Palestinian Authority moves to winter time while Israel stays on summer time

As Ramadan began with the sighting of the new moon in Saudi Arabia and Egypt — as they said on the excited streets of Ramallah last night — the Palestinian Authority changed to winter time, turning the clocks back one hour, while Israel remains on summer time for a while longer.

This can get confusing.

The IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, of course, operate on Israeli time.

Meanwhile, the IDF announced that “soldiers arrested 5 wanted Palestinians for suspicious terror activity overnight in Judea and Samaria” [that is, in the West Bank].

Earlier, on Tuesday, the IDF spokespersons unit sent around this announcement:
“The IDF and Civil Administration are making the following accommodations in anticipation of the upcoming Ramadan period which begins on August 11th, 2010, and is followed by the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr:
A. Extending the operational hours of the Jalama and Rehan Crossings to Jenin, the Beit Mishpat Crossing [is this Qalandia?] to Ramallah, and the Rachel Crossing to Bethlehem until 24:00 daily.
B. Palestinian families who have relatives in Israel may visit them for a one-week period during the month of Ramadan.
C. Israeli-Arabs may enter A areas in Judea and Samaria from the Jordan Valley via the relevant crossings in the area.
D. The Kh. Gabra and 104 crossings to Tul Karem are open throughout the entire week.
E. 200 licenses were given to visitors from Arab countries to enter the Judea and Samaria Region for humanitarian cases.
F. Palestinian men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 45 will be able to freely enter the Temple Mount for prayer.
G. In accordance with security measures, married men between the ages of 45-50 and married women between the ages of 30-45 may also enter the Temple Mount during the Ramadan Period and Eid ul-Fitr holiday …
Moreover, Civil Administration representatives briefed all forces operating in the area regarding the holiday times and traditions and distributed educational pamphlets. IDF soldiers have been ordered to show special consideration for the residents of the Judea and Samaria Region [i.e., the West Bank] and, wherever possible to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public, especially at the various crossings so as to demonstrate a high level of respect and understanding“.

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

Is Bethlehem the new Gaza?

This video posted on Youtube hereshows the dreadful Bethlehem “300” (or “Rachel’s Tomb”) terminal as looking a lot like Erez crossing into Gaza used to look, back in the days when tens of thousands of Gazans lined up in the pre-dawn hours to be herded through lines leading to daily employment in Israel.

Here’s another video — done two-and-a-half years agom apparently by a volunteer with the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) — showing the same thing, before the technology got even more “perfected”:

IDF bans Machsom Watch ladies from Nablus checkpoints

Just a few days after South Africa’s Nobel-prize-winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised the women of Machsom [Checkpoint] Watch here, and after our subsequent explanatory post here, the Israeli Defense Forces has barred these devoted women from the Nablus-area checkpoints, which are among the worst in the West Bank.

Haaretz reported today that “The Israel Defense Forces has declared the area around the West Bank city of Nablus a closed military zone, in order to prevent left-wing activists from entering the area, Army Radio reported on Wednesday. According to Army Radio, Head of the Central Command General Gadi Shamni issued the closure after receiving numerous complaints from soldiers who said the activists were interfering with their security duties at area checkpoints. The IDF said singled-out activists from ‘Machsom Watch’ (checkpoint watch) as being the subject of the most complaints. The IDF issued a statement Wednesday saying that the closure applies to all Israelis, regardless of ideology”.

The Haaretz report added that “Two weeks ago, IDF troops caught a member of ‘Machsom Watch’ climbing on the security fence to receive a package from a Palestinian. When the woman saw the soldiers she reportedly threw the package back over the fence and fled the scene”. This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

What is that supposed to mean? I have seen Machsom Watch women with pickled cucumbers and preserved olives in recycled plastic soft drink bottles that they either bought from, or were given as gifts by, Palestinian women at checkpoints. Is this now being portrayed as some kind of security risk?

A group of Israeli human rights organizations [Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Public Committee Against Torture Israel, Gisha, Hamoked, Adalah, Bimkom and Rabbis for Human Rights] immediately responded with a statement saying that “blocking activists from areas around Nablus is a cynical use of the security justification”.

The Israeli human rights groups said that the military order signed by OC Central Command chief Gadi Shamni “declares a closed military zone around three checkpoints in the Nablus area in order to prevent ‘damage to soldier’s activities’. The order bars access of all Israelis with the exception of those carrying special permits from entering specifically sensitive checkpoint areas – where soldiers conduct security checks on Palestinians wishing to cross. The IDF explained that often left-wing activists and protesters disrupt soldiers working at the checkpoints. Human rights organizations in Israel oppose the decision to aggressively block access of Israelis – specifically human rights activists to checkpoints in the Nablus area”.

These human rights groups said that “The actions taken by Machsom Watch and other human rights organizations are crucial in order to expose and report on human rights violations by the military and reduce violence; it is only in totalitarian states that the military can withhold human rights organizations’ access to areas of friction with civilians”.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) took issue with the IDF’s announcement earlier today that it had dismantled some checkpoints in the West Bank. Ma’an News Agency reported that “United Nations officials found that Israel did not dismantle two West Bank military checkpoints as promised on Wednesday. UN teams found that the Atara checkpoint in the village of Bir Zeit, on the main route between Ramallah and Nablus, was physically intact, including a concrete watchtower. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that they will re-classify the installation as a ‘partial checkpoint’, since the Israeli military has decided not to impose 24-hour checks. The other checkpoint the Israeli military said it would remove is At-Tayba (referred to as Rimonim by the army), near the village of the same name. The physical apparatus of this roadblock, already classified as a partial checkpoint, was still place when an OCHA team visited on Wednesday … OCHA earlier said it had received confirmation of the plan to remove the checkpoints from both the Israeli army and the Palestinian liaison office. According to OCHA Israel maintains more than 700 military checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, fences, trenches, earth mounds, and other obstructions to Palestinian movement as a part of the occupation of the West Bank. Sources in the Palestinian liaison department in Ramallah said that the Israelis informed them two days ago that both checkpoints would be removed as part of a purported attempt to ease Palestinian life. The sources told Ma’an that Israeli authorities intend to keep a guard post in the area of Atara checkpoint”. This report can be read in full here.

Machsom Watch: "We tell only about things we have personally seen"

Yesterday, in our post on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s remarks at a literary festival in London, it was reported that he praised the ladies of Machsom Watch.

By chance, I found a video posted on Youtube, made by Journeyman Pictures in June 2008, that gives one of the best representations I’ve seen of the oppressive humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, and of the arrogant and irresponsible behavior of some members of the Israeli Border Police and Defense Forces in the West Bank. It also does a very good job of portraying the motivation, views and work of the members of Machsom Watch (some of them I have had the pleasure of meeting and seeingn at work on the spot in the West Bank).

This vidoe is entitled “Mother Courage”[maybe not the best title] , and while its embedding function has been disabled upon request, it can be viewed in full here.

Continue reading Machsom Watch: "We tell only about things we have personally seen"

TUTU: This is THE problem

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

Continue reading TUTU: This is THE problem

Restrictions on Palestinian workers tightening, checkpoint problems growing

Yaakov Katz has reported in the Jerusalem Post that “The IDF will begin on Friday [1 May] to sanction Palestinian workers who stay in Israel beyond the time allotted to them in military-issued permits, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Under new guidelines that go into effect on Friday and were approved by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni and the head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Palestinians could lose their work permits if they exceed the approved time limit. Some permits allow Palestinians to remain overnight in Israel while others allow them to enter Israel in the morning and return to the West Bank by nightfall. ‘The sanctions will not be immediate but will begin at a later stage’, one official said … It was not clear what the sanctions would include, but officials said that if the workers did not abide by their permit’s conditions they could lose them. ‘Staying in Israel illegally is a dangerous phenomenon that involves criminal and terrorist activity’, the official explained. ‘This is a security precaution’. In addition, the IDF will only allow Palestinian workers into Israel via 13 West Bank crossings that use computerized systems to record identities and times. Starting Friday, the Palestinians will also have to return exclusively via these computerized crossings”. This report was published here.

The overcrowding is growing at the checkpoints, which are becoming fewer and fewer, as alternatives are relentlessly eliminated. The congestion at Qalandia, the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, is appalling. Last Wednesday, which was Israel’s Independence Day according to the Jewish calendar — and therefore a holiday, meaning less traffic, but also greater security measures — it took 45 minutes, yes, 45 minutes, just to cross Qalandia going to Ramallah.

The good women of the Israeli organization Machsom Watch [Checkpoint Watch] published a report on the Qalandia checkpoint on 26 April stating that “We arrived at Qalandia just before 7am … From the moment we arrived we didn’t stop for a moment to deal with problems that arose … The first thing we dealt with was a father with a 11 year old son who said that soldiers at the check in windows took his ‘kushan’ ( birth certificate), cut it up with scissors and told him to go home. His father said that the boy had a very important exam today and that it is crucial for him to get to school. We alerted everyone possible and achieved that the DCO representative and a policeman went to every one of the windows and looked through everything and didn’t find any birth certificate whole or cut up. It took a long time and the father refused to leave and go through Hizma although he possesses a Jerusalem resident ID.  In the end the policeman let the father and the son go through without the birth certificate. The mystery of the vanished birth certificate was not solved … Today we met a young man who was shot during the Gaza war and was returning from Nablus hospital. Naturally he only had a permit to leave Gaza and not to return to Gaza. It took many phone calls to the Gaza DCO to communicate with the Ramallah DCO so that the Qalandia computer sees the end of the communication and can issue a permit or the day for the man to return home to Gaza … We met a man from a village near Nablus. He has to undergo an operation at the St John’s eye hospital [in East Jerusalem]. When we called the medical section of the humanitarian dept of the army we were told that the man didn’t supply all the necessary documents and has to return home to his doctor and do it. Nothing will be done if all the documents are not submitted … Road 443: People who live in villages close to road 443 cannot just get on it but have to go to Qalandia and proceed from there back to 443 to the gates opened to workers in settlements. Today we met two men who did just that but were not allowed to go through the checkpoint. We actually didn’t manage to figure out what the problem was and sadly had to conclude that that’s just the idea – the rules are unclear and forever changing and vague … The whole time we felt the heavy Kafkesque atmosphere all around. And that is a very important part of the way the laws of occupation are applied”. The full report can be read here.

Report: Israeli soldiers force Palestinian teens to strip naked in public at checkpoint

Ma’an news agency is reporting from the West Bank city of Tulkarem that “Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian teenagers to strip naked in full view of other Palestinians waiting at a military checkpoint near the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Monday afternoon. Witnesses told Ma’an that three soldiers forced the youths to remove their clothes, and were verbally mocking them. The witnesses also reported long waits at the checkpoint”. This report is posted here. The Ma’an correspondent in Tulkarem received this news from several witnesses, but did not get the names of the teenagers, nor what happened to them (they were released after about one-and-a-half hours, a Ma’an editor told me the next day), nor any description of the reaction of the waiting crowd.
Continue reading Report: Israeli soldiers force Palestinian teens to strip naked in public at checkpoint

Israel's occupation – language issues

What is Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank really like?

It’s not as if there has been no reporting, no descriptions, no blog posts.

But, it still does not seem to be fully, um, well, grasped. Because, if it were, surely there would be
much stronger stands taken against it, and calling for its end.

Maybe taking it in small doses will make it more, um, well, accessible.
Continue reading Israel's occupation – language issues

Baladi vegetables from Wadi Fukhin, a Palestinian village southwest of Bethlehem

This article appeared in Haaretz about the pleasures of baladi [or, authentic home grown from the countryside] vegetables from a Palestinian West Bank village near Bethlehem.

Of note: the vegetables have to be smuggled past checkpoints to get to Jerusalem.

Sometimes, they are confiscated.

Without further comment, here is an excerpt from the Haaretz story:
Since the village was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, its farmlands have been shrinking. This was a natural process through the generations, as in the feudal estates of medieval times, when the laws of inheritance reduced the area received by each family head. In the 20th century the problem was compounded by complex geopolitical developments.

The Israeli army captured the village at the end of the War of Independence in 1948 and it became part of Jordan in the armistice agreements. In 1953, the villagers fled to refugee camps after an Israeli reprisal raid. For 20 years, they would sneak back to their fields to continue working them, until the Israeli government allowed some of them to return to their land – occupied by Israel following the 1967 war.

Since the end of the 1980s, 9,000 of the farmers’ 12,000 dunams (4 dunams = 1 acre) have been appropriated by Israel in order to build the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city-settlement of Betar Ilit.

The intensive construction of the city’s neighborhoods not only brutally wounded the natural ridgeline; it also hemmed in the vanishing valley from its eastern side and is blocking the natural runoff of rainwater to the village springs, which are, as a result, gradually drying up.

Only by adhering to ancient village traditions has Wadi Fukhin (population: 1,200) been able to preserve the enviable patterns of working the land that the whole world is now trying to emulate. This is small-scale agriculture, using ancient seeds of fruits and vegetables indigenous to the region, chemical-free. The traditional fertilizer was and remains the organic compost of goat droppings – most of the fellahin were in any case too poor to buy any other fertilizer.

The Friends of the Earth organization, which took the village under its wing in genuine admiration of the undeclared and vanishing nature reserve, taught the villagers additional techniques of ecological and organic farming. Those who love the earth are easily persuaded to keep it clean; some of the villagers have become true zealots not only of traditional farming, but also of “modern” organic methods.

The village’s vegetables were long famed in the markets of Hebron and Jerusalem, and fetched very high prices. But the only market currently open to produce from the village is in Bethlehem, where, the farmers complain, prices are lower.

The villagers could make a living from the burgeoning market for organic produce in Israel, but a checkpoint blocks their way…
Continue reading Baladi vegetables from Wadi Fukhin, a Palestinian village southwest of Bethlehem