Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jewish Voice for Peace statement in support of BDS



24 January 2012

Jewish Voice for Peace statement on BDS

By Jewish Voice for Peace, BDS Movement – 24 Jan 2012

Summary: JVP has grown dramatically in size and influence in the past two years. As part of the ongoing assessment sparked by this growth, JVP reviewed its BDS policy. On the basis of an organization-wide conversation about BDS, we have refined our position while maintaining our strategy. JVP shares the aims of the Palestinian Boycott National Committee — ending the occupation, achieving equality for Palestinians now living in Israel, and recognizing Palestinian refugees’ right of return. JVP focuses our efforts on boycott and divestment campaigns that directly target Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. We believe this to be the most effective way for JVP to help bring about the aims we share with the Palestinian BDS call.

JVP is dedicated to promoting full equality and democracy for all Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that an enduring peace will remain out of reach until Palestinians as well as Israelis can negotiate from positions of strength. This requires a shift from the prevailing imbalance of power. JVP fully endorses the use of nonviolent strategies to achieve this shift. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, of which JVP is a part, plays a central role in this work.

Palestinian activists have long engaged in non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation and to Israel’s institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against its Palestinian citizens, but they have been subjected to repressive measures by Israel, and in the past, the impact of their actions has been diminished by the international media’s focus on violent resistance.

Since 2005, Palestinians, Israeli allies and hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide have been mobilized in response to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. These campaigns include: economic, cultural and academic boycotts of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, and of Israel itself; divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights; and calls for economic sanctions against Israel.

The Palestinian civil society BDS call, now led by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee on behalf of its constituent organizations and unions, which represent the majority of Palestinian civil society, has three stated goals:
  • an end to the occupation;
  • equality for Palestinians now living in Israel; and
  • recognition of Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
We share these aims, and believe that they can and must, in the end, be achieved in mutually-agreed ways that uphold the well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

As a force of U.S.-based Jews and allies, JVP has considered the full range of BDS campaigns, and has chosen to focus our efforts on boycott and divestment campaigns that directly target Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. We believe this to be the most effective way for JVP to help bring about the aims we share with the Palestinian BDS call.

In solidarity with the Palestinian Boycott National Committee and other Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations, JVP has initiated and sustained the largest divestment campaign mounted in the United States for Palestinian human rights -– the growing movement to induce investment giant TIAA-CREF to divest of its holdings in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Boycott National Committee stands fully behind the JVP-initiated TIAA-CREF campaign, and has urged “all groups working on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns in the U.S., especially on university campuses, to endorse this campaign and join it, whenever possible, to amplify its reach and impact across the U.S.”

JVP has issued guidelines to support our chapters in engaging in BDS campaigns at a local level through work with coalitions of concerned activists.

JVP rejects the assertion that BDS is inherently anti-Semitic. We will defend activists around the world who employ the full range of BDS tactics when they are demonized or wrongly accused of anti-Semitism.
After strategic and ethical analysis and organization-wide deliberation among our members, JVP affirms our role in the larger BDS movement. We are committed to a continuing review of our role that takes into account the evolving political situation, the growing BDS movement, and the responses of JVP’s constituency and the people to whom we speak.

Original Link: http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/content/jvp-issues#1

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Always was, Always will be Aboriginal Land: commemorating Invasion Day in Australia


Dear friends,
as you will be well aware, this blog is primarily dedicated to providing updates, news and information about Palestine.  I do occasionally post on other issues in the Middle East.  Today, my post is specifically about Australia and the 224th anniversary of the European colonisation and ethnic cleansing of this country.

One of the reasons, I became active in the Palestine solidarity campaign was because I saw the similarities between the Indigenous struggle of the Palestinian people and the struggle of Indigenous Australians.  Coming from a family of mixed heritage (my mother is Aboriginal and my father comes from a mixed European background), my first engagement with political activism was around Aboriginal and Indigenous rights and the struggle for land rights and justice in this country.

Today, the 26th January, is marked officially as "Australia Day", however, to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (the Indigenous people of Australia), the day is known as Invasion Day and/or Survival Day.  On this day, we commemorate and remember the struggle of Indigenous Australians against colonisation, dispossession and injustice and continue to mark the fact that the struggle for Indigenous Australian rights continues in this country.

Aboriginal Australians have been no different from the Palestinians in fighting back against ethnic cleansing and settler-colonisation. Our people actually carried out an extensive armed resistance to European settler colonialism. This resistance began the moment Cook set foot on Australian soil in 1770 – the Gweagal people attacked Cook’s landing party with spears and woomeras. From that moment on Aboriginal resistance never ceased. 

When Phillip arrived in Australia in 1788, Aboriginals continued their resistance – lead by warriors like Pemulwuy (Eorua people), in Western Australia an armed resistance was led by Noongar warriors Yagan, Calyute and Weeip.   In Tasmania, Aboriginals waged years of resistance against settler-colonisation.  The Aboriginal resistance during this period was intensive, as was the colonial repression.  From1828 - 1832, the colonial forces implemented martial law and at the end of this period only a small number of  Tasmanian Aboriginals remained alive, the majority of them killed by the colonisers.

In Queensland, the Kalkadoon people similarly waged an armed struggle against the Queensland police and settler-colonialists in the 1870s and 1880s. The Kalkadoon’s land ran from Mount Isa to Conclurry, and they were re-known for being fierce warriors. As soon as European settlers began their land grab of Kalkadoon land, they were met with a fierce resistance from the Kalkadoon. The Kalkadoon actually formed disciplined units, armed with stone clubs and razor sharp stone pointed spears,and engaged in guerrilla warfare against the European settlers and police in the region. After the police massacred many of the Kalkadoon women and children in retaliation for the killing of the settler-invaders, the Kalkadoon took a stand in an area known as Battle Mountain in 1884. 

After initially having the upper-hand in the battle, the Kalkadoon were defeated due to the invaders superior modern weaponry. More than 200 of their warriors killed during the battle, breaking the back of the Kalkadoon resistance. Modern studies estimate more than 900 Kalkadoon lost their lives in battle or died from arsenic laced flour, blankets infect with the measles and poisoned water holes.

By the 1900s Aboriginal armed resistance to European invasion had come to an end, however, this did not mean the end of Aboriginal resistance.

When the Israeli Knesset passed the Nakba bill in an attempt to prevent Palestinians commemorating the Nakba (the catastrophe) and the ethnic cleansing of their people by Zionist settler-colonial forces, the Israeli right-wingers such as Danny Aylon claimed that there was no other country in the world which would "standy by while its celebrations of independence are turned into a memorial service".

Aylon clearly either didn't know or chose to ignore the fact that in Australia, Aboriginal Australians have since the first official "Australia Day" in 1938 marked it as a day of mourning, resistance and struggle.

Prior to 1938, the individual states had marked the day as a celebration of European colonisation on state level not at a national level.  In 1934, the NSW state government marked the day by  re-enacting Captain Phillips' arrival and flag-raising at Sydney Cove and by staging a parade.   As part of the day, 120 motorised floats, stretching 1.5 miles, took one and a half half hours to pass through the streets of Sydney.   The theme of the parade was "March to Nationhood". 

The organisers of the event to try and create some sort of bizarre authenticity brought in 26 Aboriginal people from Menindee, a settlement of Wiradjuri and Barkendjii people on the River Darling, and from Brewarrina east of Bourke (the Murawari people) to act out Aboriginal resistance to the British landing, and to pose on the first float in the parade.  

That day, there were also other Aboriginal people at the proceedings, including Aboriginal activist,  William Cooper,  founder of the Australian Aborigines' League in Victoria in 1936, as well as  Jack Patten, Bill Ferguson and Pearl Gibbs who was the head of the  Aborigines' Progressive Association. For these Aboriginal leaders and activists, Australia Day was a "day of mourning"


As a result, in 1938, on the 150th anniversary of colonisation, Aboriginal Australians gathered at a national conference to mark a "national day of mourning and protest" and issued a 10 point statement protesting the racist mistreatment and oppression of Aboriginal Australians.

The statement called for Aboriginal people to be able to access the same citizenship rights as those of white-Australians - something that would not be granted until 1967 (for more information click here).

The conference also called for Aboriginal land rights, equal employment opportunity, improvement in standards of health, housing and education.  The conference also took a stand against the government sanction stealing of Indigenous children (for more information click here).  In addition, the conference argued for the termination of the Aboriginal Protection Board and the dumping of the Aborigines Protection Act 1901-1936 (NSW) which restricted controlled all aspects of Aboriginal life, from marriage to employment.


Over the next 35 years Aboriginal resistance continued. You can read more about it here in an article I wroted in 2001 - click here to read.

In 1972, Aboriginal resistance and the Aboriginal land rights struggle reached a new level when four young Aboriginal activists set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. 

In 1972, the then Prime Minister, Billy McMahon government in response to an Indigenous land rights claim by the Yirrakala people issues a  White Paper on January 25, 1972 declaring that it was in the "national interest" and the interest of Aboriginal people themselves that mining exploration on Aboriginal reserves should continue.  The Indigenous response was immediate. Four Aboriginal activists, with the aid of the Communist Party of Australia, traveled to Canberra to establish the tent embassy in protest. Soon Aborigines came from all over the country to help staff the embassy.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy protesters put forward a number of key demands, including calling for Aboriginal legal title to and control of mining rights on existing reserve lands and settlements throughout Australia; the preservation of all sacred sites throughout Australia; compensation monies for land not returnable, in the form of a down payment of $6 billion and an annual percentage of gross national income.

The embassy formed alliances with anyone — black or white — who supported the call for indigenous rights.
It was the tent embassy's reliance on Aboriginal self-organisation and direct public protest action which resulted in thousand of Australians  marching in Canberra and around the country in support of Aboriginal rights.

I have included below the film "Tent Embassy" (in four parts) below which outlines the history of the Tent Embassy and some footage taken from Ningla A-Na (Hungry for our Land) (1972), a film documenting Black activism in Australia in the 1970s, in particular the Tent Embassy.  

Today we once again remember that "White Australia has a Black History" and we remember once again today and always that  the land on which today's Australia stands: "Always was, Always will be Aboriginal Land"

in solidarity, Kim

Warning: 
Tent Embassy & Ningla A- Na  
contain images of Indigenous people now deceased

TENT EMBASSY 
Directed by Frances Peters-Little
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Ningla A-Na (Hungry for our Land) (1972)

2nd police attack on Embassy

3rd police attack on Embassy

Friday, January 20, 2012

Inequality Report: Discrimination against the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel

Dear friends,
Adalah: the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in February 2011 issued the following report called: The Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel. The report outlines the systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israels and notes there are over 30 laws that actively discriminate against the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.

In the last year, since the report was issued, Adalah has also issued a number of briefing documents outlining the range of NEW discriminatory laws either passed or being considered by the Israel Knesset. You can access their June 2011 briefing paper on the new laws here.

To read more of Adalah's reports or about their work, you can visit their website here.

In solidarity, Kim

The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel - Inequality Report

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Comprehensive BDS Booklet: Targeting Israeli Apartheid


Targeting Israeli Apartheid: a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Handbook

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Wall Museum" tells the stories of Palestinian women in Occupied Bethlehem

Dear friends,
as many of you will be aware, many Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists refusing to be intimidated by Israel's apartheid wall have used it as "canvas" for liberation, spraying it with slogans and painting images and art work on it highlighting the Palestinian struggle for human rights, justice and self-determination.   Sumoud Story House, based in Bethlehem has now launched an inspiring resistance project utilising the apartheid wall once again as a canvas to tell the stories of Palestinian women. 

Please find below a report which appeared in Maan News, along with photos of this amazing project.

In solidarity, Kim

***
New 'wall museum' tells women's stories
Published Saturday 24/12/2011 (updated) 03/01/2012 : Maan News
A "wall museum" displays stories told by Palestinian women, on Israel's separation barrier in Bethlehem (MaanImages/Jenny Baboun)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A unique museum has been set up on the path of Israel's wall, which snakes through the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

An initiative of the Sumud Story House, it is designed to communicate Palestinian women’s stories about the "truth of Palestinian life which the wall tries to hide and kill," a statement said.

Each panel contains a story that was either written or chosen by Palestinian women’s groups who convene at the Sumud Story House.

During Christmas, 25 posters are being attached to the wall on the northern side of Rachel’s Tomb. Through individual sponsorship, the museum will gradually expand.

The Sumud Story House is part of the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem.







Friday, January 13, 2012

Israel's High Court exposes Israel's apartheid regime

Dear friends,
On 11 January, Israel's High Court rejected a legal challenge by a range of Israeli human rights groups to one of Israel's most notorious examples of Apartheid legisilation - the 2003 Temporary Amendment to the Citize3nship and Entry to Israel Law.  The law made it almost impossible for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens to live with them in Israel.  The law is a clear example of enforced separation and discrimination based on ethnicity and nationality.   This was apartheid nature of the law was confirmed by the High Court ruling, which justified upholding the law by saying: "human rights are not a prescription for national suicide".

Below is a video by Adalah which was made in 2009, explaining the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Law.  Adalah was the lead human rights organisation that sought to challenge the law.  I have also included a statement issued by the Palestinian NGO Badil, which campaigns for Palestinian refugee and residency rights.

In solidarity, Kim

***



Israel’s High Court exposes Israeli apartheid regime



13th January 2012 – BADIL Resource center for Palestinian residency and Refugee Rights

On 11th January 2012, Israel’s High Court rejected a legal challenge, brought by Adalah, ACRI and other Israeli human rights organizations, to one of the most obvious pieces of Israeli apartheid legislation: the 2003 Temporary Amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law.1 This law suspends the possibility of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jerusalem ID-holders gaining permission, through family reunification, to legally live in Israel or occupied East Jerusalem with their spouses from the occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) or from purported “enemy states.”2 This decision confirms the Court’s earlier ruling on the issue, in May 2006, and entrenches this discriminatory law within the apartheid legislation of Israel, whose public institutions uphold the regime.

In May 2002, Israel issued decision 1813 which froze the applications for all Israeli citizens or East Jerusalem residents which involved Palestinian spouses from the OPT, giving the reason that the government feared a "creeping right of return" through the unification process. In 2003, this policy was legally enacted by the Knesset, which passed the 2003 Temporary Amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law which was amended in 2005 and 2007. Since the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens wishing to marry spouses from the OPT are Palestinians, the law is overtly discriminatory towards Palestinians and violates the right to family life. Notably, the 2003 amendment does not change the situation for Israeli citizen spouses applying to be joined either by foreign spouses or Israeli settler spouses living in the OPT.

Similarly, the process of applying for family reunification by those living in the OPT (i.e. to bring their spouses in from outside the OPT) has been under Israeli control since the 1967 occupation. According to MIFTAH over 150,000 applications for family reunification in the OPT were requested between 1973-2000 and only a few thousand of them were approved by Israel. Since 2000 the whole procedure has been officially frozen and only a few thousand more have been granted on the basis of "good will gestures."

This “system” is one of many Israeli apartheid measures aimed at changing the demographics in Israel and the OPT towards an exclusive Jewish population. Palestinian families who happen to have different residency statuses –Israeli citizen, Jerusalem ID, West Bank ID or Gaza ID- issued by Israel cannot legally live together within “Historic Palestine” which includes Israel and the OPT. They are then faced with a choice of living abroad, living apart from one another or taking the risk of living illegally in one place or another.

This demographic intention is reflected in one of the reasons given by the Court for its decision: “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.” This reason was further emphasized by Knesset-member (MK) Otniel Schneller who stated, “the decision articulates the rationale of separation between the (two) peoples and the need to maintain a Jewish majority… and character of the state” and by MK Yaakov Katz who said “.. the State of Israel was saved from being flooded by 2-3 million Arab refugees.” This illustrates once more the Israeli self portrait as an exclusively Jewish state with a different set of rights for its Jewish and non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) inhabitants.

Israel can either be the self-proclaimed modern and democratic nation state with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, language or tribal heritage or an ethnocracy, enforcing a regime which ensures domination by one “racial” group over another; thus an apartheid state. Israel’s High Court has clearly illustrated that it is the latter.

Adalah has identified more than 30 main laws which discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinians and constitute the legal aspect of the Israeli regime which was recently identified as one of apartheid3 across all of historic Palestine by the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
-----
1. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 5763-2003
2. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon.
3. See BADIL's forthcoming working paper no 13: Israeli Apartheid over Mandate Palestine

Report: Third National BDS Conference, Hebron, Occupied Palestine - 17 December 2011


On 17 December 2011, Palestinians gathered in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank for the Third National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions  (BDS) Conference. The event took place against the backdrop of continuous Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, and a growing resistance against injustice worldwide as demonstrated by the Arab revolutions and the occupy movements.  Just minutes away from the conference venue, 500 Jewish settlers live under escort of the Israeli military in a colonial enclave in the middle of old Hebron, terrorizing local Palestinian residents on a daily basis, with the stated intent of driving them from their homes. Hebron is also an important commercial center in Palestine, and thus was a fitting venue to hold the national BDS conference, after it was held in Nablus and Ramallah in previous years.

The day started early with about 500 Palestinians from all corners of the West Bank, as well as 48 Palestinians representing a diverse sector of civil society including trade unions, student and women groups, academics, cultural workers and NGOs, all uniting under the banner of BDS.

There was also a visible international presence as well as that of Israeli partners who have responded to the 2005 BDS call.  Notable was the absence of representation from Gaza, under an Israeli imposed siege, and refugees outside historic Palestinian, although their contribution to the movement was acknowledged.

The conference was an opportunity to take stock of the movement’s achievements worldwide, and to develop strategies to face the challenges ahead. The BDS movement witnessed impressive growth in 2011. 

Achievements include the withdrawal of German company Deutsche Bahn from construction of the A1 train line connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv; the forced closure of settlement company Ahava’s London flagship store and the loss of a $10 bn contract by French company Alstom in Saudi Arabia as a result of its role in the construction of the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail in occupied Jerusalem. 2011 was also the year when Israel’s foremost agricultural export company and a major BDS target – Agrexco – went bankrupt thanks in part to a sustained Europe-wide campaign.

The movement has now visibly spread beyond its traditional base of Palestine solidarity groups. The call for a military embargo of Israel received an enthusiastic response in Brazil and South Korea while in Australia, a nationwide debate involving government politicians and national media outlets ensued following the adoption of the movement’s principles by Marrickville Council in Sydney. A number of well-known artists have cancelled their scheduled performances in Israeli venues following appeals from BDS activists. Over a hundred Swiss artists vowed to boycott performances in Israel. Similarly, over 200 Swedish academics pledged to implement an academic boycott of Israel. The campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (ACBI) has undoubtedly been one of the most visible, and successful campaigns this past year.

Governments and corporations are yet to end complicity with Israel’s policies of occupation, colonization and apartheid, as is clear from Israel’s continued violations of international law. Nevertheless, the costs for Israel are now undeniable, as BDS is proving to be the most effective tool to challenge Israel’s impunity. Governments and corporations can now expect strong and principled opposition from a truly global movement. Israel and its supporters in turn have recognized BDS as a “strategic threat” that could become an “existential threat”, yet unable to mount effective opposition to the movement.

The opening session of the conference covered these exciting developments. Dr. Wael Abu Yousef, representing the Coalition of National and Islamic forces, said that despite internal political divisions between the political parties, BDS is an unshakable point of consensus among them. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement, emphasized that while the movement is inspired by  the South African anti-apartheid struggle and other struggles for national liberation around the world, it is foremost a Palestinian movement, rooted in decades of nonviolent popular resistance to Zionism.

Michael Deas, the BNC coordinator in Europe, and Adam Horowitz, co-editor of popular blog Mondoweiss, spoke in the first panel about developments of the campaign in Europe and the US. There was much interest in the numerous successes the BDS movement has achieved, in addition to an element of surprise about the movement’s wide reach and successes. Questions asked by the audience reflected these sentiments. There was consensus amongst participants that these victories should be widely publicized as to promote awareness amongst Palestinian civil society about the strength and victories of the BDS movement.

The second panel addressed the possibilities for implementing a boycott of Israel locally and in the Arab world. Rania Elias, member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), said Israeli and international actors have been major players promoting Palestinian normalization with Israel, which runs counter to Palestinian aspirations and universal opposition to normalization within Palestinian civil society. The audience voiced their opposition to normalization, and demanded that the Palestinian Authority takes a strong stance to end all forms of normalization, and to hold those involved accountable.

Palestinian economist Ibrahim Shikaki provided a detailed critique of the current state of the Palestinian economy, dangerously developing to become subjugated to Israel in the long-term. He warned against attempts to replace a national resistance discourse with that of economic development.

In his analysis of Israeli dominance of the Palestinian consumer market, Salah Haniyyeh of the Economic Monitor noted that the Palestinian Authority lacks procurement legislation within its own government institutions to favor Palestinian and Arab products over Israeli ones. He also lamented the perception of Israeli products as being superior to Palestinian ones, calling on organized efforts to promote local produce.  Hanniyeh considered shortsighted the idea that the economic boycott of Israel should be halted for the risk it could pose to livelihoods of some families and instead emphasized the need for proactive strategies to protect workers while forwarding the national cause. Omar Assaf, representative of the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS), in turn condemned the existing Oslo framework as a major obstacle for social justice as it served to legitimize Israel’s security aspirations and economic dominance. The establishment in 2011 of PTUC-BDS represents a positive development in the consolidation of the workers’ efforts to isolate Israel, Assaf stated.

The hall awakened during the Q & A session with loud cheers in support of a number of enthusiastic interventions. There were suggestions for the development of a united front against normalization. Some expressed unhappiness about the role of foreign donors in turning Palestinians into consumers instead of promoting true economic independence. The loudest cheers however were reserved for the urgent need to bring the struggle back to the people, BDS being one such avenue, contrasting it to the role of the peace process in removing Palestinian popular agency.

Following lunch, participants split into groups for workshops on aspects of BDS relevant to the local context (students and youth, women’s organizations, civil society institutions, formal labor, and popular committees against the wall and settlements and international work). Each session agreed recommendations that were then presented to the conference at the end. Recommendations varied from strengthening the culture of boycott through awareness raising campaigns to developing mechanisms to actively oppose all levels of normalization.

It was evident throughout the day that there is huge enthusiasm and energy among all those attending to contribute more actively to the global BDS movement, and activate the boycott within their respective organizations and institutions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Four Palestinians arrested in "car protest" challenging Israeli Apartheid and Occupation

Dear friends,
yesterday a group of approximately 50 Palestinians participated in a "car protest" in the Occupied West Bank.  The protest sort to challenge Israeli Apartheid and Occupation, highlighting the fact that Palestinians can not drive an certain roads which have been designated by the Israeli Occupation Roads as roads which can only be used by Israelis, in particular Israeli settlers.   Four Palestinian activists were arrested during the non-violent protest and another one after the protest, simply for wanting to drive their cars.

I have included below two videos from the protest, as well as the commentary from Haithem Khatib from Bil'in village which was attached to his video of the protest.  In addition, I have included the +972 report on the protest.

In solidarity, Kim

***




Video by Fadi Arouri

Video by Haithem Khatib

Report by Haithem Khatib:  "Israeli Occupation forces arrested Khaled Atallah Al-Tamimi (Nabi Saleh), Azmi Shyoukhi (Hebron), the young Omar Saleh Al-Tamimi (Nabi Saleh) and a Palestinian girl by the name of Anwar. Further the Israeli intelligence services demanded confiscated the id and car of Mahmoud Zwahre. When he managed to evade arrest, Israeli army called him telling him he would be put on wanted list if he does not turn himself in for arrest within 30mins. Mahmoud is now also arrested, 10mins ago, he was at the DCO in Jericho, to be taken to Ma'ale Adumim. In addition, the IOF apparently held the identity card of Naim Marar intending to force him to turn himself in to the occupation authorities. In addition, since last night, ITF imposed a tight security cordon on the village of Nabi Saleh... Many people joined to show their rights to pass the road freely at Jericho checkpoint today, israeli soldiers were not accept to go trough the road"

***

Monday, January 9, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Israeli Hasbara gets a comic book: Captain Israel vs BDS


Dear friends,
As many of you will know doubt recall, Stand With US, a US based Zionist group which originally started out on US campuses and which works closely with the Israeli government announced that it would be producing a comic book with a "superhero" called "Captain Israel". According to Stand With Us CEO, Roz Rothstein, the comic book was being published because “Israel’s Jewish connection to Israel and the land is always being challenged, [and] we wanted to reestablish our Jewish roots and make sure that everyone understood the history, stuff we know and take for granted and that others try to chip away at.”

The comic book, of course, is part of Israeli and Zionist hasbara efforts which repeats and promotes much of the racist Zionist mythology that Palestine was "a land with out a people for a people without a land". As Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California at Irvine notes the first edition of the comic book was filled with with historical inaccuracies and Zionist mythology, particularly about the narrative of how Israel was formed. According to the comic, 400 years before the first World War, “…Palestine was an unimportant backwater of the Ottoman Empire, sparsely populated, barren, impoverished.... Until, in the latter half of the 19th century new Jewish immigrants from Europe and Russia... began to repopulate the desolate land, buying it legally from absentee Palestinian landlords." (you can read the first volume of Captain Israel here)

Volume two of Captain Israel reveals even more clearly the hasbara (propaganda) nature of the comic book, Volume two (which you can read in full below) is called "Captain Israel vs BDS", in which Captain Israel combats the BDS "snake". As Jewish American blogger and writer Max Blumenthal has pointed out, one of the most disturbing things about the Stand With Us comic is over use of anti-Semitic tropes in order to supposedly prove that BDS is anti-Semetic.


in solidarity, Kim


Captain Israel vs. BDS

Friday, January 6, 2012

Amazing video footage from Bil'in, as village commemorate the 1 year anniversary of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma

Dear friends,
on 1 January 2011, Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by Israeli Occupation Forces when she was overcome by the huge quantities of teargas fired by the IOF at unarmed protestors in Bil'in.  In April 2009, the IOF also killed Jawaher's brother Bassem, a well-known leader of the Bil'in Popular Committee.  Bassem was killed when the Israeli Occupation Forces fired a teargas canister directly at him, hitting him in the chest killing him within minutes of being hit.  This week's demonstration in Bil'in marked the 1st year anniversary of Jawaher's death with over 300 people attending the demonstration.  Please find below some amazing footage of the demonstration filmed by Haithem Khatib - who regularly documents the demonstrations in his village.   The footage is of the IOF crossing the wall onto the village land and shows at least one protestors managing to throw a teargas canister back into an Israeli jeep and anothe protestor physically jumping in front of a soldier to prevent him firing on unarmed demonstrators.

In solidarity, Kim



Thursday, January 5, 2012

B'Tselem video: Shooting back in 2011 - a round up of footage shoot in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Dear friends,
Since 2007, B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has been running a camera distribution project (formerly known as the "Shooting back" project) in which it distributes video cameras to Palestinians living in the some of them most dangerous part of the Occupied West Bank, Gaza and Occupied East Jerusalem.   The idea is to allow Palestinians to present "the reality of their lives to the Israeli and international public, thereby encouraging action to improve the situation".  As B'Tselem notes, the project is unique in that it enables Palestinians themselves to document the infringement of their rights and to present their daily lives, their anger, pain, joy, and hope. 

In 2011, volunteers in B'Tselem's camera project filmed over 500 hours of footage in the West Bank. B'Tselem has compiled a mere two minutes of the footage shot in order to provide a review of 2011.

To see more videos from the B'Tselem project, visit their website here and their video channel here.

In solidarity, Kim

**
video





Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Will there be justice for Mustafa Tamimi?

By EMILY SCHAEFFER: Jerusalem Post: 2 January 2012

Tamimi, a moment before he was hit. The weapon and tear gas canister are circled in red (photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)
The death of 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi of the village of Nabi Saleh last month raises questions about the Israeli military establishment’s investigative processes.

Tamimi was only the latest casualty of the IDF’s abundant use of tear gas to disperse Palestinian popular protest. Dozens of people have been seriously injured or killed in recent years, including Bassem Abu Rahma, who died in 2009 after being shot in the chest with a tear gas canister in the nearby village of Bil’in, and Abu Rahma’s sister Jawaher, who died one year ago this week after inhaling tear gas.

Because the tear gas canister killed Tamimi – rather than severely injuring and disabling him – the Israeli military has already launched an investigation. That is an improvement over the Bassem Abu Rahma case, when it took more than a year (and significant pressure from his family, neighbors and Israeli human rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem, all of whom presented the then military advocate-general with a draft High Court of Justice petition) to get the military to investigate.

Today, IDF policy requires a criminal investigation to be launched immediately whenever military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories cause death (excluding armed exchanges). The policy was presumably introduced to boost the system’s compatibility with international legal standards.

But closer examination of Israeli military investigations, from before and after the policy change, reveals that the mere fact of investigation does not guarantee that it will be independent, impartial, professional, effective, prompt and open to public scrutiny.

In fact, Yesh Din’s recently published report, “Alleged Investigation,” reveals major failings in the investigations of the full spectrum of offenses allegedly committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians and their property – from looting and theft, to beatings and shootings, to causing death. So serious are these failings that only 6 percent of all cases in which a criminal investigation is opened lead to the indictment of suspected soldiers.

These failings stem directly from the lax investigative tools and methods employed by the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID). For instance, the MPCID has no offices in the occupied Palestinian territories, so without NGOs and other agencies, Palestinians have little access to the military justice system. Fewer than 10% of complaints filed by Palestinians reach the MPCID without the intervention of outside agencies.

More significantly, few Military Police investigators speak or read Arabic, they rarely visit the scene of the crime, often neglect to question key witnesses, and hardly ever make use of conventional investigative tools beyond collecting testimonies (such as polygraph tests, line-ups, etc.).

What is more, Military Police investigations suffer from extreme delays, which necessarily damage the potential of the investigations to uncover the truth and lead to the prosecution and conviction of suspects. As a result, for instance, Bassem Abu Rahma’s death is still under investigation. His sister’s death and, for instance, the shooting of a 15-year-old in Hebron on his way home from school in 2008, an incident that caused permanent brain damage, go uninvestigated.

Since 2000, 39% of all complaints received by the MPCID were not investigated at all.


Mustafa Tamimi (far left, back row) with his family. Photo by Activestills

The result of a defective military investigations system is that Israeli soldiers act with virtual impunity, whether damaging personal property during nighttime searches, standing idly by while settlers harm Palestinians and their olive groves, or violating rules of engagement by shooting tear gas at close range directly at demonstrators like Tamimi and Abu Rahma. Meanwhile, the Israeli public sleeps well, believing that the bad apples are weeded out through an effective military justice system.

The Tamimi case presents Israel with an opportunity to make a clear choice. By appointing independent, professional investigators and dedicating the necessary resources Israel can establish itself as a nation that respects the rule of law. Alternatively, by dragging its feet and maintaining a system that is fraught with defects, the country will continue to flaunt international law and its responsibility to protect civilians under occupation and their property.

The Tamimi family and friends can only hope Israel chooses the former and conducts a prompt, thorough and effective investigation.

Emily Schaeffer is an attorney and a member of the legal team of Israeli NGO Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, where she coordinates the organization’s “Accountability Project,” representing victims of crimes committed by soldiers and security personnel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Co-existence vs Co-resistance: a case against normalisation

Dear friends,
as mentioned in my previous post "What is normalisation?: normalising the abnormal" about what is normalisation and why it should be opposed,  there has been resurgence of discussion amongst many Palestinian activists and their supporters as to exactly what is normalisation and if it should be engaged in or opposed.  In my previous post here, I included a copy of the statement issued by the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott campaign against Israel on the issue, which explains in detail what normalisation is and isn't.

In response to an article published on +972 magazine written by Palestinian writer Aziz Abu Sarah supporting "normalisation" and painting "anti-normalisation" as irrational (you can read the article here), Omar Rahman has written an eloquent response explaining why Abu Sarah is wrong and why "normalisation" undermines the Palestinian struggle for human rights and self-determinantion.

in solidarity, Kim

****


In a recent debate on +972, proponents and detractors of normalizing relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the current political environment make their cases.

In his recent post on “normalization,” my colleague Aziz Abu Sarah was right about one thing, the topic is reaching a fever pitch within Palestinian society. What Aziz gets wrong is the logic of anti-normalization as he attempts to paint it as some form of unjustifiable reactionism, ignoring its most cogent and compelling arguments. In truth, projects that constitute “normalization” promote a false image of parity between the conflicting sides and foster a dangerous psychology within the minds of the oppressor that stifles progress towards a just resolution of the conflict.

Although the “anti-normalization” debate has been around a long time, its resurgence in public discourse can likely be attributed to two things: the rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the beginning of a transitional period in internal Palestinian politics.

Due to the very nature of the BDS movement, everything pertaining to Israel is put under the microscope and scrutinized. Subsequently, any relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is done so in spades. BDS encourages its adherents to look critically at everything they do and everything that is happening around them. It is important to distinguish what works in the service of achieving Palestinian rights and what does not, or even works against it. This is why the BDS movement has produced strict and coherent guidelines for what can be considered worthy of boycott and what constitutes normalization.

Secondly, the era in which Palestinians and Israelis engaged in dialogue under the wider auspices and example of governmental-led negotiations is coming to an end—at least for the time being. We are now at the cusp of a transitional period in Palestinian politics where the lack of a clear strategy and path forward on the diplomatic and resistance fronts is forcing Palestinians to look internally at the state of their own society and political situation.

Reconciliation and reform within their fractured political system are desperately needed in order to move cohesively in a new direction. Thus many Palestinians have started to re-examine the logic of their relationships with Israelis and criticize those Palestinians who have benefited immensely from it over the years while others around them have suffered.

When we consider the resurgence of anti-normalization, we must also remember that the post-Oslo period witnessed an explosion in normalization programs and projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Any organization, group or program that had “joint” or “co-existence” in reference to Israelis and Palestinians was instantly given credibility and financing on the world stage. Such programs became extremely lucrative and many people profited with little regard to the actual state of the conflict and its overall deterioration. Even prior to the breakout of the Second Intifada, but largely afterwards, normalization programs lost their relevance. We were no longer in the post-conflict transitional period we thought Oslo had ushered in, and things got worse, not better.

FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH OPPRESSION
It has become senseless for Israelis and Palestinians to act like nothing is wrong with the status quo and carry-on with such projects. Normalization may be fine for those bridging the gaps between people in India and Pakistan or Venezuela and Colombia—where the two sides are on equal footing—but not in Israel/Palestine where one side lives under the yoke and chain of the other. When we seek to normalize this relationship by giving each other equal standing and equal voice, we project an image of symmetry. Joint sports teams and theatre groups, hosting an Israeli orchestra in Ramallah or Nablus, all these things create a false sense of normality, like the issue is only a problem of recognizing each other as human beings. This, however, ignores the ongoing oppression, colonization, and denial of rights, committed by one side against the other.

Moreover, normalization creates a false sense in the mind of Israelis that they are working for peace, while in actuality, though maybe unwittingly, they are contributing to the calcification of the status quo. Their energy is misdirected away from root causes and channeled into making the current situation more tolerable—largely for themselves—by helping them to cope with wider injustices occurring in their name. Many Israelis who participate in normalization projects believe that they are detached, that they are not part of the problem, because they have some Palestinian friends or colleagues, even if they are doing nothing to rectify the actual injustices that have been committed by their society daily for over half a century. In the words of Israeli architectural theorist Eyal Weizman in his monumental work on the architecture of occupation, Hollow Land: “The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.”

Likewise, these normalization projects are put on display for all the world to see, so that they may all feel comfortable and say: look, the moderates are resolving the differences in a civilized manner. This is probably why the largest contributors to normalization projects are not Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but rather the international community. These programs work in much the same way as endless negotiations, offering a semblance of progress so that the world may deceive itself without having to take real action.

I do not discount the authenticity of Israelis who desire to see a just peace. Nor do I overlook the importance of meeting your enemy on a human level, of the power of these efforts in defusing tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding. But we can’t ignore the negative impact of normalization given the ongoing occupation and colonial enterprise. We must ask ourselves, what did all the normalizing get Palestinians after Oslo except for deterioration in their circumstance? For all the money pumped into these programs why are there no statistics or data showing they work? Why does no one think to question the effectiveness of normalization, including its proponents, in the case of Mr. Abu Sarah’s article? We can sit back and comfort each other that we are not fanatics or extremists, and that may be all well and good, but the fanatics are determining the reality on the ground while liberals and moderates provide a veneer of normality and progress.

The truth is when we “normalize” relations with Israel and Israelis without bearing to the political situation, we legitimize Israel despite its continued oppression of Palestinians and its colonial policies on Palestinian land. We must remember that the greatest boon in Israeli history came after the Oslo Accords were signed. Many countries around the world that had refused to have “normal” relations with Israel reversed their policies. This false peace opened Israel up to the wider international community, spurning unprecedented growth and trade. By reversing the normalization trend, we strip the conflict of many illusions and niceties in favor of exposing the raw truth.

Mr. Abu Sarah portrays anti-normalization like it is based purely on hate for the “other.” In order to do this he ignores the strongest arguments against normalization in exchange for obscure notions that take anti-normalization to the extreme; such as any instance in which a Palestinian and an Israeli come together constitutes normalization. In my own experience meeting people who are against normalization, I came to understand that Israelis are valued and encouraged to take part in the resistance movement to occupation. As long as an Israeli is working for Palestinian rights and the end to occupation, the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is perfectly legitimate and justified. This is the concept of “co-resistance” as opposed to “co-existence,” and should hardly be described as radical.

Yet, Mr. Abu Sarah’s article chooses to harp on these extreme cases at the expense of a serious argument over the topic. In what constituted an extensive blog post, there is little argument discussing why normalization activities are valid and beneficial; rather the entire piece is devoted to portraying anti-normalization as irrational. Some of his claims are true, such as those who use “normalization” as a character attack for dubious ends. But none of that still gets to the heart of the matter. I simply want to know, are we better off today because of normalization projects?

THE KIDS RETURN HOME
I wish to conclude this piece with an example of normalization from my own history. When I was fifteen years old, I was a participant in the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young teenagers from conflict zones together to a summer camp in the northeastern United States. Although originally set up for Israelis and Arabs, the program expanded over the years to include Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis, and others. In each session there was also a delegation of American teenagers, of which I was a part. This was still prior to the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the outbreak of the Second Intifada and most believed we were on the path to peace. Teenagers, who for the most part had never met someone from the other side before, would tell stories from their own experience in the hope of making their enemy understand them. Yet, I can still remember feeling at the time that the effort would be somehow wasted when these kids returned home because even I knew that, despite pretenses, there was no real peace on the ground. During my trips to the West Bank to visit my extended family, I would see and feel the military presence that continued to persist in the still-occupied territories. And in the “co-existence” sessions at Seeds of Peace, I would hear from those Palestinians what life still held for them.

The most poignant moment for me, however, was when a Palestinian teenager near the end of the program asked an Israeli teenager if he would still join the army and serve in the occupied territories, to which the answer was “yes”. To me, this said it all. What did this whole program mean if in a few years that Israeli teenager would be sitting at a checkpoint in the West Bank and shoving his M-16 in the face of a Palestinian while asking for his ID? Would it make him a more compassionate soldier serving in an inherently unjust system? When all the fun and games were over, we each returned to our respective societies and things stayed the same.
If these teenagers had returned to a cold peace, it may have been different. They could continue to work to establish more friendly relations between their respective peoples. But for Palestinians and Israelis, they live everyday in a system of imbalance and injustice where one side is oppressing the other through an engineered structure of superiority and subjugation.

That is it. Normalization can try to make you forget that fact, but the next time a gun barrel is pointed in your direction, or a cousin is arrested and thrown in prison, or the home of a neighbor is bulldozed, or your relatives in Gaza fall under the bombs, you will be hard pressed to do so.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

+972 Person of the Year: Woman activist of the Arab world

Dear friends,
as 2011 draws to its close, a number of websites and magazines around the world announced their "Person of the Year".  Time Magazine, announced "The Protestor" as their person of the year - a nomination I very much agree with.  However, like many, I was surprised that the image of the protestor they chose to represent "the protestor" was not one from the Arab Spring. 

While I agreed with their choice of a woman protestor on their cover, like many others I believed the image should have been that of one of the many incredible woman activists involved in the Arab Spring over the last year.

I was, therefore, very excited to read that +972 magazine had chosen as their "person of the year", the "woman activist of the Arab world".   Lisa Goldman, eloquently explains why they have chose as their person of the year, "the woman activist of the Arab world" and gives a short biography of some of the prominent woman activists, as a sample representing thousands of Arab woman activists across the Middle East. 

My personal choice from Goldman's list for the most inspiring activists are my friend, Nariman Tamimi - who is an outstanding representative of the courage and dedication of every Palestinian women I have ever had the privilege of meeting and Samira Ibrahim, who courageously took a stand against the "virginity tests" imposed by the Egyptian military.

in solidarity, 
Kim


*****

From Bahrain to Tunisia, at demonstrations, in interviews and in their own writing, they repeat, “We will not be quiet.” In their refusal to view the rights of women as a cause separate from civil rights, human rights and pro-democracy activism, female Arab protestors have taken feminism to a new level.


By Lisa Goldman


An Egyptian woman at a December protest in Cairo (photo: Mosa'ab Elshamy)

During the January 25 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, two women from vastly different backgrounds worked side-by-side at Tahrir Square, organizing the distribution of donated food and medical supplies. One was a secular, feminist attorney who wears slim jeans and has her hair done at one of Cairo’s most expensive salons. The other was an Islamist who covers her face with a niqab and drapes her body in a black abaya. When they were not at the square, they spoke about organizational issues on the phone. They were in constant contact for 18 days, both fully committed to the revolution. “But,” said the secular attorney, over cappuccinos and biscotti at a trendy Cairo café, “We were never alone together in a private place, so I have never seen her face. I worked with this woman day and night for nearly three weeks. She is one of the toughest, smartest people I know. But I have no idea what she looks like.”

The Arab Uprising has upended many popular clichés about the Middle East. Over the past year we have seen pious Muslims demonstrating for a secular democracy. We have seen Christian protestors at Tahrir Square protecting Muslims as they pray. And we have seen Arab women – veiled and unveiled, Islamists and secular liberals – demonstrating side-by-side at the front lines of the anti-regime protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine. Many of these women have become the de facto faces and spokespeople for their revolutions – addressing television cameras, giving interviews and writing articles for the international media. They have been at the front lines of violent confrontations between protestors and riot police. Their confidence and bravery are all the more extraordinary given the obstacles women face in the socially conservative Middle East.

During the 18-day anti-Mubarak uprising in Egypt, women in Tahrir Square remarked that they had never experienced an atmosphere so free of sexual harassment. But it turned out that this was just a brief idyll, perhaps limited to the bubble of revolutionary Tahrir Square. It ended the day Hosni Mubarak resigned, with the widely covered sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan. Since then, Egyptian women have suffered sexual violence at the hands of both men in uniform and thugs in civilian clothes, in addition to the harassment – insults and groping – that has for years been commonplace in public spaces.

In November, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist, was viciously beaten and sexually assaulted by paramilitary riot police near Tahrir Square. In interviews on that experience, she pointed out that her ordeal was not unique – that she had escaped relatively unscathed compared to hundreds of other Egyptian women, thanks in large part to her media prominence and US citizenship. Ms. Eltahawy accused the Egyptian military junta of using sexual assault as a tactic to suppress dissent, trying to deter women by humiliating them as well as beating them. As if to prove that point, less than one month after Ms. Eltahawy went public with the details of her experience, the world was outraged to see a video showing Egyptian paramilitary police dragging a veiled women along a Cairo street near Tahrir Square, kicking her repeatedly in the head, beating her with riot sticks, stripping her to her underwear and stomping on her breastbone.

That incident was the catalyst for a march of thousands of Egyptian women in downtown Cairo. Waving photos of the woman who was stripped and beaten, they chanted slogans to express their anger at the military regime’s violence against female protestors. Observers commented that the morale at that march was high, with the female marchers ringed by supportive men, who formed a human protective chain. From Bahrain to Tunisia, at demonstrations, in interviews and in their own writing, they repeat, “We will not be quiet.” In their refusal to view the rights of women as a cause separate from civil rights, human rights and pro-democracy activism, female Arab protestors have taken feminism to a new level.

For its Person of the Year for 2011, +972 Magazine has chosen the Arab woman activist. For illustrative purposes, I have selected a few prominent activists, of the many, many more who we honor. The women mentioned in this article include a secular Tunisian feminist academic and a veiled Yemeni Islamist journalist. Both are crusaders for human rights and democracy; both were nominated for the Nobel Peace Price; one of them won. I also highlight two prominent Palestinian women – one a citizen of Israel and the other a grassroots activist from a small West Bank village. From Egypt, two women who refused to back down after they were beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted; one is a secular, cosmopolitan journalist and the other a veiled supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood from a small town in southern Egypt. Both are outspoken, articulate and independent. These women are united in their refusal to be cowed, their unshakeable self-confidence and their insistence on continuing their activism.


Yemen


Tawakkol Karman accepting the Nobel Peace Prize (photo: Leif Riksheim/Flickr)
Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, 32, shares the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with two Liberian women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Tawakkol Karman is a feminist and a journalist, a married mother of three who founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005. A prominent human rights activist for years, she has been at the forefront of the Yemeni Arab Uprising, leading rallies against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ms. Karman is a member of a conservative Islamist party, but she also removed her niqab, or face veil, in 2005 as a means of demonstrating that it is not mandated by Islam. “Women have been marginalized for too long,” she said.
Listen to Democracy Now! interview Tawakkol Karman during a visit to New York in October 2011.


Egypt


Asmaa Mahfouz (photo: European Parliament/Flickr)

One week before the January 25 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz uploaded a video to her Facebook page.  The 26-year-old woman, who became one of five recipients of the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, exhorted fellow Egyptians to come to the streets on January 25 “for freedom, justice, honor and human dignity.” She added: “Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on 25 January.”
The video went viral, and she is widely credited for inspiring thousands to join the demonstrations that first day of the Egyptian uprising. Ms. Mahfouz is a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which began organizing against the Mubarak regime in April 2008. She continues to be active politically, running for parliament in this month’s first post-Mubarak elections, and recently visited the Occupy Wall Street protestors in Zuccotti Park. Asked what advice she had for women, she answered, “You have to believe in yourself.”


Mona Eltahawy (photo: Dirk Eusterbrock)

From her home base in New York City, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy gained fame in the United States as she raced from interview to interview, speaking passionately and intelligently on behalf of the Egyptian revolution from the first day of demonstrations on January 25. In between interviews she tweeted incessantly, gaining a following that now numbers well over 100,000. In November 2011, during a visit to Cairo, she was at a demonstration near Tahrir Square when Egyptian paramilitary police attacked and beat her brutally. They assaulted her sexually, beat her over her entire body and broke her right hand and left arm. She was arrested and kept in detention, blindfolded and denied medical attention, for 12 hours. Her own phone had been lost during the beating, but once at the ministry of interior she borrowed someone else’s and managed to tweet “beaten arrested in interior ministry.” Thanks to her wide following, which includes many prominent journalists, Ms. Eltahawy’s tweet immediately went viral and helped catch the attention of State Department officials.

Released the following day, Ms. Eltahawy immediately tweeted about the details of the assault she suffered at the hands of Egyptian military police, even as she was taken to the hospital to have her arms X-rayed and put in casts. Despite the pain and trauma, she gave several television interviews and continues to speak and write about it as a means of highlighting the fact that tens of thousands of Egyptians have been beaten, killed and jailed under the rule of SCAF (the Supreme Council of Armed Forces), the military junta that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s resignation. She continues to advocate forcefully for SCAF’s immediate resignation, to be replaced by a civilian government.


Samira Ibrahim

On March 9, 2011, Samira Ibrahim was one of several female protestors who were dragged from a demonstration at Tahrir Square by soldiers who beat them, arrested them and then subjected them to forced so-called “virginity tests.” An army officer, who was not a physician, performed the so-called test – actually a sexual assault – in an open room, before many leering observers. In her description of the assault, Ms. Ibrahim says that when she tried to refuse to undress, one of the soldiers used a taser to administer electric shocks to her stomach until she submitted. “I know that to violate a woman in that way was considered rape,” she said in an interview. “I felt like I had been raped.” In a video interview, Ms. Ibrahim speaks about her background and her insistence on filing a police complaint: “If I drop these charges, what happened to me could happen to any woman in Egypt,” she asserts. The police, she says, have refused to respond to the death threats she has received on her mobile phone, so she has simply stopped answering. “I am not afraid,” she says.

Ms. Ibrahim, 25, is from a small town in southern Egypt, nine hours from Cairo by train. She traveled alone to Cairo, with the full support of her traditional, Muslim Brotherhood-aligned family, to file a complaint in civil court against the Egyptian military. Of all the women who were sexually assaulted in this fashion, she is the only one to file a complaint; she was also one of the first to speak out early against the Egyptian military, at a time when the army was still widely perceived as being on the side of the people and the revolution.  This speaks to her bravery – not only because so many activists and bloggers have been arrested, tried summarily in military courts, and sentenced to years in jail, but also because the loss of virginity carries an enormous stigma for women in her traditional society.

On December 27, Ms. Ibrahim was vindicated: The civil courts in Cairo stated that they believed her account of the army’s use of sexual assault as a tactic against female protestors. This is made more significant by the fact that many Egyptians did not believe her – particularly because the other women who were subjected to the so-called virginity test were too ashamed to press charges. The court also reminded the army that the use of sexual assault on female prisoners was illegal. In response one Egyptian woman  tweeted, “Did we really need a judge to rule that virginity tests were illegal?”


Tunisia


Lina Ben Mhenni (photo: David Sasaki/ Flickr)

Lina Ben Mhenni,  a 27 year-old cyber activist who blogs in French, English and Arabic under the name Tunisian Girl, was a human rights crusader well before the uprising began in her country. Once demonstrations against Ben Ali regimebegan, she started to travel around the country in order to record video, take photos and interview people. She became one of the most important reporters of the revolution, regularly interviewed and quoted by the international correspondents who belatedly recognized the importance of the demonstrations, which ultimately provided the spark for the Arab Uprisings that spread across the Middle East. Ms. Ben Mhenni was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year. She continues to speak out for civil rights in Tunisia; like many Egyptian activists, she asserts that the situation in Tunisia has not changed much with the fall of the old regime, and that the revolution is far from over. In this speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, she also reminds her audience that the role of social media should not be over-estimated.


Syria


Razan Ghazzawi (photo: Jillian C York/Flickr)

When human rights activist Razan Ghazzawi was arrested in early December, the first thing she did was alert her friends to shut down her Facebook page and take control of her Twitter account, lest they be used by Syrian security to incriminate others by association. Ms. Ghazzawi, 30, is a veteran activist who works for the NGO Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. She is passionate about Palestine, but contemptuous of pro-Palestinian activists who support the Syrian regime. In a conservative region, she is openly homosexual and vocal about LGBT issues. And in the fearful climate of Syria’s 9-month old uprising, during which thousands have been killed and tortured by the army and security forces, she blogs and tweets under her real name, campaigning for the release of political prisoners.
Ms. Ghazzawi was on her way to Jordan for a conference on press freedom in early December when she was detained at the border by Syrian officials, then arrested on a list of charges that included “weakening national sentiment” and carried a jail sentence of up to 15 years. Her strong online presence and wide network of connections assured an immediate, sustained online campaign for her release, which came two weeks later. Despite her arrest, Ms. Ghazzawi refuses to be silenced. She continues to campaign for the release of political prisoners.


Bahrain


Zainab Alkhawaja

Zainab Alkhawaja, 28, caught the world’s attention with her immense courage when she stood alone in front of soldiers firing tear gas and bullets at Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout. She is the daughter, wife and sister-in-law of jailed opposition leaders. Her father is one of the leading human rights activists in the region, and her husband was recently sentenced to four years in jail for activism. Ms. Alkhawaja, who is the mother of a little girl,  tweets fearlessly under the username Angry Arabiya, documents demonstrations in real time and details the army’s violence toward unarmed civilian protestors. She has gone on a hunger strike to protest the brutal arrest of her father, she has written an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and she has suffered beatings and arrests.

Two weeks ago, an amateur video showing police dragging her away from a demonstration by force went viral. Ms. Alkhawaja was released from detention a few days later, after what she described laconically as a “difficult experience.” In a recent interview with the New York Times’ Robert Mackey, she explains lucidly that the alleged Sunni-Shia’a divide in Bahrain is actually a construct of the ruling Sunni minority regime that is sold to the international media. Sunni and Shia’a are in fact very integrated in Bahrain, she says, asserting that the struggle is not a sectarian one. Bahrainis, she explains, know this is a national – not sectarian – struggle. She points out that both Sunni and Shia’a anti-regime activists have been arrested and tortured. Her own husband, she says, has been tortured because of her activism. “But we are strong,” she says. “And I will not be quiet.”


Palestine and Israel


Nariman Tamimi (photo: ActiveStills)

Nariman Tamimi of Nabi Saleh is one of the main organizers of the unarmed anti-occupation demonstrations in her tiny West Bank village of 500 people. Trained as a medic, she also documents the human rights abuses committed by the Israeli army for the human rights NGO B’Tselem. Her husband, Bassem, also an anti-occupation activist, was arrested by the Israeli army in March 2011 and is in detention at Ofer Military Prison pending his trial, which has been delayed several times. A veteran activist, Bassem Tamimi has been arrested 11 times, although he has never been charged with any offense.

To make matters more stressful, there is a pending demolition order on their home. Ms. Tamimi, who is the mother of five children aged 5 to 14, has also been detained and released since her husband was jailed in March. Her cousin Mustafa was killed on December 11 when he was shot in the head with a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli military policeman at very short range. That same day, at the rally for international human rights day in Tel Aviv, attorney Nisreen Alyan read aloud a speech written by Ms. Tamimi.

With your help we can cross the bridge of optimism with our heads raised high. Your massive presence, believers in justice, democracy, equality and in all of the disappearing values will redeem us. You are free people in the world. Release us from the occupation and bring us freedom, justice and peace, for you and for us. Let there be peace for you and also for us.
The next week, armed with her video camera and her medic’s supplies, Nariman Tamimi again led the protestors at Nabi Saleh’s weekly demonstration against the occupation.


Rawia Aburabia (photo: ACRI)

Rawia Aburabia is one of only five female Bedouin attorneys in Israel and a leader in her community. She is a tireless advocate for the rights of Bedouin women and Bedouin in general in Israel. For her Master’s thesis, she wrote about the issue of polygamy in Bedouin society; she is now the leading expert on polygamy in Israel. Ms. Aburabia authors important articles and position papers, and organizes activism against the state’s continuing efforts to displace Bedouin from their traditional lands in the Negev desert; in a recent article for Haaretz newspaper, she described the state’s attitude toward its Bedouin citizens as follows:

When a Jewish Israeli wants to go and live in the Negev, it is called the development of the south, but when Bedouin already living there want to continue to live in the same place, it is considered an effort to “take over state lands.” When Jewish Israelis choose to live in a rural setting the government provides them with infrastructure adapted to the model of a kibbutz or moshav. When Bedouin want to lead a rural life, suddenly there are unrealistic criteria they must meet.
A woman from a deeply conservative society, and a Bedouin in a state that treats them as second class citizens at best, Ms. Aburabia has faced significant challenges in her life. She is supremely self-possessed, impressively accomplished and absolutely unwavering in her advocacy for the civil and human rights of the Bedouin in Israel.