Sunday, October 29, 2006

Walls are meant for climbing....

Go on - get over that monstrosity! You can't help be cheered by hordes of kids descending on the Jerusalem suburb of Al Ram and swarming over the Wall.

What's so great is that all they want to do is pray. No men under 40 were allowed into the Al Aqsa Mosque - the brand of Palestine - over Ramadan (freedom of worship?) because all West Bank kids are terrorists in the eyes of the State of Israel.

So a situation develops where Israel's army zooms around trying crossly to stop Palestinians from getting over its 'security fence', lobbing tear gas/sound bombs etc, while the kids just climb up some pallets somewhere else. It;s not a two-way confrontation - the Israelis are irrelevant to the Palestinians, who literally just want to get to Al Aqsa.

Ritual farces like this expose the lie of the Wall - that it is a security measure.

I had to show this pic to the intelligence guy at Ben Gurion Airport, where I am writing this, to prove I am who I am.

"That's sick," he said. Suck it up, Shin Bet boy!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Under siege in Walaja

Give me rain. The chilly wet air. The green of the trees by the side of the road. Remind me of the north London suburbs, the neat side streets that I slip down, where I am part of the rhythms of the place, a red cell in the blood pumping through its heart. Was part.

The summer is finally over in Israel/Palestine, thank Christ/Allah/Hesham/Baal/Postman Pat, which is why I am reminded of home. I always am at this time of year. Somehow this is the real new year for me, the time I always associate with a new thing - a new school or uni year with new faces, a new place to live, a new crush, the freshness of the wind.

But I'm leaving just as it arrives, flying to Dubai's scorched earth for a couple of weeks 'training', whatever that turns out to be.

The weather also felt great up in Al Walaja, a village to the south of Jerusalem that Jewish Israel has had its eye on for some time.

Built on two ridges in the rugged terrain south of the eternally divided capital, Walaja is practically the definition of peace. When you get there you realise that your brain spends the rest of your life fending off a formless buzz of noise bullshit. In Walaja, it is gone.

"I call it the silent village," says one guy I meet there, "it is silent - but every household has problems that are huge."

Walaja's problems are insanely complex - whoever said the devil is in the detail was right because a good story that people can get a grip on is simple. Apartheid was black and white. But the ethnic cleansing that is going on here is slow, piecemeal, and bureaucratic.

The original Walaja was on yet another hillside, now on the other side of the green line. The villagers can see it clearly on the other side of a road - but they are not allowed to go there.

When they were booted off in 1948, some Walajans legged it, winding up in refugee camps. Others simply moved to the next hillside, waiting to return. They are still waiting.

Israel took over the West Bank and later extended Jerusalem's municipal boundaries so they now include half of Walaja in the urban area.

So far, of a total of 105 houses, lived in by registered refugees, the state of Israel has demolished 27 in the Jerusalem half and 11 on the other half.

The reason? The small houses were built without a building permit. As we know from people like ICAHD, it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian in East Jerusalem to get a building permit (not impossible, because that would be racist and thus unacceptable internationally).

Israel arrests Walajans, fines them for building 'illegally' - and then demolishes the homes. Homes for Jewish Israelis are built by companies who make whole neighbourhoods. Basically the only homes that Jews build themselves are outposts in the West Bank. They are illegal - but Israel's approach is to make a deal with the settler body Yesha to only knock down a few.

The refugees of Walaja owe more than a million shekels to the state. They have paid about a quarter.

One family lived in a tent next to the rubble of their house for 3 months before the community raised enough cash to rebuild it. In a tent. In cold February. In 2006.

At the same time, the Wall is to be built all the way around the village. Those Walajans who are theoretically in Jerusalem will need to apply for a Jerusalem permit to live in their homes, the others will need a different permit.

"Not only are all our houses illegal," said my friend, "But we are too."

Access in and out of the village will likely be controlled by a gate manned by Israeli soldiers and opened at certain times of the day, as has happened in similar cases in the northern west bank.

Why would Israel go to all this trouble with Walaja?

"They want all the land to expand Jerusalem," says Ata.

But Walaja doesn;t agree to its own destruction. They have rebuilt about 10 of the demolished houses and challenge anything Israel does in the courts.

"We don;t say that violent resistence is wrong, but for us non-violence is the cheapest - we don;t want to lose everything, our lives and our sons' lives.

"We do not want to leave. We live here and we are here."

Ata built his own place 7 years ago. It's small but comfortable, red walls. Before then his family was crammed into one room with his brother.

Ata is under massive pressure. He is the only one who explains things in English to the volunteers and tourists who show up. He is on a million committees. And he is on the Israelis' radar.

"Now I am getting problems with the Israelis. They have taken away my Jerusalem permit. I am in deep, over my head."

Other villagers are unwilling to take over from him. They will help out occasionally - but they will not commit to it or organise demonstrations. They are scared of the Israelis, he says.

It's pretty heartbreaking. A bunch of people who since 1948 have been living entire families to a room are still being persecuted, the same pattern of making people's lives so unbearable that they leave is repeated.

You go to Walaja and you get angry. Rightly. You get back to Jerusalem and some guy tells you that Israel is just like anyone else - doing what it can get away with. Difficult to deny.

What am I doing here?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Nablus - Fire Mountain / Jebel Al Nar

Some sprawling blogs on the Israel/Palestine thing - here's one from an American called Michael overstaying his visa and living in the Old City of Nablus - the hottest city in the West Bank.

The place echoes to gunfire every night as the Israeli military goes in and the fighters from the various factions blaze away at each other. It is where the Israeli forces perfected the 'worming' technique - where they invade one house, lock up the residents and then blast their way through the walls to the next, and so on and so on, until they are in the house they want to be in and no one knows they are there.

It's an oppressive prison - no men between 16 and 35 are allowed out south of the city. People are depressed and penniless.

But it is also a beautiful city, modern white blocks pouring like a glacier out of the valley between two steep mountains. It crackles with energy where other cities roll over and submit. Israeli military bases rampart the mountains while at the bottom are the sediment layers of the Old City, modelled on Damascus, a quagmire full of stairs and tunnels, a quicksand for the Israeli forces (who have it all digitally mapped).

One day after all the shit is over the Old City will be a source of wonder to tourists for its age old alleys tunnels and souqs and its very modern bullet holes, plaques honouring shahids and general resistance flavour.

Michael's blog From Occupied Palestine, With Love is the voice of a man charmed by Palestine and cut by its suffering. It's a condition you can't avoid if you spend more than a few days in Nablus.

He also makes the good point of calling the Israeli military the IOF - Israeli Offence Force - rather than the laughable IDF or Israeli Defence Force.

If like Israel you believe attack is the best form of defence then the brand has a logic.

But I'm committed to avoiding this kind of basic skewed linguistic bullshit. The IDF is the Israeli military in my articles. Arab-Israelis will increasingly become Palestinian citizens of Israel, as I have already mentioned. Israelis will become Jewish Israelis. Settlements should become colonies, but that's one debate I think the State of Israel has already won, seeing how widespread the term is.

The big T - Terrorism - has already lost all meaning. Although anyone can cause terror, the term now obviously refers to Jihadist militants.

And there is never a good reason to use the word Evil. I never have. It is an insult to the intelligence of the audience. When you hear it the hoary old question must spring automatically to mind - Why is this fucking liar lying to me?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Newspaper website comment sections are extra spicy in Israel/Palestine.

In this Haaretz piece about outposts in the West bank (an OUTPOST is an informal settlement where people simply set up caravans and is considered illegal under Israeli law. This compares to SETTLEMENTS, which are illegal under international law but are also Israeli government policy to take over the West Bank), the Peace Now group makes the hardly surprising claim that three-quarters of the outposts are built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Cue the usual howls such as: "This may come as a surptise to `peace now`, but there is no such place as palestine nor palestinian people!It`s ALL Israel. always was and always will be!", contributed by Z Bear from Zefat.

But there are occasionally some gems, such as this from Paul Usiskin, who divides his time between London and Jerusalem.

"It doesn`t matter - let`s steal it - who cares. The country is tired. The Prime Minister just wants to stay in his seat for as long as possible. No one wants elections. So we`ll behave like a failed rogue state, ignoring international law, property ownership rights, human standards. "They" are all out to get us and always have and always will and that`s our excuse, our past, which the current and previous Prime Ministers relied on. The past in which "they" are always after us - the Lebanese who want to talk peace, the Saudis Jordanians and Egyptians who with the rest of the Arab League have twice offered to deal, and now even the Syrians. But no. Let`s steal some more Palestinian hilltops, that`s sure to get us peace. They`re only Palestinian. And anyone who uses the word peace, like Peace Now, must be a traitor. Wait. What`s that? Its the sound of Massada`s ghosts beckoning to us."

Invoking Masada is interesting. It is a mountain next to the Dead Sea with a flat top. During the Roman times, about 700 Jews decided thay preferred not living as slaves under Roman rule and legged it to the top of Masada, where they lived. The mountain was so well fortified they were able to keep the Romans at bay - but the Romans would get them eventually by building a massive dirt ramp. So the Masada Jews chose to commit mass suicide rather than re-enter slavery. Because suicide is forbidden in Judaism, they organised themselves into groups of 10. One killed the other nine and so on until there was just one left, who was obliged to kill himself, thus minimising the sin.

Today it is a massive archeological site, with awesome remains of castles, palaces, storerooms etc. The State of Israel is well proud of it, because it bolsters the evidence that Jewish people lived in the area a long time ago.

But celebrating Masada is also celebrating a refusal to be enslaved. Better die than submit. There are contemporary echos of Masada in the Palestinian cause. Remarkably quiescent during the first 40 years of occupation, the Palestinians are saying a big NO through their intifadas to an existence where they are deprived of rights. It is true that Islam claims to reward fighters who die in the cause, while the future after death for Jewish people is less clear.

These days, it's apparently a rite of passage for new IDF conscripts to run up Masada at dawn and yell: "Israel lives" at the top.

But Usiskin is not alone in warning Israel's current unwillingness to be fair to non-Jews amounts to slow suicide.

Quite a lot of people wonder openly about Israel's long-term viability. One orthodox Jewish psychologist I met in the north during the war said he did not think Israel would survive the Muslim world. The threat of a third intifada where Katyushas are the weapons of choice could quickly make life in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem intolerable. Borders don't stop missiles, as Hezbollah pointed out. Amd what happens when the American empire falls?

Palestinians themselves are pretty sanguine about things. Some religiou sones believe it is written in the Quran that Israel will be destroyed. More secular ones put their faith in the UN or the EU. But however they express it, their logic is basically that there has been a wrong and it must be righted.

Many, like Adnan Husseini, the director of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem (which looks after all the Islamic sites there) sees Israel as just a phase. You get the sense even that deep down, the Palestinian identity isn't that crucial. Crucial to Husseini is the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, and Jerusalem. Crucial to the families is their life on their land, whatever name it goes by. The refugee in Jenin camp wanted to go back to his town. He would accept Israeli citizenship. Occupations come and go.

All of which is very frustrating for Israelis, whose leaders hoped the Arab refugees would sod off to another bit of Arab desert where they can live with their Arab brethren and forget about ever coming back. The booting out process continues today, enshrined in various laws making life so unbearable for Palestinians that they will leave.

So Usiskin worries about the Masada vibes in seeing Jewish people trying to seal themselves off from the outside world. But one Israeli government guy I met made a good point.

"Today's Israelis are the sons and daughters of the Jews who did NOT go to Masada. We are the descendants of those who chose to live."

He is one of the few who says Israel should embrace its location in the Middle East rather than seeing itself as a beleaguered outpost of western civilisation.

Paradoxially, the best hope for the future of Israel may lie in actually giving up the racist dream of a Jewish state.

But just try selling that to Israeli Jews...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Firing squad

Caught out by Haaretz:

Danny Seaman, the head of the General Press Office, which dishes out the coveted press cards, will probably be fired after calling the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung correspondent a "piece of shit" and saying he would "try to screw him over" in his bid to renew accreditation. The row is over whether or not journalists should be vetted before being granted work visas, which according to the FAZ guy would infringe freedom of the press.

Equally diplomatic was the Israeli ambassador to Australia Naftali Tamir said: "Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not; we are basically the white race."

All of which is overshadowed by the Israeli President Moshe Katsav facing RAPE charges.

Went to the book launches of "Blood and Religion" by Jonathan Cook and "Occupied Minds" by Arthur Neslen.

Blood and religion basically says Israel's claim to be a 'Jewish and democratic state' is a contradiction in terms. It's a pretence that is becoming more difficult to maintain in the context of the intifada and a higher Palestinian birth rate. Israel's new strategy will be to lump all the Palestinians (in Israel and the occupied territories) together in a kind of powerless slave state, controlled by Israel, which will allow Israel to ethnically cleanse itself of all the non-Jews while selling it to the world as generously allowing the Palestinians to realise their dreams of identity. I'm reading it - it's hard stuff.

Occupied Minds is interviews with 50 fringe Jewish characters. It argues that Israel has 'ethnically cleansed the Jewish soul' - that the state of Israel insists that Jews be warriors who are in total control of their own destiny and thereby somehow redeem the previous generation of Jews who offered little resistance as they were led to the gas chambers. Other Jewish traditons have been stamped out, he says.

I didn't buy the Neslen book, but in it he interviews an Israeli dominatrix hooker. She says the IDF soldiers come to her asking to be tied up and shouted at like Palestinians. And the Palestinians that come to her ask her to wear IDF uniforms.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Call a spade a spade - it's ethnic cleansing

Back in Jerusalem, city where the weirdness never sleeps. These days it's rammed because of Sukkot / makeshift tents are all over the streets, with Jewish beardy types in suits encouraging people in to sit or perform rituals that involve shaking a stick with leaves on it. The beards smile as guys shake sheepishly in full view of the crowds.

Back in the Faisal as well. It's the preferred pied a terre for the grungy activist community, just up from the Damascus Gate, and boasts a terrace where ISMers, scourge of the IDF in the West Bank, swap details on what's going on. Flags of oppressed minorities are all over the place / the Basques, Catalans, Irish / as are pictures of Rachel Corrie, the US activist crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza. It's pretty earthy, the smell of cold stale sweat mingling with the fresh paint now being slapped on, but you can't argue with free tea, coffee, internet and a bed for about $6 a night.

Back in Bethlehem, too, this afternoon. You are practically mugged by the taxi drivers as you get through the Wall. They all want to screw you, which is standard behaviour for many a driver, but the desperation in their voices is kind of horrible. Bethlehem is deader than dead because it breathes tourism and their ain't any. The Wall and the fighting have seen to that. Overall 71 per cent of Palestinians are depressed, but in Bethlehem you get the feeling it's almost everyone.

I remember an evening when I came across two tour guides getting trashed in their car on vodka Red Bull because there was simply no work. Anyone with any cash has left.

I was there to meet with Badil, a hugely impressive organisation for refugees' rights which has complied a report on the effect of the Wall on Palestinians.

The Wall (and in Jerusalem it is a Wall / 12foot high slabs of concrete) has chopped through the Palestinian-Israeli* suburbs. It means 60,000 of the 240,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs now find their homes are de facto in the West Bank as a result of the Wall. They now ned to go through a checkpoint to get to Jerusalem and will probably lose their Jerusalem IDs. There are also Palestinians with West Bank IDs whom the Wall has de facto put in Jerusalem. Insanely, they are now being fined for living in Jerusalem without the right IDs. Women in particular are giving up work because going to the checkpoints to get through the wall is so expensive, long and tiring. It is so difficult to get between the two that Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs now will not marry Palestinians with West Bank IDs. This also goes for Palestinians separated in different zones of the West Bank (north, centre and south).

It doesn't take a brain the size of a planet to realise that this is part of an overall effort to reduce the size of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, which Israel wants as its eternal capital and cultural centre.

It is part of a long canon of actions to make life so unbearable for the Palestinians that they will eventually leave - whether they be in Israel, the West Bank or wherever.

As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe argues in his essayCalling a spade a spade, it's a process that began with booting out the Arab population that lived in British Mandate Palestine in 1948, continued with the destruction of more villages in the 1950s, then with mass settlement building after the 1967 war and continues now with the Wall and the infernally complicated and repressive permit system, which puts unbearable restrictions on Palestinians' movement.

It's ethnic cleansing, says Pappe (three cheers), and the failure to recognise it as such means it carries on in its various guises, these days disguised as security measures against the big 'T' - Terror.

It boils the blood.

* The official Israeli term for Palestinian citizens of Israel is Arab-Israelis. This is political, implying that the Palestinians are simply Arabs and as such can go and live anywhere in the Arab world (Why not choose Jordan, Sir? After all, most of your relatives are already there...) 'The Palestinians don't exist' is a pretty familiar refrain among Israelis. 'Arab-Israelis' that I've spoken to consider themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is good enough for me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

No accountability

Apparently you can sow 1 million cluster bombs across southern Lebanon -

[“What’s shocking and I would say, to me, completely immoral, is that 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this,” said the UN's Jan Egeland.]

- without having to justify your actions. So far the IDF and the Office of the Prime Minister have refused flatly to talk about the cluster bombs on camera while the MFA says there is a "slim" chance, but says that it should really be the IDF because the cluster bombs are not illegal under international law.

So far, 21 people have been killed by unexploded Israeli cluster bombs in Lebanon - that's already about half the number of israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah.

Surely someone has to account for this?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Haul arse to Iran

Why did Condoleezza Rice bother coming to Israel/Palestine? As the BBC has it:

"By all accounts, the US secretary of state had no fresh ideas to offer to revive what used to be called the Middle East peace process.
Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides have governments too weak to handle any major initiative.
Aides on all sides played down the prospects of any progress. It seems they were right. So why come at all?
Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran."

The gist is that Condi is building a coaltion for a strike on Iran. If so, I want to get my arse there first.

In Haaretz, Gideon Levy doesn't make the Iran connection - but the scathing nature of his piece makes Iran the great unsaid.

"Like a periodic visit by an especially annoying relative from overseas, Condoleezza Rice was here again.
The same declarations, the same texts devoid of content, the same sycophancy, the same official aircraft heading back to where it came from....
Rice has been here six times in the course of a year and a half, and what has come of it? Has anyone asked her about this? Does she ask herself?
It is hard to understand how the secretary of state allows herself to be so humiliated.
It is even harder to understand how the superpower she represents allows itself to act in such a hollow and useless way."

I tend to think Iran has a rational ambition of being a world player and regional power. Ahmedinejad is using the anti-Israel rhetoric and Hezbollah to appeal to the Arab street to be seen as the only one who stands up to Israel and for Muslim pride, something that also has all the 'sensible Sunni' states like Egypt worried.

In his piece 'Let 'em have nukes, but...' in the International Herald Tribune, Ted Koppel writes that the Mullahs should watch The Godfather before unleashing nuclear judgement. By all means have the bomb - but woe betide the Mullahs should one explode in Israel or Milwaukee...

For Israelis, the threat of a devastating response isn't much use if they have already been nuked, which is why a lot of people here ask why the world doesn't take Ahmedinejad literally when he says he wants to wipe Israel off the map.

After all - Hitler wasn't rational either, they say.

Israeli commentators have even begun exploring the 'land for nukes' angle, in which Israel takes a 'pro-active role' in the Iran tangle by basically being a lot nicer and fairer to the Palestinians so Ahmedinejad cannot use Israel as a justification for his nuclear ambitions.

Can't see that being popular here - Israel will exhaust all options that do not involve being fair to the Pals before agreeing to negotiate. The only outsider they would allow to dictate to them is the US.

More worrying is a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran because they think the rest of the world has left them on their own. Then there could be no doubt - Iran really would want Israel off the map.

To put an end to the debate, I emailed Ahmadinejad via his blog - but the cad hasn't replied and now I can't even open his site, so maybe he is being hacked.

Anyhow, I must start plotting to get myself to Persia...

*** I found the book "How to stop worrying and start living" by Dale Carnegie on a bench here in Tel Aviv today.

Maybe it was meant to be. I'm much more open to seeing what's in these self-help books than before. Can't dismiss it if you don;'t know what's in it. Got 5 stars on Amazon too!

This copy has lost the first 26 pages. On P.27 there is a quoted line: "The most relaxing recreating forces are a healthy religion, sleep, music and laughter." Religion, eh? And what about sex? ***

Articles from Syria

  • Christian Science Monitor - Study Arabic

  • Al-Hayat - commentary on CSM piece (in Arabic)

  • Syria Today - Aramaic in Syria

  • UN IRIN - Palestinians in Iraq

  • UN IRIN - Christians in Syria

  • UN IRIN - Training refugees

  • UN IRIN - Blogging in Syria

  • UN IRIN - Women photography project

  • Catholic Herald - Deir Mar Musa (text version)

  • And from Catalonia...
  • Catalonia Today - Pakistan quake / foreign students (text version)