The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has just filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court [High Court of Justice] asking for a further hearing in the case of Israeli-owned stone quarries operating in the West Bank.
Yesh Din first challenged the legality of Israeli quarrying activities in the occupied West Bank in a petition filed in March 2009.
The petition focuses on the specific case of the stone quarries, but it exposes many of the incongruencies and the quite deliberate ambiguities of the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
On 26 December 2011, after almost two years of deliberation, a panel of judges of Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ), chaired by Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, “dismissed the petition and held that the quarrying activities are legal and do not violate the provisions of international law”.
Yesh Din has said that it considers that ruling “in our view both factually and legally mistaken”.
Yesh Din’s legal adviser, Attorney Michael Sfard indicated strong disagreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling by stating that ‘Quarrying natural resources in an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying state is pillage”.
Yesh Din’s has posted its reaction to the Israeli High Court ruling on 26 December here.
Yesh Din has challenged, in the petition, the legality of Israeli actions during its prolonged occupation of a territory on which Israel evidently has an as-yet-unspecified claim.
Though Israel officially deals with the situation as an occupation, it avoids to the maximum extent possible using the word, or discussing the consequences.
Israeli arguments of ideological position generally say that the Palestinian territory is “disputed” rather than “occupied”.
Israel does not dispute, however, that its Ministry of Defense administers the West Bank.
And, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has installed a “Civil Administration” which restrictively regulates most aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank. Israeli life in the West Bank, by contrast, is governed by Israeli law — in effect, creating a slow, partial, unclear and unofficial, but progressive, annexation.
While “facts on the ground” are proceeding apace, there has not yet been an official Israeli act of annexation. If and when annexation is declared, an international uproar can be expected.
Meanwhile, Palestinians argue that the Israeli creation of facts on the ground — particularly, though not exclusively, Israeli settlement-building — is intended to make the situation irreversible.
The exact nature of Israel’s claims to the Israeli/Jewish settlements that that the government has overtly and officially facilitated is still unstated.
It has become apparent that Israel does not want to evacuate not only the three or four major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, but also isolated settlements, and now even what have been called “unauthorized outposts”.
The new Yesh Din petition filed on January 10 asks for further Supreme Court review of the Israeli quarries’ continued exploitation of a Palestinian natural resource — by an expanded panel of judges.
In its new request, Yesh Din argues that “Relaxing the prohibition on harm to the capital of properties of the occupied territory lays the legal foundation for irreversible economic exploitation of occupied territory by an Occupying Power, despite the fact that the prohibition on such exploitation is amongst the primary objectives (and therefore amongst the primary principles) of the international law of occupation”
In fact, Yesh Din argues, the recent Supreme Court decision “permits the Occupier (in a prolonged occupation) to make use, for its own purposes, of plunder found in the occupied territory: to pump water found there, to transfer archeological findings out of the occupied territory, to exploit open spaces for waste disposal, to sell public property and other such irreversible acts which harm or alter the capital of public properties.”
To clarify the matter, Yesh Din said it is specifically requesting the High Court of Justice to hold a further hearing with a broader panel of judges, on the following questions:
What are the boundaries of the State of Israel’s authority in relation to its administration of the natural resources belonging to the territories occupied by Israel in ‘belligerent occupation’, and in this context, what is the relationship between Article 55 and Article 43 of the Annex to the fourth Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907)?
Specifically, does an Occupying Power, in a prolonged occupation, have the authority to grant its citizens, or corporations owned by its citizens and/or registered in the Occupying Power, rights to quarry natural resources in occupied territory in general, and in quarries which did not exist prior to the occupation, in particular?
In as far as an Occupying Power is permitted to grant rights to quarry natural resources in occupied territory, is this authority subordinate to the principle of ‘continuity’ or to the principle of ‘reasonableness’?
Does the fact that Israeli quarries provide employment opportunities for Palestinians and pay royalties to the Civil Administration make granting these rights an act which should be considered, from a legal perspective, “for the benefit of the local population”?
The full request [in Hebrew, for those who read Hebrew] is posted here.
We have written earlier posts about the Supreme Court ruling on the Yesh Din petition, here and here.
Michael Sfard, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli lawyer who represents Palestinians aggrieved by the Israeli government and its policies, has been forcing Israeli clarification of its policies.
Even when he loses a case, as happened on Monday in a ruling handed down by Israel’s Supreme Court on Israeli stone quarries operating in the West Bank [which most of the world regards as occupied Palestinian territory], he manages to get incremental new clarification of some of Israel’s heaviest and most obscure policies
In the Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday, Michael Sfard was representing the Israeli non-governmental human rights organization Yesh Din [Volunteers for Human Rights].
An article in Haaretz today by Zafrir Rinat, entitled High Court says Israel can take advantage of West Bank resources, is subtitled: Court adopts state position. The Haaretz story explained that Yesh Din “argued that the 10 Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank violate international law, which states that an occupier may not exploit an occupied territory’s natural resources for its own economic benefit; it may use such resources only for the benefit of the occupied people or for military purposes”.
According to Haaretz, the Supreme Court ruling, written by Judge Dorit Beinisch, argued “it is necessary to take account of the fact that the West Bank has been under a prolonged and continuing occupation, so the territory’s economic development cannot be put on ice until the occupation ends. The quarries, she noted, supply jobs and training to a non-negligible number of Palestinians; some of their yield is sold to the Palestinians; and the royalties the quarry owners pay the state – almost NIS 30 million a year – are used by the Civil Administration in the territories to fund projects that benefit the Palestinian population. ‘In this situation, it’s hard to accept the petitioner’s unequivocal assertion that the quarries’ operation does nothing to advance the [Palestinian] region, especially in light of the Israeli and Palestinian sides’ mutual economic interests and the prolonged duration’ of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, she concluded”.
By these revelations, it appears that the Israeli owners of the stone quarries pay royalties on their production and sale of Palestinian stones to the Israeli military [Civil Administration] in order to maintain the military occupation of the West Bank.
Haaretz reported the Beinisch examined “what international law has to say, and particularly Article 55 of the Fourth Hague Convention, on which the petition was based. That article requires the occupying power to ‘safeguard the capital’ of the occupied party’s natural resources and ‘administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct’, meaning the rules governing fair usage. But Beinisch accepted the state’s position that Israel’s use of the quarries is limited and does not amount to destroying their ‘capital’, and hence does not violate international law. This position is bolstered, she said, by the state’s decision not to permit any new quarries to open” [see below].
Dr. Hatem Kanaaneh, a retired doctor in the Galilee who blogs brilliantly here, covered this week the closing session in the year-long trial of the suit for wrongful death brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death while trying to stop an Israeli military D-9 bulldozer from razing Palestinian houses in Gaza in 2003.
Kanaaneh wrote that the trial’s final session heard the testimony of Colonel Pinhas Zuaretz, “better known by his nickname, Pinky, [who] was the commanding officer of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade at the time”.
Here is an extended excerpt of Kanaaneh’s report:
Col. Zuaretz’s “body language and his automatic assumption of priority in communicating with the judge [Judge Gershon], whose ruddy complexion suggested another longish repose on some tropical seaside, did little to reassure me. But [Corrie family lawyer] Husain Abu-Husain proceeded right away to tangle with the man and to try to cut him down to size … Would he commit to the principle of protecting human life? To this last one Colonel Pinky acquiesced begrudgingly after stressing his first allegiance to protecting the life of his soldiers. And was he still convinced of his conclusion after his rushed investigation of the case of the late Rachel Corrie only hours after his soldiers’ D-9R Caterpillars had crushed her to death that their conduct was flawless? To this he responded in the positive stating that Rachel had died through her own carelessness and willful interference on the side of the terrorists who had sent her to disrupt the soldiers’ orderly carrying out of their duty of leveling an area … In Colonel Pinky’s logic there seemed to be no place for doubt: things were either white or black. What he repeatedly asserted was that the whole area was a war zone and anyone present in it was as good as dead, “ben mavit — mortal” by definition. Rachel was on the side of the enemy and her death should have been a forgone conclusion. How could someone miss such simple logic? Pinky shook his head repeatedly in exasperation at the unbelievable stupidity of his doubters. And his soldiers were performing their duties in a war zone. That included the killing of enemy combatants or of their supporters and messengers, he seemed to imply. And yet his soldiers acted in a humane manner. They tried to give first aid to the accidentally injured woman. Pinky emphasized this ‘humane gesture’ that his soldiers extended to another victim whom they had shot dead as well … Indeed this was beyond the call of duty …”
Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard (Yesh Din) told the Turkel Commission at a hearing in Jerusalem today that “conducting an investigation is not tantamount to punishment”.
The Turkel Commission is investigating the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010, when Israeli Naval commandos intercepted Freedom Flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip and boarded the largest ship in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, killing eight men (one a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student) in the process.
Sfard, who is among other things the legal adviser for Yesh Din, advised the Turkel Commission that Israel must establish an extra-military mechanism to verify if the IDF + its advisers follow international law.
It was the second time, in months of intermittant hearings, that Israeli human rights organizations have addressed the panel.
The Turkel Commission was expected to conclude its work in November 2010, but it only issued the first part of its report on 23 January, which can be read online here.
Arguments made in Sfard’s testimony to the Turkel Commission, according to an English-language summary, state that:
“Since the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID) investigation is not opened in every case in which a Palestinian civilian is injured during military operations in the occupied territories, but rather is permitted to conduct a ‘command inquiry’ after which a decision will be made regarding whether to open an investigation.
Yesh Din’s Position is that:
1. A command inquiry, as the name suggests, is intended to draw operational lessons and is not a tool designed to collect evidence or to establish personal responsibility. Those who conduct the inquiry are not investigators but rather commanders and they do not possess appropriate training; what is said in the course of the inquiry is not admissible in court; the inquiry is confidential; and
for the most part accounts by those other than soldiers and officers are not heard.
2. The inquiry presents a significant and grave obstacle to the ability to conduct effective criminal investigations of shooting incidents in which Palestinian civilians have been injured. This is a violation of the obligation to investigate”.
The “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al-Arakib (Al-Araqib) in the northern Negev, inhabited by Bedouin Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel, was bulldozed and destroyed again this morning. It is being reported as the 9th demolition since this summer.
The stated purpose of the demolition is to make way for the planting, by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), of a large forest in the Negev.
Each time so far, residents have “rebuilt”, making tents and flimsy shelters with what remained from each previous demolition, and have pursued their protests with the support of Israeli activists.
The Jerusalem-based Alternative Information Center (AIC) has reported this morning that “A large number of Israeli security and special forces arrived at El Arakib at approximately 9.00 this morning and completely demolished the village. And unlike in previous demolitions, the Israeli authorities are currently clearing away all the debris from this morning’s demolition, leaving the villagers with nothing … bulldozers from the Jewish National Fund remain on the villager’s land, even though the demolitions are completed”. This news is reported here.
The AIC also reported that “On 1 September 2010, the Bedouin residents of the ‘unrecognized’ villages in Israel wrote an unprecedented appeal to US President Barak Obama, requesting his assistance in calling on Israel to recognize the Bedouin traditional ownership of land and to stop demolishing their homes – fundamental rights of all human beings”.
The report adds that the villagers have already begun to rebuild, again.
UPDATE: The AIC has updated its report with this information; “When the families of El Araqib tried to resist, the Israeli authorities shot tear gas and rubber coated bullets. Five children between the ages of 16-17 were injured. The families of El Araqib claim that today’s demolition and plowing are in preparation for the Jewish Arbor Day holiday of Tu Bishvat this coming Thursday (20 January), on which hundreds of people are expected to come by invitation of the JNF to plant trees in the area”…
BACKGROUND: In late August, Haaretz published a lengthy article looking into the background of Al-Arakib, which is posted here, which we previously wrote about here.
The Haaretz story reports that “The driving force behind the suit to reclaim the Bedouin lands is Nuri el-Okbi. He is a 68-year-old garage mechanic who was educated in Kibbutz Evron, studied auto mechanics and worked in two kibbutzim in the Negev, Shoval and Lahav, before opening a garage of his own in Lod. At the end of the 1970s, when he, like many of his Bedouin friends, realized that submissive cooperation with the state would not be productive and that there was no chance his claims to land would be honored, he established the Association for the Support and Protection of Bedouin Rights. He has since worked by various means, some of them quite creative, to stir attention and compel the state to address the protracted dispute over Bedouin lands in the Negev … [el-Okbi said that] the state is creating a false impression and frightening the Israelis [i.e., Israeli Jews] into believing that the Bedouin are trying to seize control of the whole Negev. ‘If the state will one day have to expropriate land for true public purposes, it can always do so, and justifiably. For example, a section of my land was taken for a road that connects Lehavim to Eshel Hanasi, and I did not ask the state for anything and did not interfere with the building of the road. But I will not agree to dispossession for its own sake and for nationalist reasons’ … According to El-Okbi, a tribal court that was recognized by the state operated in his father’s house, a stone structure whose ruins still exist. But the state was unimpressed by El-Okbi’s documents, and in the fall of 1951 informed the tribe that its land was being requisitioned by the army for six months. They were evacuated eastward, to the Hora area, near Be’er Sheva. The same story is told by many Bedouin in the Negev. Since then, nothing has happened. Everyone who tried to return to his land was removed from it and accused of trespassing. In the 1970s, the state encouraged the Bedouin to submit claims for their lands to the land regulation unit in the Justice Ministry. Members of the Al-Okbi tribe, like others, submitted claims – which have since been gathering dust in interdepartmental filing cabinets. ‘We were expelled by deceit from our land, under the auspices of the military government’, El-Okbi says. ‘That is theft. We are citizens of the State of Israel, inhabitants of this country for generations’. Since then, the members of the Al-Okbi tribe and other Bedouin have been living in a state of suspended animation. The state has amended most of the Turkish and British laws and adapted them to its needs, but in the case of the Bedouin and their lands, one Israeli government after another has effectively decided to do nothing, or at most to set up a committee, which is the same as doing nothing, but looks better’. In 2005, Nuri el-Okbi asked the land regulator to register his land in his name. In response, the state sued him for invading mawat land [n.b. – uncultivated wasteland] and expropriated areas. The land regulator referred the resulting legal entanglement to the Be’er Sheva District Court … Four years ago, El-Okbi established a one-person settlement on his land. With the aid of human rights activists in the Negev he erected a tent, moved in and made it his headquarters for managing his affairs and the wider Bedouin issues. Every few weeks, a large number of police arrive at his hill with heavy machinery, destroy the tent, remove him from the site by force and take him into detention. When he is released, he returns to the hill and erects a new tent. In February of this year he was arrested for an entire week. ‘The incarceration was intolerable … People are treated like animals. I was brought to court, charged with 40 criminal counts of invasion, uprooting trees and violations of an order. I was released on bail, conditionally, and ordered to stay away from Arakib. I must now stay with my brothers, near Shoket Junction [north of Be’er Sheva], the place to which we were taken in 1951’ …
The claimants, headed by Nuri el-Okbi, are represented by attorney Michael Sfard. ‘I took this case’, Sfard explains, ‘because it is a classic case of the state using its overwhelming force, based on 150-year-old Ottoman laws which it interprets creatively, in order to justify dispossession and infringe the few rights of a weakened, trampled, discriminated community’.”
Another tragedy: Jawaher Abu Rahmeh (Abu Rahmah) of Bil’in, in the occupied West Bank, died on this first day of the year in Ramallah Hospital from the effects of massive quantities of IDF-fired tear gas used to disperse demonstrators at the regular weekly Friday demonstration against the route of The Wall through their village lands.
Doctors at Ramallah Hospital struggled all night to save her life, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee [PSCC] reported by email and on their website.
UPDATE: A photo of Jawaher’s funeral procession on Saturday afternoon is posted on the Twitpic website here:
Apparently, Jawaher was mortally wounded from toxic poisoning due to one of the active chemical ingredients used in the tear gas. According to PSCC member Joseph Dana (Ibn Erza), here, Jawaher was unconscious upon arrival at the Ramallah Hospital, and did not respond to treatment.
The tear gas was fired after Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left the village, which he visited in a brief symbolic show of support. [Israeli Security coordinates and reportedly also accompanies Fayyad on his high-profile and well-publicized trips around the occupied West Bank.]
If only Fayyad had stayed longer, and actively participated in the Bil’in demonstration … maybe Jawaher would still be alive this afternoon.
The demonstrators moved out of the village, towards The Wall [which is in the form of a fence in that rural area], where they were met by volleys of tear gas.
The Israeli Supreme Court over three years ago ordered a change — which hasn’t yet happened — in the route of the Wall in Bil’in, where it cuts off and makes inaccessible large swathes of the village agricultural land, apparently in order to increase a “security” no-go zone around an adjacent Israeli settlement [is it Modi’in Illi? or Matityahu Mizrah, as Yossi Gurvitz reported here]. Whichever it is, this settlement is itself over the Green Line, and sitting squarely in the West Bank.
UPDATE: Here is information contained in an email just received from the Stop The Wall campaign — it does not supply a full answer, but it is still information: “At the beginning of the 1980s, the Matityahu settlement was built on a portion of Bil’in land and, at the beginning of the 1990s, another portion of land was confiscated for the Kiryat Sefer settlement. At the start of the millennium, yet another new settlement (Matityahu East) was built on Bil’in’s land. Modi’in Illit is now the most populated Israeli settlement in the West Bank outside of East Jerusalem, with a current population of almost 40,000. According to Israeli government plans, the target population for Modi’in Illit by the year 2020 is almost 150,000 residents”. The same email also notes that “In April 2004, Israel began construction of its illegal Apartheid Wall on the western side of the village. The existing route of the Wall isolates 1,980 dunums, or 49 per cent, of Bil’in’s land from the rest of the village by the Wall”.
Here, via a link on Joseph Dana’s website, is a video of yesterday’s demonstration in Bil’in [note the many yellow Fatah flags, the Israeli musicians, the Palestinian in a wheelchair with gas mask on, and the demonstrators carrying neatly rolled pieces of the chainlink fence]:
A report on the Israeli YNet website here says that “The IDF said that soldiers used tear gas to disperse Friday’s protest in a routine manner. The army added that an initial examination raises doubts regarding Abu Rahma’s [Abu Rahmah’s] cause of death as she initially sustained light wounds, was released from hospital and later died of her wounds in her home”.
The IDF yesterday accused all 250 “rioters” it said were in Bil’in of throwing stones. This makes it a “violent” demonstration, according to the Army’s usual discourse.
Activists present said yesterday that the accusation of stone-throwing was a “lie”. They maintain that their strategy is to pursue only non-violent resistance.
During the demonstration on Friday, however, Joseph Dana reported by Twitter that he believed Israeli provocateurs had infiltrated the protest to instigate problems… Here is his Tweet from Bil’in (which I retweeted at the time): “There are special forces inside the protest in bil’in. They are preparing an attack on the nonviolent demo from inside” 1:44 PM Dec 31st via Twitter for BlackBerry® Retweeted by you and 19 others
UPDATE: Joseph Dana has just reported on his website that “Small organized groups of protesters then spread across the Wall to try and implement the popular committee’s announcement that he last day of the decade will indeed also be the last day of the Wall on Bil’in’s land. 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”… This is posted here.
UPDATE: A later report on YNet said that “The IDF and the Civil Administration [n.b.-this is also part of the Israeli Army] have opened investigations into the death. IDF sources claimed surprise at the death, because, they said, there had been no exceptional use of tear gas – neither quantity nor type. Muhammad Abu Rahma [Abu Rahman], Jawaher’s uncle, spoke of her activities and the moment she was hurt. ‘She came to all the protests during the last five years’, he said. ‘Yesterday (Friday) they fired an unprecedented quantity of tear gas at us, and Jawaher was trapped in an area where there was a huge cloud of gas. She didn’t manage to get out, lost consciousness, and inhaled large amounts of gas. We managed to locate her only after some minutes, because the gas made it hard to find her’.” This report is posted here.
Jawaher was the sister of Bassam Abu Rahmah, who was killed within minutes of receiving a direct hit to the chest from an IDF-fired high-velocity tear gas cannister at a regular Friday anti-Wall demonstration on 17 April 2009.
Photo of Bassam Abu Rahmah published on the YNet website today:
At least two other members of the extended Abu Rahmah family have been shot and injured in demonstrations in recent years. As YNet reported, “Ashraf Abu Rahma [Abu Rahmah], was shot during a protest in Naalian [Nil’in] while being bound. Some six months ago a military court convicted Lieutenant-Colonel Omri Borberg, former commander of the Armored Corps’ 71st Battalion, of attempted threats and the soldier who shot Ashraf with illegal use of weapons. The two were also convicted of conduct unbecoming and their sentence will be given next week”.
And, at least two others members of the Abu Rahmah family have been detained and imprisoned for extended periods. Adeeb Abu Rahmah was released on 12 December. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, whose case has been publicly taken up by the European Union Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton (her statement called him a “human rights defender” whose rights to demonstrate peacefully have been suppressed), is still in jail although he has already served a one-year sentence imposed by a military court. Abdallah, one of the organizers of the weekly demonstrations held in Bil’in, was convicted of incitement (but not on charges of stone-throwing or possession of a weapon). Upon appeal, his sentence has been extended…
Activists present in Bil’in yesterday reported that about 1,000 people were there — more than the usual number. Earlier this year, in an effort to prevent the demonstrations, the IDF issued an order closing the village from 8 am to 8 pm every Friday. Only village residents are supposed to be in the area during those 12-hour periods.
There were many reports yesterday from activists on the spot that unusual quantities of tear gas were being used. Rubber bullets were also reportedly fired by the IDF at the protestors.
The PSCC is now reporting on its website that “Mohammed Khatib, a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee said this morning: ‘We are shocked and furious for Israel’s brutality, which once again cost the life of a peaceful demonstrator … In the dawn of a new decade, it is time for the world to ask Israel for accountability and to bring about an end to the occupation.” And, the PSCC website says that Attorney Michael Sfard, “who represents the village in an appeal against the Wall added: ‘The son was killed by a directly aimed projectile, the daughter choked in gas. Two brave protestors against a regime that kills the innocent and doesn’t investigate its criminals. We will not [be] quiet, we will not give up, we will not spare any effort until those responsible will be punished. And they will.” This is posted here.
Ma’an News Agency reported on Saturday that in the demonstration on Friday Israeli forces also hit “one teenager in the face and sending him to hospital”. No further details were given. This Ma’an report is posted here.
Israeli activists announced they would hold a demonstration protesting Friday’s army violence at 19h30 Saturday night near the Israeli Defense Ministry headquarters, or Kiriya, in Tel Aviv.
UPDATE: Activists and journalists on the scene of the demonstration are Tweeting that about 200 people are participating, and that police have declared the demonstration illegal, put up roadblocks, and are beating and arresting participants and “tossing people into vans” — all in downtown Tel Aviv… The protesters blocked Kaplan Street in front of the Kirya for over an hour. Reports indicate that 8 people were arrested — including Meretz former MK Mossi Raz, who was apparently treated roughly. A video of his arrest posted on the YNet website here shows Raz being accosted by surprise, and then grabbed by the arms and marched down a street before being stuffed into a van. He appears to try to reason with the police arresting him. Lisa Goldman, who was right on the scene, reported overnight on +972 Magazine here that “Raz says to the police, as they push and drag him toward the police van, ‘Did you see me resisting arrest? Did you’?!” Another report said he had been slapped by police forces. By 2 am, Joseph Dana sent out a Tweet announcing that all those arrested had been released.
UPDATE: Dana also reported that other demonstrators went to Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, and demonstrated outside the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, where they “returned” used tear gas cannisters from the Bil’in demonstrations. In an article posted on the website of +972 magazine, Dana wrote that “The tear gas used by the Israeli forces in Bil’in is manufactured by Combined Systems Inc.; a United States company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. This is the first protest where empty tear gas canisters have been returned to an ambassador’s home. Approximately twenty five Israeli protesters gathered in front of the residence of American ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham around 1am local time. The protesters ‘returned’ loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in the West Bank village of Bil’in in protest of the murder of Bil’in’s Jawaher Abu Rahmah. The demonstrators also made noise throughout the Ambassador’s neighborhood informing residents of how American military aid to Israel is being used to kill unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators in the West Bank … The action in front of the American ambassador’s residence completed a day of protest throughout Israel and the West Bank stemming from Abu Rahmah’s death”. This article is posted here.
UPDATE: On Sunday morning, when a Court hearing was held for the demonstrators arrested in Herzliya, it became clear that 11 people had been arrested overnight — “including two women over 60 years old”, Dana remarked — and jailed. Joseph Dana reported that police asked that they be kept in jail at least 7 more days, on charges of “possession of firearms” — i.e., the used tear gas cannisters tossed over the fence at the American Ambassador’s residence — but the Judge ordered an extension for 2 days, for holding an illegal demonstration and resisting arrest. The Court will reconvene on Tuesday.
Haaretz has published a lengthy look into the background of the situation at one of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, Al-Arakib, that has been demolished four times in recent weeks by Israeli bulldozers protected by Israeli forces, but documented by Israeli human rights activists, as we have reported previously here.
Here are some extended excerpts from the Haaretz reportage”
“In 2006, claims were filed in court for 1,350 dunams (338 acres ) of land in the name of the late Suleiman al-Okbi and his heirs. These cases are being heard simultaneously by three judges. The biggest claim, involving about 800 dunams – three plots in the village of Arakib and two more in the Zuheilika area – is being heard before Judge Sarah Dovrat in the Be’er Sheva District Court. The claimants, headed by Nuri el-Okbi, are represented by attorney Michael Sfard. “I took this case,” Sfard explains, “because it is a classic case of the state using its overwhelming force, based on 150-year-old Ottoman laws which it interprets creatively, in order to justify dispossession and infringe the few rights of a weakened, trampled, discriminated community.”
The driving force behind the suit to reclaim the Bedouin lands is Nuri el-Okbi. He is a 68-year-old garage mechanic who was educated in Kibbutz Evron, studied auto mechanics and worked in two kibbutzim in the Negev, Shoval and Lahav, before opening a garage of his own in Lod. At the end of the 1970s, when he, like many of his Bedouin friends, realized that submissive cooperation with the state would not be productive and that there was no chance his claims to land would be honored, he established the Association for the Support and Protection of Bedouin Rights. He has since worked by various means, some of them quite creative, to stir attention and compel the state to address the protracted dispute over
Bedouin lands in the Negev.
“There are 13 million dunams of land in the Negev,” El-Okbi says. “Of that, the Bedouin claimed 800,000 dunams. As of now, the state has reached agreements with the Bedouin for 200,000 dunams, so that less than 600,000 dunams remain in dispute. But the state is creating a false impression and frightening the Israelis [i.e., Israeli Jews] into believing that the Bedouin are trying to seize control of the whole Negev. If the state will one day have to expropriate land for true public purposes, it can always do so, and justifiably. For example, a section of my land was taken for a road that connects Lehavim to Eshel Hanasi, and I did not ask the state for anything and did not interfere with the building of the road. But I will not agree to dispossession for its own sake and for nationalist reasons.”
The Bedouin brought as an expert witness Prof. Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer and town planner from Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. The state is putting forward two contradictory arguments: on the one hand that the land was mawat land [n.b. – uncultivated wasteland], and on the other that it has been expropriated. Logic says that if it was mawat it did not have to be expropriated, and if it was expropriated, perhaps it was not mawat. The main witness for the defense is Prof. Ruth Kark, an expert in historical geography and the Middle East from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The summations are scheduled for September 30. In the meantime, the Bedouin claimants have submitted a special request to call another witness on their behalf, Dr. Yitzhak (Clinton ) Bailey, an expert in Bedouin law and ways of life and the author of “Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev” (Yale University Press, 2009 ). In the meantime, Kark and Yiftachel, two learned scholars, have looked at the same maps, read the same 19th-century books by scholars and travelers to Palestine, but each offers a completely different interpretation of the material. Kark maintains that the Bedouin have no attachment to the land and that it is impossible to prove they ever did; Yiftachel says it is as clear as day that the Bedouin have owned the land for untold generations.
Oren Yiftachel did his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Perth, Australia, majoring in urban studies with reference to geography, political science and economics. He began his Ph.D. thesis – an analysis of the judaization of the Galilee – in Australia and completed it at the Technion in Haifa. In the early 1990s, Prof. Avishay Braverman [n.b. – he is now Israel’s Minister of Minority Affairs , appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu], who was then president of Ben-Gurion University, issued a tender for a young academic to join the university’s faculty and Yiftachel applied and won. Since then he has been involved in social issues in the Negev, such as public housing in what are known as ‘development towns’, built in the 1950s to house new immigrants; social services in Be’er Sheva and Mizrahi identity (referring to Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin ). ‘I am an involved researcher’, he says. ‘The human perspective always interests me. Gradually I got into the Bedouin issue. I believe that knowledge has to be used not only for academic publications, but also translated into something that can improve the society. The eros that moves me is the passion for change, as Herbert Marcuse said’. Yiftachel is [also] co-chair of B’Tselem, which monitors human rights in the occupied territories, and an adviser to the regional council of unrecognized (by the state) Bedouin villages. He is testifying pro bono in the El-Okbi trial.
Prof. Kark does not support a change in the situation. In other countries, too, she says, the Bedouin get no special treatment. ‘For the past five-six years I have been researching the subject of Bedouin land in the Middle East, examining how other countries address the question of their lands … According to this research there are two groups of countries. Those whose leaders are of Bedouin origin, such as Saudi Arabia, which treat the Bedouin slightly more tolerantly; and countries like Syria, which show no great tolerance for them. There is much talk today in the international community about indigenous peoples and their rights. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are mentioned in this regard. But in none of those countries do the natives have private land rights of the kind that some people want to see here. They have collective rights of fishing, hunting, use of reservations for all kinds of needs. But the Bedouin cannot be viewed as indigenous … because they have not been in the Negev since ancient times. The majority of the Bedouin have been in this country for less than 200 years. They do not originate in the Negev. The Bedouin are not defined as indigenous peoples in the other Middle Eastern countries, either, so why should it be different only in Israel? Why is it that only in Israel all the human rights fighters and activists claim that they are indigenous? There is something terribly anti-Israeli about this’ …
Haaretz is reporting today that the IDF’s Military Advocate General (MAG) Avichai Mandelblit has just ordered the army’s criminal investigations unit to investigate the death of Basem Abu Rahmeh (Bassem Abu Rahma), one of the leaders of a protest movement against Israel’s Wall in Bil’in village west of Ramallah.
Basem Abu Rahmeh was killed in April 2009, minutes after being hit in the chest by a high-velocity tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops.
The Israeli military had previously decided not to investigate his death.
Though he was standing on a hill, and was clearly not one of the few protesters who is down by the fence, challenging the Israeli Border Police and/or IDF soldiers, Basem was shot in the chest by a new type of hardened, extended range, high-velocity (“rocket”) tear-gas canister, which goes straight to the target instead of arching up into the air first. It is is said to move as fast as live ammunition. He died minutes later.
According to one report, here, “Seconds before the shooting, Basem had been pleading with the soldiers to hold their fire, shouting ‘we are in a nonviolent protest, there are kids and internationals’.” The same source noted that “The teargas projectile in question is the same kind that critically injured American national Tristan Anderson at a demonstration in Ni’lin on the 13th of March, after he was hit in the head from approx. 60 meters”.
According to Haaretz, “The Military Advocate General had refused to open a criminal investigation into the death of Bassem Abu-Rahma, but on Monday changed its mind after expert testimony showed that the tear gas canister was aimed directly at Abu-Rahma and was fired in violation of military orders”…
In response to an appeal, the Israeli District Attorney has reportedly today ordered the police to reopen their investigation into the shooting that critically injured American activist, Tristan Anderson, during an anti-Wall protest in the West Bank village of Ni’ilin on March 13th, 2009.
Anderson was hit in the face by a high velocity tear gas projectile shot by an Israeli Border Police officer. He was hospitalized for more than a year in Israel, and has just returned to the U.S. with irreversible brain damage.
The case was closed earlier this year on grounds of “lack of wrongdoing”.
The appeal, filed on behalf of Anderson’s family by attorneys Michael Sfard and Ido Tamari, argued that an independent investigation showed that the original police investigation was “fundamentally flawed and negligent”.
UPDATE: On 24 June, Israel’s YNet website posted an AP story reporting that “On Thursday, Justice Ministry spokesman Ron Roman said police have been asked to investigate selected aspects of the case”. This is posted here.
Amnesty International reported today that “Israeli nuclear whistleblower” Mordechai Vanunu has now “been placed in an isolated cell, ostensibly to protect him from other prisoners”.
Vanunu, who served 18 years in Israeli jail for giving for publication photos he took while working at Israel’s Dimona Nuclear Reactor facility, was recently returned to jail on a three-month sentence for refusing to carry out community service in a Jewish area of Jerusalem — a penalty imposed on him for violating conditions imposed when he was released from jail in April 2004 (including a ban on talking to “foreigners”, or approaching embassies or consulates).
Apparently, Vanunu’s isolated cell is in a “dangerous criminals section”. He is being held in Ayalon Prison in central Israel.