Investigation: Israeli Navy Commander next to Mavi Marmara during sea assault

Haaretz has a story today reporting a new detail concerning the 30 May Israeli assault at sea on the Freedom Flotilla heading toward Gaza, during which at least nine passengers (all Turkish, one also an American dual citizen) were killed.

The article reports that “The officer who commanded the flotilla raid from its onset was Israel Navy chief, Admiral Eliezer Marom, whose command formulated the plans and was the person presenting them, in most cases, to government officials. Maron was situated in a small special-forces naval vassal alongside the Mavi Marmara as the takeover was taking place, in accordance with Israel Navy protocol, which stipulates that the top officer present should have a line of sight, as much as possible, to the event itself. Radio recordings of the operation document Marom giving out specific technical orders to the special-forces team during the flotilla takeover” …

Continue reading “Investigation: Israeli Navy Commander next to Mavi Marmara during sea assault”

The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio

Yesterday, the IDF posted a 29-second Youtube version of an audio exchange– not long before an assault at sea, and part of the set piece of theatrics that had to take place for this drama to play out according to script — between Israeli Navy radio officers and what the IDF initially said was the Mavi Marmara, the large Turkish passenger ship (chartered by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief NGO with a distinct Islamist character that has opened it to accusations of having “terrorist” ties) that had least 600 trusting souls on board.

The IDF Youtube appeared to be clearly doctored — a crude, adolescent attempt at triumphalist propaganda.

The Mavi Marmara was by far the largest of the six boats in the Freedom Flotilla travelling in convoy towards Gaza to “break the siege” and deliver humanitarian aid there. It was way too large to be disabled at sea, apparently. (And then what would you do with the 600 people on board?)

Because some of those on the top deck were unaware of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs legal argument that the badly-announced and poorly-clarified Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space could be enforced virtually anywhere, certainly on the high seas, they were somehow shocked and surprised when a large Israeli naval force — including three Saar missile boats — suddenly appeared on the horizon just before midnight.

They were still several hours away from Gaza, and the night was still young.

Continue reading “The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio”

Overwhelmed with grief

Grief. Grief. Too much grief.

They didn’t think Israel would do it — they didn’t believe Israel would use overwhelming force against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Israeli Navy reportedly intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters — it’s last reported position (at 04:30 GMT) before the IDF attack, was at Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727

Does it do any good to hold demonstrations now? These protests should have been going on for the past few days — demanding that the Flotilla ships get through to Gaza with their passengers cargo in safety.
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AP says the largest number of deaths in the storming of the ships were Turkish (six killed). Five were Israeli citizens — Israeli Arab Palestinians, from Haifa, on board the Flotilla. Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern Islamic Front movement, a figure particularly loathed by the Israeli political echelons, is in very serious condition after being shot in the head. He underwent surgery at Tel Hashomer hospital. Later Israeli reports contradicted this news, and said Sheikh Salah received only minor injuries.

Israeli Arab communities will hold a general strike on Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.

Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (Turkey is presently one of the non-permanent Council members), and for a meeting of NATO.

UPDATE: The Turkish Foreign Minister went to UNHQ/NY to present his country’s case at the UN Security Council meeting.

Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel, and Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt were among the countries which summoned the Israeli Ambassadors in their capitals.

AP reported that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “It should be known that we are not going to remain silent in the face of this inhumane state terrorism”, and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey was canceling three joint military drills and that a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.

According to another report by AP, “The White House said in a written statement that the United States ‘deeply regrets’ the loss of life and injuries sustained … and was ‘currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy’.”

Meanwhile, yet another AP story reported that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli naval commandos who raided a Gaza aid flotilla “were under attack and acting in self defense … Netanyahu says Israel wanted to check the cargo to ensure it contained no weapons. He says this was done successfully with five ships, but the sixth did not cooperate. He says hundreds of people on board that ship beat, clubbed and stabbed soldiers, and there was a report of gunfire”. This news report is posted here.

Netanyahu was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, but the meeting has been cancelled as Netanyahu, who was in Canada, is flying back to Israel to deal with the crisis that followed this Israeli attack.

He said before leaving that “we regret the loss of life”, and he wished a speedy recovery to those injured — including four Israeli soldiers, he said. He said, rather disingenuously, that Israel tries to bring in all kinds of humanitarian goods – “any kind of goods meant for peace” — to Gaza, while keeping out weapons that could be used against Israel.

The IDF later reported that seven of its soldiers were wounded.

Commentators have noted that the Freedom Flotilla — and the tragic denouement of its mission — have put the spotlight on Israel’s policy of restricted supplies to Gaza, and on Israel’s restrictions of movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) has joined its “sister organization”, the original Israeli Peace Now, in “expressing outrage at the way Israel’s government is dealing with people who challenge its policies”. The two organizations calleerd “for an end to the radicalization of the Israeli government’s language and policy.”

“It is becoming increasingly common for Israeli officials and pundits to refer to challenges to its policy as ‘terrorism’ – we hear terms like ‘economic terrorism’ used to describe a Palestinian Authority effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, ‘popular terror’ to describe non-violent protest, and ‘cultural terror’ to describe pressure on international artists to cancel appearances in Israel. This past week we heard terms like ‘violent propaganda’ to describe the Gaza flotilla, even before any clash when it acts in genuine self-defense. It also makes almost inevitable the kind of tragedy that is unfolding today”, said an APN statement issued Monday, which can read in full here.

There are very contradictory reports of how events happened this morning.

Flotilla participants said that shots were fired at the ship even before Israeli commandos rappelled down to the deck from hovering helicopters. But, when the commandos landed on the ship, they said they felt their lives were in danger — see the IDF Youtube video here — and then greater force was used. But, what did the IDF think would happen when those first commandos dropped from the sky?

All of the deaths reportedly were on on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying at least 600 people.

Out of 80 people taken from the boats on shore at Israel’s Ashdod Port at last report, 16 were already transferred to Beersheva Prison for “non-cooperation”. UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting that at least 32 of the Flotilla participants have been jailed.

UPDATE: Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, of the Balad (country”) party, who was also on board the Mavi Marmara, has reportedly “been removed from her boat” and is unharmed. [Was she released?] Yesterday, right-wing Knesset members said Zoabi should be arrested and tried for treason…

Three Israeli human rights organizations — Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel — have filed a habeas corpus petition with the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the Flotilla Participants who are being held either in tents at Ashdod Port pending deportation or at Beersheva prison, asking for the names of those who have been killed or injured, and the names and locations and status of those who are detained.

Another Israeli human rights organization, GISHA, said in a statement that it “expresses sorrow at reports that dozens of civilians have been killed or injured during the Israeli military’s interception of boats bound for the Gaza Strip, carrying humanitarian assistance and hundreds of foreign and Israeli activists, including elected representatives. This incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea. Gisha notes that Israel cannot maintain such control while at the same time renouncing responsibility for its effects on the 1.5 million human beings whose access to the outside world has been cut off nearly hermetically for the past three years. International law requires Israel to permit the kind of access necessary for Gaza residents to live normal, dignified lives. It would be better for all concerned – Israel, Palestinian residents of Gaza, and those seeking to visit Gaza – if Israel would allow the regular and free passage of people, raw materials for industry, building materials, and export goods in and out of Gaza, subject only to concrete, individual security checks”.

Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?

After some confusing statements Saturday evening – possibly deliberately misleading – the Freedom Flotilla is moving towards what will almost certainly be a confrontation somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean with Israeli Naval forces that the Israeli Government has ordered to stop the Flotilla.

Israel still has time to change its mind, however. But, it has been busy bombing Gaza — including the already-damaged-to-the-point-of-inoperability, and only, Palestinian airport which is located near Kerem Shalom.

Continue reading “Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?”

Jeff Halper: "Dismantling the 'Matrix of Control' "

Here are excerpts from the new article just published by Jeff Halper, “Dismantling the ‘Matrix of Control’ “. Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, originally published his “Matrix of Control” in the year 2000:

    “Almost a decade ago I wrote an article describing Israel’s “matrix of control” over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consisted then of three interlocking systems: military administration of much of the West Bank and incessant army and air force intrusions elsewhere; a skein of “facts on the ground,” notably settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also bypass roads connecting the settlements to Israel proper; and administrative measures like house demolitions and deportations. I argued in 2000 that unless this matrix was dismantled, the occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved. Since then the occupation has grown immeasurably stronger and more entrenched.

    Indeed, the matrix has reconfigured the country to such an extent that today it seems impossible to detach a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state from an Israel that has expanded all the way to the Jordan River. Anyone familiar with Israel’s “facts on the ground,” perhaps first and foremost the settlers, would reach the conclusion that, in fact, the matrix cannot be taken apart in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few settlements here, a road there and an Israel “greater” Jerusalem in the middle. The matrix has become far too intricate. Dismantling it piece by piece, with Israel stalling by arguing for the security function of each “fact on the ground,” would be a frustrating series of confrontations that would eventually exhaust itself. The only way to a genuine two-state solution and not a cosmetic form of apartheid is to cut the Gordian knot. The international community, led by the United States, must tell Israel that the occupation must be ended entirely. Israel must leave every inch of the Occupied Territories. Period. And now, at this critical juncture, as the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse disappears under the weight of Israeli settlements, there is a great imponderable: Is President Barack Obama genuinely serious about reaching such a solution or is he merely going through the motions familiar from previous administrations?

    Since the Cairo speech, however, fundamental doubts about US efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by Obama upon Israel has been for a settlement “freeze,” a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic “blocs” that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem, the Arab areas to the north, south and east of the city where Israel has planted its flag. Focusing on this one issue — which, months later, is still being haggled over — has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction that, when completed, will truly render the occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the separation barrier, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the “Green Line,” the pre-June 1967 boundary to which Israel is supposed to withdraw, by the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, but on which even the most ardent two-staters have long since given up. Israel is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the “judaization” of the city. It is confiscating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem and pouring bypass road asphalt at a feverish pace so as to permanently redraw the map. It is laying track on Palestinian land for a light-rail line connecting the West Bank settlement-city of Pisgat Ze’ev to Israel. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether, or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.

    ‘Quiet’, behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have emerged are far from reassuring. The State Department has mocked as “fiction” a ten-point document given to the Arab press by Fatah figure Hasan Khreisheh that promises an “international presence” in parts of the West Bank and US backing for a Palestinian state by 2011. The component of this alleged plan that seems more likely is that the US wants a partial freeze on settlement activity from Israel in exchange for a pledge from Washington to push for more stringent sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear research. On August 25, the Guardian quoted ‘an official close to the negotiations’ saying: ‘The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not’.

    Why, then, leave these massive settlements intact? The argument is that their residents would object to the point of a civil war in Israel. This is patent nonsense. True, these settlement blocs contain 85 percent of Israelis living in the Occupied Territories, but these are not the ideological settlers who claim the entire Land of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Instead, they are “normal” Israelis who have been attracted to the settlements by high-quality, affordable housing. They would have no objection to resettling inside Israel on the condition that their living standards do not fall, while the Israeli economy, assisted by international donors, would have no problem footing the bill for this population, about 200,000 in number. Settlements in ‘greater’ Jerusalem, housing another 190,000 Israeli Jews, present no problem whatsoever. Residents are free to stay where they are in a shared and integrated Jerusalem.

    As for the “ideological” settlers of the West Bank, only about 40,000 in number (out of almost six million Jews altogether), they can easily be relocated inside Israel, just as were their counterparts in Gaza. Their relocation will be a test of international assertiveness, of course, because the settlers are able to mobilize the support of the right-wing parties in Israel. Since Israel can make no cogent argument as to the security necessity of these tiny settlements, however, internal opposition will simply have to be overruled; the international community cannot allow such frivolous ideological matters to destabilize the entire global system. If the legitimate concerns of the Israeli public over its security are addressed by the international community, which they can be, there is no compelling reason why Israel should not return to the pre-June 1967 border. In fact, if the Gaza episode indicates anything, it is that the Israeli public is willing to remove settlements if it is convinced that doing so will enhance its security. Reminding Israelis that leaving every inch of the Occupied Territories will still leave them sovereign over a full 78 percent of the country — not a bad deal for what will soon become a minority Jewish population — should seal the deal.

    The Obama platform, should it see the light of day, will probably also adopt the Israeli position that Palestinian refugees can only be repatriated to the Palestinian state itself, not to their former homes inside Israel. This plank would place a weighty economic burden on that tiny prospective state, since the refugees are, by and large, a traumatized and impoverished population with minimal education and professional skills. Add to that another significant fact: Some 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. A Palestinian state without the ability to employ its people and offer a future to its youth is simply a prison-state.

    Now the need for a viable Palestinian state is recognized and embodied in the ‘road map’, the peace initiative propagated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and will probably be acknowledged in a plan from Obama as well. Despite its limited size, a RAND Corporation study concluded that such a state is possible, but only if it controls its territory, borders, resources and movement of people and goods. Israel must be made to understand that while it will remain the hegemonic power in the region, its own long-term security depends upon the economic wellbeing of its Palestinian neighbors.

    Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees, and half of the Palestinians still live in refugee camps within and around their homeland. Any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Technically, resolving the refugee issue is not especially difficult. The Palestinian negotiators, backed up by the Arab League, have agreed to a “package,” to be mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians, involving a combination of repatriation in Israel and the Palestinian state, resettlement elsewhere and compensation.

    The “package” must contain, however, two other elements, without which the issue will not be resolved and reconciliation cannot take place. First, Israel must acknowledge the refugees’ right of return; a resolution of the issue cannot depend solely on humanitarian gestures. And Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for driving the refugees from their country. Just as Jews expected Germany to accept responsibility for what it did in the Holocaust (and Israelis criticized the Pope during his summer 2009 visit for not apologizing enough), just as China and South Korea will not close the book on World War II until Japan acknowledges its war crimes, so, too, will the refugee issue continue to fester and frustrate attempts to bring peace to the region until Israel admits its role and asks forgiveness. Genuine peacemaking cannot be confined to technical solutions alone; it must also deal with the wounds caused by the conflict.

    But the Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot “win” — though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians…”

Jeff Halper first posted this article on ZNet, here.

Israeli human rights groups criticize new Palestinian "naturalization" criteria separating Gazans from West Bank

As Quartet Envoy Tony Blair and Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter careen around the region, showing up by design or purest coincidence together in Gaza today, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has suddenly authorized a significant increase in the number of trucks carrying humanitarian supplies to enter the Gaza Strip to some 144 yesterday and 177 today or so (last week it was about 100 fewer trucks than that per day).

Carter in Gaza - 16 June 2009Jimmy Carter visits the bombed-out shell of the former American International School in Gaza

Meanwhile, two Israeli human rights groups — GISHA and HAMOKED — have just gone public with their opposition to a new official procedure that restricts Palestinian civil and human rights.

Continue reading “Israeli human rights groups criticize new Palestinian "naturalization" criteria separating Gazans from West Bank”

Former Pres. Jimmy Carter in Jerusalem: "I understand the interrelationships in the Middle East as well as anybody"

It was billed as a meeting with “Israel’s human rights community”. Then, a notice was sent by email that journalists would be allowed a brief Q + A period at the end. Then, it became a “public meeting” — former President Carter’s only public appearance in Israel.

Though the stars of the Israeli human rights community were there, sitting politely in suits and dresses, President Carter in the end didn’t say anything to them, really. Unfortunately, he spoke not a word about their work, about how they are only a few, who often stand up alone against the massive tide of Israeli public and official opinion, about how they are challenge the state to live up to its national and international obligations, and how they inform the world about endless and growing problems as they continue to uphold the rights of Palestinians living under the belligerent Israeli military occupation.

Instead it became a very weak press conference.

And not one of the Israel human rights leaders there said a word.

But, from Carter himself, we learned that he was meeting Quartet Special Middle East Envoy Tony Blair in the afternoon (Blair then headed down to Gaza, for his first visit in over a year, and well after the normal Erez crossing checkpoint hours — Blair was clearly given VIP treatment). Carter announced that he was going to Gaza himself on Tuesday, for a graduation ceremony in UNRWA schools. Carter — who went to Damascus and back at the end of last week, where he met with the Hamas “Politburo” — said he’ll meet a second time with Noam Shalit, the father of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized and has been held captive since late June 2006, presumably somewhere in Gaza. In Gaza, he is scheduled to meet the Hamas leadership.

Continue reading “Former Pres. Jimmy Carter in Jerusalem: "I understand the interrelationships in the Middle East as well as anybody"”

"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.

Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch report on the first Friday in Ramadan

Here is the report by Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch on the passage of Palestinians from the West Bank through the major Qalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the first Friday of Ramadan:

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Qalandia, 5.9.08 – Hours: 9:30-13:00

Women trying to get into Qalandia Checkpoint - first Friday in Ramadan - 5 Sept 08

“JERUSALEM IS CLOSED ON THE POLITICAL ASPECT AND OPEN ON THE RELIGIOUS ONE. WE DON’T INTEND ON BUILDING A BERLIN WALL IN THE HEART OF JERUSALEM, AND WE DON’T INTEND ON DENYING THE FREEDOM OF PRAYER… ” From an interview with Shimon Peres on July 1994.

“The orders concerning the passage were strictly kept:
Only women over 45 years all and men over 50 that aren’t refused passage by the GSS were permitted to pass for the prayers.

“As the media had published and as Ruti reported, military forces were at every junction around the ancient city.

“By the checkpoint were police forces, BP [Border Police] and soldiers from the special patrol unit (YASAM) and vehicles weren’t allowed to come near the checkpoint.
At Qalandia checkpoint there were two separate lanes: women were on the eastern side and men at the usual cage-like corridors. There were many police men who spoke Arabic and guided the passers.
It was evident all around the place that there were more women then men.
The first screening of those permitted passage was preformed at the northern square and the parking lot was used as a sterile zone.

“11:00 – The soldiers moved back and stood behind the police checkpoint, by the new walls that separate the parking lot. Snipers were at their positions with their rifles aimed ready to fire. There was a notification that no one would pass any more. In spite of that they still allowed some people with blue IDs who fit the age barrier to pass to Jerusalem.
On the other side of the fences were a couple of hundred people who weren’t permitted to pass. The soldiers got ready for the ‘riots’ to begin, smoke and stun grenades were handed out as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. It was apparent that the soldiers were more then happy to start their fire.

Israeli forces ready to fire - Qalandia on the first Friday in Ramadan - 5 Sept 08

“11:15 – The passage was closed.

– A surgeon from Nablus who was in his fifties asked an officer to allow him to get to the prayer, he received a rude replay: ‘No one is allowed to pass now, wait patiently two or three hours, don’t you have any patience at all?’ – the doctor was patient, he had been so for over forty one years. He kept standing their under the blazing sun hoping that the gates of prayer might just open.

– Someone who worked at Hevree Kadish and had papers to prove it said that he had to go to a funeral at the cemetery at Givat Shaul. The answer he got was: ‘No one dies today and there are no funerals!…’

– A group of women were waving their green IDs and got one of the officers extremely mad, he spotted one of them and screamed at her: ‘Shut up!’

– A BP officer was tiered of telling people that they can’t pass so he started cursing, and while he was pointing at his own head he asked: ‘What the hell do you have in their instead of brains?’

“12:00 – Stones were beginning to be thrown towards the soldiers, who for starters began by throwing stun grenades and after that kept throwing and firing what ever was in their reach. Smoke rose above the checkpoint.
One of the soldiers made his hands into fists and like a child he demanded that he get what he wanted, he was yelling to his mates: ‘Give me the grenades, give me the grenades…’ – so they gave them to him. He threw them and relaxed. It was as Celine wrote in Journey to the End of the Night, that is the nature of all soldiers, when they aren’t busy killing they behave like children…
The dense smell of tear gas filled the air and burned the throat and eyes. A Palestinian got hit in his head and was taken to an ambulance that was waiting by the wall, he got treatment.
A fifteen year old boy got wounded in his neck and his shirt was scorched, he too was treated by the medical crew from Ramallah.

Palestinian injured by tear gas grenade gets medical treatment at Qalandia

“A young frustrated man who had just been released from the Israeli prison after 13 years, got his anger out on us, he yelled that he was once a great believer in co-existence and in ending the conflict peacefully but now doesn’t believe these slogans and he doesn’t see how there could be any other option for him but to become a Shahid. Finally he pointed at me and side: ‘Anyway, you are from the GSS’.

“On the way back we heard on the 14:00 new flash that ‘military forces in Qalandia had scattered a demonstration of 300 Palestinians, no one was injured’.

“When the IDF spokesman reports that no one was injured, is it to say that none of his men were injured? Don’t they count the injured Palestinians as well?”

——————————————————————————-

Report compiled by Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch – Photos by Tamar Fleishman

The first Friday in Ramadan – bottlenecks at the checkpoints

INITIAL REPORT:

The eminently respectable but ferociously committed Israeli ladies (and one man) from Machsom Watch (which monitors the conduct of Israeli security forces at Israeli checkpoints) were there. Europeans and a South African working with the World Council of Churches‘ Ecumenical Accommpaniers’ program in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) were there. And they said there were (mostly Palestinian) employees of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) were there, just outside the IDF-defined military perimeter siphoning human entry into the Qalandia “border crossing” between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Machsom Watch and EAPPI observers were in agreement — the situation, on the first Friday in Ramadan, when Palestinians yearn to worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem, was better organized than in the two previous years (after the checkpoints tightened controls on West Bank Palestinians).

It was better than last year, and much better than the year before — which, the observers said, was the year of tear gas launched on the frustrated masses who spontaneously decided to pray on the ground where they stood, blocked and barred from entry into Jerusalem. That year, two years ago, there were also Israeli soldiers mounted on horseback plowing through the people.

This year was much better, the monitors agreed, despite their objections to the basic paradigm of the occupation, the checkpoints, and the restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque.

There had been a coordination meeting this year with the Israeli DCO at Qalandia. In that meeting, the IDF had been informed that EAPPI, Machsom Watch, and OCHA would have observers in and around Qalandia on Fridays.

Many embassy SUV’s — including a team of U.S. embassy cars — were seen patrolling the (Dahiet al-Bariid – Ar-Ram – Qalandia) area on Friday morning.

Still, there were ugly moments.

Here, courtesy of the Jerusalem Post, is a photo of the Border Police Officer — who put on at some moments his black aviator-style sunglasses — that observers noted was the most aggressive to Palestinians — including women — trying to get into Qalandia “border crossing” on Friday to go to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The Border Police Officer voted most aggressive at Qalandia checkpoint on the first Friday in Ramadan

He ran at women crowding the police barriers, and appeared to take pleasure in his shouting, his physically-menacing behavior. At one point, there appeared to be a modest reprimand aimed at restraining his threats, but this could certainly have been done earlier.

UPDATE — ANGRY ARAB had another photo of the same guy.

ap photo on angryarab's blog

But, the EAPPI team reported that some 6.000 souls an hour passed smoothly through Qalandia from 6 am until about noon, when the flow was largely stopped [for a total of at least 36,000 Palestinians entering Jerusalem from Qalandia]. By comparison, only 2,500 per hour could get through the main Bethlehem checkpoint, which they referred to as “Gilo 300”. The Jerusalem Post reported Friday evening that some 90,000 faithful were able to pray at Al-Aqsa at the midday prayers. But here, again, pictures speak louder than words.

Palestinians pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the first Friday in Ramadan.- photo from Haaretz

The permits granted for Friday prayers are valid from 7am to 7 pm, a member of the EAPPI team reported. She said that Palestinian daily work permits do not allow passage through Qalandia for Friday prayers (though the Machsom Watch observers thought differently). But, the EAPPI team member noted, many of the Palestinians who entered Jerusalem for the mid-day prayers would want to stay at Al-Aqsa to perform the evening prayer, which would start just after 7 pm. The EAPPI observer said that if they did so, these Palestinians would face problems at flying checkpoints set up by the Israeli police inside Jerusalem, and on the road back to Qalandia. Those who overstay their permit would be detained, she thought, and this might affect their getting another Friday permit (though applications for Friday prayer permits normally take two weeks to process, and must therefore be made well in advance )– but she thought any of those detained for overstaying the Friday prayer permit would probably not face any very severe consequences unless they already had a record of being previously suspected or accused of a security violation.

The EAPPI observer also noted that the worshippers were supposed to return to Qalandia by 7 pm, but she pointed out that Qalandia would not be open to private vehicles until 9 pm — and therefore, she said, there could be some problems of congestion at return.

Women went though a separate inspection, but were almost completely unchecked, once they had passed through the first military perimeter. “The question is, if it can be as ‘good’ as this (considering the circumstances – the occupation and checkpoint), why is it so bad on an every day basis? On normal mornings, it’s horrible, because nobody can decide how to operate the checkpoints”.

A Machsom Watch veteran said that what went wrong last year was that some minister changed his mind in the middle of the night before the Friday prayer — when some Palestinians were already travelling to Qalandia under the assumption that they qualified for entry to Jerusalem under the earlier rules. the instructions were re-done, without any (or without at least adequate) information efforts. The people coming from Nablus and Jenin and the northern West Bank, and the villages around Ramallah, had no idea that the rules had been changed. They made great efforts, thinking they could get through Qalandia to pray at Al-Aqsa, but were barred. And then the fighting started. — between the Palestinians and the soldiers. And among the people themselves. Those who could not get through the checkpoint then prayed on the ground at Qalandia, but tear gas was used, and affected those praying.

This Friday, relatively few Palestinians were left without entry (those who could not qualify under the Israeli rules apparently did not even make an attempt), and there was no praying at the checkpoint.

There are still problems, one experienced EAPPI observer said. Some of the local papers publish wrong information, and the people are mislead. This year, for example, one Palestinian paper said that women of all ages could get through — whereas the IDF instructions said that it would be only women over 45, and men over 50.

Still, she said, the attention of the media (precious little though it is) and the photographers and the embassies and consulates appeared to have made a difference.

At 11:30, Machsom Watch observers said, the soldiers began tensing up — preparing for confrontation with Palestinians who could not get through the checkpoint.

And, it happened.

Around noon, a few stones (I saw about three) were hurled at the military lines. Tear gas was immediately fired back, and then stun grenades were lobbed. This happened sporadically for the next 45 minutes.

But, this was still much better than last year, the observers said — given the fact of the occupation, and the checkpoints, and the ban on many categories of people (including almost all young people) that prevents them from going to pray where they want to pray, in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

LATER UPDATE:

Two Israeli media — the Jerusalem Post and YNET — reported that Palestinians “rioted” at Qalandia. These lurid reports are over-exaggerations of what actually happened: the confrontations began with two or three small stones being lobbed at the Israeli forces WHO DID NOT HAVE RIOT SHIELDS.

(NOTE TO THE ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES and the MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR et al: here are Police riot shields stored at the ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif plateau where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are located in Jerusalem’s Old City. These same shields — stored for use when Palestinians sometimes throw stones at, or that fall on the Western Wall Plaza, could have been used, at least in the first instance, at Qalandia on the first Friday in Ramadan … instead of tear gas and stun grenades. The EAPPI observer noticed that there were also soldiers armed with weapons that fire rubber bullets, but these did not appear to have been used.

Israeli Police riot shields stored on the Mughrabi Gate ramp leading to the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade

The Israeli forces immediately responded by shooting tear gas and lobbing volleys of stun grenades. (Haaretz reported on Saturday that one Palestinian was injured by a tear gas cannister.)

This happened after every single small stone that intermittently came their way. This fizzeled out when the Israeli soldiers ignored the last few stones which were thrown.

A Machsom Watch veteran commented drily that “it only goes to show that both sides are operating on a mental age of about 13”.

This fizzeled out when the Israeli soldiers ignored the last few stones which were thrown.

It was not, of course, the Palestinians trying to get into the Qalandia terminal who were throwing stones. It did not even appear to have been those who were disappointed. The Palestinians who actually had a chance, or a permit, and who were trying to get to Jerusalem, dispersed at every exchange.Observers pointed out that it was only small and roving groups of youths who were making sporadic forays out of the Qalandia refugee camp that is right up next to the checkpoint who were responsible for the few stones that were thrown. Under the current rules estabished unilaterally by the IDF, these boys and young men won’t be eligible to even apply for a permit to perform Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa for another twenty or thirty years.

Despite the impression given by the headlines in the Israeli media (see just below), there might have been hundreds of youths involved in this game, or ritual, but there were NOT hundreds of stones thrown. There were only a very few stones, launched very sporadically, which did not reach the newly-created perimeter of concrete slabs that formed a mini-Wall (a “sleeve”, in security parlance, apparently) that prevented masses of people rushing to the entrance to the checkpoint.

The tear gas cannisters and stun grenades were flung quickly, and easily, at the slightest of provocations. All those in the vicinity — including some of the forward-deployed Israeli forces, and observers and journalists as well — were affected by the tear gas blowing back in the small breeze under the hot midday sun.

Women who had been pressing at the police barriers to the checkpoint rushed back as far as they could get from both the military and the tear gas — but that brought them right up against The Wall. They stood huddled together against a high — and manned — concrete watchtower, pulling the ends of their scarves over their noses and mouths. Israeli forces inside their perimeter also were lightly affected by the return of the tear gas on the slight wind at the time. Some soldiers laughed and gestured, and shook their heads.

Despite the relatively desultory nature of these exchanges, YNet said in a headline that “Some 100 Palestinians riot [emphasis added] at Qalandiya checkpoint, dispersed by Israeli security forces”. The text of the story stated that “Shortly after the prayer session marking the first Friday of Ramadan concluded at the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem, some 100 Palestinians rioted [emphasis added] at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem. The Palestinians hurled stones at IDF soldiers and Border Guard officers manning the checkpoint. Israeli security personnel were forced to use crowd-dispersal apparatus, but no injuries have been reported as of yet … The IDF has eased restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank as a gesture for the month of Ramadan”. The full YNet story can be seen in full on the YNet website here.

The JPost reported in almost identical term that “Ramadan prayers end in Qalandia riots [emphasis added]”. The text of the JPost story reads:: “Some 100 young Palestinians rioted [emphasis added] at the Kalandiya checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, on Friday, shortly after the first communal prayers of Ramadan. The Palestinians hurled stones at IDF troops and border policemen deployed in area, prompting the security forces to take crowd control measures. No casualties were reported”. This can be seen on the JPost website here.

Once things had calmed down, military men took megaphones and shouted in rude Arabic to those Palestinians who had returned to the police barriers to try to get into the checkpoint: “Imshi ala Ramallah!” “Go back to Ramallah” — which was insulting not only in tone, but in its easy presumption that the Palestinians trying to get into Jerusalem on Friday had only come a short distance. There is little to no Israeli awareness (and even less concern) about the difficulties most Palestinians face. Many who had hoped to pass had certainly made great efforts, coming from the far north and east of the West Bank. They had already crossed several internal West Bank checkpoints before being held up at the last possible moment at the police barriers blocking the entrance to Qalandia.

Machsom Watch observers reported that there had been some trouble when Palestinians started lining up at 4:30 on Friday morning.

One man reported to two sympathetic Machsom Watch women that he had almost been killed on his way to Qalandia. He said that he had been in a car, driving from Jericho via the narrow and winding road via the village of Taibeh, when he was stopped by three soldiers. After checking his permit, they then asked him who he planned to vote for in the American elections in November.  [U.S. Democratic Party candidate for President Barack] Obama, he said. [Obama had been an early favorite among Palestinians, until his ill-chosen and soon-rescinded remarks stating that a united Jerusalem would or should be Israel’s undivided capitol.) When the man replied that there would soon be a Palestinian State, he said, and added that the Israeli soldiers would then no longer have the right to stand there and stop him from going to pray, the soldiers suddenly became angry, he reported, and at least one of them began firing in the air. “Now I am going to insult every Israeli soldier I see”, the man said. But he probably won’t …