Palestinian TV news did not report shooting at Qalandia checkpoint

Palestinian TV news has shot up in the ratings, I am told, over the past few months — and Al-Jazeera has dropped.

Previously, Palestinians were getting their local news from Al-Jazeera. Could Al-Jazeera really give enough local coverage to satisfy the Palestinians here, I used to ask? It is all there is, I was told, in my own random samplings of the viewing audience in East Jerusalem and around the West Bank.

Now, Palestinian TV has been making an effort to improve its news coverage, and these efforts have been recognized and appreciated.

Still, despite this vote of confidence, tonight’s Palestinian TV news had no mention of a shocking and serious incident at Qalandia checkpoint late this afternoon or early this evening: an Israeli (Arab) truck driver taking a full fuel tank across the checkpoint to make a delivery to a point just after the checkpoint (perhaps to an area which is still part of the Greater Jerusalem municipality, despite being behind The Wall) was somehow panicked or distracted or injured, apparently by rock-throwing, and lost control of his vehicle. He reportedly ran into other vehicles at the checkpoint — which is frequently a clogged and intensely stressful traffic nightmare — and where there is NO traffic control.

The immediate Israeli assumption is always, but always, that things like this are “terror” attacks.

Israeli soldiers or Border Police thought that the truck driver was making an intentional attack on the checkpoint, and they shot. The driver was badly injured, and evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital all the way across Jerusalem, west of Bethlehem. There were reportedly other injuries as well — either by the shooting, or by the vehicle crashing, or both.

There were at least a couple of hours for Palestinian TV to try to get any footage that might be available, or to send a reporter and a camera crew to the scene to do a live report — or even to see if they could get anything from the hospital, or from Israeli TV or other Arab TV networks working in Jerusalem, or from other journalistic sources.

Continue reading Palestinian TV news did not report shooting at Qalandia checkpoint

Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers

What has been revealed is not new, and it is not a surprise.  It is no longer a shock, but it is still sickening.

There are many who will, nonetheless, argue that this is distorted and not true — who will hurl accusations and denunciations, and try to damage those who collect this testimony as well as those who report it.

But, these are stories that have been told, and must be faced: the Israeli group of veteran members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Breaking the Silence has just published a new collection of testimony from women — soldiers, military policewomen, and female members of the Border Police — recounting what these women say is routine, habitual, “normal” and expected mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and at the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip.

According to an article published on the Israeli YNet website, the testimony shows that female soldiers are not more “sensitive” than their male counterparts.

To the contrary, and by their own testimony, the women have sometimes been quite remarkably cruel.

Breaking the Silence says, in an introduction to this new collection of testimonies, that its goal is “to stimulate public debate about the moral price that Israeli society as a whole has been paying in which young soldiers face a civilian population on an everyday basis and control its live” — in other words, about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Breaking the Silence states that “In contrast to widely-held beliefs, the mosaic of testimonies that only continues to expand proves that we are not dealing with a fringe phenomenon that touches only the bad apples of the military, but a gradual erosion of ethics in the society as a whole … This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to wake up and evaluate anew the results of our actions“.

This 136-page report comes just as the Israeli Government reported to UNSG BAN Ki-Moon on the results of the Israeli military internal investigations (some of which are still continuing) into the conduct of its forces during a massive Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip just over a year ago.

Some testimony collected by Breaking the Silence about what happened during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was included in the Goldstone report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which presented nearly 600 pages of collected evidence, and called on both Israel and the Palestinians to conduct their own impartial and independent investigations into what happened.

Haaretz reported today that “In the report that Israel handed to the UN on Friday, it emphasized that its system of investigating alleged war crimes is comparable to the systems adopted by other democratic nations. ‘To date’, the Israeli report states, ‘the IDF has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents arising from the Gaza Operation. Of the 150 incidents, so far 36 have been referred for criminal investigation. Criminal investigators have taken statements from almost 100 Palestinian complainants and witnesses, along with approximately 500 IDF soldiers and commanders’.” This Haaretz report is published here.

[A few days ago, Haaretz reported that “Israel’s response to the UN is expected to include a progress report on the IDF’s
investigations into 140 incidents that occurred during Operation Cast Lead. Of these, 35 were investigated or are being investigated by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Division. About 8 Gazans testified at the Erez checkpoint in connection to the incidents, with the
mediation of international humanitarian organizations. In the wake of the Goldstone report, which dealt with more than 30 incidents, the IDF initiated 11 CID investigations. Two of them turned out to be different reports of the same incident and were closed when the Military Advocate General’s Corp concluded that no crime was committed. The other nine cases are still being investigated”. That Haaretz report was published here.

Since publishing testimonies from soldiers who participated in the unprecedented Gaza military operation that lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, Breaking the Silence has been subjected to criticism because it operates, in part, on funding from foreign donors — the innuendo is that the funding comes from outsiders who have an anti-Israel agenda.

The Goldstone report itself has collected a significant number of reactions of outrage from writers and commentators around the world eager to defend Israel, and in support of statements from Israeli military commanders defending the IDF as the “most moral army in the world”.

Breaking the Silence states right up front that, indeed, the European Union and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation have sponsored this new collection of testimonies.

These testimonies are the first with a specific gender perspective, gathered from direct interviews with female soldiers.

Continue reading Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers

Reminder to Israeli side: what is Sheikh Jarrah all about?

From a link on Facebook, a post on Joseph Dana’s blog on the Friday demonstrations that have been taking place for the past 3 to 4 months in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where Palestinian refugee families are being evicted, one by one, from homes they have been living in for over 50 years and replaced by Jewish (even if they might not all – yet – be Israeli) settlers whose aim is to reclaim property that they claim belonged to Jews before the proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948.

It is, as Israeli activists seem to be arguing, a terrible form of victor’s justice — if even true — because these and other Palestinians are barred from seeking restitution of properties they lost from 1948 on.

Joseph Dana wrote that “Sheikh Jarrah is about the families that live on the streets because of Israeli actions to take over their homes in favor of extremist settlers, backed by American money, that want to derail any possibility for peaceful reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Sheikh Jarrah is about Palestinians. Yet, over the past months, Sheikh Jarrah has become a symbol of the (failing) Israeli democractic system. The growing police repression, the crackdown on leftist views, the double standards that plague Israeli society and the breakdown of communication between Israelis courts and police are all on full display in Sheikh Jarrah. Because of the waves of arrests and clearly misguided treatment of Israeli protesters at the hands of the Israeli police, the objectives of the Sheikh Jarrah protest have changed. The media has entered the picture, deciding to document the treatment of Israelis in Sheikh Jarrah. Last week, high profile public figures like Yossi Sarid joined the protest. Did he meet with the Palestinian families that are homeless? Did they write articles about the situation that these Palestinians are facing? The answer is not that clear. He wrote about Israelis. He wrote about Israeli democracy and about the state conduct regarding Israelis. This is an important issue in Israeli society and I am personally happy that the debate has reached such high levels in the media discourse. But I am scared that we have lost sight of the big picture in Sheikh Jarrah. We need to reformulate our approach in order to place the emphasis on the Palestinian narrative of this story. If in the process, the weakness of Israeli democracy is shown, then that is great. But this cannot be the main focus of the protest”. These observations are posted here.

As we noted in an update on our post about these matters yesterday, Gershon Baskin (co-Director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information), reported that — unlike the previous weeks, which saw a total of about 70 Israeli activists arrested — there were (no doubt because of political pressure due to the intense media coverate) NO arrests in yesterday’s Sheikh Jarrah demonstration.

Palestinians demonstrating in the West Bank did not have an equally pleasant and uplifting time, however. Though I haven’t yet seen a report about whether or not there were any further arrests (maybe those who send out the information are under detention) — there was one significant arrest at 2am on Thursday morning in a raid on the house of Mohammed Khatib, a protest leader in Bil’in — but Palestinian TV showed live footage of Israeli soldiers shooting plenty of tear gas…

Thanks to a another link on Facebook, this one posted by Didi Remez, we learn that Radio Netherlands interviewed correspondent/reporter David Poort in Sheikh Jarrah during Friday’s demonstration. Asked if the group included many Palestinians, Poort replied: “The people I see in front of me are mainly from Tel Aviv, there are hardly any Palestinians taking part in these left-wing demonstrations because they’re afraid if they get arrested their their papers, their legal papers, will be withdrawn. Also, they’d be held up in jail for a very long time and whenever these Israeli activists get arrested they’ll be out the next day.” These remarks can be heard by clicking on the audio here.

Quote of the Day: In Memoriam – J.D. Salinger

From an interesting AP post-mortem obit (“Whats in Salinger’s Safe?”) of the reclusive American writer J.D. Salinger, posted here:

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing,” J.D. Salinger told The New York Times in 1974. “Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

It’s a little different for journalists …

It's Friday – protests in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem + West Bank

Today is Friday. Palestinian television will normally be show the Friday prayers from Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, located in the Old City of East Jerusalem, but this Friday Palestinian TV will broadcast live from Burrin, a village in the northern West Bank, near Nablus, where a mosque under construction, the Suliman al-Pharisee Mosque, was served a demolition order, just five days ago — last Sunday, the day on which the Palestinian presidential and legislative elections were supposed to have been held, before they were postponed.  The mosque has been entirely built (on Burrin land classified as Arab B), and it’s all finished, except for the minaret…

And, at 3:00 in the afternoon, as they have for nearly four months, a new and growing coalition of Israeli anti-occupation activists will meet to demonstrate their opposition to Jewish settlers replacing Palestinian families in East Jerusalem homes built for them by the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, in Sheikh Jarrah, in the early 1950s under the Jordanian administration. The police have refused to give the activists a permit. But a judge has ruled on Thursday that no permit is needed, as long as the activists don’t block the streets, or make political speeches.

UPDATE: Here is a photo just posted by Didi Remez on Facebook, showing the Israeli author David Grossman – in center of photo below – attending this week’s protest at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3:00pm – (photo apparently taken by Itamar Broderson). Grossman is one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists, and is also a supporter of the Geneva Initiative between Palestinian and Israeli “civil society”, and bereaved father of an IDF soldier who was killed just hours before the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon.

David Grossman at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3pm this Friday 29 Jan 2010 - via Didi Remez

UPDATE: Bernard Avishai reported later on his blog (here) that Dr. Ron Pundak of the Peres Peace Center, and another supporter of the Geneva Initiative, was also present.

UPDATE: IPCRI’s co-director Gershon Baskin reported via Facebook before sunset that the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration is over — “and no one was arrested this week”.

HOWEVER, in the West Bank, it was different. The IDF spokespersons unit reported via Twitter that:
– “120 rioters, hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Bi’lin, security forces responding w riot dispersal mean”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @Nil’in, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Dir Hidhan N of Ramallah, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”

Continue reading It's Friday – protests in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem + West Bank

No mention of Israeli-Palestinian stalemate in Obama speech

In his first State of the Union speech to Congress last night in Washington, U.S. President Obama did not even mention the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, despite the priority he gave the matter upon taking office.

Obama said in his early days in office that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in the United States’ national interest.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, launched the “Annapolis” process of negotiations in late November 2007 that was supposed to create an independent Palestinian State by the end of 2008 – or at the very latest, by the day that Obama was sworn into office in January 2009. The Annapolis process produced no results, and the negotiations were called off by the Palestinian leadership when Israel unleashed an unprecedented military operation in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008.

However, in last night’s State of the Union speech, Obama mentioned Haiti [“10,000 Americans are now working there” to deal with the earthquake disaster] and Afghanistan [“we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces”] , Iran [Iran’s leaders will face growing consequences as “they continue to ignore their obligations” ] and Iraq [where all U.S. combat troops will be out by the end August] — and even Guinea — but not here in Israel and Palestine, either in American diplomacy or in what has been happening on the ground, in what many believe to be the heart of the Middle East conflict.

Juan Cole pointed this out just hours after the speech, in an analysis he wrote called, “Foreign Affairs in Obama’s State of the Union: Caught between the Utopian and the Propagandistic”, posted on his Informed Comment blog.

Obama’s statement that the U.S. is “working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation” was just “a soft throw-away line”, Juan Cole commented.

By contrast, he argued, “What would improve US relations with Muslims would be a swift movement toward a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine and an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza’s children. A frank acknowledgment that the US has been powerless to make headway on this essential issue would have been welcome. So too would be an acknowledgment by the president of the justice of the letter calling on Israel to desist from its blockade of Gaza circulated by 54 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, in a rare act of defiance toward the powerful Israel lobbies”.

UPDATE: In answer to a question from a young woman [reportedly a university student, Leila Abdulaziz] at a townhall meeting in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, asking “Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke about America’s support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israeli and Egyptian human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people…?“, Obama replied that “Look … Here’s my view: Israel is one of our strongest allies … It’s a vibrant democracy, it shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us, and I will never waiver from ensuring Israel’s security, and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region … What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security, and it is not good for Israel’s security, if you have millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don’t have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what-have-you”… [Well, successive American administrations have repeated this formula that Palestinians need, first of all, is apolitical — jobs, to support their families, etc. The business about ending the occupation is rarely mentioned, and the call for a Palestinian state is formulaic…] Obama also said, true to form, in answer to this question in Tampa, that “We are seeking a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestine can live side by side in peace and security. In order to do that, both sides are going to have make compromises … We are working to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and to begin serious negotiations”…

UPDATE: Thanks to Tamer Halaseh on Facebook, there’s a link to a better video (via the advertisement-laden Huffington Post, here ) showing Leila Abdelaziz introducing herself and asking her question:

Continue reading No mention of Israeli-Palestinian stalemate in Obama speech

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day

Haaretz is reporting today that “A majority of Israel’s Holocaust survivors suffer from depression, sleeping disorders or other emotional distress, according to a survey released Tuesday by a leading advocacy group. The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel issued its report on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in the waning days of World War II. The survey found that two-thirds of Israel’s 220,000 survivors experience some form of distress. The study, conducted by the Center for Research on Aging of the Israeli Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, was based on comprehensive government data on all the survivors … The latest study concluded that many camp survivors, as well as a large number of Jews who survived the war but did not go through the Nazi camps, have been permanently scarred by their experiences during the Holocaust”… This report is posted here.

Many dozens of millions of people around the world were affected by the Second World War, in which the Holocaust occurred, and they and their survivors are still suffering the effects, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And, in another effect, millions of Palestinians have also been traumatized by the consequences of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, and the suffering they and their survivors have experienced continues full blast. Come to think of it, the Palestinians are among the millions of people who suffered from the First World War, as well…

UPDATE: Thanks to Juan Cole, who posted a note about this on his Informed Comment blog here, we learn that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders has reported reports that “Trauma from war and violence has led to a high incidence of psychological disorders in Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank”. A MSF study shows that “even short-term psychological support can ease the burden of violence-induced psychiatric disorders, especially in children”.

A report, posted here about this MSF study noted that “The 48-month epidemiological study was concluding just as [Israel’s] Operation Cast Lead [which lasted three weeks, just over a year ago in Gaza]was beginning … Emmanuelle Espié of the Paris-based Epicentre and colleagues from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, along with researchers from four French hospitals shared data collected from Palestinian patients ages 1 year and older referred to the Médecins Sans Frontières psychological care program. Data was gathered from 1,369 patients (773 from the Gaza strip and 596 from the Nablus area) who received psychological care between January 2005 and December 2008. All patients in the study were clinically assessed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The patients were evenly divided between male and female with a median age of 16 years. Among the 1,254 patients for whom full clinical information was available, 23.2 percent had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 17.3 percent had an anxiety disorder (other than PTSD or acute stress disorder), and 15.3 percent had depression. PTSD was more frequently identified in children under age 15, while depression was the main symptom observed in adults. Among children under 15, factors significantly associated with PTSD included being witness to murder or physical abuse, receiving threats, and property destruction or loss. Sixty-five percent of patients took part in individual, short-term psychotherapy, with 30.6 percent requiring psychotropic medication (generally Fluoxetine or Alprazolam) along with counseling. Following psychotherapy, 82.8 percent of children and 75.3 percent of adults had improved symptoms. Psychological care was conducted principally at the patient’s home over a course of 8 to 12 weeks. Children tended to stay in therapy longer and to take part in group therapy sessions more often than adults. Among patients that showed no improvement or aggravated symptoms at the last session, the main persistent symptoms were sadness (14 percent) and aggressive behavior (12.7 percent). The study authors concluded, ‘These observations suggest that short-term psychotherapy could be an effective treatment for specific psychiatric disorders occurring in vulnerable populations, including children, living in violent conflict zones, such as in Gaza strip and the West Bank’. The study was published in the open access journal International Journal of Mental Health Systems“.

Many, many thousands of children still alone after Haiti earthquake

In the wrap-up stories, two weeks after the enormous destruction caused by a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the AP is reporting that “UN experts estimate there may be 1 million unaccompanied or orphaned children or youngsters who lost at least one parent in the Jan. 12 quake. Some young Haitians are even being released from hospitals with no one to care for them — there just aren’t enough beds for them. ‘Health workers are being advised to monitor and send separated/unaccompanied children to child-friendly spaces’, the U.N. humanitarian office said in its latest situation report”.

Continue reading Many, many thousands of children still alone after Haiti earthquake

Israeli expert says Haiti earthquake catastrophe could happen here, too – and that also means Palestinian areas!

Haaretz newspaper is reporting today that the earthquake disaster which recently hit Haiti can — indeed, will — also inevitably happen in Israel.

Avi Shapira, chairman of the National Earthquake Preparedness Committee, who just returned from Haiti and addressed a special Knesset (Parliament) committee on Tuesday, said that “An earthquake of the same magnitude as the one two weeks ago in Haiti or stronger is certain to strike Israel … [and] ‘What happened there will also happen here’.”

According to the Haaretz report, Shapira “warned that hospitals are not prepared for such a disaster and that, according to his estimates, most buildings constructed before 1980 would not withstand a quake … ‘The situation is not optimal’, Shapira told the committee comprising members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense and Interior and Environment committees”.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Dr. Avi Shapira, who was representing the Infrastructure Ministry, also said that “what is killing these people are the buildings. I have serious reservations about the term ‘natural disaster.’ It is the buildings that turned into death traps.” The JPost report on the Knesset meeting, which was called to discuss how to strengthen Israel’s infrastructure to withstand such a catastrophe, is posted here.

Shapira’s estimates, however, are less alarmist than those of other Israeli experts, according to the Haaretz report: “Previous estimates held that 40 to 50 percent of residential buildings in Israel were not constructed in accordance with guidelines meant to prevent damage in case of an earthquake. However, Shapira said the actual number is closer to 20 percent.  Israel has been struck by minor quakes and tremors in recent years that have caused no casualties. The last major earthquake to strike the area was in 1927. It had a magnitude of more than 6 and killed 500 people.  Israeli experts have said that because of population growth and high-rise construction, an earthquake of the same magnitude today would kill more than 18,000 people”.   This Haaretz report is published here.

UPDATE: In a new and fuller report on the Knesset committee meeting published on Wednesday 27 January, the Jerusalem Post added that in “the most likely large quake scenario, the committee predicted 16,000 dead, 6,000 severely injured, 377,000 displaced, 10,000 buildings destroyed and 20,000 buildings heavily damaged. Although the steering committee began examining readiness for such a scenario in December 1999, participants in Tuesday’s meeting highlighted the fields in which the country was still completely unprepared”…

Yesterday, on our previous post here, we commented on the disaster-in-the-making in the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and nearby Ramallah, where helter-skelter construction in the past couple of years have converted a small provincial summer vacation town into the near-metropolis that is serving — at least for the moment — as the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority.

If — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say when — an earthquake disaster hits, the shifting political borders will not make any distinction…

UPDATE: And, we should add, there are NO LOCAL AUTHORITIES in any of the Palestinian areas that are capable or that can deal with any such emergency. And, there is apparently no coordination with Israeli authorities. No Palestinian representatives were invited to this Knesset committee meeting (though, it is true, some may have hesitated to attend…) Now, Israeli ambulances only enter Palestinian areas of Jerusalem with a police escort — and that will surely be impossible in the event of such a catastrophe…

The JPost article of 27 January reported that Shapiro said in the meeting: ” ‘We must internalize the lesson that what will kill people is not the earthquake itself … What kills people are the buildings. Death will occur as a result of building collapse, meaning that it is a man-made tragedy. There is a continued failure to build stable buildings, turning buildings into death traps’ … According to Ya’acov Bar-Lavi of the Mapping Center of Israel, 96,000 residential buildings are at risk of collapsing during a strong earthquake. The Building Contractors Association presented a position paper to the MKs, in which it warned that 1 million apartments and thousands of public buildings are likely to collapse. Its representative argued that the current government program, known as Plan 38, will not drastically improve Israel’s earthquake readiness, as only a few dozen buildings nationwide have been reinforced since it went into effect. Israel’s response to such a disaster is set to be coordinated by the National Emergency Authority, a body that received its mandate in April 2007. The NEA’s representatives at Tuesday’s meeting gave an overview of the response that will be offered by the military, and went on to describe local government as the ‘cornerstone’ of the plan, with mayors coordinating immediate aid. But Sharon Azriel, deputy to the chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, complained that the plans had not been backed up with the budgetary allocations necessary for them to serve as the ‘cornerstone’.” This new JPost report is published here.

If Haiti's capital was condemned by loose building codes, what about Ramallah + E. Jlem?

The McClatchy newspaper group published an article yesterday from Port au-Prince, the earthquake-devastated capital of the Carribean nation of Haiti (one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere) reporting that a “Lack of construction codes sealed Haitian capital’s fate”.

Actually, this story is repeated nearly every time there has been a major, catastrophic urban earthquake.

Living here, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, watching frenetic Palestinian construction activities with little or no supervision or overall planning, the issue of what will happen in the event of a catastrophe often comes to mind.

Continue reading If Haiti's capital was condemned by loose building codes, what about Ramallah + E. Jlem?