to everyone," the report said.
Re-open Shuhada Street!
In Hebron itself, al Khalil, people are beginning to organise for non-violent resistance to what is often a very violent occupation. Next week will see the 16th anniversary, on February 25, of the day when Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler, wearing army uniform, opened fire with an automatic weapon in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing 29 worshippers and wounding 150, before he was overcome and killed himself.
Although the Israeli government condemned the massacre, the authorities imposed a curfew on Hebron's residents while allowing Goldstein's fellow settlers from Kiryat Arba free to move asthey pleased. Right-wing settler groups later marketed tee shirts depicting Goldstein as a hero.
Shuhada Street used to be the principal street in Hebron for Palestinians, with shops and a busy market.
Nowadays because it runs through a part of the town where settlers have established themselves, the street has been closed to Palestinian movement. Palestinian shops are shuttered, and racist graffiti has been spray painted over them. Palestinians living on the street have to enter and exit their houses through their back doors or, even sometimes by climbing over neighbor's roofs.
Campaigners in Hebron, including Youth Against Settlements, which works with Israeli peace and human rights allies, have called for an international day of action next week to back their demand to re-open Shuhada Street, both as a practical need for the town and a symbol of the fight for freedom, against occupation, separation and settlements.
On Thursday, besides a demonstration in Shuhadeh Street itself, people will be showing solidarity in Boston, USA, and in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in South Africa. There will be demonstrations at Checkpoint Charlie, in Berlin, from noon, and outside the Israeli embassy, at 122 Pembroke Rd. in Dublin, at 5pm.
Supporters in Edinburgh are promising a street party starting 12 noon in Guthrie Street, off Chambers street.
To find out more visit: http://openshuhadastreet.org/
A bit of history
According to both Jewish and Arab tradition, Hebron was the village of Abraham, the common ancestor, and in Arabic al Khalil, the friend of God, hence the Ibrahimi mosque. Before 1929 the town had an old Jewish community, but in August that year when riots broke out around Palestine, under the British Mandate, a mixture of agrarian distress and religious agitation, more than 60 Jews were massacred in Hebron. The majority of the town's Jews, numbering more than 400, were sheltered by Muslim and Christian neighbours.
But after this Jews moved out, or were moved out by the British authorities. Some families returned a couple of years later, but in 1936 the British removed them ahead of the 1936 Arab revolt.
After the Israeli occupation from 1967, the move began to establish new Jewish settlements like Kiryat Arba around Hebron, and even to move settlers into the town itself. This was spearheaded by the religious Right, though Kiryat Arba was backed by Israeli governments, including Labour.
In opposition to this, Haim HaNegbi, whose family had lived in Hebron before 1929, said he would only move back if there was peace, and if Palestinians were free to return to Jaffa. In April 1999, Hanegbi participated in a demonstration opposite the Machpela Cave in Hebron, calling for the removal of Jewish settlers from Hebron and a halt to Jewish construction in the city. Hanegbi said that as one whose father grew up in Hebron, he identified with the Palestinians and not with provocateurs such as Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who settled in the city after the 1967 War.