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December, 2010:

Bethlehem shepherds, Operation Cast Lead, and a rogue state

Palestine Today: A Reality of Justice Denied
Media with Conscience

On December 24, Mondoweiss co-editor Adam Horowitz wrote:

“Israeli military kills 20-year old Gazan for herding animals too close to buffer zone.”

On December 23, Israeli forces shot and killed Salama Abu Harhish without warning while herding sheep and goats in Beit Lahya. Civilized nations don’t murder nonviolent civilians in cold blood, this time leaving a widow and day-old unnamed baby.

What “democracy” thrives on violence, spurns peace, and wages preemptive wars like Cast Lead. Besides America, only Israel, a global menace like its Washington paymaster/partner, together with Britain the real axis of evil.

Read the entire article here

Commemorating Operation Cast Lead in Gaza
The Palestine Telegraph

Gaza, (Pal Telegraph) – A demonstration commemorating the beginning of “Operation Cast Lead” was held Tuesday in the Gazan city of Beit Hanoun. Families of victims were in attendance, as were 5 International Solidarity Movement activists. Two years have passed since the Israeli attacks on Gaza, which killed over 1400 people in just 23 days. The vast majority of victims were civilians, including 350 children, according to the United Nations and other major human rights organizations.

The Local Initiative demonstration began at the railway street in Beit Hanoun, near some of the most horrendous attacks which occurred during the land, air and sea bombardment of Gaza. The group of around 40 continued into the ‘buffer zone’ to within 100m of the Israeli border, holding flags and photos of children killed two years ago. During the 23-day attack, none of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants (including 800,000 children) were safe.

Read the entire article here

In Bethlehem, shepherds watching their flocks by night are a dying breed
The Guardian

If an “angel of the Lord” were to appear in the sky over Bethlehem today, there would be scarcely any shepherds keeping watch over their flocks to witness the scene.

Spending nights and days in the fields herding sheep has become an almost impossible task for the fast-diminishing community of shepherds in this biblical Palestinian town.

Jewish settlements, Israeli army checkpoints, closed military zones and the West Bank separation barrier have reduced the grazing area to such an extent that a growing number of Bethlehem shepherds have been forced to give up their traditional livelihoods. “I miss the freedom of the wilderness. Everything is different now. We can barely move,” says Adel Alsir, a 35-year-old Palestinian who herds his flock less than 100 metres from a biblical site known as the shepherds’ fields.

Read the entire article here

On Palestine, the US is a rogue state
The Guardian

On 17 December, Bolivia extended diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine within its full pre-1967 borders (all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem). Coming soon after the similar recognitions by Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia’s recognition brought to 106 the number of UN member states recognising the state of Palestine, whose independence was proclaimed on 15 November, 1988.

While still under foreign belligerent occupation, the state of Palestine possesses all the customary international law criteria for sovereign statehood. No portion of its territory is recognised by any other country (other than Israel) as any other country’s sovereign territory and, indeed, Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a small portion of its territory – expanded East Jerusalem – leaving sovereignty over the rest both literally and legally uncontested.

Read the entire article here

Postcard From Palestine

Published in The Nation
Christopher Hayes | October 14, 2010


The first thing you notice when you drive into Hebron is the lack of cars. Since 1997 this second-largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, the only one with an Israeli settlement in its midst, has been formally divided. Within the Israeli section, which takes up much of the historic downtown, Palestinians are not allowed to drive, so they walk or use donkey carts. When people are ill or injured, they are carried to the hospital. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the 30,000 Palestinians who once lived here have moved out. According to a 2007 report from Israeli human rights organizations, more than 1,000 Palestinian housing units in the area have been left vacant, and more than 75 percent of the businesses in the central district have closed. A handful of shops remain open; a cluster or two of children play in the street. But that’s it. The streets are buried under the heaviness of an ominous quiet. Periodically, buses rumble past bringing settlers to and from the adjoining settlement, Kiryat Arba, and Israel proper. In the absence of routine urban noise, their engines sound like gunshots.

I went to Israel and the West Bank with a group of American journalists on a trip sponsored by the New America Foundation. We were led through the streets of Hebron by Mikhael Manekin, a former Israel Defense Forces soldier who patrolled the city during the second intifada. He now runs an organization called Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony about IDF human rights abuses from Israeli soldiers. I had heard of Hebron, of course, but it was lodged vaguely in my mind as one of those foreign places where awful things happen. To see it in person is to understand viscerally that the status quo in the West Bank cannot hold. To see it is to understand just what occupation requires.

Because of the Cave of the Patriarchs—where Abraham is said to have buried his wife and was later laid to rest—Hebron is a very holy site for Jews and Muslims. Hebron’s long history has been one of occupation and coexistence, punctuated by periods of slaughter. Romans, Crusaders and Ottomans have all ruled the city, sometimes denying access to the holy sites to disfavored groups. In 1929 Arab rioters killed sixty-seven of the small number of Jewish residents of the city (several hundred were saved by their Arab neighbors, who hid them in their homes), and the last Jewish resident left the city in 1948. In 1968, just a year after Israel occupied Hebron, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a spiritual founder of the settler movement, traveled with a few students to the city for Passover. Once there, they refused to leave, extracting a concession from the Labor government at the time to settle them in the adjacent army base of Kiryat Arba, which today is a settlement of 7,200.

In 1979 ten women and forty children from Kiryat Arba sneaked into the abandoned Jewish hospital in downtown Hebron under cover of night and also refused to leave. Over the next fifteen years, they were joined by hundreds of other settlers—men, women and children—drawn from the most zealous, who came to inhabit the surrounding buildings.

Over the past three decades, violence has been a mainstay. In 1980 Palestinians killed six yeshiva students in the city center. In 1988 Levinger shot and killed a Palestinian store owner, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and served thirteen weeks in prison. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, from Kiryat Arba, entered the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs and murdered twenty-nine Muslim worshipers before he was overcome and killed. The IDF imposed near total curfews on area Palestinians.

Then, in 1997, as part of the Oslo peace process, security control over Hebron was divided. Palestinian Hebron, now home to some 170,000, fell under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and became known as H1. The section dominated by Israeli settlers remained under IDF control and became known as H2. There are 800 Israeli citizens who live in H2, with 500 IDF soldiers to guard them.

Within its jurisdiction, the IDF enforces a policy it calls “separation,” which has a renewed urgency in the wake of the second intifada. A three-foot concrete barrier runs down the main street of the downtown, creating a small shoulder where Palestinians may walk; Israelis pass on the other side. A few blocks farther on, an Israeli soldier and a flag on a rooftop herald the beginning of the zone the army calls “fully sterilized,” meaning no Palestinians. A young merchant hawking bracelets followed our group, entreating us to buy a souvenir. He stopped short, as if running into a glass wall, the moment we hit the outpost.

It felt as if we were walking through a postapocalyptic urban video game brought to life. The old Hebron gold market sat empty and trashed, every shop door was shuttered, graffiti was scrawled over much of the area. Eight Israeli soldiers with flak jackets and machine guns marched slowly past in formation, making their regular patrol through the deserted streets. A police car began to tail us, since Mikhael has been assaulted by settlers while leading people through the neighborhood.

In the courtyard outside the main settlers’ apartment complex, a group of boys played soccer in a lot sandwiched between a large recycling bin half full of plastic bottles and a sign that read, in part: This land was stolen by arabs following the murder of 67 hebron jews in 1929. We demand justice! Return our property to us! Women in head wraps and long skirts pushed strollers; men walked past with shopping bags. Though they live inside a heavily militarized garrison, they can walk the empty streets as if in a European pedestrian mall.

Around the corner, on Shuhada Street, are the last Palestinian holdouts in the neighborhood. They occupy second-floor apartments with balconies covered in metal braces and chicken wire. Because the street is closed to Palestinians, the residents of these caged apartments are not allowed to use their front doors; at those rare times when they leave to get provisions they must go out via the roof or makeshift doors.

As we reached the limits of H2, past graffiti of Stars of David and the slogan For every settlement evacuated, we will kill 100 Arabs, we arrived at an Israeli checkpoint, a small wooden shack manned by a few soldiers. Mikhael told us that as an Israeli, he couldn’t go through but urged us to do so. As if passing through a magic portal, we emerged on the other side into the honking, bustling chaos of a living city: shops selling T-shirts and DVDs, shopkeepers smoking cigarettes and shouting to one another over the noise, commuters hailing cabs and pedestrians dodging snarled traffic. And then, back through the magic door and into the deathly silence of occupied Hebron.

There, while settlers routinely harass Palestinian residents and the tension sometimes erupts into violence, the IDF has succeeded in its immediate goal of avoiding large-scale bloodshed. This has come, however, at the cost of turning a holy city into a moral obscenity. One might be tempted to dismiss Hebron as unique, but Mikhael insists it’s only a matter of degree rather than kind. “This is the same policy all over the West Bank,” he says. “Separation, militarization, patrol roads. In rural areas it looks a lot nicer, but it’s no different.”

At a lunch earlier that day, a prominent member of the Yesha Council, the organizing body for the settler movement, told us his “conscience is clear” about Israeli settlement and the occupation of the West Bank. But after the tour of Hebron, our bus driver, who hadn’t been to the West Bank since serving there in the 1967 war, looked at us as we boarded the bus and said, “As an Israeli, I am shocked.”

Before long, Israelis may not have to travel to Hebron to see what full-spectrum urban occupation looks like. In recent years, the most ideological of the settler organizations have, with government help, stepped up efforts to “Judaize” East Jerusalem, to make it far more difficult to incorporate into a Palestinian state, should that day arrive.

Things are especially tense in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where settlers have purchased apartment complexes and number about 500, dotted among 60,000 Palestinians. In September a private Israeli security guard shot and killed a Palestinian father of five named Samer Sirhan. The guard claimed he was faced with a life-threatening ambush from which he had to shoot his way out, but witnesses and security camera footage contradicted his account. The police accepted the guard’s version, and no charges were filed. Since then there’s been an escalation of rock-throwing at the settlers, and settlers have called for a heavier police presence and more security. On the day we toured East Jerusalem, the head of the Silwan settlers, David Be’eri, ran over two Palestinian boys after his car was targeted by rock-throwers. Many people told us that if there is a third intifada, it will start in Silwan.

In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, another settler group has used a few Ottoman-era land deeds and the power of the state to evict fifty-three Palestinians from their homes—which their families had moved to after being expelled in 1948 from their original homes in present-day Israel. The evictions have been denounced by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Israeli author David Grossman and have sparked a weekly protest that every Friday draws many Israelis to the only municipal park in East Jerusalem. But so far, despite legal appeals, the settlers remain in the houses.

There is a pointed irony in the settlers using pre-1948 deeds to make their case for occupying the homes in Sheikh Jarrah: it is usually Palestinians, demanding their right of return, who argue that pre-1948 deeds are legitimate. “From a Zionist perspective, it’s suicide,” activist and writer Didi Remez says about these settlers. “What they’re trying to do is bring Hebron to Jerusalem.” God help us if they succeed.

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS: Israeli military demolishes three cisterns and two wells in arid region

CPTnet 17 December 2010
A newsletter written by members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS  On 14 December 2010, the Israeli military demolished three water cisterns and two wells in the arid and hilly Khashem Ad Daraj/Hathaleen region, about twenty-six km southeast of Hebron/al-Khalil on Tuesday. The military gave no reason for the destruction of the wells and cisterns.

The demolitions follow a pattern of destruction of Palestinian property by the Israeli military in the Oslo Accords-defined Area C.

The Israeli army failed to deliver demolition orders to the residents of the villages in the area and instead left them under a stone two days earlier for the residents to find.

The demolished cisterns and wells supplied drinking water to the villagers as well as their sheep and goats, the primary sources of food and income for the villages in the area.

The wells were up to 300 meters deep and over seventy years old, pre-dating the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The Israeli military claims that it does not destroy structures created before 1967.

The region receives an average yearly rainfall of between 150-250 mm.*

*Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem & United Nations World Food Programme. February 2010 Report.

The beginnings of Christmas in Bethlehem

This week, Christmas stores have popped up throughout Bethlehem.

My favorite Christmas goodies

1.  Para-gliding, blow-up Santa

2.  Mix-CD of Arabic and international Christmas tunes, homemade by the shopkeeper himself and on sale for $3.

3.  A tree that showers itself with fake snow.

Christmas cheer!
The city is covered in Christmas lights, from lamp posts to restaurants.  Below is a photo of the Christmas lighting as it ends in front of The Wall near Aida Camp and Rachel’s Tomb.

Christmas cheer + The Wall = Christmas in the occupied territories

AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) REFLECTION: Preparing children for peace

CPTnet Volume 36, Issue 3
A newsletter written by members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams

This autumn, a local businessman alerted three CPTers to the presence of a group of soldiers outside the Ibrahimi School, located in the heart of the Old City.

Upon arrival, the school principal informed CPT that a settler boy, around seven years old, had accused two Palestinian boys from the Ibrahimi School of throwing a rock at him.  Soldiers wanted to enter the school with the settler child to identify and arrest the Palestinian boys, and the school principal responded by saying they would first need to get
permission from the Palestinian Minister of Education.

Over a period of three hours, fifty Israeli soldiers, twenty settlers and Israeli police gathered outside the school. When the Palestinian Ministry of Education told the soldiers that they could not enter the school, the Israeli army disregarded his decision and entered the school with the settler boy in tow.

Two Palestinian boys under the age of eighteen were arrested in front of their peers and taken to the local police station. The Israeli army and police informed the Minister of Education that these arrests were necessary for “maintaining the peace,” because the group of settlers gathered outside the school had threatened to remain and harass the school
children if the police did not arrest the Palestinian boys.

Over the years, people on the Hebron team have witnessed settler children attack Palestinian children many times, and to the best of our knowledge, no police officer has ever taken a Palestinian child into an Israeli school to point out his/her attackers.  Indeed, when adult Palestinians and internationals provide documentation of settler children attacking Palestinian children and adults, police and soldiers usually dismiss them rudely.

The Ibrahimi School incident not only shows the lack of impartiality on the part of the police, but also that settler accusations supersede preserving the educational environment of Palestinian children.

The entry of soldiers into educational institutions signifies to children that schools are not safe places for them, thus creating further barriers to education.

The young settler boy that made the rock throwing accusation was prompted by his father and other adult settlers to demand entry into the Ibrahimi School during school hours. Settler adults brought a number of settler children with them to the school and refused to obey the soldiers instructions for children to leave the scene.

Children need safe environments where they can learn and grow. Unfortunately, what CPT observes here in Al-Khalil is that children, both Palestinian and Israeli, are not being brought up in a spirit of love or respect for others.

The Israeli authorities in this area are not preparing children for a life of peace, tolerance, and equality — a life that all children deserve.

For footage of the Ibrahimi school incident, click here