dimanche 8 avril 2012

La terre dans la tête

1,2,3 soleil au camp d'Al-Azza
Au delà du Mur,

Chacun sait d’où il vient,
Le béton n’y changera rien.
Génération après génération,
Le souvenir n’est que répétition.

Déraciné du jour au lendemain,
La Clé de leur foyer abandonné,
Est l’héritage d’un passé tourmenté.
Le Retour est leur unique refrain.

Au delà du Mur, le rêve affronte l’autisme.
Nul ne soupire, chacun garde son sourire,
Avec l’espoir en ligne de mire.

Au delà du Mur, l’œuvre sioniste
N’attire pas la masse des touristes,
Pour qui Palestine rime avec terrorisme.

Au delà du Mur, « circulez, y a rien à voir » !

 “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” David Ben-Gurion 


jeudi 22 mars 2012

Shuafat refugee camp: Walled ghetto in Jerusalem gets more walls

As published in +972 Magazine.

For the people using the brand new light rail in Jerusalem, Shuafat is just another station servicing an Arab neighborhood in the city. But Shuafuat refugee camp, stuck between the French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev settlements (and distinct from the nearby neighborhood of the same name), is a third world community that lies just two kilometers away from the country’s most important tourist sites.

The last section of the Wall completed recently

Founded in 1964 by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), when East Jerusalem was still part of Jordan, the camp is now home to 11,000 registered refugees, though the actual population is likely above 18,000. After the Six-Day War in 1967, this part of the city was annexed by Israel.

Although many Palestinians obtained Israeli nationality after the 1948 war, a majority of Shuafat’s inhabitants (70 percent) are currently living under a hybrid status. They have neither Israeli citizenship nor Palestinian identity documents. They are permanent residents of Jerusalem, which means they can leave and enter the municipal boundaries of the city as they wish, but are not full citizens of Israel. The remaining 30 percent have no Israeli residency at all, and cannot cross the checkpoint. One resident explained that, because of this in-between status, some married couples move there if one spouse has Jerusalem residency and the other has a West Bank ID. Palestinians with Jerusalem residency lose their status if they live outside of the Jerusalem municipal borders, and Shuafat is the only place inside the municipality that someone with a Palestinian ID can reside.

This paradoxical legal situation has serious consequences for the day-to-day life of people living here. The Palestinian Authority does not have access to the camp, which Israeli police do not enter. There is no structure for dealing with problems, even petty crime, said one resident. Although residents and refugees pay taxes to the municipal authorities, few services are delivered there. According to a report published by the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, roads, sewage, water, street lights, garbage collection, schools, and mail are Israel’s responsibility, but are not provided. This exclusion is nearly total, following the construction of a new section of the separation wall surrounding the camp. A new checkpoint has been opened by Israel in order to exercise greater control over entry and exit from the camp. Its residents are left to fend for themselves because of the lawless situation inside the camp.

Nassri Hussein Ghanein, a local businessman who owns a phone company outside of the camp itself, but surrounded by the wall, observes that the new checkpoint did not change many things for his business. “The same rules are still in place,” he said. “However, the so-called security fence increased road congestion, and accidents are frequent when pupils come out of school at one o’clock,” he added.

Nassri mentions that the road surfaces are in a very bad condition and people suffer from a poor drainage system. “We have all the reasons to think that next winter we will face the same problem, as nobody is taking care of it.”

Nassri Hussein Ghanein

According to the UNRWA report, one major problem is overcrowding  in the camp, which leads to terrible sanitary conditions.

The trash burning
 “The garbage collection is badly taken care of. Only seven or eight UN employees are collecting the trash whereas at least 15 people should be working on it,” he explained. Because of the accumulation of trash, inhabitants have no other choices but to burn it, which is a health hazard, particularly for children.

Nassri says that the six medical clinics in the camp are insufficient to deal with the health needs of 18,000 people.  Of those clinics, only one is funded by UNRWA, with the rest subsisting on private funding. People with a permanent residency Jerusalem identity card are allowed to access Israeli hospitals, but those without an entry permit have to travel to Ramallah for treatment. In these cases, ambulances cannot go to the Qalandia checkpoint leading to Ramallah directly from Shuafat. Instead, they must journey around Jerusalem to enter Ramallah from the southeast, which is a long ride. Patients who don’t have a residency permit sometimes arrive in at the hospital too late.

These concerns are shared by the owner of a décor business, Abu Mahmoud, and his employee Adel Hamad Hamed.  Both of them live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority but work in this annexed part of Jerusalem. On the day we visited, Abu Mahmoud was stuck at an Israeli checkpoint for four hours on the road from Ramallah, which he says is a regular occurrence.
Adel is from the village of Dura Al-Khalil, near Hebron. Every day he commutes from his village to Shuafat, and has to drive the long way around the city to avoid going into Jerusalem, where he has no entry permit.

Adel Hamad Hamed

“Life in the West Bank is go to work and go home and go to work and go home, and then go to your death,” he bitterly explains.
He acknowledges the difficulties of life in the camp under Israeli control, but also talks about the advantages of Israeli residency. “You can go to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv. But I can’t go there… I want to see the sea.”
People complain about the neglect of the Israeli authorities, since they expect to receive the same services allocated to other areas of Jerusalem, but they also express that they feel part of Palestinian society. It appears that many in this community wish to be a part of areas controlled by the PA, and would like to participate in the next legislative elections.
Until the situation changes, they will remain caught in the space between the de facto borders. Residents make do and carry on, even as they are marginalized and largely forgotten.

Alexis Thiry and Markus Schlotterbeck (Markus is an organizer based in Philadelphia. Markus currently lives and volunteers in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.)

lundi 19 mars 2012

« What’s your name ? »

Groupe de Shebab originaires de Nablus rencontrés dans le plus vieux bain turc de la ville

2011-2012, West Bank. Les Shebab en Palestine ne sont pas des islamistes assoiffés de sang qui répandent la terreur au nom d’Allah. Shebab littéralement veut dire « jeune » en Arabe.  Le terme renvoie à une catégorie particulière de la population qu’on peut d'avantage caricaturer que quantifier. Le Shebab ne rentre pas dans une classe d’âge bien délimitée. Il peut avoir 16 ou 25 ans. Il n’est probablement pas marié, et ne sait pas encore ce que l’avenir lui réserve. L’avenir, beaucoup n’en ont pas. Les jeunes palestiniens bardés de diplômes peinent à trouver des emplois correspondant à leur domaine d’étude. On les entend débattre ostensiblement à la terrasse des cafés. Les cheveux gominés, le regard fier, ils gardent en toute circonstance la tête haute. Quand certains trompent l’ennui en mastiquant des graines de tournesol qu’on appelle ici "Sham's", d’autres préfèrent incarner leurs idoles du real ou du barça sur les terrains de foot poussiéreux. Pour le touriste de passage, le Shebab est le « gros fouteur de bordel », un matcho frustré rempli à rebord de testostérone guettant le passage de l’européenne blonde aux yeux bleues. Pour le volontaire philanthrope venu en Palestine apporter sa petite pierre, le Shebab représente dans beaucoup de cas, l’écart culturel entre l’Ouest et l’Est. Mais il suffit souvent de briser la glace pour comprendre que le jeune pense différemment du groupe qui l’influence.  En écrivant ça, j’ai l’impression d’entendre un sociologue français parler des jeunes des banlieues. Mais bon… passés les premiers sarcasmes et la fameuse question « What’s your name ? », beaucoup sont curieux de savoir ce que nous pensons, nous visiteurs, de la politique d’occupation, de la cause palestinienne en général, et l’échange verbal se termine facilement par une poignée de main virile et un partage de numéros. 

Jeune d'Hébron

dimanche 4 mars 2012

Voir la neige en Palestine et mourir

2 Mars 2012. De la neige en Palestine, c’est aussi rare qu’une averse au milieu du désert. Un jour de neige est, officieusement bien sûr, un jour férié en Palestine, et pour cause, il n’avait pas neigé depuis 2002. A peine quelques millimètres d’épaisseur et le pays tourne au ralenti, les enfants ne vont pas à l’école et tout le monde s’en réjouit. Même Walid, l’épicier aigri du quartier avait le sourire aux lèvres. Ça arrive peut être une fois tous les dix ans, mais j’ai eu l’immense privilège de pouvoir participer à l’immense bataille de boules de neige organisée à l’improviste par les jeunes du camps. Du bonheur à l'état pur...

La clé du retour sous la neige 

samedi 3 mars 2012

‘We are in a continuous intifada’: Interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot

As published in +972 Magazine.

Sometimes accused of being an apparatus composed only of old figures, Yasser Arafat’s political formation, Fatah, also includes young personalities. Husam Zomlot, the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s Commission for International Affairs, embodies the party’s new generation. Fluent in English, he is frequently interviewed by the western media. He talks in a structured manner with passion and determination. He is a recognized scholar both in Palestine and the West, and was part of the delegation presenting the Palestinian statehood request at the United Nations in September 2011. He has agreed to speak about this diplomatic initiative in an interview for +972 Magazine on February 22 in his Ramallah office, and to share his thoughts concerning the future of the Palestinian struggle.

 You were part of the delegation promoting the bid for Palestinians statehood in the United Nations in New York. What did you try to achieve through this initiative, and how you would describe the outcomes, considering the certainty of an American’s veto?

Our first goal was to catch the attention of the international community, and reaffirm our discourse and the narrative of the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas, in the framework of the General Assembly, talked about the Nakba and the forced exodus of  700,000 people. As he said, correctly, occupied territories are not “disputed,” and settlements are not “neighborhoods,” as the current Israeli administration likes to present it.

Our second ambition was the reaffirmation of the international law, based on existing UN resolutions, such as our “right of return,” in order to break down the current disequilibrium. International law is a legal weapon aiming to defend our people. Joining institutions such as the International Court of Justice could not only help to pursue those harming civilians, but more importantly, it could prevent crimes before they are committed. A soldier would think twice before shooting unarmed civilians.

We need to create legal parity in order to turn occupied territory into an occupied state. We are devoted to reaching state-to-state negotiations to solve this conflict. Previous talks were biased and favored Israel since it was maintaining a disastrous status quo. So, to answer your question, I would not call it a failure. The Security Council is not the only organ of the United Nations. A majority of States are ready to vote in our favor within the General Assembly. Last and not least, this initiative aimed and succeeded in fostering our national pride, and this shouldn’t be underestimated.

As people’s frustration is rising after years of negotiations, do you think the PA and Fatah compromised too much with Israel?

I do not share this point of view. I truly believe Fatah initiated the negotiations twenty years ago in a good faith. Netanyahu’s biggest fear at the moment is the success of our institutions. We managed to deprive Israel of its monopoly over the territories.
On the other hand the Palestinian Authority has to undertake the constant need to prove that it is a viable entity. The international community is constantly observing us while other countries aren’t under such scrutiny. The other cost is that negotiations made occupation more comfortable for Israel over time.

Do you think there is more talk of “giving Israel back the keys” or “one state”? If so, what would that look like?

If you are talking about dismantling the PA, I don’t regard it as a pragmatic option. It would be a political suicide. I do think the PA should be redefined and reformed, but this decision belongs to the PLO. The cost of such action would be so high regarding its possible benefits. We provide a number of public services. We have national health care coverage and public education, and the Palestinian people greatly rely on these services. The trend is to strengthen our national institutions, not dismantle them. If we do so, the occupation will fill in the gap, and divide and fragment Palestinian society more and more.

Since negotiations are heading nowhere with the current Israeli administration, what kind of strategy should the PA adopt to fulfill the dream of a Palestinian state? Do you regard “popular resistance” as the last option available by the Palestinians to fight occupation?  If yes, would you call it a “third intifada”? How should it be implemented?

I don’t like dramatic terms. It is definitely not the last option in our hands, but you are right, it is in many ways more effective than armed resistance. The Arab Spring proved its effectiveness and the Palestinians are watching what’s happening in Tahrir Square. The future liberation of Khader Adnan is the direct consequence of popular mobilization combined with international pressure. The Palestinian people have been talking about Adnan’s battle of hunger.
Popular resistance will not be the third intifada. In fact, the Palestinian people has been resisting for one hundred years, we are engaged in a continuous intifada. When a strike was lunched in 1936, it was already an intifada. Resistance, including armed resistance, is a right, but it is not in any way an obligation. Negotiations involve a very limited number of persons, and armed resistance involves two or three percent of the people. Popular resistance, such as a broad boycott campaign, aims to gather all fragments of the society no matter which political party they belong to, no matter their social class or their religion. But it doesn’t mean political parties don’t hold any responsibilities. Fatah has defined its new strategy during its Sixth Congress in 2009 during which Fatah officially gave up the armed struggle to be replaced with/by peaceful popular resistance. And we are pleased to see that Hamas has joined us recently (January 2012). It became a point of consensus between us, and something I can’t but welcome.

Do you think the BDS campaign makes a mistake by not differentiating goods coming from Israel, and goods coming from the settlements? 

No, I think a large-scale boycott should target all institutions implicated in occupation and illegality.  At the moment, occupation is more profitable than costly. Eighty percent of our water is either transferred to Israel or consumed by settlers. We need to bring Israel to its weakness.

Has the Fatah leadership thoroughly weighed the costs and benefits of a partnership with Hamas? And if the costs are clear, what do you see as the greatest benefits?

Let me be clear on this. Unity is our primary objective. To achieve popular resistance, the Palestinian society has to be united. I personally don’t know when the legislative elections will be held, but they are essential to form a united government.  The practice of blackmail perpetrated by Israel can no longer be tolerated. Unity has much more value than their sanctions. The goal is to agree on what we disagree about. No party can make war or peace decisions on its own, its decisions do not only involve themselves, but the whole population. We need to work together and implement collective decisions.

dimanche 26 février 2012

Bloody Friday

24 Février 2012. Ce Vendredi le collectif Youth Against Settlement avait appelé la population d’Hébron à se mobiliser pour demander la réouverture de la Rue Shuhada, transformée en zone « stérile » après la tuerie perpétrée par un extrémiste juif le 25 Février 1994. C’était, il y a tout juste 18 ans. Ici, personne n’a oublié. 

Shuhada street
Des centaines de personnes ont répondu à l’appel, y compris un nombre important d’israéliens et d'internationaux. Le cortège, aux couleurs de la Palestine et de la nouvelle Syrie était, comme c’est le cas souvent ici, grossi par une meute de photographes et journalistes de tout poil (moi compris), en quête d’images chocs.

Manifester dans les territoires occupés n’est pas chose facile. En cas d’arrestation, les Palestiniens sont en effet soumis à loi martiale décrétée depuis la guerre des six jours.

Ce n’était pas mon premier coup d’essai, je savais pertinemment ce qui allait se passer: cette marche, supposée non-violente, à vite tournée à l’affrontement quand des dizaines jeunes palestiniens, communément appelés ici, Shebabs, ont commencé à jeter des pierres sur les soldats.

Encore une fois, je me suis demandé ce qui avait bien pu me pousser à assister à ça. Le sentiment de solidarité,  qui m’avait envahi, s’est vite envolé quand le rythme des slogans, fut supplanté par les premières détonations.

Une atmosphère de guerre urbaine régnait dans les rues d’Hébron ce jour là.  L’asphalte était recouvert de projectiles en tout genre. L’air ambiant, imprégné par le gaz et les produits chimiques anti-émeutes, est vite devenu irrespirable.

Les ambulanciers débordés n’ont pas non plus été épargnés par les tirs. Malgré le chaos et l’absence totale de protections, ils ont acheminé sans interruption les nombreux blessés vers l’hôpital de quartier. L’un d’eux est revenu le visage en sang, après avoir secouru un jeune manifestant.

Ces manifestations sont illégales selon les autorités militaires.  Jeter une pierre sur un soldat, revient à prendre beaucoup de risques et demande une bonne dose d’inconscience. Les forces israéliennes utilisent fréquemment des balles réelles pour contenir les jeunes qui veulent en découdre. Au même moment, à l’autre bout de la Cisjordanie, un protestataire de 25 ans  a été tué d’une balle dans le thorax. Il est mort à l’hôpital de Ramallah, dans l’indifférence générale. L’évènement n’a presque pas été relaté par les médias occidentaux.

Ceci a un nom : impunité.

vendredi 17 février 2012

Ex-political prisoner shares journey though Israeli jails

As published on +972 Magazine

Friday, February 17 2012 There were 4,937 political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers in November 2011 according to Adameer, a Palestinian non-governmental organization. Yazan Abdulhadi was one of them before he was released on November 28, 2011, between the two swaps of the deal between Israel and Hamas to free Gilad Schalit (not as part of the deal). On January 7, 2012, he agreed to give an interview that would be published in +972 Magazine. The conversation took place in Ramallah, at Café Pronto.

By Alexis Thiry

Picture taken by Yazan's neighbour during the arrest

Yazan spent 15 months in Israeli prisons, accused of being a member of a student union affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel claims is a terrorist organization. Israel can arrest any member of an illegal political group in the West Bank, based on a British law enacted during the time of the mandate.

His is the story of many Palestinians arrested for what Israel calls security concerns, but actually for political activity, in Area A, which is officially under full Palestinian civil and security control.  Sharing his experience in prison, he says, remains a “duty as long as there is a Palestinian prisoner still in the occupation’s prisons.”

His point of view as an insider helps reveal details of interrogation methods and living conditions in Israeli prisons.

Ramallah. August 9, 2010.

Abdulhadi was 22 years old when Israeli forces arrested him in the early morning of August 9, 2010. “My arrest came as no surprise for me since it was part of a broader campaign targeting university students with a political background,” he explained. Some of his “comrades had already been interrogated,” and his name, he says, was on a list. About 15 men, including a member of the intelligence, turned his room upside down searching for subversive books and evidence.

Handcuffed and eyes covered, he was escorted to a military vehicle that took him to a detention center located in the Israeli settlement of Beit El near Ramallah. After answering questions about his health, he was transferred to Jerusalem for interrogation. “Three or four of the policemen came into the room, and asked me to undress, which I refused,” Yazan said. “They threatened me with an electronic device, and they gave me an orange uniform similar to what you see on television.”

Jerusalem interrogation center. August-September 2010. 54 days of isolation.

“You are hiding something, you are a terrorist, you are a Nazi, you want to drink our blood,” the interrogators said, according to Yazan.

The investigation conducted by Israel’s Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet) about the student movement lasted 15 days in total, during ten of which he was refused legal advice. Yazan said his interrogators did not use physical torture but psychological pressure, such as blackmail, saying things like: “If you don’t talk, you father will!”, “If you don’t help us you will spend the rest of your life behind bars… If you don’t talk, we will give you to the Palestinian Authority intelligence for interrogation, and who knows how you will be treated over there.”

Yazan said he was made to sit on a chair for ten hours at a time, and not allowed to sleep, then given 30 minutes to rest in his cell before answering more questions by ten different officers from the intelligence agency.

During and after his interrogation, Yazan related that he was put in complete isolation for 54 days. His cell was two square meters, with no sunlight. The only people allowed to see him were the lawyer appointed by the Palestinian Minister of Prisoner’s Affairs, and Red Cross representatives, visiting every Monday. Neither of them was allowed to see either the interrogation room or the cell. Though he is skeptical about the authority these figures hold within the Israeli prison regime, they did provide some emotional support.

“Even lawyers don’t have much authority. It is known that your sentence is already a decision of the intelligence, not of the court,” Yazan said. “It [the legal representation] is like a decoration. During my interrogation, one of the officers told me I would be sentenced for one or two years, which was right.”

Meeting the Red Cross was his “lucky day”, he said. They brought some messages to his family. “I remember a lady who came one day and asked me if they gave me new clothes, and I said yes, they did yesterday. She laughed before telling me they always do that to show that prisoners are well treated.”

Ashkelon Prison. November 2011.  Nine months.

“Hearing stories about prison is nothing compared to what you experience,” Yazan said.

Since the Israeli authorities could only prove Yazan’s membership in an illegal organization based on the evidence the soldiers found in his room, and from previous confessions of other prisoners, the evidence was deemed insufficient to continue the interrogation. His case was finally sent to the military court where he was tried for membership in a student union affiliated with  the PFLP. Before he was convicted, he was transferred to a prison in Ashkelon, which was unusual: many of the prisoners there were serving long sentences in this facility, for conviction of charges of violence – they are known in Israel as prisoners with “blood on their hands.”

His trial started in November 2010 and ended in March 2011. The sessions took place twice per month in Ofer Prison, an incarceration facility near Ramallah. “Going there is a 15-hour journey during which you cannot possibly eat, smoke, or go to the toilet.” The guards ensuring the transfer between Ashkelon and Ofer have a reputation of being brutal and provocative, and stories of maltreatment circulate among prisoners, he said.

Birzeit University provided another lawyer for the trial, in addition to the one previously provided by Palestinian authorities. Since so many students get arrested, the university charges no fees if the defendant has no criminal background. Since Yazan knew the Shin Bet had already settled his case, he was advised to agree to a list of charges that equated to a sentence of 15 months.

As he spoke of daily life in Ashkelon, Yazan mentioned that Fatah and Hamas militants imprisoned there had separate cells to prevent tensions. Yazan did not live with conservative Muslims: “Personally, as a leftist, my lifestyle couldn’t possibly match with a Hamas prisoner who prays five times a day.”

He explained that nine other prisoners lived with him. Six of them were serving life sentences, three of whom were released after the Schalit deal. His most atypical cellmate was a Samaritan Palestinian. He said he was serving six life sentences for being part of the Palestinian resistance in Nablus where the small community of Samaritans, whose faith is closely related to Judaism, still exists despite the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

In prison, communication with the outside world is limited and closely controlled. Visits are regulated by Israeli authorities, and Yazan said they decided arbitrarily which prisoner can be visited. He was one of the luckiest. The Red Cross organized transportation for his mother and sister to see him. His other sister could not obtain clearance, because they had changed their family names when they married, lowering their eligibility for permits.

Prisoners listened regularly to a popular radio broadcast program in which a speaker reads messages posted by families. The show is the most effective bond prisoners have with Palestinian territories, since only one letter out of five reaches either the family or the prisoner, due to censorship.

“I got lucky because my brother in-law is employed at Radio Amwaj, and kept me posted on air about my family,” Yazan said.

Yazan related conversations he had with prisoners who had been incarcerated for 18 years. “He started to ask me some questions about Facebook.  I tried to explain, but…he was getting more and more confused about the technology. Some prisoners did not see the face of a woman for 30 years. How can they possibly understand that today young women are going to university?”

Ketsiot Prison. 21 days of supportive hunger strike. 

Yazan Abdulhadi completed his 15 months sentence in Ketsiot between October and November 2011, during which he went on what is known as a “supportive strike.”  He explained there are two kinds of hunger strikes: The open strike signifies that you are prepared to fast even if you put your life in danger. The supportive strike is meant to express solidarity with those on open strike, but does not reach the same level of commitment.
There are currently some 20 Palestinian prisoners living in absolute isolation for “security reasons”, some of them for about 15 years. One of the goals of the hunger strike was to protest this solitary confinement. Another demand was to cancel the informal “Schalit policy” stating that “everything that Schalit did not have in captivity, Palestinian prisoner should not have, such as free Hebrew courses.” It is a retaliatory policy aiming to make Palestinian prisoners aware of what Schalit has been through.

“Now he is back home, and the pressure on the prisoners is just increasing,” Yazan said.

After 21 days of open strike in November 2011, an agreement was eventually signed with Israel to stop the practice of putting prisoners in solitary confinement. To date, the terms have not been honored.

Still, Yazan thought the hunger strike was a success: “Even if it didn’t end the case of isolation, it gave the prisoner a new spirit, it means we can put pressure on the authorities, just as they put pressure on us.” Yazan said.

Ramallah. 2012.

Yazan was released by the IDF on November 28, 2012. He spent 15 months in total in Israeli prisons, including four months in the Meggido and Ketsiot prisons. “Celebrating my liberation with my friends and family was one of the most intense moments of my life,” he said.
He now wants to put his student activism on hold until he graduates from university. He says he has had enough for the moment. “The question is not whether or not I have the right to be political. I do have the right to carry on, but the intelligence is watching released prisoners, and my only purpose now is to finish university.”

His experience left him bitter. “What I did was just selling books, and fighting for a less privatized education,” Yazan said. “I don’t understand the connection between that and security matters. I think Israel has a problem with organizations raising national consciousness.”