ISRAHELL UPDATE: Israel’s War on Protest (A MUST READ)

The Israeli courts ordered the release this week of two foreign women arrested by the army in the West Bank in what human-rights lawyers warn has become a wide-ranging clampdown by Israel on non-violent protest from international, Israeli and Palestinian activists.

The arrest of the two women during a nighttime raid on the Palestinian city of Ramallah has highlighted a new tactic by Israeli officials: using immigration police to try to deport foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause.

A Czech woman was deported last month after she was seized from Ramallah by a special unit known as Oz, originally established to arrest migrant labourers working illegally inside Israel.

Human rights lawyers say Israel’s new offensive is intended to undermine a joint non-violent struggle by international activists and Palestinian villagers challenging a land grab by Israel as it builds the separation wall on farmland in the West Bank.

In what Israel’s daily Haaretz newspaper recently called a “war on protest”, Israeli security forces have launched a series of raids in the West Bank over the past two months to detain Palestinian community leaders organising protests against the wall.

“Israel knows that the non-violence struggle is spreading and that it’s a powerful weapon against the occupation,” said Neta Golan, an Israeli activist based in Ramallah. “Israel has no answer to it, which is why the security forces are panicking and have started making lots of arrests.”

The detention this week of Ariadna Marti, 25, of Spain, and Bridgette Chappell, 22, of Australia, suggests a revival of a long-running cat-and-mouse struggle between Israel and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of activists who have joined Palestinians in non-violently opposing the Israeli occupation.

The last major confrontation, a few years into the second intifada, resulted in a brief surge of deaths and injuries of international activists at the hands of the Israeli army. Most controversially, Rachel Corrie, from the US, was run down and killed by an army bulldozer in 2003 as she stood by a home in Gaza threatened with demolition.

Ms Golan, a co-founder of the ISM, said Israel had sought to demonise the group’s activists in the Israeli and international media. “Instead of representing our struggle as one of non-violence, we are portrayed as ‘accomplices to terror’.”

The first entry of Israeli immigration police into a Palestinian-controlled area of the West Bank, the so-called “Area A”, occurred last month when a Czech woman was arrested in Ramallah. Eva Novakova, 28, who had recently been appointed the ISM’s media co-ordinator, was accused of overstaying her visa and was deported before she could appeal to the courts.

Human rights lawyers say such actions are illegal.

Omer Shatz, the lawyer representing Ms Marti and Ms Chappell, said a military operation into an area like Ramallah could not be justified to round up activists with expired visas. “The activists are not breaking any laws in Ramallah,” he said. “The army and immigration police are effectively criminalising them by bringing them into Israel, where they need such a visa.”

Officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) have grown increasingly unhappy at Israeli abuses of security arrangements dating from the Oslo era. The PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, recently described the Israeli operations into Area A as “incursions and provocations”.

Although the supreme court released the two women on bail on Monday, while their deportation was considered, it banned them from entering the West Bank and ordered each pay a $800 bond.

The judges questioned the right of the army to hand over the women to immigration police from a military prison in the West Bank, but left open the issue of whether the operation would have been legal had the transfer occurred in Israeli territory.

The Spanish government is reported to have asked the Israeli ambassador in Spain to promise that Ms Marti would not be deported.

Ms Marti said they had been woken at 3am on Sunday by “15 to 20 soldiers who aimed their guns at us”. The pair were asked for their passports and then handcuffed. Later, she said, they had been offered the choice that “either we agree to immediate expulsion or that we will be jailed for six months”.

On Wednesday, shortly after the court ruling, the army raided the ISM’s office in Ramallah again, seizing computers, T-shirts and bracelets inscribed with “Palestine”.

“Israel has managed to stop most international activists from getting here by denying them entry at the borders,” said Ms Golan. “But those who do get in then face deportation if they are arrested or try to renew their visa.”

The ISM has been working closely with a number of local Palestinian popular committees in organising weekly demonstrations against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land under cover of the building of the wall.

The protests have made headlines only intermittently, usually when international or Israeli activists have been hurt or killed by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian injuries have mostly gone unnoticed.

In one incident that threatened to embarrass Israel, Tristan Anderson, 38, an American ISM member, was left brain-damaged last March after a soldier fired a tear-gas cannister at his head during a demonstration against the wall in the Palestinian village of Nilin.

In addition to regular arrests of Palestinian protesters, Israel has recently adopted a new tactic of rounding up community leaders and holding them in long-term administrative detention. A Haaretz editorial has called these practices “familiar from the darkest regimes”.

Abdallah Abu Rahman, a schoolteacher and head of the popular committee in the village of Bilin, has been in jail since December for arms possession. The charge refers to a display he created at his home of used tear gas cannisters fired by the Israeli army at demonstrators.

On Monday, the offices of Stop the Wall, an umbrella organisation for the popular committees, was raided, and its computers and documents taken. Two co-ordinators of the group, Jamal Juma and Mohammed Othman, were released from jail last month after mounting international pressure.

The Israeli police also have been harshly criticised by the courts for beating and jailing dozens of Israeli and Palestinian activists protesting against the takeover of homes by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Last month, Hagai Elad, the head of Israel’s largest human rights law centre, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was among 17 freed by a judge after demonstrators were detained for two days by police, who accused them of being “dangerous”.

Ref: Counterpunch

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Thousands protest IDF Gaza offensive in Umm al-Fahm

Don’t forget that Umm al-Fahm is the underground name for Palestine,” Mayor Sheikh Hashem Abd al-Rahman told the thousands of demonstrators who gathered at one of the city’s soccer fields Tuesday to protest against the Israel Defense Forces recent operation in the Gaza Strip.

“Our city’s streets are narrow but in the hearts of its people there is room for all… Use caution as you leave,” he said in a fatherly tone to those who came to the city for the demonstration.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee decided to hold the demonstration in the city’s old center, away from the main road, in order to prevent clashes between hotheaded youths and the police officers deployed on the city’s outskirts. Despite this precaution, the police reported that some rocks were thrown at cars at the intersection leading to the city. No damage or injuries were reported. Two young men were arrested.

As is usual at mass events in Umm al-Fahm, ushers from the Islamic Movement were stationed at intersections to direct the demonstrators as efficiently as possible. The city’s topography foiled the best intentions of the organizers, however, as the streets leading to the main venue became clogged. Demonstrators were forced to spend at least 15 minutes climbing the steep byways just to get to the parade’s starting point.

Arab community leaders expressed satisfaction with the turnout, although the initial estimates of the crowd numbers proved to be exaggerated. “I would have expected twice as many people,” one Arab politician told Haaretz, “but apparently people knew there were technical difficulties. Apart from that, maybe we’ve already lost the momentum.”

One difficulty faced by the monitoring committee is the high cost of organizing public events, due to the need to obtain a consensus among all of the relevant political parties. On Saturday, when the date for Tuesday’s demonstration was set, it appeared that the IDF operation was going to continue for several more days. In Israel, as in the Arab world, the public was greatly affected by the images broadcast from Gaza. The
parties had no problem organizing protest vigils, but by Tuesday a mass recruitment of support was difficult and most of the demonstrators were local residents.

Those who did attend found themselves at a particularly noisy event clearly tilted in favor of youth. Some of the young demonstrators clumsily wrapped keffiyehs around their faces in imitation of Palestinian militants, but they were exposed when their inexpert knots came undone. The crowd was roused with the obligatory chant, “With blood and fire
we will redeem Palestine.” Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, the head of the northern faction of the Islamic Movement, arrived late at the field where the protest march ended, accompanied by a television crew and trailed by demonstrators.

Activists from other organizations did not concede the attention to the Islamic Movement. Important figures from Hadash, Balad and Soms of the Village were in attendance. There were even a few Jews who came, much to the pleasure of the Hadash members.

Large Palestinian flags were evident everywhere, and there was even a Syrian flag. “From Gaza to Jenin, one people unbroken,” the crowd yelled. Many demonstrators wore black-and-white keffiyehs around their necks as a mark of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Despite the impressive VIP turnout, the organizers decided in advance to save the public from having to listen to numerous speeches. Only two leaders spoke: the mayor, Abd al-Rahman, and the head of the monitoring committee, Shuweiki Hatib.

Abd al-Rahman, who is from the Islamic Movement, emphasized the need for the rival Fatah and Hamas movements to cooperate. His statement exposed one area of disagreement within the Arab public: The Islamic Movement is known to support cooperation between Fatah and Hamas, while Hadash and other groups stand behind the Fatah position, according to which Hamas fomented a revolution in Gaza.

“Our unity is here- from Umm al-Fahm, Sakhnin and Taibeh, from the Triangle, the Negev and the Galilee, we call in one voice: The Palestinians must be united so that we can create the independent Palestinian state,” Abd al-Rahman

Ref: Haaretz