While the statesmen talk, the kids get shot down, and citizens see step towards fascism
WHILE the statesmen talk of "peace", Palestinian children are not living to see it. At least ten have been shot and wounded by Israeli troops in the past three months while collecting rubble in or near the "buffer zone" created by Israel along the Gaza border.
Israeli forces declared a 300-metre wide no-go area along the Gaza side of their border after their three-week onslaught on the Palestinian territory was finished at the beginning of last year. The idea was supposed to be that this would prevent guerrilla groups firing rockets from this zone. Leaflets were dropped warning people to stay away. But observers say soldiers are routinely firing on people well beyond the unmarked boundary of the no-go area, and their targets are in no way guerrillas.
Because of the Israeli blockade preventing materials for rebuilding from entering the Gaza strip, salvaged materials are at a premium. With many families suffering unemployment and poverty because of the effects of war and blockade, youngsters and old people have been among those trying to salvage materials for re-use or sale.
According to Bassam Masri, head of orthopaedics at the Kamal Odwan hospital in Beit Lahiya in the north of Gaza, about 50 people have been treated for gunshot wounds suffered in or near the buffer zone while collecting rubble in the past three months; about five have been killed. He estimates that 30% of the injured are boys under 18.
Defence for Children International (DCI) has documented 10 cases of children aged 13 to 17 being shot in a three-month period between 50 and 800 metres from the border. Nine were shot in a leg or arm; one was shot in the stomach.
Farmers have been effected too. Last month a 91-year-old man and two teenage boys were killed while harvesting olives outside the official zone when Israeli troops fired shells. Forty-three goats also died in the attack. In another case a mother of five was killed by a shell outside her home near the zone in July.
The UN, aid agencies and rights groups say that Israel has unofficially and without warning extended the zone to up to 1km from the fence, leaving residents and farmers uncertain whether it is safe to access their land or property. "The army knows the kids are there to collect. They watch them every day and they know they have no weapons," said Mohammed Abu Rukbi, a fieldworker with DCI. "They usually fire warning shots but the kids don't take much notice."
On the other frontier, the West Bank, the military and the Israeli courts have been giving their answer to those well-meaning (we suppose) Western liberals who say "why don't the Palestinians try non-violent resistance", and to those Palestinians who have done. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, from the village of Bil'in, where Israel's wall snakes across the land, has been sentenced to 12 months in prison, plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years and a fine of 5,000 NIS. In the sentencing, the judge cited the non-implementation of an Israeli High Court ruling which declared the current route of the wall on Bil’in’s land illegal as a mitigating factor.
Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested last year by soldiers who raided his home at the middle of the night and was subsequently indicted before an Israeli military court on unsubstantiated charges that included stone-throwing and arms possession. Abu Rahmah was cleared of both the stone-throwing and arms possession charges, but convicted of organizing illegal demonstrations and incitement. Friends say this was based only on testimonies of minors who were arrested in the middle of the night and denied their right to legal counsel, and despite acknowledging significant ills in their questioning.
Under military law, incitement is defined as "The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order" (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967), and carries a 10 years maximal sentence.
The military prosecution is likely to appeal this sentencing – as they did in the case of Adeeb Abu Rahmah, who was also sentenced for 12 months on similar charges but is still in prison after 15 months, pending the decision about the prosecution’s appeal. The defense attorney, adv. Gaby Lasky, is considering an appeal against Abu Rahma’s conviction.
I've more than once remarked on the inability of our mainstream media to find their way to Bil'in, and report what has been happening. So it is interesting to hear that yesterday's sentencing hearing was attended by diplomats from the United Kingdom, the European Union, Belgium, Germany along with representatives of UNSCO and Human Rights Watch.
“The Israeli army, which served as prosecutor, judge and jury in this case, is try to use Abu Rahmah to set an example that will deter people from protesting. They have even said so themselves”, said Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. “Their message falls on deaf ears, as we have no choice but to continue struggling for our lands, our freedom and our dignity”, he added.
Within the State of Israel itself many people fear that the Netanyahu government is planning fresh ethnic cleansing under cover of the "two state solution", and people are no longer hesitating to use words like Apartheid, and even fascism. Russian-born deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman has long called for redrawing boundaries so as to include Jewish settlements and exclude Palestinians, and on Sunday he got his way when the government passed the loyalty oath bill. Under this non-Jews will be obliged to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state".
In protest, demonstrators in Tel Aviv read from the 1948 Declaration of Independence, which pledged that all citizens were entitled to equality, regardless of religion or ethnic background. "Israel is deteriorating from the vision of a democratic state to a fascist state. Our children will either leave this terrible place, be put in jail, or fight in the streets like in Iran," Professor Yaron Ezrachi told a rally outside the Eretz Israel Museum.
The Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom reported last week that Israeli armed forces were rehearsing massive repression and detention of the State's Arab citizenssh , in implementation of Lieberman's "population exchange" program.
'This week Israel's security forces practiced the putting down of mass demonstrations and protests among Israel's Arab citizens and their imprisonment in a large detention camp to be established at Golani Junction in Galilee. The exercise was based on a scenario of the riots being provoked by implementation of Avigdor Lieberman's plan for "an exchange of populations", i.e. massively depriving Arabs of their Israeli citizenship. A week ago Lieberman voiced this heinous idea on the podium of the UN Assembly General and Prime Minister Netanyahu murmured some weak reservations. Now it turns out that the security forces are already preparing to implement it in practice, under the responsibility of none other than Labor Party leader Ehud Barak - the Minister of Defence
'It goes without saying that in a country having any pretence to be a democracy it would be unacceptable and unthinkable for the security forces to practice waging war against the country's own citizens. Together with the racist "Loyalty Oath Bill"
which gained the support of the government, and with the demonstrative resumption of settlement construction in the Occupied Territories, it increasingly seems that Lieberman is the true Prime Minister, and that the government follows on his path, leading the State of Israel in big and rapid strides into the abyss'.
In a further sign today of the ominous way they see the sel-claimed "only democracy in the Middle East" moving, Gush Shalom has written to the Attorney General demanding that the so-called City Guard at Carmiel, in the Galilee, should be disbanded. Describing it as a "racist extreme-right militia", they call for an investigation against Deputy Mayor Oren Millstein, and the police oficials who helped set it up.
Gush Shalom reports that the "City Guard" has about 150 "volunteers" who turn up daily from 20.00 to 24.00 at the entrances to Carmiel and "check" incomers. 'The official site of the Carmiel Municipality defines the City Guard's objectives as "increasing awareness, prevention of crime, apprehending drunk drivers, searching for drugs" and other legitimate and praiseworthy aims. However, Carmiel Deputy Mayor Oren Milstein, who was elected to the municipal council on the basis of a fiery anti-Arab campaign, candidly revealed the City Guard's true aims.
'Milstein has recently published an interview in the extreme right-wing publication "Be'Sheva", where he said: "Carmiel is a Jewish city, plain and simple. It was founded for the purpose of Judaizing the Galilee. In my opinion it is not proper for Arab families to live here. In recent years, there are attempts by our [Arab] neighbors in the Western Galilee villages to migrate into Carmiel, and we must not ignore this phenomenon. "
Millstein has boasted that his Guard check IDs and make sure that neighbours do not enter Carmiel for "no special reason".
In their letter to Attorney General Weinstein, Uri Avnery and Adam Keller of Gush Shalom say that "the aims and activities of the Carmiel City Guard, as described candidly by its founder, are manifestly racist and illegal. There is no doubt that all citizens of Israel - regardless of religion, race or nationality - have the inalienable right to move freely all over the country, enter any city and village, any public place, as they see fit and, and "for no special reason". They need not ask permission nor give an account of themselves to anyone - certainly not to a militia of despicable racists in Carmiel.
Gush Shalom said that "the fact of this abominable body being established by an Israeli deputy mayor, with the full support of Israel's police, is yet another serious warning sign in the growing list of blatant racist manifestations in the Israeli public life. The racists' aim – in the government, in the municipality of Carmiel and throughout the country - is to drive out the Arabs, because they are Arabs. In practice, the immediate and direct result of their activities is to drive the state of Israel out of the community of democratic peoples and turn it into a pariah and outcast country. "