TUTU: This is THE problem

Speaking at a literary festival in England apparently sponsored by The Guardian, South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu told the audience that it was urgent to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “If we don’t solve that problem, you can give up on all other problems. You can give up on nuclear disarmament, you can give up on ever winning a war against terror, you can give it up. You can give up any hope of our faiths ever working clearly amicably and in a friendly way together. This, this, this is THE problem, and it is in our hands”.

Continue reading TUTU: This is THE problem

Richard Goldstone due in region this weekend to begin hearings on Gaza war

Until the last minute, it was not clear how South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone would arrive in the region this weekend with a mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to begin an inquiry into the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza (27 December – 18 January), or whetherIsrael will or will not let him enter the country, if he tries to come here.

Israel — which often prefers ambiguity — apparently did not reply to Goldstone’s request for a visa.

The mission’s mandate is to “investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

Continue reading Richard Goldstone due in region this weekend to begin hearings on Gaza war

Are the Americans serious this time?

The international press is writing that it seems different this time, that this new American administration may be serious this time — about stopping Israeli settlement-building, expansion, and whatnot. But, that’s what sells newspapers.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and company were received at the White House in Washington on Thursday 28 May. Obama is the leader, here, talking with dominant body language.

The protocol is interesting: on the couch beside Obama are (No. 1) Special MidEast envoy George Mitchell, (2) U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (the one in the more colorful clothing), and (2) VP Joe Biden.

On the couch beside Abbas are PLO Executive Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo (who is also now apparently in charge of media for the PA), long-time negotiator Saeb Erekat, and someone I can’t immediately identify who is writing on a notepad (very similar to the one the interpreter is using in the photo below).

A portrait of the U.S. “founding father”, George Washington, is over the no-frills mantle decorated with Republican greens (no floral arrangements, but why not herbs that can be replanted later in Michelle’s garden?). And Abraham Lincoln is prominently displayed in the upper left side of the photo.  The Palestinians would probably have been happy if there were also a portrait of Martin “I-have-a-dream” Luther King, but the Israelis might have freaked out…

The expanded meeting between Obama and Abbas at the White House on 28 May 2009

Continue reading Are the Americans serious this time?

Jerusalem session of Palestinian Literature Festival forced to relocate again — to British Council

Unfortunately, it was predictable.

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior ordered the closure (for tonight, at least) of the Palestinian National Theater (Hakawati) in East Jerusalem, where the final event of the PalFest09, the Palestinian Literary Festival, was due to be held.

Israeli Border Police telling audience to leave Hakawati Theatre at closing event of PalFest09

Photo from PalFest’s photostream on Flikr here

However, as happened in the opening PalFest09 event in Jerusalem last Saturday night, a European institution stepped in to offer its premises as a substitute, in a small but significant show of support. It was also a small gesture of defiance of the current suppression of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.

This time, it was the British Council in East Jerusalem which hosted the event — and, somehow, it didn’t seem to be a surprise. Everything appeared to be ready and organized in advance for the (predictable) move.

The drama was captured, again, on a video now posted on Youtube here, from PalFest09 closing event.

It is also available on the PalFest09 official website, here.

In the video, a markedly quiet and polite Israeli Border Police officer tells a strawberry-blond European man in a suit that “There is a court order [to close the theatre] … I have the Hebrew one in my pocket … You can see the court order in English hanging on the door of the Hakawati Theater”.

The man in the suit replies: “Well, yeah, my name is Richard Makepeace, I’m the British Consul-General here in Jerusalem. This is a literary festival attended by many great distinguished British writers It seems a strange decision.”

He goes, followed by the camera, to read the court order.

British Consul-General in Jerusalem reads order closing Hakawati Theater to PalFest09

Photo from PalFest’s photostream on Flikr here

Then, he turns to face the camera. Imad Muna, owner of the Educational Bookshop on Salah ed-Din Street [East Jerusalem’s Fifth Avenue or maybe even Champs Elysees] stands beside the British Consul-General, who then says: “I’ve just been informed by the police that this closing event of the literary festival is not to be permitted here. I’m glad to say that it will take place on the premises of the British Council here. I don’t recognize the law referred to in the statement behind me [the court order in English], but I think all lovers of literature will regard this as a very regrettable moment, and a regrettable decision“.

And, as noted by a PalFest09 Twitter [tweet?], the show goes on — here, relocated Thursday night to the garden of the British Council. A photo of the lovely garden as the sun sets is available on PalFest’s Twitter page here or directly here.

Israeli officials have claimed that PalFest09 was, at least in part, sponsored in part by the Palestinian Authority, which Israel says cannot operate in Jerusalem, according to the Oslo Accords. That’s why, according to the Israelis, the two sessions scheduled to take place in East Jerusalem — the opening and the closing sessions — could not take place in the venues where they were originally booked.

But, Ma’an News Agency reminded us that the event organizer Omar Hamilton has contradicted the claim, saying “The PA has nothing to do with PalFest”. This report can be read in full here.

And, the events were held anyway, despite the closure orders — in quasi-diplomatic European sites in East Jerusalem.

One of the PalFest09 participants (Egyptian authoress Ahdaf Soueif) wrote in the first post on the PalFest09 Author’s Blogs, quoting the late Edward Said: “our mission: to confront the culture of power with the power of culture“.

Why are Palestinian Authority activities banned in East Jerusalem?

Why is Israel suppressing the activities of Palestinian and/or Palestinian Authority (PA) activities in East Jerusalem?

The argument being offered by Israeli authorities is that PA activities are banned in Jerusalem under the Oslo Accords.

But, these activities were allowed — with difficulty — before and after the start of the “Olso” process in 1993.

It’s hard to believe these days, with the now-routine suppression of rather simple activities such as a memorial meeting on the anniversary of the death of Faisal Husseini, or the press conferences of East Jerusalem Palestinians in a media center opened by the Palestinians during the Pope’s recent visit, or this year’s Palestinian Literary Festival (PalFest09) that opened in Jerusalem on Saturday (see post below), have all been closed by police and Border Policemen with guns.

Israel’s then-Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, who is now Israel’s State President, wrote a letter dated 11 October 1993, promising “not to hamper” — but rather to “encourage” — the activity of “all the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem”.

The “Oslo process” Declaration of Principles between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Israel was signed on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993. It was to go into effect a month later. Apparently as part of that, Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Peres sent this letter to the Norwegian Foreign Minister, whose country had hosted the previously-secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations taking place under Oslo.

The text of the letter is posted on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (though, strangely, they take it from the Jerusalem Post some eight months later):

“The following is the text of a letter sent by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst, on October 11, 1993, as published in The Jerusalem Post on June 7, 1994:

‘I wish to confirm that the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem and the interests and well-being of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are of great importance and will be preserved. Therefore, all the Palestinian institutions of East Jerusalem, including the economic, social, educational, cultural, and the holy Christian and Moslem places, are performing an essential task for the Palestinian population. Needless to say, we will not hamper their activity; on the contrary, the fulfilment of this important mission is to be encouraged’.”

This text can be found on the Israeli MFA website here .

So, what has happened since then?

According to lawyer Jawad Bulous, the Israeli Knesset passed an “implementation” law (to “implement” subsequent “Oslo process” agreements) — he said, I thought, that this law was passed in 1997 — and it is this “implementation” law passed by the Knesset is apparently what prohibits Palestinian Authority activity in East Jerusalem — despite the promise made by Shimon Peres in his October 1993 letter to the Norwegian Foreign Minister.

So, what good are such letters — Peres apparently wrote a number of them on various subject matters — and such promises?

If the “implementation” law passed in 1997, an internet search reveals other dates, or other stages in the process: A Jerusalem Post article dated 6 June 1996 reported that “since the passing in December 1994 of special legislation explicitly forbidding Palestinian Authority activity in the capital, Orient House officials have largely stopped work directly connected with the PA. Faisal Husseini, the senior PLO official in Jerusalem who runs Orient House, also personally promised Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal the PA activity would stop”…

December 1994 was just over a year after the Oslo accord’s Declaration of Principles — very early days.

The Orient House was then finally closed down in August 2001, after a suicide bombing targetted a Jerusalem pizza restaurant.

Israeli Police and Border Police shut down Jerusalem opening of Palestinian literature festival

Claiming that this year’s Palestinian literature festival, PalFest09, was somehow organized by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (with which Israel has been engaged in peace negotiations), Israeli police and Border Police shut down the opening session at a theater in East Jerusalem at 6:30 on Saturday evening.  The French Cultural Center then offered its premises, and the participants walked a couple of hundred meters in the direction of the Old City to start over again.  In that new venue, the event apparently went off without a hitch.

A Youtube video, posted on the Ma’an News Agency website, captured the drama:


Ma’an News Agency reported that “Audience members crowded on the lawn outside the building [at the French Cultural Center] as book readings and discussions on the theme of displacement in world literature were interrupted by power cuts and police sirens. The spectators and litterateurs were greeted at the new event by five Israeli police vehicles stationed outside the garden wall. According to Ma’an’s Jerusalem correspondent the initial decision to close down the performance at the National Theater was made at the request of the Israeli Interior Ministry. The move mirrors efforts to quash celebrations of Jerusalem culture for the 2009 Capital of Culture events”. This report can be read in full here.

Continue reading Israeli Police and Border Police shut down Jerusalem opening of Palestinian literature festival

"Jerusalem unification" day – but is Jerusalem united?

Today, Israel mark’s “Jerusalem unification” day.

However, According to Gershon Baskin, co-chairman and founder of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) — who ran in the last Knesset elections as a candidate from a green party which did not gain the minimum number of votes for a seat — Jerusalem is one of the most segregated cities on earth.

Demonstration at Damascus Gate - Jerusalem Day 21 May 2009 - Amir Cohen for Reuters

Some 50,000 Israelis of one or the other nationalist tendencies are expected today to make their annual triumphalist entry under heavy police and Border Police guard into the Old City of East Jerusalem via the Damascus Gate, which is used mainly by Palestinians.

Jerusalem Unification Day marks the moment, according to the Jewish calendar, when the Israeli Army first entered the Old City of East Jerusalem during the June 1967 war.  Previously, from the time the British Army evacuated in May 1948, East Jerusalem and the West Bank had been under Jordanian administration.

Three Israeli human rights organizations are joining Palestinian members of various East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents in what they have announced will be “a Jerusalem Day protest demonstration, which is to take place at the same time as the traditional Jerusalem Procession on Thursday, May 21st, 12:00-15:00, near the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City. The demonstration will take place on the same day of the Jerusalem Day Procession, which marks 42 years to the ‘unification of the city’, in order to send out a clear message: The city is not united. East Jerusalem had been annexed by Israel against the will of its residents, who have since been suffering discrimination, neglect and abuse in all walks of life. We will protest and demand they be allowed to live in dignity and peace in their hometown“.

According to the announcement, “The demonstration is organized by East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Shomrei Mishpat – Rabbis for Human Rights, and The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions”, known as ICHAD.

A lawyer for ACRI told journalists this week that the proper and required permits have been granted by the Israeli police, but she said she was not sure how many Palestinian East Jerusalemites would participate in the end — not only because of the potential for violent flare-ups, but also because they fear reprisal in the weeks and months ahead, at home, in their neighborhoods of what is (or, because of route of The Wall, which has cut them off from the city and exiled them to a no-man’s land in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank) what was East Jerusalem.

But they did come – about 400 Palestinians, participating for the first time in one of these Jerusalem Day protest demonstrations, and about 100 to 150 Israeli Jews.

Tali Nir, a lawyer for ACRI who participated in the demonstration, said that the Border Police were upset when they say a lot of Palestinian flags flying, “and they asked us not to do it, so we took some down”, to cool the situation, she said.  But they did not remove all the Palestinian flags, because the Israeli Supreme Court has recently ruled that Palestinian flags could be waved during demonstrations.

Rabbi Arik Aschermann of Rabbis for Human Rights was very satisfied by the Palestinian participation.  “For 14 years we’ve been saying it’s a pity they don’t come”, he said, “but now they are here.  Yes, it’s good”.  He attributed the previous non-participation to internal fighting between different Palestinian agendas as much as to fears of violence and/or Israeli reprisals.

One of the signs held up by a young Palestinian participant read: “Number of residents per trash cans: (Palestinian) East Jerusalem = 760, (Israeli) West Jerusalem = 291“.

A group of young Israeli men gathered in front of the demonstrators and did their own rousing chant, before heading through the Damascus Gate into the Old City, where they immediately quited down.  They were headed across the Old City to the other side, where the Western Wall stands.  A few Border Police soldiers in olive green uniforms and carrying large black weapons followed them, but did not provide a close escort.

The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch made separate appearances, and spoke in Arabic to Palestinian journalists.

Hatem Abdel Qader, a Jerusalemite who was until recently the advisor of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who this week has become (he has been sworn in as) the newly-appointed PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs in the new Palestinian government, was also at the demonstration. He said that he was working on a new strategy, despite the Israeli prohibition against PA activity in the city: “We want to make something to support our people, to end house demolitions, to face the high Jerusalem taxes.  We are developing a plan to try to make the life of our citizens better …. We hope to open other institutions in East Jerusalem by working with some NGOs who have permission, in the fields of women, children, culture, education and law.  We are facing a very big problem of building without permits, and we need lawyers and engineers to help make a [zoning or development] plan so that we can try to solve this problem”.

Photos of joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration at Damascus Gate for Jerusalem Unification Day

courtesy of ACRI

Palestinian school girs at Jerusalem Day demonstration - Photo courtesy of ACRI

Jewish groups demonstrate at Damascus Gate on Jerusalem Unification Day - photo courtesy of ACRI

Jerusalem Day demonstration at Damascus Gate - photo courtesy of ACRI

This “Jerusalem Unification Day” was the first time that these groups made a collective public appearance, working together.

Irish Survivors of Child Abuse – report finally published "sides almost completely" with the victims

This is a heartbreaking story.

Even worse than the physical abuse, even worse than the misplaced trust in those who were supposed to be most caring, even worse than the official indifference and efforts to avoid accountability, was the effort to break a person’s soul and spirit through humiliation.

It is difficult to say that some things could be worse than sexual abuse or rape, which is a terrible crime. But, in this case, there are examples to sustain such an argument.

The crushing of the personalities, of the identities, of these children was systematic and thorough.

They were put into Purgatory, if not Hell, on earth. From news reports published in recent years, as the inquiry dragged on, it seems that it was even worse for the girls than for the boys — though the girls endured less sexual abuse, it was their spirits and personalities, and their gender identity, which were relentlessly attacked — and they were all tortured.

The stories, recounted sporadically in the press, cut off one’s breath. Over 1,090 victims gave testimony.

It took nine years, but finally, a long-avoided and long-awaited report was released today in Ireland: “unveiled by High Court Justice Sean Ryan, [it] found that molestation and rape were ‘endemic’ in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers, and supervisors pursued policies that increased the danger. Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless

According to a report by the Associated Press, “Wednesday’s 2,600-page report sides almost completely with the horrific reports of abuse from former students sent to more than 250 church-run, mostly residential institutions“.

John Kelly, a former inmate of a Dublin industrial school who fled to London and today leads a pressure group called Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said that “Victims will feel a small degree of comfort that they’ve been vindicated. But the findings do not go far enough”.

The AP reported that “Irish church leaders and religious orders all declined to comment Wednesday, citing the need to read the massive document first. The Vatican also declined to comment. The Irish government already has funded a parallel compensation system that has paid 12,000 abuse victims an average of 65,000 euros ($90,000). About 2,000 claims remain outstanding. Victims receive the payouts only if they waive their rights to sue the state and the church. Hundreds have rejected that condition and taken their abusers and those church employers to court. Wednesday’s report said children had no safe way to tell authorities about the assaults they were suffering, particularly the sexual aggression from church officials and older inmates in boys’ institutions. ‘The management did not listen to or believe children when they complained of the activities of some of the men who had responsibility for their care’, the commission found. ‘At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely’ … [T]he commission said its fact-finding — which included unearthing decades-old church files, chiefly stored in the Vatican, on scores of unreported abuse cases from Ireland’s industrial schools — demonstrated that officials understood exactly what was at stake: their own reputations”.

More information is available on the internet here.

This AP report can be read in full here.

The BBC reported that “The commission said overwhelming, consistent testimony from still-traumatized men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, had demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential”. According to the BBC, the Irish report said that “The reformatory and industrial schools depended on rigid control by means of severe corporal punishment and the fear of such punishment … It was systemic and not the result of individual breaches by persons who operated outside lawful and acceptable boundaries”. The BBC story can be viewed in full here.

The religious correspondent of The Times of London (many in Britain are prejudiced against the Irish, particularly because they are mainly Catholic) wrote, quoting from the report “ ‘A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys’, says the report. ‘Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from’. The authorities failed repeatedly to do anything effective about the systemic abuse of children. Many of these poor children were in the care of the Catholic Church in the first place – mostly the Christian Brothers for boys and Sisters of Mercy for girls – only because of truancy or petty crime, or because they were unmarried mothers or their infants”. This article can be read in full here.

What happened to these children in Irish custodial care is one of the major historical crimes and tragedies on this earth. It ranks right up there with a number of better-known horrors. And it deserves full and sober attention, so that it will never happen again.

Sometimes — and what happened to these children is one of these times — it is a horror to be alive. But, for whatever reason, the Creator wills an imperative to live. For these children, living was immensely cruel.

The writer in The Times of London used the “H” word — though with a lower-case letter [a word which we in Israel of course know we cannot use except in reference to one particular historical genocide, or Shoah, during the Second World War], saying: “It would be no exaggeration to call this a holocaust of abuse. Time after time, victims complained, even though in most cases merely speaking out constituted an immense act of courage. And time after time, Catholic priests, monks and nuns claimed the accusations were lies”. Again, this article is available online here.

The Irish Times wrote that “Physical, emotional and sexual abuse was ‘endemic’ in institutions run by the religious congregations throughout the 20th century, blighting the lives of thousands of victims, the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has found. The Department of Education failed to carry out proper inspections and disregarded the violence within the industrial school system for which it was responsible, according to the five-volume report published yesterday. The department’s deferential and submissive attitude toward the religious congregations impeded change and compromised its ability to carry out its duty to monitor the schools where abuse was rife, the report says. It accuses religious authorities of a ‘culture of silence’ for seldom bringing sexual abuse by members of orders to the department’s attention. Religious congregations were not prepared to accept responsibility for the sexual abuse carried out by their members, and did not listen to or believe people who complained of sexual abuse.
The report makes 21 recommendations, starting with a proposal to erect a memorial to victims of abuse in institutions. It says the State should admit that abuse of children occurred because of policy, systems and management failures, and should take steps to learn lessons from the past.
Religious orders need to examine how their ideals became debased by systemic abuse, and how they tolerated breaches of their own rules. The report also calls for the provision of counselling and family tracing services, and stresses the need for a childcare policy that is child-centred. ‘In addition to being hit and beaten, witnesses described other forms of abuse such as being flogged, kicked and otherwise physically assaulted, scalded, burned and held under water’. Witnesses told of being beaten in front of other staff and pupils and in private. The abuse was carried out by religious and lay staff, older residents and others associated with the schools and institutions, and the many reports of injuries include broken bones, lacerations and bruising. More than 500 witnesses said they had been sexually abused. ‘Acute and chronic contact and non-contact sexual abuse was reported, including vaginal and anal rape, molestation and voyeurism in both isolated assaults and on a regular basis over long periods of time’. Witnesses also reported widespread neglect and emotional abuse. Some were incorrectly told their parents were dead and were given false information about their siblings and family members. These people told the commission this had a devastating emotional impact on them. Witnesses believed awareness of the abuse taking place existed within society, both officially and unofficially. At times, protective action was taken following complaints being made but, in other instances, complaints were ignored, witnesses were punished or pressure was brought to bear on a child or family to remain silent. The report sets out the devastating impact of the abuse on many victims, with lives marked by poverty, social isolation, alcoholism, mental illness, sleep disturbance, aggressive behaviour and self-harm. One-third of witnesses reported a variety of mental problems [this is a tribute to human resiliancy — the World Health Organization estimates that 25% of the general population has mental health problems] … Children were committed to institutions by the courts using procedures with the trappings of the criminal law, and the authorities were unwilling to address the failings in the system”. This account can be read in full here.

Another story in the Irish Times reported that “in all schools up until the 1960s clothes stigmatized the children as industrial school residents. Accommodation in the institutions was ‘cold, spartan and bleak’ with sanitary provision ‘primitive’ in most boys’ schools particularly”. This account can be read in full here.

A transcript of one of the public hearings of the inquiry revealed that most institutions to which these children were sent had no hot water until 1973. Another transcript revealed how the children were flogged repeatedly, and mercilessly, mostly at night, and on their “bare bottoms”. There is much, much more. And, what happened to the boys was a horror, but what happened to the girls was, if possible, worse.

A writer at the Irish Independent noted that the mechanism by which society contrived this utter and unconscionable betrayal of innocent children remained obscured: “Setting aside everything done to the children during their incarceration, nothing was as terrible or alarming as the events which led so many of them to lose their liberty by being placed in the hands of the gardai and taken away to what were child prisons, there to serve terms of up to 14 years. The children were not represented in the courts. Their circumstances were not properly investigated. They were, as the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff, asserted in a letter to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, ‘shovelled into the industrial schools’.’ This analysis can be read in full here.

BBC: Israel security chief says no security need to continue building The Wall

The BBC has reported that “The head of Israel’s security service has said there is no security reason for continuing construction of Israel’s barrier through the West Bank. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told a parliamentary committee that Israel had enough capabilities to prevent attacks from the Palestinian territory. Since building began years ago, Israel has maintained that it is a security measure to keep out attackers”. here.

The Wall – How to convey how huge it is

Time Magazine’s Tim McGirk has put together a video, Graffiti for Hire in the West Bank, on a project [organized by Faris Arouri] to write the contents of an entire letter by a South African anti-apartheid activist on The Wall.

Farid Esack letter being stencilled on The Wall in ar-Ram

Parts of this letter already stretch a great distance along The Wall in ar-Ram, which offers a nice long vista along what used to be the main Jerusalem-to-Ramallah road.

The video can be watched here.

Meanwhile, pro-Israeli media watchdogs are criticizing journalists for failing to say that The Wall is 95% fence and only 5% Wall. The fact of the matter is that it is a Wall when it is in a populated area, and it is a fence in open and unihabited areas. And. when you see The Wall, it hits you in the solar plexus, and — at least in the Jerusalem area, and very close to where I live, and clearly visible stretching out to the desert from French Hill, along both sides of Pisgat Zeev, and outlining the eastern edge of Neve Yaakov — it is clearly The Wall.