Monday, August 03, 2009

Hebron, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv; Hate crime is catching

HUNDREDS of people took part in a Tel Aviv protest yesterday after the murder of two young people and wounding of others at a Gay and Lesbian support centre. A gunman dressed in black walked into the centre on Saturday night when a social was being held, and opened fire with a handgun at random.

While police were still looking for the gunman yesterday, many of the protesters had little doubt of the political responsibility for the killing. As Labour knesset member Shelly Yachimovich told the crowd: "The pistol did not act on its own, the gunman did not act on his own - what stood behind him was incitement and hatred."

Demonstrators carried placards singling out the religious party Shas, whose leaders have a record of ever-more strident denunciations of gay people, whom they accuse of both defying the Almighty and his supposed Laws and undermining Israel.

But Shas is not alone in this, nor does its toxic mixture of backwardness and bile spray only in one direction. This party of the Misrahi (Eastern) wing of religious Orthodoxy originally gained support by association with welfare initiatives for the poor, but one of its leading rabbis recently hit the news with his explanation that Jews who were killed by the Nazis were being punished by the Almighty for sins in a previous life.

Shas has turned to inciting hatred because it is competing with other parties of prejudice and hate, in a country where the slum dwellers of Tel Aviv and other cities are taxed to subsidise the privileged lives of West Bank Settlers; where the Foreign Minister is an open advocate of ethnic cleansing; and where the liberal culture of Tel Aviv or Haifa is despised by the macho breed of fascists and religious fanatics, for whom some human beings are inferior and have no rights, whereas you have the right to expel or kill them.

The Tel Aviv shooting came on the same weeknd that Israeli forces evicted the Hanoun and al-Ghawe families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem. As a correspondent reports:
"At around 5:30 in the morning, Israeli police arrived at the Hannoun family home and broke into the house through the windows. They forcefully removed Maher Hanoun, his wife Nadia and their 3 children. The police violently separated the family from the international and Israeli solidarity activists that were staying in the home. Police then arrested the international and Israeli solidarity activists that were staying with the family. Similarly, Israeli police came into the al-Ghawe family home at 5:30am and removed the family and internationals staying in the home.

Settlers arrived with a truck and began to move the al-Gwahe and Hannoun family possessions out of their home. Everyone outside of the house was forced across the street, away from the house. According to eyewitnesses, Israeli forces beat a Palestinian male who was trying to intervene when police were yelling at an elderly Palestinian woman. Additionally, media personnel were pushed around by police when they were trying to get close to the evicted Sheikh Jarrah homes.

Amongst those arrested are at least 7 international activists and 1 Israeli activist. They are scheduled to be brought to court in Jerusalem at 11am.

Here's Maher Hannoun, Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah:
"Despite condemnation from the international community about the evictions of my neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, the Israeli government continues to pursue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem. My family were refugees from 1948 and now we have become refugees again. We were forced out of homes to make way for settlers, contrary to international law. The legal case that residents presented in court included an Ottoman-era document which discounts the settler associations claim of ownership over Sheikh Jarrah land and homes. But the unjust policies of Israel to judaize East Jerusalem render our legal proof of ownership irrelevant.

Jody McIntyre, a British solidarity activist says:
I woke up to the sound of a brick through the front window. By the time I could get up, I was being pushed out the door by Israeli forces. They wouldn’t allow me to take my wheelchair and were physically violent towards me and the others in the Hannoun house. The unjust policies of the Israeli government are not just written documents, they affect real families. The government has made the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families homeless, and their only crime is being Palestinian in a system that is racist against them.

The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem was built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 to house Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. However, with the the start of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, following the 1967 war, settlers began claiming ownership of the land the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was built on.

From Jerusalem to Hebron, in the southern West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory. Here's a report from the Palestinian Ma'an news agency:

'Hebron is a divided city. Around 500 Israeli settlers illegally occupy buildings in the city centre and to accommodate them the lives of over 180,000 Palestinians have been thrown into disorder.
Palestinians’ movement through their own city is severely restricted: thousands of Israeli soldiers man checkpoints along a line of segregation that cuts through the city; in order to pass Palestinians must present their ID cards and can be detained arbitrarily. Some roads and sidewalks are segregated – Palestinians have to walk on small divided sections. Local residents are forbidden from driving on many streets and what was until recently a bustling main market street is now forbidden to them.

Step-by-step, house-by-house the settlers plan to take over all of Hebron and expel the local Arab population. Settlers in Hebron are part of the most extreme Israeli right-wing movement. The leader of the Jewish National Front, Baruch Marzel, lives with his family and many supporters in the heart of the city. Still the residents, traders and shopkeepers at the core of the ancient Old City resist the encroaching settlers.

It is not easy. Each Saturday afternoon one of several military barriers separating the Old City from the illegal settlements swings open – no one knows which barrier will be opened from one week to the next – and an Israeli Army patrol sweeps in. Many shops close, streets are blocked off, residents cannot access their homes and normal life comes to a halt. The soldiers are there to escort groups of Israeli settlers who come to see buildings that they claim should only be occupied by Jews.

On Saturday 1 August settlers climbed over a roof onto the home of the Palestinian Al-E'wewi family in full view of Israeli soldiers and pushed a large metal water-tanker to the ground several floors below. During the hot summer in this dry region water is scarce and the Al-E'wewi’s are so poor they will struggle to replace the tank which has been vandalised by settlers many times before.

Settler boys took up positions on roof-tops which are designated as closed military zones under Israeli law and intimidated passers-by while Israeli soldiers looked on and happily chatted to them.

Later in the afternoon settlers attempted to assert their dominance over the local population. Young setter men decided to break away from the main group moving through the Old City. As they swaggered down the narrow streets of the Old City Israeli soldiers began to call them back. The settlers’ views are so extreme that despite all the restrictions the Israeli Army imposes on local people, soldiers are viewed by settlers as being too soft. Angry at not being able to run riot a settler attacked an Israeli soldier, punching and kicking him. However, rather than arresting the violent settler the soldiers told him to calm down and let him continue away from the main group. Settler leaders shouted at the soldiers that they should not interfere with the young man.

Quickly a group of young seller men rallied round their friend and made their way through the streets. They attacked a Palestinian’s car, breaking-off a wing mirror. As they passed local shops they cursed and screamed at shopkeepers who had dared to stay open.

The Israeli soldiers had lost control and decided to escort the settlers from the Old City. Angry at being unable to assert themselves in their usual manner the settlers decided to lash out. An innocent Palestinian man, Nizam Azazmeh (32), who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, was attacked by ten settlers. Using a blade, they slashed his forehead, arms and stabbed him in his chest. Israeli soldiers standing nearby refused to intervene to help the victim and he saved himself only by grabbing a police shield and defending himself.
Mr. Azazmeh a complaint to the Israeli police but, despite having security cameras covering the area of the attack, the police have yet to arrest any settlers.

The man survived and has submitted a complaint to the Israeli police. In the meantime the residents of Hebron hold their breath, waiting for the next time settlers lash out.'

In Palestinian protests and riots the following week, put down by Israeli forces, 25 Palestinians and five Israelis were lilled. Israel imposed a two-week curfew on the 120,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron, while the 400 Jewish settlers remained free to move around. The Israeli government condemned the massacre. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, later to be assassinated himself, telephoned Yasser Arafat, and described the mosque attack as a "loathsome, criminal act of murder".

But before very long tee shirts honouring Baruch Goldstein were on sale, and his grave site in the park named after fascist Meir Kahane has become a pilgrimage site for those with extreme right-wing views; a plaque near the grave reads "To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel."

I can't help wondering what will happen to the Tel Aviv gunman, and whether he too will be honoured as a hero.

A recent poll said the majority of Israelis supported the settlers. That's to say politically. We already knew they were supporting them economically, whether or not they realised it. Opinions can change. Besides the immorality of the occupation, its brutality feeds back into Israeli society. Israelis who value their freedom and democratic rights may come to realise that a people which oppresses another is forging its own chains. Those who want tolerance and progress within their own society had better face the fact that racialism, and hate crime of whatever kind, is contaminating.

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