Archive for the ‘Nakba and Right of Return’ Category

In its increasingly rabid efforts to consolidate control of traditionally Arab-East Jerusalem, Israel this week moved to suppress Palestinian cultural activities associated with the city being declared the capital of Arab culture for 2009.

On 19 March heavily armed paramilitary police violently dispersed a meeting at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, confiscating posters, leaflets, placards and computers.

Israeli police also raided schools, social clubs and community centres to foil activities celebrating Arab culture in the occupied city which Israel considers its “united and undivided capital”.

Several organisers, including East Jerusalem lawmaker Hatem Abdel-Qader, were arrested on charges of disturbing peace.

Israeli security forces cordoned off East Jerusalem by deploying soldiers at all entrances to the city. They turned back visitors, including several delegations from Arabian Gulf states, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Frustrated by the draconian Israeli measures the Palestinian Authority, the main organiser of the festivities, decided to transfer the main event to Bethlehem, a few kilometres south of Jerusalem. Hundreds of PA officials, foreign dignitaries, religious leaders and diplomats arrived on 21 March to listen to a speech by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas reasserted his commitment to establishing a viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, on all Palestinian land Israel occupied in 1967.

“We will continue to reject the Israeli policy of Judaising Al-Quds Al-Sharif [Jerusalem]. And we will not hold peace talks with any Israeli government that rejects the two-state solution,” said Abbas, alluding to Israeli designate-Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinian leader, who recited a few verses of the Quran pertaining to the status of Jerusalem in Islam, pointed out that Jerusalem was the key to peace in the region and the world, saying that peace will not prevail unless and until the Israeli occupation ends completely.

Addressing the Arab-Muslim world, Abbas said: “I urge our Arab and Muslim brothers to come to the rescue of Jerusalem, protect Jerusalem from the act of rape to which the city is being subjected… Jerusalem is being Judaised by force, its Arab identity is being obliterated, its history is being falsified, its people are being oppressed and tormented. Its homes are being demolished. Jerusalem is the beginning and the end, it is the ultimate address of peace. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”

Addressing Israel, Abbas said: “Peace can’t be made through the building and expansion of settlements, brute force and military insolence. What happened in Gaza recently reflects the Israeli mindset, and with such a mindset, it is clear there can be no peace.”

Abbas’s desperate but defiant words epitomised the situation across the occupied Palestinian territories but especially in Jerusalem, where Israel is planning to destroy hundreds of Palestinian homes.

The planned destruction of the Silwan neighbourhood in the heart of the city has been described by PA officials as “demographic decapitation”.

“They are indulging in ethnic cleansing in broad daylight. They are chasing Palestinians out of their homes. They are trying to decapitate Arab existence in East Jerusalem, step by step, home by home, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, while they continue to lie about their desire for peace,” said Rafiq Al-Husseini, a senior aide to Abbas.

Asked by Al-Ahram Weekly what the PA was going to do to prevent Israel from carrying out the wholesale destruction of the Silwan neighbourhood [the goal is to build a park and recreational facilities for Jewish settlers in the surrounding areas], Al-Husseini said the PA would try to mobilise the international community to stop Israeli crimes.

During her recent visit to the occupied territories US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the planned demolitions as “unhelpful” and “incompatible with Israeli commitments under the roadmap”.

Israeli officials were unimpressed by Clinton’s warnings. Jerusalem’s Jewish mayor, Nir Barkat, described her words as “a lot of air”, claiming she had been misled by the Palestinians.

Barkat, an extreme right-winger, vowed to destroy Arab homes en masse, saying that “what we do in our capital is none of America’s business”.

Israeli efforts to obliterate the Arab-Islamic-Christian identity of Jerusalem began immediately after 1967. Four days after seizing the city Israeli army bulldozers razed the Maghariba and Sharaf neighbourhoods. The Palestinian inhabitants of the two neighbourhoods were expelled at gunpoint. Two mosques, two religious schools or Zawiyas and 135 houses were destroyed.

Several months later Israel seized the Harat Al-Maghariba for “public use” and built a large plaza in front of the Buraq — the Wailing or Western — Wall. The heart of Al-Maghariba and the adjacent, smaller Harat Al-Sharaf were both Islamic Waqf (religious endowment) properties dating back to the time of Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi (Saladin).

According to Palestinian sources Israel has demolished as many as 700 homes in the old town alone, forcing many inhabitants to seek shelter outside the boundaries of the city, e.g. in the West Bank.

Since 1967 Israel has confiscated 34 per cent of East Jerusalem for “public benefit” and designated 44 per cent of the occupied Arab town as “green space”. Nine per cent of the city was confiscated for the purpose of building settlements, leaving only 13 per cent of the original, built up Arab area, for the Palestinians.

In addition Israel has adopted a number of aggressive measures aimed at forcing the town’s Arab inhabitants to leave. These include imposing excessive taxes on real estate, including homes, withholding vital municipal services from Jerusalem’s Arabs in order to force them to relocate and denying residency rights to as many as 20,000 Arabs living in the city.

The Israeli authorities have continued to deny Arabs building licences, exacerbating a housing crisis in the Old Town and surrounding Arab neighbourhoods.

The systematic destruction by Israeli municipal authority of “illegally-built” homes pushed thousands of Jerusalemites to the brink of despair.

Adnan Al-Husseini, the nominal Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, described Israeli measures in Jerusalem as a “full fledged demographic war”.

“The Israeli goal is very clear. It is to force as many Palestinians as possible to leave the city and sell their property to Jewish interests.”

Al-Husseini said Israel was following a variety of tactics to achieve its strategy, including psychological and economic pressure, heavy taxation, physical coercion and harassment and financial incentives to force Arabs to sell their properties. Jerusalemite Arabs were clinging to their city, he said, despite Israeli efforts to curtail Arab demographic growth.

The Palestinian population of Jerusalem has grown extensively since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. Today, the total population of Jerusalem (East and West) is estimated at 720,000, including 475,000 Jews (66 per cent) and 245,000 Arabs (34 per cent).

As many as 260,000 of the Jewish population of the city (54.7 per cent) are living in 34 colonies established in and around East Jerusalem since 1967.

Maali Adomim, Pisgat Zeev, Har Homa and Gush Itzion are among the largest of these settlements.

Israeli demographic experts predict the Palestinian population will make up 40 per cent of the town’s total population by the 2020. It is to forestall this possibility that Israel has been making frantic efforts to confiscate more Arab land in order to build Jewish settler units.

According Israeli sources tenders for building more than 25,000 settler units have been issued since the Annapolis conference in 2007.

Earlier this month the Israeli group Peace Now revealed that the Israeli government was planning to build more than 73,000 units in the occupied West Bank, most of them in existing settlements surrounding East Jerusalem.

The group, which monitors settlement expansion in the West Bank, said the new plans would lead to the doubling of the Israeli settler population and scuttle any prospects for the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Among the most dangerous and explosive aspects of Israel’s efforts to Judaise East Jerusalem is the ongoing excavation and digging beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

According to Waqf officials, digging beneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque is seriously undermining the foundations of Islamic shrine and the nearby Dome of the Rock.

Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, head of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, warned that it was only a matter of time before a “major disaster” occurred as a result of Israeli diggings in the vicinity of the Haram Al-Sharif (Al-Aqsa Mosque) esplanade. He accused the Israeli authorities of constructing subterranean tunnels beneath Islamic holy places without any consideration for the safety of Islamic shrines. “I can say without the slightest exaggeration that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is facing the danger of collapse as a result of these excavations.”

Islamic Palestinian leader Raed Salah was even more dramatic in voicing his concerns. “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is facing urgent danger. A medium earthquake could cause the collapse of the mosque.”

Salah was arrested by Israeli police on Monday, 23 March, charged with “disturbing the peace” and “inciting against Israel”.

In recent years the Israeli security authorities have allowed extremist Jews to enter the Haram esplanade and perform Jewish prayers and other rituals.

In 1967 the Israeli army chief rabbi, General Shlomo Goren, tried to convince a commander of the conquering forces, Uzi Narkis, to blow up the mosque “once and for all”.

The story was told by Narkis shortly before his death in 1997 and quoted by Avi Shlaim, an Israeli historian, in The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

“There was an atmosphere of spiritual elation. Paratroopers were milling around in a daze. Narkis was standing for a moment on his own, deep in thought, when Goren went up to him and said ‘Uzi, this is the time to put a hundred kilograms of explosives in the Mosque of Omar and that’s it, we’ll get rid of it once and for all.’ Narkis said ‘Rabbi, stop it.” Goren then said to him, ‘Uzi, you’ll enter the history books by virtue of this deed.’ Narkis replied, ‘I have already recorded my name in the pages of the history of Jerusalem.’ Goren walked away without saying another word.”

Two weeks later the Israeli occupation army seized the key to one of the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Moroccan Gate).

Numerous efforts by Jewish extremists to destroy the Islamic shrine have been reported over the years.

Azmi Bishara analyses the direction of Washington’s diplomatic offensive across the region

We had thought that the train of events from the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to its invasion of Gaza, the impression these events created in people’s minds and the growing disillusionment with forces favouring the current settlement process offered sufficient inspiration and impetus to revise official Arab approaches to that process. However, one remains compelled to wonder just how prepared the forces opposed to this approach are to seize the historic opportunity to put an end to that process, rather than to succumb to the current drive to contain them. After all, the US and its allies in the East and West are haunted by this very spectre — the fear of losing the settlement legacy — for which reason they have been waging a sustained diplomatic assault on the region since the Sharm El-Sheikh conference on the reconstruction of Gaza.

The previous US administration had come to the conclusion that the Palestinian leadership, alone, was incapable of reaching a permanent deal with Israel on Israeli conditions, or of keeping the internal Palestinian situation under control. It therefore encouraged its Arab allies to play a more active and determined role in supporting the current negotiating process, strengthening the PA security agencies and countering the resistance in Palestine and elsewhere. Although the allies did as asked, in Annapolis and later, Washington did not take their interests into account. Instead it drove them into a state of permanent self-defence in the face of their own public opinion. Take, for example, their stance during the war on Lebanon in 2006, their incomprehensible boycott of the Damascus summit in March 2008, their complicity in the siege on Gaza, and their position during the summit on Gaza in Doha. To every season its men and its governments: in these regimes there emerged politicians, intellectuals and media figures of the sort that are ready to take part in the “struggle” to resist the resistance, alongside Israel and the US. Of course, the structure and culture of these regimes and their adherents is totally at odds with the concept of resistance and its corollaries of self-sacrifice and risk. They are not constructed to struggle, whether for themselves or for the US and Israel. This is borne out by the failure of the coup against the national unity government and the elected legislative majority in Gaza and in Beirut in March 2008. It is this difference that distinguishes them, for example, from rightwing Lebanese forces of the past. These were fascist forces engaged in a “struggle” against the Palestinian resistance, sectarian militias prepared not only to fight and commit massacres, like the current anti-resistance forces, but also to die for the sake of a sectarian cause, as did fascist forces in Italy, and in Spain during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. Such dedication is no more. It has been replaced by a type of commitment that has no compunction when it comes to committing crimes but speaks the language of rent and deference to money and material gain. In the latest phase of dialogue and containment on which the Obama administration has embarked these forces, too, find themselves in crisis.

***

The new US administration has stated repeatedly that it views the region from a perspective of Israeli security when it comes to Iran and uranium enrichment, as well as to resistance against Israeli occupation. It believes that Israel’s right to security is not connected with ending the occupation, that it has the right to be an occupying power and at the same time be safe and that it is the Arabs’ duty to sit quietly in their camps, under the conditions of the occupation and the economic boycott, watch the news bulletins on negotiations and rejoice at the Mitchell appointment.

The new administration has also decided that the PA proved itself by keeping the security situation in the West Bank under control during the Gaza crisis. Israel thinks likewise, regarding this as its first real harvest from the Oslo process, a vindication of its earlier claims that Arafat was never serious about security coordination. The nature of the Palestinian leadership has, indeed, changed since the assassination of Arafat. The nature and creed of the PA and the level of coordination of its agencies has changed since Israel stopped being the enemy and became a true partner. In US and Israeli eyes, this type of PA merits support. However, such support stops way short of meeting the demands of the Palestinian people and remains confined to financial and security support, which is what is meant by the term “capacity building”.

The new administration in Washington maintains that support for the PA leadership goes hand in hand with weakening the resistance axis. This has conditions:

– Taking the interests of subordinate Arab states into account.

– Holding talks with Iran to convince it to halt uranium refinement activities while seriously hinting at sanctions before resorting to the military option. This requires building an Arab-Israeli front against Iran which, in turn, requires talking with those Arab countries that “fall under Iranian influence” and, perhaps, taking these countries’ interests into account to a level worked out beforehand.

– In order to identify the interests of these countries within the framework of a cooperative arrangement against Iran for the sake of Israel and to resolve the Palestinian problem comprehensively a new regional roadmap must be drawn up.

– This regional roadmap would support and fortify the already existing Palestinian “roadmap” but it would be much broader and comprehensive, taking into account the interests of countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria in exchange, obviously, for abandoning Iran, and the resistance movements in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq (with special consideration paid to the existing reality in Lebanon).

The region can thus expect a new “roadmap” for years to come, whether or not it appears in text form or under this title. This is where Washington’s actions are meant to lead us, not to a settlement, permanent or otherwise, or to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This is what will keep us occupied for a long time unless something momentous intervenes, such as a resurgence of the resistance or another war.

***

In order to flesh out the hypothesis outlined above I will turn to a critical discussion of the lecture delivered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry at the Saban Centre of the Brookings Institute on 4 March 2009. Senator Kerry is a former presidential candidate and a leading Democratic Party figure who came out early in favour of Barack Obama. His lecture followed a recent visit to the region, covering Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. By way of introduction, I will say that the new administration in Washington has taken on board the conclusions of the Baker-Hamilton committee, supported by the Defense Secretary Bill Gates, which is precisely why the Obama administration kept him on in this capacity. The US establishment has absorbed everything that needed to be deduced from the failure of the war policy that the Bush-Cheney administration pursued throughout Bush’s two terms, which is why that establishment backed Obama. Let us turn now to Kerry’s conclusions following his visit to the region.

In his opening remarks Kerry welcomed the election of Obama as an extraordinary chance to signal a new approach to the region because of his pragmatism and “willingness to listen and lead”. He pauses to recount the “emotional” impact of the visit, which effects are presented with carefully calculated selectivity. He felt compassion for the suffering of the settlement village of Sderot over the past eight years and also “deeply moved” by the sight of “little Palestinian girls playing in the rubble” where once an American school stood. (I must admit I have a problem with liberals who want to show how fair and even-handed they are. They make the victims look nice when they want to support some of them and a little girl playing in the ruins of a bombarded American school serves the purpose admirably. As for the occupying power, it is taken for granted in their camp that it is the real victim for perpetuity.). He then proceeds to enumerate four causes for hope, in spite of the election of Netanyahu and all the wars. As we shall see, he does not hope for a solution but he is very optimistic about reaching a new “roadmap”.

The first cause is a “tectonic shift in Middle East geopolitics”.

“The rise of Iran has created an unprecedented willingness among the moderate Arab nations to work with Israel. This re-alignment can help lay the groundwork for progress towards peace.”

Otherwise read, strategic cooperation between the Arabs and Israel precedes peace, which begs the question as to why Israel would need to work towards a solution with the Arabs when it is already cooperating strategically with them against a common enemy.

Second, he says, “the Arab Peace Initiative has emerged as the basis on which to build a Regional Road Map that enlists moderate Arab nations to play a more active role in peacemaking”.

Third, reiterating what every mid-level Israeli Labour Party activist has said and Olmert himself stated in his farewell interview with Yediot Aharanot of 13 October 2008, Kerry holds that “the outlines of a final status agreement are in fact clearer than ever”. In his opinion, the challenge is how to get there and his answer is “to move simultaneously on capacity-building in the West Bank and final status talks”. One can fail but notice that as clear as the outlines of a final status agreement are said to be, Kerry does not venture to spell them out. This is largely because to him the road to get there is what counts. Back to the process is everything, the goal nothing. Life is one never ending negotiation.

The fourth cause was the election of Obama. His administration presents an opportunity for “charting a new path that will empower moderates on all sides who have been lacking political cover and losing political ground”. This was intended as a criticism of the Bush administration which showed no appreciation for the particular circumstances and interests of the Arab “moderates” and failed to provide them sufficient support, thereby keeping them under constant pressure and in perpetual conflict with their political environment.

Somehow the Arab position has done a 360 degree turn. There was a time when the Arab nationalist position held that to separate the Palestinian cause from its Arab hinterland was to collude with designs against the cause. The cause was, in fact, severed from its greater Arab nationalist dimension in Camp David, and even more so in Oslo; however, the Palestinian leadership was incapable of reaching a solution with Israel. Then suddenly it was realised that the cause would have to be restored to its regional dimensions, not because of pressures from Arab nationalism but because Arab nationalism no longer presented a threat, and also because the official Arab order had long since abandoned any Arab nationalist dimension to the Palestinian cause. Now that is a complete reversal. This is why Kerry can be so confident in his assertion that the Palestinian cause was a regional problem that needed to be handled in a plan that covered other regional influential issues, contrary to the customary tactic of dealing with these issues separately. The approach is possible in Kerry’s view because, “Whereas once the Arab world voted unanimously for the three no’s — no dialogue with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no peace with Israel — there are now three very different no’s which dominate many discussions in the region: no Iranian nukes, no Iranian meddling, and no Iranian hegemony”. Then he adds, quite explicitly, that because of this perceived common threat, the moderate Arab states and Israel “are now cooperating in ways that were unimaginable just a couple of years ago”.

Kerry goes on to say that the Bush administration drew many red lines that it could not enforce (he was referring to that administration’s prohibitions against talking with Iran and Syria, among others). The Obama administration would change that. It would focus on what can be done and leave side issues alone. The regional aim is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. Therefore, without foregoing the military option, we must move beyond the old red lines. According to the senator this entails talking with Iran about mutual interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and bringing Iran back into the international fold with recognition of its regional role in exchange for halting uranium refinement activities. There would also be talks with Syria, with the purpose of isolating and weakening Iran and its instruments such as Hezbollah. China and Russia would naturally be asked to help, though Kerry does not spell out how and what the US would have to pay in return. Russia has demands and interests extending from the Baltic in the north to Serbia in the south, and around the Caspian and Black Seas. China has an equally vast scope of interests. Would the US alienate and sacrifice the interests of its other allies in the world in order to please Russia and China, and all this in order to isolate and bring Iran to heel for the sake of Israel? Kerry did not bother following through on the questions his proposals beg.

***

Kerry supports dialogue with Syria and believes its goals realistic. Syria has negotiated with Israel before, in the face of Tehran’s objections, he observes. Of course Syria will try to “play both sides of the fence for as long as it can” but ultimately “I think that President Assad understands that, as a secular Arab country with a Sunni majority population, Syria’s long-term interests lie not with Iran but with its Sunni neighbours and the West”.

But if this is where Syrian interests lay what has been keeping it from this realisation for so long? Could it be that Kerry had not made it as plain to Damascus as his lesson to it on the Syrian demographic composition? Or could it be that there is a meeting between Syrian national security and the concept of Arab national security that the policies of the US, Israel and their Arab allies helped enhance? That question too is left unanswered. But this is why the US has not opposed the attempt on the part of its Arab allies to embrace Syria and avoid angering it.

However, this is not enough. There are Syrian and Arab demands and interests that the US and Israel lack the flexibility to meet. But Syria apparently will be glad just to talk. It will play the game because it has a political and economic interest in breaking the blockade against it. Of course, there might be some among Syria’s ruling elite, though not yet in the highest decision making echelons, who have more to gain from dialogue. Kerry is aware of this, which is why he stressed linking Syria to the Western economy.

“How do we begin?” Kerry asks midway through his speech. The starting point is to encourage the Arabs to adhere to the Arab Peace Initiative which “bold step never received the focus it deserved when the Saudi King Abdallah proposed it in 2002”.

He sums up this initiative as essentially based on the formula of land in exchange for Arab recognition and normalisation with Israel. However, like Israel he still gives normalisation precedence over peace. For example, although there is the already existing Quartet “roadmap” for the Palestinian track, there is a need for a “regional roadmap” that will “require a sustained multilateral effort like the one that followed the first Madrid Conference in 1991”.

It is odd how everyone likes to recall that burst of activity, even though it brought the Arabs no closer to the solution of their demands. The “moderates” will also, according to Kerry’s vision, be expected to pressure Hamas into halting missile fire from Gaza and agreeing to a national unity government that conforms to the Quartet’s set conditions. In addition, Egypt has the task of stopping arms smuggling across its borders while Jordan will continue to train PA security agencies.

The only measure that Kerry offers the Arab allies in exchange for everything they are expected to do is to demonstrate “with actions rather than words, that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank”. At least, for once, there is some recognition that to all previous US administrations the position that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace was, indeed, mere words.

Perhaps the Kerry vision, as presented in his Saban Centre lecture, offers some insight into the current American diplomatic offensive in the region and some of the current Arab reconciliation movements. However, this leads us back to the question we asked at the beginning of this article. What are the supporters of a reconsideration of the entire settlement process doing at this moment? Do they have a strategy to counter the US diplomatic offensive? Until very recently conditions were favourable to them rather than to the pro-settlement process forces.

2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel and the simultaneous destruction of Palestinian civil and political society. The two events are as intimately connected as two sides of a coin, yet each side offers a distinct narrative that remains at odds with the accounts of the other. Feelings of belonging and claims of ownership irrevocably separate, yet permanently connect Arabs and Jews in their struggle for a land that is called Palestine by one group and Israel by the other.  Each of the two cultures wants to hold on to every inch of land claimed by its opponent. The Palestinians strongly feel that they belong to the land, while the Israelis insist that the land belongs to them.

The narrative of displacement and experiences in exile of the modern Palestinians remains relatively unfamiliar to most Westerners and especially to the majority of Americans. By contrast, Israel’s narrative of rebuilding a homeland for the Jews has been deeply imbedded in the Western psyche and continues to dominate the political discourse regarding the Palestinian / Israeli conflict. The documentary films we create at SittingCrow Productions explore the personal narratives and artistic expressions of Palestinians. 

Some of the films that we have completed, as well as others that are currently in progress, present the memories of a small group of men and women selected from an aging and rapidly dying generation of Palestinians who directly experienced the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of their homeland in 1948. They are referred to as the generation of the Nakba (the Arabic term for the Great Catastrophe that began in 1948) and are the men and women who directly experienced the destruction of Palestinian civil and political society as well as the ethnic cleansing of 85% of the Palestinian population from the land that became Israel in 1948. The survivors of that generation are now in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Many still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and neighboring Arab countries, while those who were not expelled in 1948, or managed to return to their homeland, live in Israel as Arab citizens of the Jewish State. Their stories have seldom been recorded, and their experiences and memories of life before, during and since 1948 are rapidly disappearing as that generation ages and dies.

Other films that we are producing at SittingCrow look at Palestinian men and women who use art, poetry and dance as a way to rejuvenate the traditions of a shattered culture and to revive a history that has long been suppressed and denied. Their art bridges the shattered past of Palestinian society with the tragic present of life under occupation and reaches for a desired future of peaceful existence. 

During periods of extended political conflict, art can often be the best way for a society under the stress of cultural annihilation to sustain itself, critique its attackers and project its historical identity to the world. This is very much the case in Palestine today, where art is seen and used as a tool of cultural survival. Driven by a desire to persevere as a historical culture in the face of an extended military occupation, the visual, literary and performing arts are flourishing in complex ways in Palestine. 

The recent and current projects at SittingCrow Productions are a continuation of the focus on displacement, exile and identity construction that have been at the core of my artwork over the past two and a half decades. During the past two years, those topics have been developed and presented in the form of documentary films. Prior to that, these issues were explored and continue to be presented in the form of paintings and drawings. My name is John Halaka, I am a Visual Artist and the founder, creative director and producer of the work that comes out of SittingCrow Productions. I am also a Professor of Visual Arts at the University of San Diego. As an activist artist, my creative work serves as a vehicle for meditation on personal, cultural and political concerns. I present personal narratives in my films and create allegorical images in my paintings in order to raise questions, for myself as well as for the viewer, about some of the pressing issues of our time. Our goal at SittingCrow is to present the viewer with complex and seldom heard narratives that compel her/him to reflect on their relationship to the cultural, political, historical and emotional issues presented.

Our films are designed and intended to be screened at community forums, universities, schools and religious centers, where they can provoke discussion and reflection regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. If you would like to screen one of our films and invite me lead a discussion regarding the past, present and future of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as well as our relationship to that conflict, you can e-mail me at sittingcrowproductions@gmail.com or call me at 619.260.4107. I welcome your comments and feedback regarding the films and this website. Please feel free to email me with your comments and questions.

Our projects at SittingCrow Productions have been funded through small grants and community contributions. We greatly welcome and need financial support from the community. If you would lilke to contribute to one of our current productions please contact me at sittingcrowproductions@gmail.com or call me at 619.260.4107.

For additional information about my painting and drawing projects please visit my other web site at www.johnhalaka.com.

Thank you for your interest and your support.

John Halaka
SittingCrow Productions

 

This petition for commitment was published a few years ago. It is as relevant today as ever.

Palestinians are the Priority

an open statement of commitment to the Palestinian Solidarity Cause
There are individuals within the Palestinian solidarity movement seeking to create divisions by:

* deliberately shifting focus away from Israel’s war crimes and its supremacist Zionist ideology;

* imposing unilateral agendas by presenting both sides as victims;

* sabotaging service to the just cause of the Palestinian people;

* ignoring the issue of right of return for the Palestinians;

* utilising the platform of the Palestinian discourse to argue about anti-Semitism, which is not a Palestinian problem and not created by Arabs.

Our primary and single concern is solidarity with the Palestinian people.

As ethical human beings we consider it our obligation to:

* do all we can to allow the information to be diffused as widely and as quickly as possible;

* ensure the argument of the oppression and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people stays in the forefront;

* present as clear and honest a picture as possible of the meaning of Zionism and the Jewish State;

* to cross the divide and to unite in our war against the Zionist crime.

We accept and believe in equality of all persons, regardless of their race, religion, political or other orientation. We believe that full and unconditional support of the Palestinian people is a condition sine qua non for activists to adopt, and we recognise that their attachment to their homeland is a fundamental and unalterable condition. To that end we advocate for one unified State with equal rights for all its citizens.

Any attempts at censoring reasoned critique of Israel and Zionism must be refused a priori, as it is in conflict with the goal of seeking to protect and support the Palestinian people – as their empowerment is the only way to peaceful coexistence for all the populations of the Middle East. Any attempts at dictating what the Palestinians should do will be looked upon with great circumspection and suspicion. Palestinians themselves wish to construct their own future and are not pawns to be shifted on the chessboard.

We demand free speech for sincere critics of Zionism and call for an end to campaigns created in order to ostracise its most vocal critics. Smear campaigns will not be tolerated, as we recognise that they are the instrument of choice of Zionists, and detract energy from our work. We will not hesitate to expose the instrumental usage of them, no matter the claimed principles of those who are engaged in creating such campaigns. On the other hand, open dialogue and reasoned argumentation is welcome and greatly encouraged as a tool to understanding and collaboration.

The indigenous people of Palestine are facing extermination by the hands of the Jewish State, and the world keeps silent. The sooner we draw public attention to Israel’s needless wanton destruction, the sooner we can do away with this horrifying, insufferable situation.

If you agree with this statement, please sign the petition.

http://www.petitiononline.com/grosveno/petition.html

WRITTEN BY Franklin Lamb  

Ain el Helwe Palestinian Refugee Camp, Lebanon

“Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza.” – Shimon Peres to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, 2/18/09. 

“You take my water. Burn my Olive Trees. Destroy my house. Take my job. Steal my Land. Imprison my Mother. Bomb my country. Starve us all. Humiliate us all. But I am to blame:  I shot a rocket back”. – Sign carried near Hyde Park Corner during a demonstration in London on 2/15/09 by a Member of the British Parliament.

  

Israeli President Shimon Peres has participated in shaping the policies of Israel for most of its existence. His Washington Post Op-Ed last week billed as ‘a peace partners prod’ to the Obama administration, evidences a major disconnect within the government of Israel concerning what is urgently required for that country’s increasingly unlikely long-term survival.

 

According to a CIA study currently being shown to selected staff members on the US Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Israel’s survival in its present form beyond the next 20 years is doubtful.

 

The Report predicts “an inexorable movement away from a Two State to a One State solution, as the most viable model based on democratic principles of full equality that sheds the looming specter of colonial Apartheid while allowing for the return of the 1947/1948 and 1967 refugees. The latter being the precondition for sustainable peace in the region.”

 

To President Peres’ chagrin, the Executive Summary states that “during the next fifteen years more than two million Israelis, including some 500,000 Israeli citizens who currently hold US green cards or passports will move to the United States. Most Israelis not in possession of these documents will receive ‘expedited waivers’. The Report claims that “Alongside a decline in Jewish births and a rise in Palestinian fertility, approximately 1.6 million Israelis are likely to return to their forefather’s lands in Russia and Eastern and Western Europe with scores of thousands electing to stay, depending on the nature of the transition.”

 

In his Washington Post Op-ed piece President Peres desperately attempts to salvage a two state solution from a one, a three or even a four ‘state’ arrangement. He appears to realize that a two state solution is seriously jeopardized unless Israel dramatically and quickly changes course. With the tacking to the right in Israel and the likely make up of the next government once Peres selects Livni or Netanyahu in the next few days, and given the swelling mood among the occupied in favor of another Intifada, Peres plaintively asserts to the Obama administration that “a two states is the only realistic solution”.

 

Peres instructed the American people and their government three times in his Op-Ed brief for a two state solution, that Israel is “the land of my forefathers’. He laments that the CIA predicted One State Solution would “Undermine Israel’s legitimacy and the internationally recognized right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state in the land of my forefathers.”

 

Peres knows that his forefathers had no connection whatsoever to Palestine as is the case with more than 95% of the Zionists who swept into the area over the past century and demolished close to 600 villages while expelling a majority of the native population. Historians have established that most arriving Jews were in fact Slavic converts to Judaism without any historical or genealogical nexus to Palestine or Hebrew tribes in the area.

 

Against the historical backdrop of the past century of nearly global rejection of colonialism, his claim of settled international acceptance of “Israel’s legitimacy” is a major stretch. “Legitimacy” is what the conflict continues to be about – whether a 19th Century colonial enterprise can violently uproot and massacre an indigenous population taking over a land declaring God promised it to them, as they terrorize and expel the local inhabitants. Contrary to Peres’ claim of Israel as a ‘legitimate State’, there is no internationally recognized right for Israel to exist on stolen land without the consent of the dispossessed. Peres assures his American benefactors that Israel’s legitimacy is based “in international law or morality”. In point of fact, both International law and morality require the right of return of those whose lands were taken and lifting the brutal occupation. Surely Peres is aware, as the CIA Report asserts, that a majority of the 192 countries which make up the membership of the United Nations would vote this evening to establish one State of Palestine if given the chance.

 

The Report concludes that what went wrong will be debated for many years. In essence the problem was the premise, that a ‘chosen people’ with no link or rights to a land could impose a state by force. Many Middle East observers believe that the Two State solution is essentially over, but for the packing, finger pointing and assuredly more violence.

 

Increasingly repelled by Israeli crimes, the international community is moving toward the majority position of Palestinians and is coming to believe that the realistic solution to the Middle East conflict is one State, secular, multicultural, democratic, and based on one person one vote.

 

Peres is loath to accept One State and claims, in promoting a two-state solution, that he has “personally witnessed the remarkable progress we have made with the Palestinian Authority in recent years”.

Does he AS in mind the increasing bantusization (what Chomsky calls “unviable fragments”) the ever snaking apartheid wall and other barriers, the illegal outposts which increased yet again last year? The blockade of and depraved slaughter in Gaza?

 

Or does President Peres have in mind this week’s announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Olmert that Israel has the right to keep building in large West Bank settlement blocs, including Efrat, by adding 423 acres so that 21,000 more residents can join the current 9,000, according to Efrat mayor Oded Revivi? Olmert claims its part of the annexation that will be considered in a future final peace deal with the Palestinians.

 

President Peres, has passed nearly a lifetime devoted to undermining prospects for a viable Palestinian state and offering a wink and nod to the building of more than 430 colonies while offering lip service to the ‘peace process’. His ‘Message to the American People’ fails to communicate what the Israeli and Palestinian public knows well about the real nature of the Two State option he has in mind and which he considers to be “the best resolution to this age-old conflict.” Both populations know that the Two State option that long time politician Peres has consistently run on, is the Yigal Allon Plan.

 

The Allon scheme to expel the Arab population from Palestine has been Peres’ electoral platform during his campaigns in 1974, 1977, 1981, 1984, and 1987 and it shaped Israel’s settlement policies from 1967-1977. Peres worked to make the Allon Plan part of the 1978 Camp David agreement and 1993 Oslo Accords.

 

As the American public begins to stir from its long slumber on the Question of Palestine and hopefully dramatically changes its Middle East policy, it should consider that the Peres favored ‘moderate’ Allon Plan continues to be Israeli policy. As formulated by its author and adhered to by successive Israel governments, it contains the following “moderate” elements:

 

– seeking “maximum land with minimum Arabs;”

– annexing approximately 40% of the West Bank and Gaza, taking the choicest parts;

– dispossessing Palestinians from land Israel wants for Jews.

 

After Israel’s attack in 1967, Allon presented to the cabinet a solution to the Arab problem. The Allon Plan called for annexing the following areas: “a strip of land ten to fifteen kilometers wide along the Jordan River; most of the Judean desert along the Dead Sea; and a substantial area around Greater Jerusalem, including the Latrun salient.” The plan was crafted to include as few Arabs as possible in the area claimed for Israel and included building permanent colonies and army bases in these areas.

 

The two state solution that Peres is trying to sell the American public and administration is a Palestinian ‘state’ in 76.6% of the West Bank, carved up into sealed enclaves, with the largest of the 430 plus settlements/colonies remaining in place under Israeli sovereignty. Israel would take another 13.3% outright and continue to occupy the remaining 10.1% for a period of up to thirty years. During this period Israel would continue building new and expanding current settlement/colonies. The above percentages do not include the subtracted East Jerusalem and the territorial waters of the Dead Sea. In point of fact the 76% offer is based not on 100% of the occupied territories, but merely those parts that Israel was willing to discuss. Consequently, the “just and moral solution” President Peres favors would amount to slightly less than 16% of historic Palestine being given to those driven from their homes and land.

 

Peres claims Israel has worked tirelessly for peace. Yet the record is clear that Israel has only worked tirelessly for expansion at the expense of the indigenous Arab population while obstructing more than two dozen ‘peace initiatives’ over six decades, while targeting the Palestinian people, culture, and economy.

 

Peres claims in his Op-Ed that Libyan leader Qadaffi agrees with Israel it deserves Palestine and that “this is salient in his fundamental and central premise that the Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.” Peres takes Qadaffis’ words out of contest and misrepresents his thesis which in fact calls for one State shared by both peoples. Qadaffi insists that the Middle East welcomes Judaism but not racist Zionism. It is the latter which underpins the founding of Israel and which has led to history’s condemnation.

 

As the President of Israel seeks yet more indulgence and largesse from the American taxpayers and the Obama administration, there is something he can do to shore up waning trust and waxing disillusionment with the two state option. He can announce immediately that he fully accepts UN Security Council Resolution 242 and advocates the removal of all settlements and the total withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank and Gaza.

 

Israel’s President urges the American people and government to, “commit our most concerted effort to allow two states to flourish.” Unless he and his fellow leaders of Israel are prepared, without further delay, to commit to a complete withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 armistice line, in a serious effort at peace, Israel will continue to lose American and International support and One State is the likely future for Palestine.

Israeli President Peres can avert his eyes from reality, but the Obama administration and the American people cannot afford this fatal delusion.

WRITTEN BY IQBAL TAMIMI
Since the first minute the Zionists arrived in Palestine during the first half of the 1900s their policy was clear, it was to empty the land of its indigenous people and house immigrant Jews in their place. Almost 6 million Palestinians are now scattered all over the world as refugees since then, and hundreds of thousands were massacred and housed under the soil for resisting to abandon their home land.

The Telegraph published an article 5 Feb 2009 by Damien McElroy titled Britain offers to accept Palestinians who fled Iraq (30 widows with children!)

The article is about efforts to resettle Palestinians who have been forced into squalid desert refugee camps on the Iraqi border in the hardest conditions including facing hazards of fires and floods that have claimed many lives such as the story of Ahmed Mohammad who lost his pregnant wife when a fire engulfed his tent last month. “The fire took seconds to burn and I could only rescue my son.” said Ahmad. There are more than 800,000 Palestinian refugees still living in Syria and 224,000 are registered with the UN as refugees.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/4527498/Britain-offers-to-accept-Palestinians-who-fled-Iraq.html

many Palestinians were never granted citizenship in the countries they fled to, they and their offspring are scattered now all over the world from Europe to Chile. Governments like that of the UK have a moral obligation towards those Palestinian refugees for two reasons: the first is due to the British government’s role and policies since the Balfour Declaration which was a direct contributor to the Palestinians’ misery, and the second is its role in the Iraqi war that ended up with forcing the refugee Palestinians of Iraq to become refugees again. But still a solution like accepting 30 widows is not going to be the perfect solution. These Palestinian widows from the Tanf refugee camp in the desert must be grateful for this kind gesture, but this action solves the problem of 30 widows only, thus discriminating against male refugees who are as much victims as women. Men like 81-year-old Mahmoud Abdul who fled Haifa in 1948 from Palestine to Baghdad, then Amman, Damascus and now again he is with many other Palestinian refugees are in the no-man’s land holding tight to one dream only, they want to be citizens where they can set up homes and feel no one can take that home away from them. Saving the lives of 30 widows is a drop in the ocean regarding solving the problem of 6 million refugees. And we should not brag about accepting to rescue 30 widows after causing 6 million people become exiled and refugees.

Solving the problem of 30 widows or ‘spearheading’ this attempt as the Telegraph has called it, is not good enough, year after year Israel has been forcing more Palestinians to become refugees by enforcing different methods of pressure and expulsion. Even though Palestinians are grateful for such generous gestures they would rather be home in their own properties, taking care of their lands and feeling dignified instead of feeling like a heavy guest.

The new effort to resettle Palestinian refugees outside Palestine is another attempt to patch another hole Israel punctured while being sure that other countries should find a way to mend. Since 1948 Israel has been expelling Palestinians from their country, thus entering the circle of displacement over and over again. The only suggestion Israel keeps coming with is why don’t other Arab countries accommodate them? This is the most ridiculous statement made to escape the blame and dumb problems created by its policies of expanding occupation on other people’s steps. Israel’s continuous suggestions that the Palestinians should be absorbed by other Arab speaking countries is the most ridiculous statement ever, sharing a language does not in any way give a valid reason to accept such responsibility, it would be like a great mixture of people invading Australia because their God told them Australia will always be theirs regardless of where they came from or when they embraced that religion, and then demanding the UK to take the Australian refugees in because they speak English.

The Telegraph was fishing in muddy waters when it said in its report “After turning a blind eye for years, Syria feels it has done enough. There has to be a resettlement solution that allows these people to resettle in a third country.” Why should Syria or any other Arab country solve a problem created by Israel with the blessing of USA and UK? Syria itself is suffering the Israeli aggression and occupation of its Golan Heights and the stealing of its water resources by Israel.

Israel is still refusing to declare its borders, and was and still is expanding illegally on Palestinian land, Israel is still turning a blind eye to the international community and a long list of UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and to stop building more settlements on Palestinian land, Israel is still stealing the resources and lands and properties in the Occupied Territories and still gets away with it. The media shows every day Israel being defended by the USA and UK governments, and shows the friendly visits of top politicians visiting Israel on the Palestinian occupied land, yet emphasising Israel’s RIGHTS to live in peace, what a load of ridiculous heap of pathetic policies, they are visiting an occupied territory and yet demanding safety of the occupier not the victims. But one knows well that such visits are not returned back because most Israeli politicians are wanted for war crimes, and the people in the USA and UK have a different stand from that of their government and sympathise with the oppressed Palestinians. Should any Israeli official gamble with his life and visit the UK I am sure he will be executed by being stoned by hales of shoes by the citizens who showed great support and sympathy to the misery of Gaza people.

Should the UK not do something regarding Israel’s continuous policy of forcing Palestinians to exile, one day it will find itself facing the moral obligation of not only taking the 13,000 Palestinians who fled to Syria with faked Iraqi identities but much more than this figure. The UK and other European countries have to bear in mind that if Israel was not stopped by international collective effort, those countries will be forced to clean Israel’s mess, and pass this inheritance to the coming generations.

UPDATE! FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARREST WRITTEN BY KHALID AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST! With friends like these – WRITTEN BY SHERINE BAHAA

KHALED AMAYREH, the Al-Ahram Weekly correspondent in the West Bank was arrested Sunday evening by the Preventive Security Forces (PSF) in Hebron. He was released after two days. Amayreh, 52, lives in Dura, 12 miles southwest of Hebron and has worked as the Weekly correspondent since 1997, as well as for a number of other media outlets.

 

He has a BA in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois. For a long time, he suffered, as do all Palestinians in the occupied territories, being confined by the occupation to his home village.

 

Not long ago, he was prohibited by Israeli forces from leaving Hebron at an Israeli checkpoint, detained and released only after being threatened for his courageous articles documenting Israeli crimes in the Weekly.

 

Surprisingly though, this time, Amayreh was not arrested by the Israelis, he was detained by the PSF; the PA police apparatus. This was the fourth time that Amayreh was arrested by the PSF. But this time why was he arrested? He was not in a demonstration, nor was he smuggling weapons to his fellow Palestinians being killed by Israelis on a daily basis.

 

His crime was explaining, during an interview with the Beirut based Al-Quds satellite TV, why there are only a few demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the people of Gaza. Amayreh frankly said that the PA did not allow such demonstrations. Amayreh did not mean to undermine the PA but he said, “the PA has certain commitments towards Israel and they (PA) do not want things to get out of their hands.” Amayreh also said the Israelis do not respect the PA and view the PA as a kind of “servant” to Israeli interests.

 

For the PSF, this was defamation. Amayreh speaking to the Weekly immediately after his release, explained that he only spoke of how Palestinian officials were prevented from moving freely and how Israel added more checkpoints to try to cordon Palestinians in closed areas. In short, they did not like the tone of the interview.

 

“They interrogated me for six hours, then they locked me in a dark cell for two days, where I could not tell day from night.”

 

“I think they released me because of the media and public pressure,” Amayreh said. According to Amayreh, around 15 journalists have been arrested over the past few months and some of them are still in jail.

 

Amayreh, father of nine, was taken from his family home to the headquarters of the PSF in Hebron. His family were denied any access to him.

 

The International Society for Translators and Linguists issued a statement condemning his arrest and asking for his immediate release. “These police units do not represent anything for Palestine except murder, destruction, corruption and chaos,” the statement said. “This apparatus is a disgrace to the history of the Palestinian Authority. Khaled Amayreh has helped the Palestinian cause much more than those people have,” the statement added.

 

In the past three weeks, dozens of Hamas supporters have either been detained or summoned for investigation by the PA’s much-feared Preventive Security Forces and General Intelligence Service. Coordination between the PA police forces and the Israeli occupation forces and Shin Beth has continued even as Gaza is being destroyed, in pursuit of their common goal of uprooting Hamas in the West Bank.

 

Five months ago, Amayreh was invited to attend a media conference in Germany and was granted a visa from the German representative office in Ramallah, the main stipulation being that he had never been arrested or detained by Israeli authorities. In spite of this, the Israeli military authorities refused to give him a permit to leave the West Bank and he was unable to travel. But be it the Israelis or the PA Security apparatus, it is evidently clear that Palestinians are continuously having their civil rights violated.

 

KHALID AMAYREH’S ACCOUNT OF HIS ORDEAL

Source: Islamonline 
http://www.islamonline.net:80/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1232976490385&pagename=Zone-English-Muslim_Affairs%2FMAELayout 

“Five Minutes” With the PA Interrogators
Muzzling Freedom of Expression in Palestine

By  Khalid Amayreh : Journalist – Occupied Palestine

When the Beirut-based Al-Quds satellite television interviewed me last week on the recent genocidal Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip, it never occurred to me that the few sound bites I uttered would land me in a slimy prison cell at the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Preventive Security Apparatus (PSA) in Hebron.

During that interview, I was asked why the American-backed regime in Ramallah was not allowing large protests in solidarity with the Gaza Strip. I answered that the PA didn’t want things to get out of control and that it didn’t wish to antagonize Israel.

Interestingly, Israel itself had allowed a massive demonstration against the war on Gaza to take place in the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin where as many as 150,000 people, including some Jewish peace activists, took to the streets to protest the nauseating killings and bombings of civilian targets all over the coastal enclave.

I further pointed out that Israel didn’t really respect the PA and was effectively treating it as a subservient entity serving  Israeli interests.
I  did think, and I still, that I was stating the obvious. However, the PA security establishment had a different idea.

Proverbial Cup of Coffee 
 
I was immediately locked up inside a small room and my mobile phone was confiscated.On Jan. 18, shortly afternoon, someone from the local PSA center invited me to drink a cup of coffee with the head of office for five minutes. Eventually, the “five minutes” were stretched into 55 hours of nightmarish experience.  

I knew they wanted to arrest me since most Palestinians have come to associate the onerous telephone call with imminent arrest by any of the security agencies.

When I arrived there, I was neither asked to meet with the local security chief nor offered the proverbial cup of coffee. Instead, I was immediately locked up inside a small room and my mobile phone was confiscated.

My watch and shoe laces were also taken from me. They must have been awfully worried about my safety!

Half an hour later, I was taken to the PSA headquarters in Hebron, 14 kilometers away. There, I was scolded for “besmirching and distorting the PA image,” “sowing discontent,” and “indulging in incitement.”

I was subjected to four sessions of interrogation which covered a whole set of issues and subjects from the Iranian strategy in the Middle East to the receding chances for the creation of a Palestinian state.

I told my interrogators that what they were doing was against the law, since the Palestinian law stated that “the security apparatus has no right to question, interrogate or detain a journalist in connection to his or her work.”
When I uttered these words, one operative scoffed at me, saying that “we are in Palestine, not in Sweden.”

Small, Semi-dark, Rancid-smelling Room

The interrogators didn’t really abuse me neither physically nor verbally. However, I was thrown into a small, semi-dark, rancid-smelling room with two other inmates, one a political prisoner and the other a common-law prisoner. That in itself was a humiliating form of mistreatment.

Getting dumped inside a slimy cell, with an exposed water circuit, was not exactly the right way to treat a journalist who has spent a lifetime defending the just Palestinian cause in face of Israeli propaganda and lies. But, then, they were probably right in a certain sense. The West Bank is not Sweden, and the PA regime is not the government of Sweden.

On Monday evening, Jan. 20, I was asked to meet with the PSA Chief, Abu Al-Fateh, who explained to me that the overall situation facing the PA was sensitive and delicate and that journalists had to be careful and cautious about what they say and write.

I generally concurred with him. However, I did forcefully argue that suppressing freedom of expression, especially press freedom, was a very harmful idea. I further  explained that when people are made to fear the government, it means that that the government is undemocratic and had a lot of things to hid from the people.

At the end of the conversation, I was told I could go home.

My latest encounter with the PSA is not the first time I am hounded by the PA security establishment. Last year I was subjected to intensive interrogation by the PA Mukhabarat (or general intelligence), also in connection with my professional work.

In 1998, I was arrested and briefly imprisoned for reporting on the prevalence of torture in some PA interrogation centers. I was also interrogated by both the Palestinian and Israeli security apparatuses over an article I had written on the  centrality of the right of return for Palestinian refugees uprooted from their ancestral homeland in what is now Israel.
These days, most Palestinians arrested by either Israel or the PA are rearrested by the other side after their release.

Self-censorship

Self-censorship is the ultimate enemy of healthy journalism.I knew that the main aim behind my brief but unjustified incarceration was to make me exercise “self-censorship” and refrain from calling things by their real names.

However, for journalists, “self-censorship” is not an innocuous word. It actually represents the ultimate enemy of healthy journalism. After all, a journalist ought to be responsible first and foremost to his or her conscience within the frame of the law.

Unfortunately, very few people within the Palestinian security establishment understand the language of human rights and civil liberties.

This condition is made even worse by the persistent power struggle between Hamas and Fateh, which is often used as a pretext and justification for the police-state atmosphere prevailing in the West Bank now.

Hence, one would exaggerate very little by saying that the situation of human rights and civil liberties is the West Bank is probably worse today than it ever has been since the establishment of the PA more than 15 years ago.

Rampant Violations

My latest experience pales in comparison to the more serious persecution haunting non-conformist journalists throughout the West Bank.In truth, my latest experience pales in comparison to the more serious persecution haunting non-conformist journalists throughout the West Bank.

Last week, PA security personnel assaulted and severely beat AP correspondent Majdee Ishtayyeh while filming an “unlicensed” demonstration in Ramallah. Ishtayya reportedly was taken to a nearby building where he was badly beaten, causing a severe hemorrhage from his nose.

The 44-year-journalist had to undergo a surgical operation to fix his battered nose at a Nablus hospital.

Some other journalists, photojournalists, and cameramen were violently assaulted and had their equipment broken or confiscated. 

Last year, as many as 20 Palestinian journalists were imprisoned for relatively lengthy periods for reporting news or views the PA regime considers detrimental to their interests or image. Many of these journalists were beaten and even tortured for refusing to abide by the “official line.”
And in nearly all cases, concocted charges were leveled against them, such as  “sowing division, incitement, and endangering national unity.”

Last year, Awad Rajoub, an Al-Jazeera.net correspondent was detained in a PSA prison cell in Hebron in what he described “harsh and humiliating conditions” for 32 days. Rajoub was forced to sleep inside a bare room, without mattresses or blankets, and had to use his own shoes as a pillow.
Rajoub was accused of interviewing critics of the PA.

Carte Blanch for Law Violation

In fact, there is a widespread impression that the security agencies are granted  a virtual carte blanch to violate the law for the sake of punishing and savaging political opponents of the PA regime, particularly people affiliated with the Islamic camp.

During my brief stint at the Hebron jail, I saw several inmates being subjected to the Shabah (hooding) technique where a prisoner is made to sit down in a small room with his hands tied to his back.

At one point, I heard an inmate crying “why are you beating me, why are you beating me.”

The PA government in Ramallah claims that it is doing its utmost to uphold the rule of law. This is its usual response to criticisms voiced by local and international human rights organizations.

However, it is obvious that the status of human rights and civil liberties under the PA   continues to deteriorate, especially with the virtual paralysis of the Palestinian justice system and especially in light of the conspicuous hegemony the security agencies exercises over civil society. This is why Palestinians do hope that the PA government, which many people view as both illegal and illegitimate, will issue clear and unmistakable orders to the security agencies to stop arresting and mistreating journalists and to respect the basic human and civil rights of Palestinian citizens.

Such a step is crucial for the creation of a healthy society based on the rule of law and respect for human dignity. It is also a sine-qua-non for the success of the Palestinian  national struggle for justice and freedom from the shackles of the colonialist Israeli occupation.

Khalid Amayreh is a journalist living in Palestine. He obtained his MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983. Since the 1990s, Mr. Amayreh has been working and writing for several news outlets among which is Aljazeera.net, Al-Ahram Weekly, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), and Middle East International.