Salam Fayyad goes to Bil'in, leaves before tear gas is used on demonstrators

Doing what few other Palestinian high-ranking officials and politicians bother to do, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad joined the regular Bil’in Friday demonstration against the Wall today, in the rain, on New Year’s eve.

A photo of Salam Fayyad marching in Bilin in the rain, taken by Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra) is posted on a Twitpic page here:

Fayyad marching in bil'in in the rain on Twitpic

Fayyad was defying an IDF ban, issued earlier in the year, on the presence of anyone who is not a resident of Bil’in from being in the area from 8 am until 8 pm on Friday, when the weekly demonstrations are held.

For some reason, the IDF refrained from shooting tear gas until after Fayyad’s early departure from the scene…Fayyad did not march to The Wall, and he was not tear-gassed.

The tear gas was unusually heavy, according to Tweets from those on the scene.  The rain helped limit its dispersion, but there was still an unusually heavy volley of tear gas, according to those present — AFTER Fayyad’s departure (he ususally travels with Israeli Security coordination + more)

The IDF, right on cue (after Fayyad’s departure from the area), has just sent out a Tweet informing us that 250 ” ‘rioters’ in Bil’in now hurling rocks @ IDF forces-area declared closed military zone to prevent escalation but open to village residents”…

Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra) then Tweeted that this was a lie — demonstrators were not throwing stones, he said.

These pictures were just posted on Salam Fayyad’s website:

Salam Fayyad - from his own website - in Bil'in on 31 December 2010

And here is Fayyad listening to encouraging music with a wet-haired Luisa Morgantini, wearing a necklace from Nuha + Khader’s Galerie Zeinab in Ramallah

Salam Fayyad with Luisa Morgantini in Bil'in on New Year's Eve

UPDATE: IT was later reported that one person was in critical condition in Ramallah Hospital on Friday night, suffering from exposure to the active ingredient in the tear gas. She was reportedly not responding to medical treatment. She is the sister of Basem Abu Rahmeh [Abu Rahmah], killed by direct impact of a high-velocity tear gas cannister on his chest on 17 April 2009. The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee reported that “Doctors at the Ramallah hospital are currently fighting for Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s life, after an acute deterioration in her condition this evening. Abu Rahmah suffered from severe asphyxiation during today’s demonstration in Bil’in as a result of tear-gas inhalation, and was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital. She is currently diagnosed as suffering from poisoning caused by the active ingredient in the tear-gas, and is not responding to treatment”.

The Popular Struggle Committee, which had announced earlier that “the last day of the decade will indeed also be the last day of the Wall on Bil’in’s land”, reported that an “overwhelming number of Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers spread along the path of the Wall, but were not able to stop demonstrators equipped with bolt-cutters from breaching through the Wall in three places. In one place, the protesters actually managed to carry a rather significant chunk of the Wall back to the village”…

Amira Hass interviews Jonathan Pollak

Jonathan Pollak, the Israeli anti-occupation activist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail for participating in a demonstration against tightened IDF-administered sanctions that affect over 1.5 million people in the closed Gaza Strip, has spoken to Haaretz’s Amira Hass about his conviction, and his convictions.

The interview is published today, here.

Pollak was told to report to jail on 11 January to begin the sentence. Like many people who imagine the possibility of going to jail, he thinks he will be able to pass the time usefully by reading. But, asked by Amira if he were afraid of prison, he replied “Yes. I’m not yet sure of what, but I am”.

He was given a suspended jail sentence earlier, stemming from a demonstration against the construction of The Wall in the West Bank (which the International Court of Justice said was illegal, in a ruling on 9 July 2004).

Now, he has been ordered to serve the two sentences, simultaneously.

It is not known yet if he will appeal…

Pollak told Amira Hass that he was arrested “in the middle of our cycling route, on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. I was in the midst of the crowd. Two plainclothes policemen who know me and I know them approached me and took me off my bike. They said something to me like: “We told you if you raised your head, we would cut it off,” and took me to a police van. The rest of the cyclists continued without any interference. No one else was arrested”.

The prosecutor apparently asked for a six-month jail term, plus a fine, arguing that the demonstration was “illegal”. Pollak commented: “I am not a jurist but to the best of my knowledge, the police orders demand a permit for a demonstration in which more than 50 people participate. The prosecutor, who is a policewoman, is supposed to know that. We were about 40 people”.

But, he told Amira Hass, he would, personally, not have asked for a permit even if more activists had gathered, “Because I don’t believe that when you are demonstrating against a regime, the regime is the one that has to approve the demonstration”.

The demonstration that is sending Pollak — and only Pollak — to jail took place in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just days after the Israeli Supreme Court decided on 28 January against a petition brought by GISHA and a group of nine Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations who asked the Court to stop IDF-administered deliberately tightened sanctions against the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government had issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 that the Gaza Strip — ruled solely by Hamas after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — had become an “enemy entity”, or “hostile territory”.

The Israeli government gave the Israeli mililtary the sole and entire responsibility for deciding on and administering the regime of deliberate sanctions, which the military announced would be tightened on a regular basis. These sanctions went into effect at the end of October 2007, and the military said that fuel and electricity supplies would be reduced by an additional 15 percent each month. The Supreme Court allowed the fuel reductions to continue, but stopped the reductions in electricity until its decision on 28 January 2008, when they were allowed to go ahead. (However, after a brief trial, the Israeli military apparently realized that the electricity cuts could not be stopped so easily, and without greater damage).

For the final Supreme Court Hearing on the matter, on 28 January 2008, two Palestinians from Gaza who had agreed to testify to the Israeli Court and who had been issued permits to come to Jerusalem to testify, were held up that morning at Erez checkpoint until just before the Supreme Court hearing had adjourned. One of the men was from the Gaza Power Plant, the other was from the Coastal Municipalities Water Society. When they were finally allowed through, they jumped into a waiting taxi and raced to Jerusalem, but arrived after the hearing had completely ended…

The Israeli military was allowed to do whatever it decided in Gaza, without any independent governmental oversight or any other civilian supervision of the IDF-administered sanctions that were applied against 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The absurdity and cruelty of the situation was evident, but difficult to monitor precisely, as the military kept all details until very recently — after the Flotilla Fiasco on 31 May. when 8 Turkish men and one Turkish-American high school student were killed in the Israeli naval boarding at sea of the Mavi Marmara.

In any case, GISHA’s petition argued that such sanctions were collective punishment. But the Supreme Court allowed them to go ahead, on the sole condition that the Israeli military must take care to ensure that no “humanitarian crisis” should ensue.

There was no definition given by the Court of what constitutes a “humanitarian crisis”, but many people believe that one certainly exists in Gaza — one which was exacerbated by the massive IDF attack on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

In his discussion with Amira Hass, Pollak explained: “I don’t know what other option there is in so extreme a situation, in which four million people are being kept under a military regime without democratic rights by a country that is interested in presenting a democratic image. In a situation where there is a blockade and collective punishment of 1.5 million people, can one hesitate at all whether to hold a very minimalist protest in Tel Aviv? It seems to me part of the duty of a human being, the least we can do. The question is not why I need all this mess but why so few people join in”.

Pollak, 28 years old, has been a member of the Israeli group, Anarchists against The Wall, and is now on the coordinating committee of the Palestinian-led Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak sentenced to two concurrent three-month prison terms for protesting Gaza sanctions + Palestinian occupation

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack was sentenced today in a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to serve two, concurrent, three-month prison terms for protesting the Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza and the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Pollak’s jail term is to start on 11 January.

An earlier three-month prison sentence was imposed on Pollak for protesting the construction of The Wall (or “separation barrier”) in the West Bank, was suspended.

Pollak second conviction was for his part in riding a bicycle in a “Critical Mass” protest in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just two days after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it would allow a series of tightening Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza, imposed after the Israeli Government issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 [three months after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip] that Gaza was “hostile territory” or an “enemy entity”. A coalition of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups led by GISHA petitioned the Supreme Court against the imposition of the tightening sanctions. But, the Supreme Court ruled on 28 January 2008 that the military could go ahead with its plan, as long as it did not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop. [The concept of “humanitarian crisis” was not defined…]

Today, the Tel Aviv judge imposed a second three-month term and activated the first one, but ruled that Pollak would serve them simultaneously.

Pollak was the only one of thirty activists riding bicycles in the protest that day who was arrested — though his conviction was apparently on the grounds of “illegal assembly”.

A report sent by email said that “During the protest, Pollak was arrested by plain-clothes police who recognized him from previous protests and because, as claimed in court, they assumed he was the organizer and figurehead of the event. The protest was allowed to continue undisturbed after Pollak’s arrest and ended with no further incidents or detentions. The arrest and consequent indictment appears to be the result of police vindictiveness, rather than of Pollak’s behavior at the time of the event; Pollak was but one in a group of protesters who behaved exactly like him, yet he was the only one to be singled out. Moreover, environmental Critical Mass events take place in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but have never been met with such a response. Other protests, which have caused far more sever obstruction of traffic (e.g. the motorcade protest of thousands of motorcycles) did not result in arrests, and surely did not lead to the filing of criminal charges and imprisonment”.

The email also reported that Attorney Gaby Lasky, Pollak’s lawyer, noted: “The police not only singled out Pollak from a crowd of people who all did exactly as he did, but also singled out the entire protest for no reason other than its political alignment. Similar events regularly take place in Tel Aviv without police intervention, let alone arrests and indictments.”

In a statement made to the court just prior to sentencing passed, Pollak said:

    “Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offence. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legally vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.

    As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day’s events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza’s inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel’s control over the Palestinians.

    His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police’s conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.

    The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

    In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society’s privileged sons.

    I am not surprised by the Court’s decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person’s right to protest.

    Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.

    I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation”.

    Pollak, who has been active with Anarchists Against the Wall, is also a member of the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee. Information about the sentencing, and Pollak’s statement, was sent via email by fellow activist Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra).

Quote of the day – 13th in our series: Israeli MK at press conference in Silwan

“It’s a shame and a disgrace that we have to travel in bulletproof vehicles inside of Jerusalem, the holy city, because of a few auto mechanics who are throwing rocks”.

Today’s quote comes from Israeli MK [Knesset Member] Ya’acov Katz, one of four members of the National Union Party who are presently serving in the Israeli Knesset or parliament, said at a press conference in Beit Yonathan in Silwan, East Jerusalem today.

Referring contemptuously to the adult male Palestinian residents of Silwan as “auto mechanics” explains quite a lot about the present conflict…

The Jerusalem Post, which reported on this press conference here, also wrote that “On Monday, the neighborhood saw the regular amount of rock throwing and tear gas”.

Meanwhile, criticism — and amazement — persist over the deal imposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who strategy seems to be based on his determined intent to pursue his own plan for the Silwan neighborhood, while the Israeli Attorney-General and an opposition member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council say the Mayor cannot ignore court orders.

Yesterday, Israeli commentators were worried about a “conflagration” erupting if orders to evacuate Beit Yonathan were carried out — or, if an order to evacuate the Palestinian Abu Nab family from their compound built on the site of what was a Yeminite synagogue in the 1940s, before the area fell under the control of Jordanian forces in the fighting that surrounded the proclamation of the State of Israel in mid-May 1948..

Never Again!

In commemoration of what happened in Gaza two years ago today, as Operation Cast Lead was launched in unprecedented ferocity at about 11:30 am on 27 December 2008.

This should never happen again — but, many already feel another operation is in the air…

Haaretz is reporting that Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai just said, yesterday, during a tour of some of the Israeli communities around the Gaza perimeter where projectiles fired from Gaza have hit recently, that “Gaza is like an abscess, a problematic boil”.  This is reported here.

The IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi said in Tel Aviv today that “Two years after Operation Cast Lead, the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer. Yet, sadly, from time to time, rockets and mortar shells are fired at the Israeli home front … The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. We hope that the security situation in the south does not deteriorate, however the IDF is preparing for any scenario”. This was reported in the Jerusalem Post here

On 21 December, the JPost’s Yaakov Katz reported that “IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi called the situation in Gaza “fragile and explosive.” Sources in the Southern Command told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas would likely prevent rocket fire deep into the Israeli home front, but continue targeting towns and IDF positions along the border. ‘We have no guarantee that the situation won’t deteriorate if a rocket causes a large number of casualties’, Ashkenazi said during one of his final briefings to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Ashkenazi also revealed that two weeks ago an advanced Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile – one of the most sophisticated in the world – hit an Israeli Merkava tank and succeeded in penetrating its hull. As a result, the IDF has decided to deploy Battalion 9 of the 401st Armored Brigade along the Gaza border, since its tanks are equipped with the new Trophy active-protection anti-tank missile defense system … Ashkenazi said that a total of 60 Palestinian terrorists [sic] had been killed inside the Gaza Strip over the past few months in 112 Israeli attacks … Ashkenazi said the man calling the shots in Gaza was not Ismail Haniyah, the Hamas prime minister, but Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’s military wing. ‘We see Hamas as the responsible party in the Gaza Strip, and therefore even if it is not Hamas that fires into Israel, the IDF’s attacks are carried out against Hamas’, said Israel’s top soldier. Although Ashkenazi told MKs that the Iron Dome counterrocket defense system would become operational in the coming year, he cautioned against exaggerated hopes regarding the coverage it provides. ‘It is not perfect’, said the IDF chief”. This report is posted here.

Among the very first casualties on the opening day of Operation Cast Lead, two years ago today, were some 100 – 250 persons [estimates vary] at a Police graduation ceremony in Gaza City. Israel still maintains that these graduates, unarmed but in uniform, were a legitimate target — though this position appears to be in direct contradiction to principles laid out in the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

[Last year, it was not possible to commemorate the first anniversary of the launch of such ferocious destruction either properly or appropriately, because of the shocking news of an IDF operation in and around Nablus early that morning, in which three Palestinians who were suspected of shooting a Jewish settler from the nearby settlement of Shavrei Shimron were themselves summarily killed in pre-dawn raids by Israeli soldiers, as we reported at the time, here.]

This is a commemorative reposting of the Gaza Song, which we first posted last May, in the hours before the Israeli Naval assault at sea on the Freedom Flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of 9 men on board the Mavi Marmara (this large passenger ship returned to Turkey only yesterday, after detention in Israel and then extensive repairs in a “Mediterranean port”).

The Gaza Song was written and is performed by Los Angeles musician Michael Heart — he released the song in February 2009, just after Israel’s unprecedented 22-day Operation Cast Lead which broke out two years ago today [27 December 2008] and lasted 22 days, until just hours before the inauguration ceremony for U.S. President Barack Obama on 18 January 2009.

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard, who has just filed a case based on behalf of some 500 Gazan victims killed during Operation Cast Lead — because the two year statue of limitations for filing civil claims was about to expire — wrote this in an article published a year ago [on the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead] on the Coteret website: “Looking back, Operation Cast Lead was a turning point in the way Israeli society expresses its values. There, in besieged Gaza Strip, we exposed ourselves to a crystal-clear, shameless, and unmasked truth that we had thus far avoided by using repression and self-deceit methods that became more complex and clever with every war and operation we waged. Like that macho man who grew tired of pretending he was politically correct and angrily yelled at his wife to go back to the kitchen, we came out of the closet. We are who we are and we are proud of it! For three weeks, during Operation Cast Lead, we sent fighter jets to drop bombs on one of the world’s most densely populated areas. We aimed our guns at clearly civilian targets. We used [white?] phosphorous bombs. We deliberately and systematically demolished thousands of private houses and public buildings, and all the while we maintained a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, preventing civilians who wanted to from fleeing the war zone. We did not erect a temporary refugee camp for them. We did not create a humanitarian no-mans’-land corridor for them. We did not spare hospitals, food repositories, or even UN aid agencies’ buildings. At the same time, we did not express fake regret. We did not argue we made tragic mistakes. We did not even take wounded children to Israeli hospitals”…

Continue reading Never Again!

Qalandia Checkpoint "closed for a day"

This morning, messages began to arrive about a “demonstration” being held at Qalandia checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Nine people, including a journalist, were reportedly detained.

This evening, the IDF spokespersons office sent around this message:
“Approximately 90 Palestinians attempted on Sunday morning (Dec. 26) to breach the Qalandiya crossing, hurling rocks at security forces on the scene. Six rioters were arrested and taken for questioning by security forces. Nine months ago, four Palestinians who tried to breach the same crossing were arrested when they hurled rocks and threw a firebomb at security forces. During that event, no injuries were reported among IDF forces and the Palestinians were transferred for security questioning. Following the incident, the Central Command decided that the crossing would be closed for a day“.

UPDATE: A first SMS message during the morning suggested that internationals — NOT Palestinians — had been arrested at Qalandia. This was not, however, mentioned in the IDF announcement (shown above). On Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported, quoting Israel Radio, that nine French nationals (including one journalist) were arrested at Qalandia, and will be deported: “The Interior Ministry will deport nine French activists arrested while demonstrating at the Kalandia crossing into Jerusalem on Sunday, Israel Radio reported on Monday“… Then, the JPost incongruously just added the information supplied by the IDF announcement, which mentioned only six persons arrested: “About 90 Palestinians and international activists threw rocks at security forces, and six rioters were arrested and taken for questioning in the incident on Sunday”. This JPost report can be viewed here.

UPDATE TWO: Press TV reported today that “The protesters were rallying on Sunday against the illegal apartheid wall that Israel is building across the occupied West Bank, organizers told AFP … Israeli police claim the arrests were made after protesters tried to cross the Qalandia checkpoint north of East al-Quds (Jerusalem). A spokesman for the French EuroPalestine activist group said nine French citizens were arrested at the demonstration, adding that one Palestinian detained at the protest was later released. Earlier on Saturday, French activist Layli Ben Saffi was detained by the Israeli military during a protest against Israeli settler activity in the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron)”. This is reported here.

The Jordan Times picked up a report from Agence France Press which quoted the spokesperson for the Israeli national police [not Border Police, which is part of the Army] saying: ” ‘Our forces today dispersed protesters who were throwing rocks at us and proceeded to arrest nine people, including some foreigners’, Micky Rosenfeld said. ‘The protest took place at the Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, and the police made arrests after the activists tried to cross the checkpoint’, he added. A spokesman for the French EuroPalestine activist group said nine French citizens were arrested at the demonstration. A Palestinian detained at the protest was later released, he said On Saturday, another French activist, Layli Ben Saffi, was arrested by the Israeli military during a protest against Israeli settler activity in the West Bank city of Hebron. He was released on Saturday evening. Some 70 members of the EuroPalestine group have spent the last week in the Palestinian territories on an observer mission, a group spokesman said”. 32927

Crisis, talk of possible "conflagration", in Silwan today – defused by nightfall?

Israeli Border Police in large numbers were deployed in and around the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan today, as a constellation of pending events portended possible grave troubles ahead.

In the morning, the Police delivered a military notification to Silwan community activist Adnan Gheith that an order to expel him from his home for four months would be executed by 5 pm today. The measure was taken under emergency military orders issued in 1945, during the British administration of the Mandate of Palestine, prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel (in mid-May 1948).

Haaretz reported today that a letter handed to Gheith by the Police on behalf of the IDF Home Front Command a few weeks ago stated: “On November 25, security forces presented the military commander with defense-related material regarding your activities in the Jerusalem sector,” the letter read. “In light of the information contained herein, the military commander, the Home Front Commander [Maj. Gen. Yair Golan], is considering making use of the authority granted to him – and to order your removal from the Jerusalem city limits and its environs for a period of four months”.

According to Haaretz, Gheith was told earlier this week by the police “that he had two weeks to appeal the decision. ‘They claim to have classified information and all sorts of things’, he said. ‘But the truth is that I’m not leaving Jerusalem. Nobody can take a person away from his home and his family’.”

East Jerusalem Attorney Rami Othman said that a decision arrived this morning saying that the order would be carried out by 5 pm today. Othman then made an emergency appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

UPDATE: In the late afternoon Sunday the Court issued a temporary injunction against Gheith’s expulsion from Jerusalem by 5 pm.

Continue reading Crisis, talk of possible "conflagration", in Silwan today – defused by nightfall?

Mavi Marmara ship returns to Turkey today

The Mavi Marmara ship belonging to the Turkish relief organization IHH, part of the “Freedom Flotilla” headed to “break the blockade of Gaza” when it was assaulted at sea in the eastern Mediterranean by Israeli Naval forces on 31 May, returned to Turkey today.

During the Israeli Naval operation, 9 men (8 Turkish + one 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student) were killed. All had been on board the Mavi Marmara

The New York Times reported here that “On its return on Sunday, it [the Mavi Marmara] was decorated with posters of the dead passengers”.

The Mavi Marmara, a passenger ship carrying some 600 persons on the night it was attacked and boarded, was then forced to Israel’s southern port of Ashdod, and subsequently taken to Israel’s northern port of Haifa. It reportedly left on 9 August, and subsequently underwent repairs at some other “Mediterranean Port”, until its return to Turkey today.

Turkish Government officials, including most recently the country’s Foreign Minister, have said that Turkey is still waiting for an apology and compensation.

The personal belongings, including computers, and the media equipment, including films and photos, belonging to the passengers on board the six ships in the Freedom Flotilla who were deported from Israel after being forced to Ashdod have not all been returned…

Continue reading Mavi Marmara ship returns to Turkey today

The Pope's "balanced" message for Christmas

A confession: I never understood why the Pope’s activities deserve so much media coverage. Maybe the main benefit is that such coverage permits the expression of facts or thoughts that might otherwise not be spoken, because the Pope, and certain other global figures [the UN Secretary-General??], are piously thought to have some kind of “moral authority”.

But, on an otherwise slow + lazy news day, here goes: At midnight mass in the Vatican, the Pope expressed this wish, in a statement that diplomats would call a “tour d’horizon”, touching on all the significant points he must mention: “May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence“.

Balanced, right?

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem, told Gazans who had made it out of the closed Gaza Strip with special permissions for the Christmas festivities that “the political split between Gaza and the West Bank ‘must come to an end’ in order to ‘deal with the (Israeli) occupation using all available peaceful means … They are there and we are here, nobody can chuck the other’,,,”

According to the report, published by the Chinese News Agency Xinhua, Abbas also said that “the reconciliation would produce an independent government to deal with the international community to help rebuild Gaza”.

The Palestinian President made these remarks on Christmas Eve, according to the report, which added that “Abbas said Saturday the PNA would be ready to rebuild the Gaza Strip when the Hamas movement signs an Egyptian plan for Palestinian reconciliation“.

So, the PNA is using a carrot [and a stick?]].

As the Xinhua report noted, “The Egyptian draft, followed series of talks between the Hamas and the Fatah in Cairo in 2009, includes plans to hold new elections in the Palestinian territories, to form a united government and to reform Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas, which routed pro-Abbas forces and took over Gaza in 2007, has several reservations. In Damascus-hosted meetings in recent months, Hamas and Fatah resolved outstanding issues except security-related ones”.

Abbas also said, according to the report, that “We want to find a solution with the Israelis based on international legitimacy and we also want a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital’.” This Xinhuanet report can be read in full here.

Qalandia: "Nothing prepared me"…

There was a “nothing prepared me” exchange on Mondoweiss this week –for example, see this post here, and an earlier one here.

Friends I know and other people who come here also have the same reaction — “I had no idea”, and “nothing prepared me” — despite the millions of words and hundreds of thousands of photos and videos which have been shot in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to try to tell the story.

Here’s another “nothing prepared me” story — a brief excerpt from a piece written for The Jerusalem Quarterly by American journalist Ellen Cantarow: “After 1988 I took an editorial job in the Boston area and didn’t return to the West Bank until 2002. A friend warned me that crossing a place called ‘the Kalandia [Qalandia] checkpoint’ would be a sordid experience. I’d read descriptions. But these hadn’t prepared me for the vast vistas of rubble, broken glass, jersey block barriers, trash, and snarls of razor wire that confronted travelers after vehicles dropped them on one side, leaving them to trudge the wretched expanse to the actual cement structures where the IDF soldiers waited. [n.b.- now, it is no less messy with trash and barbed wire, but it is closed, and looks like a factory, or even more like the entrance to a slaughterhouse, a terrible and immensely stressing people-processing monstrosity, through which many tens of thousands of people, if not more, must pass each day. It is impossible to know what will happen before on passes through. Tens of thousands of vehicles of all types must also pass through, or around, Qalandia, and sometimes become stuck by the congestion, making a real and dangerous living nightmare…] ”

The Ellen Cantarow piece continues: Nothing prepared me, either, for the vastly expanded settlements – a California sprawl of white identical prefabs with red-tiled roofs – whole cities and suburban towns. Nothing prepared me, either, for the disappearance of the familiar, narrow, simple road between East Jerusalem and Hebron, the one I’d traveled so often and with such certainty 22 to 30 years earlier. On my last visit in September 2009 I asked an interviewee in Bethlehem to point out the original road for me: he couldn’t … On my visits to Palestine since the second Intifada I have often been filled with feelings of instability and loss. Palestinian interviewees and friends told me they, too, experience constant loss of bearings. This is because Israel continuously gouges out Palestinian land, builds new highways and tunnels, and cuts off older paths in the space of weeks and months, creating ever-encompassing architectures of domination, imprisonment, and separation“…

This piece can be read in full here.