siege bending, but not broken

From Ma'an: 40 trucks to be allowed into Gaza.

From Ha'aretz: Journalists and aid workers to be allowed in and out of Gaza.


Ma'an and Ha'aretz report on the shooting in Nablus

From Ma'an:

Israeli forces kill pardoned Palestinian fighter in Nablus
Date: 02 / 12 / 2008  Time:  09:11
تكبير الخط تصغير الخط
Israeli troops in Nablus (archive)
Nablus – Ma'an – Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man formerly affiliated to the armed wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, in Balata Refugee Camp in the West Bank city of Nablus at Midnight on Monday.

The man was identified as 27-year-old Mohammad Abu Thraa, a fighter who had been pardoned by Israel as a part of an amnesty agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Nablus Governor Jamal Muheisin accused Israel of deliberately assassinating Abu Thraa.

The Muheisin confirmed that Abu Thraa had, as a part of his amnesty deal, spent time in the PA's Al-Juneid prison. After receiving a formal pardon, he would spend his days in his house, and then would be transported to the prison by a Palestinian Preventive Security bus.

The governor added that there is "no justification" for killing a man already pardoned by Israel. He called the operation "cowardly."

Hundreds of Palestinian fighters, mainly those affiliated with Fatah, have signed amnesty contracts, under which they agree to renounce armed struggle and spend a stint in jail in exchange for a pardon from Israel and a return to civilian life without the fear of pursuit by Israeli forces.

The Israeli army claimed that its forces shot Abu Thraa while attempting to arrest him, and that he died after being transferred to Beilinson Hospital in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva.

While no blood was found at the scene where Abu Thraa was seized, gunshots were heard immediately after the soldiers arrested him.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces seized nine other Palestinians during overnight raids across the West Bank. Sources in the Israeli army reported that they arrested residents of the cities of Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem.

***Updated at 9:39 local time

From Ha'aretz:

Last update - 10:52 02/12/2008
IDF troops shoot and kill wanted Palestinian during raid in Nablus
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Tags: Palestinian, Israel News 

Israel Defense Forces soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian militant during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus on Monday, the IDF said.

Such killings have become less frequent in the West Bank since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched a security campaign with U.S. backing.

An IDF spokesman said troops entered Nablus to arrest a wanted man.

When the militant attempted to get away, the troops fired warning shots and then fired at his lower body, the spokesman said.

"He was hit and was transferred to an Israeli hospital, where he died of his wounds," he said.

The militant was identified as Mohammed Abu Daragh.

He was 27 years old and a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group that has largely halted its activities. Most Al Aqsa members have received amnesty from Israel.


looking for God in the Holy Land

Sometimes I get questions from people in the US about what it's like to live here, whether my life is affected much by the Occupation, and so on. I haven't written publicly about it in a while, but I had some conversations with a few friends yesterday that helped me to articulate some of the thoughts and feelings I've been having. This is a re-print of an email I sent to a colleague back in the US who asked what things were like here.

Being who I am, with my car and my passport, the Occupation affects me a lot less than it does the general population. I get waved through checkpoints largely without hassle, I can go to Jerusalem and back whenever I please, and even though I might pay more in shops because I'm a foreigner, life here is fairly manageable from a purely logistical point of view. The things that really get to me are the settlers (especially the ones in Hebron, who are a whole different brand of crazy), the Wall, the home demolitions, and what's going on in Gaza right now, to name a few things. I was actually feeling really down yesterday after a conversation I had with the seminary intern at Redeemer in Jerusalem, about looking for God in people, even those who do terrible things. He had done his clinical pastoral experience in the ICU of a children's hospital, and once in a while there would be a kid in the wing who had obviously been put there by her abusive parents, who were also there in the room, and it was Mike's job to go in and minister to them and find some way to love them. I almost burst into tears. This is how I feel about the settlers and soldiers who harass and persecute my friends – how am I supposed to find God, or even any humanity in them? How can I love them when what they do is so hateful? My heart is heavy when I think about things like this. I know that I give into the temptation to vilify settlers and call soldiers fascists, instead of trying to see the humanity in them, but then at what point do we get to actually stand up and say no, this is wrong, this is not a matter of difference of belief, this is a matter of human rights, and of oppression and collective punishment and war crimes, and this is wrong?

Below are some media and UN updates on the Gaza blockade that got circulated on a Yahoo groups mailing list I'm on. Ma'an News has offices in several locations in the West Bank and also in Gaza, and is a great source of local news, written by people who live and work here. I also read Ha'aretz to see what "the other side" is reporting (it's especially interesting when Ma'an and Ha'aretz cover the same event, to see how each source tells the story), and also to read progressive writers like Amira Hass, Uri Avnery, and Akiva Eldar. I also like Isabel Kershner of the International Herald Tribune. The only thing about Ha'aretz is to stay away from the comments section at the bottom of articles, unless you're in the mood for a blood pressure spike.

BBC: a guide to Gaza under blockade: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7545636.stm

UN Head fears over Gaza blockade: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7737243.stm

UN Gaza Humanitarian situation report: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EDIS-7LGNWE?OpenDocument

UN HR Commissioner on the Gaza blockade: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/media.aspx

Video - Impact of blockade: http://news.google.co.uk/news?hl=en&q=gaza%20blockade%20un%20shortage%20fuel%20humanitarian&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wn


Israel arrests its OWN teenagers

In Israel, teenagers of high-school-graduate age are required to complete a period of service in the Israeli Army -- 3 years for men, 2 years for women.  Some people refuse on the grounds of religious belief (as far as I know, none of the ultra-Orthodox Jews serve in the military) and are not punished for their refusal to serve, but conscientious objectors (COs) are often sent to prison and may face significant obstacles later in life (access to housing, jobs, social insurance, state benefits, etc.) as a result of having not served in the army.

Two Israeli teenagers were recently arrested and sentenced to 21 days in prison for refusing to serve in the army, and a third (a young woman) is also at risk of imprisonment in the coming days.

Below is a statement from the "conscience committee" outlining why some Israeli teenagers are standing up for their beliefs and refusing to act as occupiers.

The Shministim Letter 2008

We, high-school graduate teens, declare that we shall work against the Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel. Therefore we will refuse to take part of these actions, which are being done under our name as part of the IDF

Our refusal comes first and foremost as a protest on the separation, control, oppression and killing policy held by the state of Israel in the occupied territories, as we understand that this oppression, killing and routing of hatred will never lead us to peace, and they are all contradictory to the basic values a society that pretends to be democratic should have.

All the members of this group believe in developing the value of social work. We are not refusing to serve the society we live in, but are protesting against the occupation and the ways of actions which the militaristic system holds as it is today- crushing civil rights, discriminating on a racial base and acting opposing international laws.

We oppose the actions taken in the name of the "defense" of the Israeli society (Checkpoints, targeted killing, apartheid roads-available for Jews only, curfews etc.) that serve the occupation and exploitation policy , annex more conquered territories to the State of Israel and tramples the rights of the Palestinian population in an aggressive manner. These actions serve as a band-aid covering a bleeding wound, and as a limited and temporary solution that will accelerate and aggravate the conflict further.

We expostulate the plundering and the theft of territories and source of income to the Palestinians in exchange to the expansion of the settlements, reasoning to defend Israeli territories. In addition, we oppose any transformation of Palestinian cities and villages to ghettos without minimal living conditions or income sources enclosed by the separation wall.

We also protest the humiliating and disrespectful behavior of the military forces towards Palestinians in the West Bank; violence towards demonstrators, public humiliations, arrests, destruction of property regardless to any safety or defense needs, all of which violate global human rights and international law.

The wall and blockades surround the Palestinian Territories and serve as a halter around the Palestinian's neck. The soldiers who commit crimes under the patronage and protection of their commanders reflect the image of the Israeli society; a destructive and surprising society that is incapable of accepting its neighboring nation as a partner and not as an enemy.

In order to hold an effective dialogue between the two societies, we, the well-established and stronger society, have the responsibility of establishing and strengthening the other. Only with a more socially and financially established partner could we work towards peace rather than one-sided retaliation acts. Rather than supporting those citizens who have hope for peace, the military cast sanctions and pushes more and more people towards acts of extreme violence and escalation.

We hereby challenge every citizen who wonders if the military's policy in the occupied territories is conducive to the progression of the peace process, to discover by himself/ herself the truth and to lift the veil which distorts the reality of the situation; to verify statistical data; to look for the humane side in him/her and in the society which stands in front of him/her, to disprove the myths that were routed within us regarding the necessity of the IDF's in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and to stand up against every action which he finds irrational and illegal.

In a place were there are humans, there is someone to talk to. Therefore, we ask to create a dialogue that goes beyond the power struggle, the retaliation and one-sided attrition actions; to disprove the "No Partner" myth, which is leading to a lose-lose situation of an ongoing frustration, and to move to more humane methods.

We cannot hurt in the name of defense or imprison in the name of freedom; therefore we cannot be moral and serve the occupation.

Members of the Shministim Letter 2008.


soldiers in Bethlehem

Also, as I was coming to Bethlehem from Jerusalem this morning, we were stopped outside Beit Safafa by Israeli soldiers and had IDs checked, and then got stopped again inside Beit Jala and had IDs checked by PALESTINIAN soldiers, which is new to me.  In Bethlehem, soldiers were posted at the main intersection and PA jeeps were driving around with 8-10 troops each.

Ma'an reported the incident here, but details are forthcoming.

The guys in the supermarket said they arrested "6 men with beards" and I think they said they were related to Hamas, but this could be speculation.

news from Ni'lin

News from Wednesday, off the RamallahRamallah wires:

"8 injured today, 1 guy approximately 21 years old got two shots in the head with rubber coated steal bullets and is in IC now.... braindead. So basically, his situation is hopeless. the army drove up into the village today, after 3.30, shot the guy and left again.  The army is trying to close the entrance of the village now."

Ma'an reports the incident here, with slightly different numbers.  Ha'aretz doesn't seem to have the story yet today.


Israeli army shoots, videographers shoot back

It seems that the world is watching as the Israeli army shoots bound prisoners and children, evidence of what one op-ed writer in Ha'aretz calls a "worrying and dangerous downward spiral" for Israeli army activity in the West Bank.

Many people will have seen or heard about the video of an Israeli soldier firing a rubber bullet at a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man at point-blank range.  The incident was caught on tape by a 14-year-old girl from Ni'lin, where the protest was taking place, thanks to the video cameras being distributed by Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem to Palestinians in the West Bank.  The video evidence has led to an investigation of the army officer involved (apparently it's his second investigation), but also to retaliation by the Israeli army against the girl's family.  The girl's father was arrested on July 23, according to Ma'an.

A new incident involving the fatal shooting of a child (aged 9 or 10, depending on the source) at a protest of the Wall in Ni'lin is also drawing attention.  An ISM report (warning, graphic photos) states that
Ahmed Ussam Yusef Mousa is the seventh person under age 18 to be killed during a demonstration against the Wall.  Five other Palestinians, ranging in age from 21 to 62 years of age, have also been killed at protests, and many Palestinians and internationals have been arrested, injured by rubber bullets or shrapnel, and attacked with sound bombs and tear gas.

The increase of international media attention to these incidents is helping increase accountability on the part of the Israeli army, which is now, more than ever, being made to justify its actions in Israeli courts, and conduct proper investigations of soldier misconduct.  Amos Harel, the op-ed writer, says, "
apparently, it also increases pressure on IDF officers, who are having difficulty keeping events in check", but I wonder if the international attention is also making them nervous.  As one blogger notes, "these soldiers make the choice whether or not to kill before Americans of the same age are even allowed to drink alcohol. They do not have the life experience to act with wisdom and there is nobody supervising them."

In other news, Ma'an reports that the PA says they're going to sue Ha'aretz for publishing this story, about how Abbas is "vowing
to dismantle the PA if Israel frees Hamas prisoners for Shalit".


collapse of a cease-fire

Last Thursday evening, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas/Islamic Jihad/Gaza was supposed to take effect.

Apparently, late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, the Israeli army stormed a residence near An-Najjar University in Nablus and killed two residents, one reportedly an Islamic Jihad member and the other either a member of Hamas (according to Ha'aretz) or a student (according to IMEMC), or both.  IMEMC also reports that five civilians were "kidnapped" by the Israeli army during the incident.

Ha'aretz also reports that late Monday night, a Qassam rocket was fired from Gaza into the Negev, which, if true, would violate the terms of the cease-fire.  I can't find anything to confirm that this happened, or whether it was before or after the raid in Nablus.

Then, later on Tuesday, Islamic Jihad seems to have claimed responsibility for three or four Qassam rockets launched by Hamas into Israel from Gaza.  Ha'aretz is reporting that the Qassams likely come in response to

"the wounding of a Palestinian civilian in northern Gaza on Monday, in a bid to show that Hamas will not stand by as Israel harms Palestinian civilians. The civilian, 68, appears to have been hurt by an errant IDF bullet,"

but the same article reports that

Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the rocket attack, which it said came in response to the death of a senior operative during an Israel Defense Forces raid in Nablus early Tuesday. A Hamas operative who worked with the wanted Jihad man was also killed in the raid. The Israel Defense Forces said troops shot both men to death, and that the Jihad man was armed with a rifle. In addition, four explosive devices and a large quantity of ammunition were found next to the gunmen,"

which refers to the incident in Nablus on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

The Ha'aretz article says that "
an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement was struck between Israel and Hamas last week, but the deal extends to the Gaza Strip only, leaving the IDF free to operate in the West Bank," but Palestinians are reluctant to accept the division between Gaza and the West Bank, saying that the Israeli army can't have a truce with Gaza and still be at war with the West Bank.

So now Gaza's borders are sealed off again, even though open borders were supposed to be a feature of the truce.

Ha'aretz reports that it's because of the Qassams, but now IMEMC is reporting that "
Israeli media sources reported on Tuesday that an senior political official in Israel, close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, stated on Tuesday that Israel received an Egyptian guarantee to keep the Rafah Border Terminal closed until achieving a prisoner swap deal."

This "prisoner swap" may or may not refer to Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by militants in Gaza 2 years ago.

The reporting is sort of confusing on this...

"On Tuesday at noon, Mubarak and Olmert met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm Al Sheikh, and held talks on the prisoner swap deal between Israel and the Palestinian Resistance, the truce, and the Egyptian role in stopping the flow of arms into the Gaza Strip via the Sinai Peninsula.

"Additionally, an Israeli official stated that the prisoner swap deal was not part of the truce agreement. This statement contradicts the statements of several Israeli officials who claimed that the truce deal included the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

"The official added that Mubarak vowed to help in pushing forward the prisoner deal, and stated that Egypt vowed to keep the Rafah terminal closed until the issue of Shalit is resolved."

And in other news, a border police officer shot and killed himself with an M-16 at Ben Gurion.  The man was reportedly a member of the Druze community.  No other details are forthcoming at present.



Irish Church Leaders told to remove crucifixes

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Irish religious leaders visiting the Middle East were unable to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem this morning after a security official at the checkpoint ordered them to remove their crucifixes from around their necks and leave them at the checkpoint if they wanted to go down and pray at the Western Wall.

The local bishop accompanying the delegation, Dr Munib Younan, told the officials the request was a breach of a protocol agreed between the Israeli government, the Christian leadership in the city and the Jewish Rabbinate, and that it would be a humiliation if the church Leaders had to remove their crucifixes in order to go down and pray at the wall. There was a discussion for some time. The security official at the checkpoint confirmed with his superiors and returned and ordered the Church leaders to remove their crucifixes if they were to go to visit the Western Wall.

Dr Munib Younan, then told the Israeli soldier that this was a humiliation for the church leaders and we cannot undergo this humiliation for our Bishops and Church Leaders from Ireland to undergo this humiliation, so the Bishops turned away bearing with them the prayer that they had written out and which read:

" On our pilgrimage of Hope and peace, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem" signed by, The Primate of the Catholic Church, The Primate of the Church of Ireland, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church and the President of the Methodist Church.

The matter was expected to be discussed later between the Church leaders and Israeli officials at a scheduled meeting at the Israeli Ministry of foreign Affairs including their Religious Affairs Department.


IDF threatens to close orphanages in Hebron, affecting 6000 children

This is off the CPT newswires… CPT is Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization who maintain a presence in the Palestinian towns and villages that are most threatened by Israeli incursions and human rights abuses.  CPT Hebron is, for lack of a better word, hard core.  Hebron, where Israeli settlements not only loom on hilltops but occupy buildings in the heart of the city, and where the settlers themselves are some of the most radical and violent, is a difficult place to live.  CPTers often accompany Palestinian children walking to school to protect them from settler attacks, and observe checkpoints to either discourage or at least witness and document abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers there.  The CPT Hebron info on the website is sort of outdated, but they've been there since 1995, and they put out a frequent bulletin through their Yahoo Group, CPTHebron.


29 March 2008
HEBRON: Sunday, 31 March 2008, Day of Prayer for Hebron's orphans

Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron is calling for Christians around the world to make Sunday, 30 March a day of prayer for the orphans of Hebron. On 25 February 2008, the Israeli army raided all of the buildings and institutions funded by Islamic Charities and gave orphanages and boarding schools until 1 April to evacuate students. On 6 March 2008, the Israeli army again stormed storage buildings of Islamic Charities, confiscating food, children's clothing, and kitchen appliances used to prepare meals for the orphans. These centers house, feed and educate 6000 children in Hebron.

Christian Peacemaker Teams will visit the orphanages and will resist the forced expulsion of children if the Israeli army carries out the order.

Pray for the children of Hebron and for all of those affected by the actions of the Israeli army. Pray that the Israeli civil administration will rescind the order.

To learn more about the Israeli army confiscations from Islamic Charities here are links to recent articles:

Gideon Levy, " Twilight Zone / When charity ends at home"

Khalid Amayreh, "Palestinian Orphans protest after their facilities are raided by Israeli troops"

Oakland Ross, "Hunkering down in Hebron"  



last Wednesday's events

There's a good article about the events in Bethlehem on the IHT.

In it, the reporter, Isabel Kershner, talks about the funerals yesterday and the display of unity, as members from all political factions gathered at the Mosque of Omar in Manger Square to pray and pay their respects to the dead.  She also talks about the circumstances of the men's deaths, and speaks to several individuals about their reactions.

Talking with co-workers yesterday, I also felt the need to record how people were expressing their reactions to Wednesday's assassinations.  Below is a piece that I wrote with the help of two co-workers.  It is intended to give a deeper view into why these men's deaths are mourned so fervently by so many people, and the sense of shock and loss experienced by the community.  This is not an official response from Diyar or the church here, but my personal interpretation of the responses that a few of my co-workers were sharing with me, regarding last Wednesday's assassinations.


I thought it might be important to record local reactions to the shootings in Bethlehem on Wednesday.

People here are mainly sad.  One of the men who was shot, Muhammad Shehadeh, was an icon in Palestinian society, and the men's funerals in Bethlehem yesterday drew thousands of mourners.  It was Shehadeh's house that was demolished last week, and his nephew who was taken into Israeli custody.

Shehadeh is a symbol of the resistance movement because Israel had been chasing him since 1989.  He had become a legend, someone who Israel couldn't catch.  He appeared on television and radio after the demolition of his house, saying that he was sad that his house had been demolished, but he was also optimistic, saying that he knew the Israelis were looking for him, but that he was running to stay alive.

So people are sad, not only because he was an icon of the resistance movement, but also because he was a prominent member of society.  A co-worker explained that in Arabic culture, there are the "big men" of the town, historically the leaders of clans, who are traditionally generous, listen to people's suffering, and help people in need, without expecting things in return – they are motivated my community-mindedness, and people are loyal to them, because they are loyal to the community.  So it is even worse that these men were killed because a "collaborator" tipped off the Israelis to their whereabouts, in betrayal of the men and the sanctity of the community.  These "big men" are even more important in a context where the government and police/military forces are seen to be doing little or nothing to protect and care for the citizenry.  The men are seen to believe in Palestine and to have a sort of visionary leadership that governmental officials are not seen to possess.  Most people think that the PA and the Palestinian military are around just for show, and who can blame them for thinking so, when they do not protect the citizens from Israeli incursions?

Finally, people are sad because of the circumstances of the deaths yesterday.  As my co-worker tells it, the men had just bought some hot, fresh bread from the bakery on the street near the Freres School, near to the house of another co-worker and about a 5-minute walk from mine.  This is so intimate, so familiar, that many people feel like the shooting could happen to anyone.  It happened in the center of one of the old neighbourhoods of Bethlehem, on a street that everyone knows, outside one of the town's favourite bakeries.  It really seems to have affected people deeply.

So this is the other side of the story.  People admit that there are bad things about Islamic Jihad, and that none of the men were without fault, but people revere them as symbols and as pillars of the community, and mourn them as such.  That they were killed rather than captured makes them martyrs in the eyes of many, and solidifies their status as symbols of the Palestinian resistance movement.




more killing in Bethlehem

Yesterday evening Israelis came into Bethlehem and shot four men riding in a car near the Freres School -- close to the house of a co-worker and about a 5-minute walk from my house.

The story is here.

One of the men had been on the run for almost 20 years, and recently started popping up on the radio and on TV.  A co-worker says that a "collaborator" probably found out that he was around, and called the Israelis, who came in and shot him.

I only started hearing about collaborators -- people who sell information to the Israelis, either to make money to support their families, or as part of a bargain to get themselves off the "wanted" list -- this week, when I saw the film "Paradise Now" for the first time.  I'm sure I must have heard about them before, but maybe this is the first time I've consciously thought about them, and what it means to be one.  If you haven't seen "Paradise Now", I'd recommend it.  It's about two seemingly normal guys in Nablus who get called up for a suicide mission, but it's also about the structures of militant organisations (the ones in charge sending others off to their deaths, eating sandwiches while the chosen bombers are filming their testimonies) and debate among Palestinians as to whether or not suicide bombs help or hurt the Palestinian cause for independence and self-determination.

So today in Bethlehem there's a general strike -- the only shops that are open are the pharmacies.  People say that it'll last until Saturday.  We shut the front gates to our offices today so that it looks like we're closed, but I think everyone came into work.


Amnesty International report: Palestinian homes demolished without warning

Got this off the AI wires this morning... IDF demolition crews destroyed large parts of rural villages in the Jordan Valley, where exists some of the most fertile (and therefore most coveted) land in Israel/Palestine.  While last week's house demolition in Bethlehem was a targeted assault on the home and family of a member of Islamic Jihad, these home demolitions are part of the strategic expulsion by Israel of Palestinians from their lands in the Jordan Valley.  The report states that at least 34 people, including 26 children, are homeless in the villages of Hadidya and Furush Beit Dajan, and 9 are homeless after the destruction of their farm in Jiftlik.

11 March 2008

The Israeli army demolished more homes in Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday morning. The homes of Palestinian families in the villages of Hadidiya, Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan, in the Jordan Valley area of the occupied West Bank, were demolished.

Amnesty International's researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories witnessed the demolitions. Donatella Rovera described the scene:

"In all the places, most of the people are children. These homes mostly have three generations – the grandparents, parents and children. In Hadidiya, there were four families, in Furush Beit Dajan, five families.

"All of the people have had homes demolished before, but this time they had no warning. The people were very, very upset. They were running to get their things out of their homes, but the bulldozer just went on demolishing."

Soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) arrived early in the morning in jeeps accompanied by a bulldozer and then demolished the buildings where the four families were living. The destroyed properties belonged to Mohammed Fahed Bani Odeh, Mohammed Ali Shaikh Bani Odeh, Ali Shaikh Musleh Bani Odeh and Omar 'Arif Mohammed Bisharat and their families – at least 34 people, including some 26 children.  

After destroying these homes, the IDF moved on to destroy homes in Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan, where homes have previously been demolished in recent months.

"In Jiftlik, they are destroying a farm – it is one of the rare farms here and there is otherwise not much livelihood for the people. They first bulldozed the vegetable area a couple of months ago; then they bulldozed the home today," said Donatella Rovera, who also witnessed this demolition.

"The family of Mahmud Mat'ab Da'ish, his wife and seven children were previously given a tent by the Red Cross and they started planting vegetables again. Today, the army has been bulldozing the green plants.

"In all three locations the soldiers haven't allowed us to get near, I don't even know if they have a military order to destroy everything  - we asked them but they didn't show us anything."

The families in Hadidiya have lived in the same area for generations, herding sheep and goats and cultivating land on the Jordan hills. They have come under increasing pressure from the Israeli army to leave the area. The same four families had their homes destroyed in February this year and other homes were demolished several times by the Israeli army in 2007.

The demolitions are part of intensified efforts by the Israeli army to expel Palestinians from the area of the Jordan Valley. Much of the Jordan Valley, including the Hadidiya area, has been designated by the Israeli authorities as a "closed military area" and the army has been exerting increased pressure on local Palestinian villagers to force them to out of the area.

For years, the Israeli authorities have pursued a policy of discriminatory house demolition, on the one hand allowing scores of Israeli settlements to be built on occupied Palestinian land, in breach of international law, while simultaneously confiscating Palestinian lands, refusing building permits for Palestinians and destroying their homes. The land vacated has often been used to build illegal Israeli settlements. International law forbids occupying powers from settling their own citizens in the territories they occupy.

The demolitions come one day after the Israeli government came under international criticism for approving the construction of hundreds of new houses for Israelis in the Givat Ze'ev settlement north of Jerusalem. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government to "halt settlement expansion" in the West Bank. Javier Solana, the European Union (EU)'s foreign policy chief, said the EU opposed the move to expand the settlement.

Read More

Israeli army destroys Palestinian homes (News, 14 February 2008)


shooting in Jerusalem

You may have heard about the shooting in Jerusalem last night.

I was in a cafe in Bethlehem when it happened -- some people were down from Jerusalem and one of them got a phone call to give them a heads-up about the situation, in case the checkpoints were shut down or something.  The first thing we heard was that it was a suicide bombing, but then someone else called and said it was a shooting, which isn't much better, but it is a different sort of deal.

The yeshiva where the shooting took place is famous as the "backbone of the settler movement", apparently, so it probably wasn't a random choice.

There's an article on the IHT here.  Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, is quoted as saying, "tonight's massacre in Jerusalem is a defining moment... the same warped and extremist ideology behind tonight's massacre is also behind the daily rocket barrages in the south."  Which is both worrying (defining moment?) and I think incorrect.  The daily rocket barrages from Gaza are probably more because Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world, where water is scarce or polluted, there is no fuel or electricity, and many live in abject misery because of the closure policies of the Israeli government toward them.   Go figure, right?  A gunman (not a suicide bomber) attacking a yeshiva that's the religious "backbone of the settler movement" would make more sense to come in response to the continuing house demolitions in the West Bank and the continuing expansion of West Bank settlements (the E1 plan, in particular, which is going to annex large parts of Arab East Jerusalem) even though they're unequivocally illegal under international law, and prime ministers since I don't know when have all said, "yeah, yeah, we'll totally stop building settlements...".  The spark that set this guy off might have been the over 100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including a number of children, who were killed in Gaza by Israel since last week (it's set off a number of demonstrations, certainly), but to lump together all the things that people do for a variety of reasons under the blanket term of "terrorism" only serves to justify the blunt and collective punishment that Israel continues to perpetrate with complete impunity against the Palestinian population.

Then, in Bethlehem last night, the Israeli troops rolled in and destroyed a house in the neighbourhood between my house and where I work, which is only a 10-minute walk.  Apparently they were looking for a wanted Islamic Jihadist, but he wasn't there, so they destroyed his house and took his nephew to an undisclosed location, where he may remain for months in "administrative detention", without anyone knowing where he is, and probably without being charged with anything.  A co-worker who lives near to the house that was demolished says that the last Israeli troops left around 6:30 this morning.

So that's what's going on.  I'm safe, and I don't know anyone who died, but things keep getting worse here.


what to do about Gaza?

Good article in the IHT from yesterday.

Shlomo Brom, a retired general at the Institute for National Security Studies, says that none of the military options is especially attractive. To stop rockets, as the army learned in Lebanon, Israel must occupy the launching zones.

But the range of the rockets is improving.

"That means, for all practical purposes, occupying most of the Gaza Strip," he said, "and no one in Israel other than the fringe right has the appetite to reoccupy the Gaza Strip." Hamas has weapons and built fortifications, "and there are thousands of terrorists willing to fight you." The Israeli forces would win easily, Brom said, "but it takes a long time, and for what? To regain rule over 1.5 million Palestinians? What's the exit strategy?"


breaking news

Ma'an news agency is reporting that the Israelis have apprehended the Islamic Jihad supporter/operative they were looking for.  He actually was at home.  It's still unknown whether or not they'll demolish his family's house, but maybe the Israelis will leave town soon and we can go home.

A co-worker reported to me that that's what Ma'an was reporting -- the article is probably only in Arabic.

Here's the story about the 17-year-old in Ma'an, and in Ha'aretz.

further madness

So I'm stuck in work and I can't go home because the Israeli army is occupying Bethlehem.

We think that the Israelis used the passing of George Habash and the as an excuse to go in and get a wanted Islamic Jihad member, who has been on the run for years.  A co-worker says that the Israelis might have gotten a tip that he was at his family home here in Bethlehem, which may or may not be true.  Anyway, the folks in the neighbourhood say that he definitely isn't there now, but the Israelis have the bulldozer poised to demolish the home, and apparently they're already at work on destroying their front fence and gate, and apparently the guy's 70-year-old paralytic father is inside and obviously can't get out.

Also, the Israelis have closed off most of the major streets in the central Bethlehem area south of and including Paul VI Street, so my co-worker and her sister can't go to their home, where their elderly mother is home alone surrounded by Israeli soldiers.  I myself probably can't go home, because the Israelis have occupied the tallest building in the area and I'd have to pass by it on my way, unless I decided to go the long way backwards around Bethlehem to get to my house.

A 17-year-old was shot and killed earlier today, around 5pm, and another young man was shot in the foot.  They've probably got snipers stationed at windows and on rooftops to enforce the security lockdown, so maybe I'll stay here for the night?

At least we've got a guest house.

George Habash dies, Israel invades Bethlehem

George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a close friend of Yasser Arafat, and basically the head of the leftist movement in Palestine, died in exile in Jordan last night from heart failure.  Funerals and memorials are being staged all over Palestine, and especially in Beit Jala, where the leftist movement is very strong.

So around 2:30 today, while I was walking back from picking a few things up at my house, I saw three or four armoured Israeli jeeps roll into town, with a large personnel carrier.  I asked my friend Mike (a shopkeeper in Madbasseh Square) what was going on -- he was closing the metal shutters on his store because he was concerned that local kids would be throwing rocks at the jeeps.  I got inside the ICB and told the guys at the reception desk what I'd seen, and one of them went off to investigate.

For the last hour and a half, there have been spurts of shooting and explosions, mostly of sound bombs, but a few real ones too.  The Israelis are moving around the Bethlehem neighbourhoods -- doing what, I'm not sure.  The kids in the street are out in full force to investigate.  "Bullets, cool, let's go see!" is what my office mate says they were saying.  She also says she thinks the Israelis inside the tanks are more scared than the kids running in the streets -- I guess the kids have been through this before.



"The issue turned into a verbal spat between Egypt and Israel when Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel gradually wants to relinquish responsibility for Gaza, now that the territory's border with Egypt had been blown open.

"It was a position echoed by other Israeli officials, who said the border breach could pave the way for increasingly disconnecting from the territory. However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, said he didn't want to 'go too far in my interpretation of this.'"



breach in the Gaza Barrier, personal analysis

Early this morning, Hamas militants destroyed a section of the Israeli wall between Gaza and Egypt, allowing hundreds of Gazans to enter Egypt to buy supplies in the towns across the border.  By later in the morning, 2/3 of the wall had been destroyed, with tens of thousands of Gazans streaming across the border.  Reports differed as to whether the Egyptian border security forces actually tried to stop the Gazan influx or not; an article on the International Herald Tribune said that earlier in the day they did, but as more and more Gazans were attempting to cross the border, they became overwhelmed and simply stood back to watch.  I was thinking about this, and how Egypt and Israel are going to deal with this, and had this conversation with a friend:


but you heard about them blowing up most of the Wall at Rafah and tens of thousands of Palestinians streaming across the border into Egypt to buy food and supplies, yeah?

Hamas blew up the fence that Israel had built around Gaza, between Gaza and Egypt, so the Gazans (who have been under Israeli military siege since June) could get out and buy the supplies that have been all but blocked from entering Gaza

they started working on it really early this morning, and Egyptian border forces tried to keep people from coming through the break in the wall, but later in the morning there were tens of thousands of people trying to get through, so both Hamas security on the Gaza side and Egyptian security on the Egypt side just stood around and watched

but seriously, Gaza is a humanitarian nightmare
something was bound to happen sooner or later from Gaza
you can't keep people locked up without food, water and electricity forever

which is what was happening in Gaza, with the Israeli closures
 I'm just astounded that no one really stopped them
 like, it's not as if Israel has any qualms about bombing stuff

if they really wanted Gazans to quit going to Egypt, they would have just gone in and bombed the heck out of Rafah
 I think that this is Israel's way of saving face

they said that they didn't have troops stationed at the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, that it's Egypt's responsibility to control that bit, and that they'd expect Egypt to do something about it

I don't know what kind of internal pressures the Israeli government was under, but one side was probably like, "no, keep the Gazans inside until they die" and the other side was like "no, this is inhumane", so the easy solution was to "let them escape" into Egypt, and relinquish all responsibility
 a really similar thing happened in a West Wing episode, actually!

so it'll be interesting to see how Egypt plays this
 if they welcome the Palestinians (who are buying all sorts of supplies in the border towns), then the international community will have a positive impression of Egypt
 but this'll piss off the Israelis
 as well as making Egyptian border security look inept


I've been glancing at news stories on this during the day, and so far I haven't read any substantial response from Israel.  Predictably (and not altogether unjustifiably), they're concerned about what else might come back into Gaza besides much-needed supplies, but apart from that I haven't seen much comment on this incident from the Israelis in the international media.  Weird, isn't it?


strike in Bethlehem

There's a general strike on in Bethlehem today because of the 19 people killed in Gaza yesterday.  Most of the shops on the main street are closed today, and those that are open have only one of their shutters open so that they look mostly closed.  George at the supermarket said that one of the top Hamas guys in Gaza lost two sons in the attack yesterday, though I read an article that says only one of his sons was killed.  ( http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hf4YYgkM1f8SKSsRIunj0gtS-PJQ)

The article also mentions a sniper from Gaza killing an Israeli civilian across the border, and Hamas's armed wing launching a load of rockets into Israel, but it doesn't say if one incident preceded another, or what.

I went to a talk last night by Sam Bahour, a self-described "business activist" who touched on the danger of separating the West Bank and Gaza not only in the international mindset, but in the Palestinian mindset as well.  Gaza is in dire circumstances (daily incursions by the Israeli army, food and energy shortages, complete border closure) and if the West Bank gives up on it in order to save itself (in international negotiations, a blunt summary is that Fatah rules the West Bank and gets the carrot, while Hamas rules Gaza and is getting the stick), then what happens to the million people living there?


who's running the housing ministry?

So apparently the Israeli Housing Ministry has more power than the Israeli Attorney General and Condoleezza Rice put together?





"you'll be happy to hear..."

From The Guardian:  

Bush acknowledged that the checkpoints across the West Bank caused "massive frustrations" to the Palestinians. "You'll be happy to hear that my motorcade of 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped but I'm not so exactly sure that's what happens to the average person," he said.

My friend Eric dropped me off near the King David Hotel yesterday, where I was to participate in a craft bazaar on behalf of the ICB, because no one with any Palestinian heritage was getting in or out of the West Bank.  It took us 15 minutes to get down there, and it took him an hour and a half to get back, because Israel closed Road 1 from Jerusalem to Ramallah, cutting Jerusalem in half and preventing people from getting across town.  Apparently it was too foggy to fly Marine One to Ramallah, so the presidential motorcade (which cars were imported from the US, along with 300 staff members, including housekeeping and catering staff to replace the hotel staff during his stay) drove up to Ramallah instead, while Jerusalem traffic sat at a standstill.

This is nuts.  I don't know if it's the president's security that mandates that all of these considerations be taken, or if it's the Israelis who arrange all this (for the sake of showing off, or as an excuse to harass Palestinians), but this is just NUTS.  It'll be a wonder if he ever gets invited back!

Full Guardian story here.

On the other hand, Bush did AGAIN call for a halt on settlement expansion, and Olmert AGAIN said okay, so maybe this time they'll mean it.


President Bush's visit to Bethlehem

President Bush is due to arrive in Bethlehem today, we think, so
obviously the whole town is shut down as a security measure.

Seriously. No West Bankers are allowed in or out of the city.

Pastor Mitri had to cancel a workshop in Jerusalem today because he
can't get out of the city, and our Ajyal programme had to cancel its
annual trip to the Galilee. Ajyal is our community care programme for
the elderly, so imagine, a bus full of little old ladies told that
they can't go to the Galilee because they're a security threat.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that many people in Bethlehem
have travel permits only for a limited time (most of them until the
20th... one-month travel permits from the Israeli government are
issued to many Christians around Christmastime, with the notable
exception of those involved in the media or in political activism,
some of whom have been denied permits for the last 3 years), and the
fact that the Israeli authorities said at 7pm last night that the bus
of senior citizens could go, and then at 10pm changed their mind and
said that they couldn't. The Ajyal coordinator had to get on the
phone to 100 seniors at 10pm and tell them that the trip would be
postponed until they were allowed out of the city again. They think
maybe Monday they'll be able to go.

In the meantime, we hope that the President enjoys his tour of
Bethlehem. Hopefully he'll get a better idea of what the town is like
than most tourists, who are bussed into Manger Square for an hour and
then bussed out again to their hotels on the Israeli side of the Wall.
Tony Blair stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel here in Bethlehem
(where I played billiards on my birthday -- swank place!), so maybe
the President and his entourage will stay for a while, and tour the
Wall to see Banksy's murals or something.

Bush said that his visit here is "more religious than political", but
as far as we know he hasn't made appointments with local church
leaders or anything, so his agenda is anyone's guess. I wonder how
long he'll want to spend down in the grotto at the Church of the

It really struck me at Christmas (and again at Orthodox Christmas)
that people come from all over the world for a once-in-a-lifetime
experience of seeing and touching the place where tradition says
Christ was born, and I walk past it all the time and am free to enter
and sit for as long as I like, whenever I like. It really is sort of
crazy that I live here, isn't it? There still exists in my mind a
disconnect between the "Bethlehem" of Bible stories and the Bethlehem
where I live, and I'm not sure how to reconcile the two. What is it
like for the monks who live and serve in the Church of the Nativity?
What is it like for the kids who grow up in the neighbourhoods around
the Church of the Nativity, and play in the sanctuary? Growing up in
(and physically next to) the church I suppose changed my relationship
with the church and church life (not sure if it's somehow decreased
the mystery and sanctity of the church in my mind, or if it's just
made me more comfortable with it and more ready to be a part of it),
but rollerskating in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Denver
and playing hide-and-seek in the sanctuary of the Church of the
Nativity are sort of two different things, aren't they?


from Al-Jazeera's English channel, on Nablus

From my friend Dave in Dublin


I watched a good documentary this evening, called “Two Schools in Nablus”. It was broadcast by the English language version of Al Jazeera. It shows what both teachers and students have to endure on a daily basis in Nablus.


One part of the documentary reminded me what Ziyad told us about when his family went to try and visit him in prison. A girl in the film has a brother in an Israeli jail; her parents are not allowed to visit him for security reasons, so she goes to visit him once a fortnight. Although she is only allowed to see him for 45 minutes, the actual round trip (including the checkpoints; searches; questioning etc) takes 15 hours! Appalling.


You can watch the documentary on You Tube in four parts:

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtziKpJi2Wk

Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FL7Xifg3d4

Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoZPNZN1gEw

Part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXp7UmzfSHA


Also posted the link on Facebook for those of you who use that.


I don’t know how to get Al Jazeera (the English language version) in Ireland, but they actually put a very large amount of their reports and features up on You Tube. Most days there are new reports from Palestine put up, covering the situation there. They cover more from Palestine than, say, BBC World or CNN.


Their “homepage” on You Tube is: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=AlJazeeraEnglish where you can browse their videos, and see all the new ones. If you have nerd-like tendencies like me you can subscribe using an RSS reader too to get the new content.


Regards, Dave

Nassar family in LA Times

Received this from Chuck:

The following article reviews struggle of a Palestinian family to retain their land from encroaching Israeli settlers. The story of the Nassar family, members of
Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is told in more detail in Imm Mathilda: A Bethlehem Mother’s Diary by Alison Jones Nassar with Fred Strickert, a book issued a few years ago by Kirk House Publishers, Minneapolis. To order ($15) go to www.kirkhouse.com ... enter Catalog, then Global Issues.

West Bank Struggle Rooted In Land, By Richard Bourdreaux in The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 27, 2007