Archive for the Israeli politics Category

Easing the siege or passing the buck?

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , on 29/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Sherine Tadros

Date published: 29th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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The image of Palestinians crossing Rafah on Saturday was heart warming. Not only did it signal the release of Gazans from their mental and physical prison, but also Egyptians from a moral responsibility they have evaded for four years.

Israel’s response has been much like a disappointed parent – shaking its head at Egyptian officials and warning of what’s to come from their foolishness.

Israel is worried. Not so much about the opening of Rafah but because in so doing Egypt did what they promised they wouldn’t and Israel feared they would – they went back on a previous agreement. For years, Israel handled former president Hosni Mubarak, now it has to handle 80 million Egyptians.

The Gaza end game

Since the start of the siege, analysts have written about Israel’s strategy in Gaza – pushing it towards Egypt in hope of washing its hands of the territory. The West Bank is useful, symbolic, resourceful, key for the settlers and Israel’s security. Gaza is a pain Israel can do without.

So for the past four years, Israel has been increasing its buffer zone area on the border (for “security reasons”) effectively squeezing Gaza. That has meant that the most fertile land in the Strip has been taken away; instead Gazans were pushed southwards. Israel systematically deprived Gaza of electricity, which made the Strip’s residents have to increasingly rely on Egypt as a power source.

As the siege tightened, Egypt was forced into the position of either helping Gaza or being complicit in the siege. At first it did a little of both, turning a blind eye to the hundreds of tunnels being built underground connecting the Strip to Egypt while keeping the Rafah crossing closed.

The result of tunnel trade is the creation of an Egyptian economy in the Strip. Egyptian cigarettes, coke, detergent, fridges – all smuggled in…even the Egyptian pound is used in some places in southern Gaza.

Gaza has been turning lock stock and barrel into an extension of Egypt.

The Israelis didn’t mind. Egypt did. There is no economic or strategic benefit to annexing Gaza right now.

Opening Rafah may end up completing a process that has been taking place for years. Egypt is right to open its gates to Gazans, but this does not absolve Israel of its legal responsibility towards the people they are occupying.

A window has been opened to the outside world, but the door is still locked and only Israel holds the key.

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Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

No Gaza optimism over easing blockade

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 20/06/2010 by 3071km

Written by Jon Donnison

Date published: Sunday 20th June 2010

Source: BBC News

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Fishing boats in Gaza City's harbour

“I don’t need ketchup or mayonnaise from Israel. I need my business back,” says Nasser al-Helo standing on a busy street in Gaza City.

Mr Helo used to run a business making steel doors in the Gaza Strip. Before the blockade he was able to import metal from Israel and would produce more than 300 doors a month.

“Now, it’s a big zero,” he says. “I’ve lost $300,000 in the past three years.”

Private industry has been devastated by Israel’s blockade, which was tightened in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal territory.

Factories making anything from furniture to textiles, floor tiles to biscuits have gone under.

The Israeli blockade has starved them of the raw materials they need to produce their goods.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. The United Nations estimates unemployment is at 40% in Gaza. Mr Helo used to employ 32 people at his factory. Now there are only four.

‘Not enough’

The overwhelming feeling among Gazans is that Israel’s announcement on Thursday that it is “easing the blockade” is simply not enough.

Omar Shabban

The details of how the blockade will be “liberalised” are still not clear, but reportedly the Israeli authorities will allow more civilian goods to enter, including all food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. Construction materials for civilian projects will be allowed in under international supervision.

“Of course it’s not enough,” says Omar Shabban, an economist at the Gaza-based think tank PalThink.

“What about the blockade on people for starters?” he asks.

“One-and-a-half million people are trapped in a prison unable to leave.”

Israel maintains tight control of the border with Gaza, only allowing out a limited number of people to seek medical treatment. Israel says this is needed to protect itself from “terrorist” attacks.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has also been closed since 2007, although special medical cases are also sporadically allowed to pass through it.

Desperate vendors

Mr Shabban argues that what is really needed in Gaza is not a few more food items – many of which are already available through smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border – but a total lifting of the blockade to allow people to work in Israel, as over 100,000 people used to do.

GOODS ALLOWED INTO GAZA

Coriander

  • Canned meat and tuna, but not canned fruit
  • Mineral water, but not fruit juice
  • Sesame paste (tahini) but not jam
  • Tea and coffee but not chocolate
  • Cinnamon but not coriander

Details of Gaza blockade revealed

Gaza also used to export many goods to Israel and beyond. Strawberries and flowers are still two of Gaza’s most famous products, but most of them never get beyond the barrier into Israel.

Instead, in strawberry season in January they are sold dirt-cheap off huge wheelbarrows on street corners, the vendors desperate to sell them at any price before they rot.

Israel has argued that the blockade is necessary to put pressure on Hamas.

The group came out top in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but the EU, the US and Israel refused to recognise Hamas in government unless it renounced violence and its commitment to destroy Israel.

Then in June 2007, Hamas ousted its secular rival, Fatah, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces from Gaza.

Rockets

Over the past decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing more than 20 Israelis.

Man selling strawberries in Gaza

But since Israel’s major offensive on Gaza in 2009, which devastated the territory and left more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, the number has dropped dramatically. One person – a Thai farm worker – has been killed in southern Israel by a rocket fired from Gaza in the past 12 months.

Hamas has tried to rein in rocket fire, but it does not control all the militant groups in Gaza and sporadic, usually ineffective rocket fire continues.

Israel says it is the responsibility of the Hamas authorities to stop all rocket attacks, and that the blockade is necessary to stop weapons being brought into Gaza.

But at least until now the list of items banned from entering Gaza has gone far beyond weapons. Coriander, chocolate and children’s toys have famously been excluded.

Low expectations

In actual fact, such things are readily available in the supermarkets in Gaza.

Millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

Butcher in Gaza City

There is food on the shelves and in the markets but the blockade means it is too expensive for most people to afford. A kilo of beef smuggled from Egypt costs around $15, more than most Gazans earn in a day.

“We are living on a black-market economy,” says Mr Shabban.

Gazans have little faith in Israel’s announcement. At best, they will wait and see if anything changes in the coming weeks and months.

Indeed, like most places in the world, people here are more preoccupied with the World Cup. The cafes of Gaza City on Friday were full of people cheering on Algeria as they thrashed out a dire draw with England.

The beaches in Gaza are packed this weekend with thousand of children enjoying summer camps and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea.

But as they play in the water, a reminder that the blockade of Gaza is still very much in place – the sound of machine-gun fire just a few kilometres off the coast.

Israeli navy ships, which continue to occupy and control Gaza’s territorial water, regularly open fire on Palestinian fishing boats that stray beyond the limits of where Israel allows them to fish.

Yet most of the children did not even bat an eyelid at the gunfire.

The blockade here has been come a way of life. Few people are optimistic that will change.

KEY ENTRY POINTS INTO GAZA

map of Gaza showing key entry points• Rafah – under Egyptian control. Since flotilla deaths, opened indefinitely for people only. Has been closed for the vast majority of the time over the last three years. Makeshift tunnels in this area used to smuggle in goods, including weapons

• Erez – under Israeli control. Crossing for pedestrians and cargo. Access restricted to Palestinians under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and to Egyptians or international aid officials

• Karni – main crossing point for commercial goods

• Sufa – official crossing point for construction materials

• Kerem Shalom – for commercial and humanitarian goods. These last three crossings have been frequently closed by Israeli army since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007

• Opening of seaport and bus routes to West Bank had been agreed in 2005 but plans since shelved

• Airport – bombed by Israel in early years of the 2000 Intifada

• ‘Buffer zone’ inside Gaza where it borders Israel. Gazan farmers forbidden to enter the zone

Palestinians deported to Gaza

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Gaza, Hamas, History, IDF, International community, Israel, Israel politics, Israel's separation wall, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, Siege, War crimes, West Bank on 23/04/2010 by 3071km

Source: Aljazeera English


Two Palestinians have been deported to the Gaza Strip from Israel, raising fears that more expulsions could follow under a controversial new Israeli military order.

After nine years in Israeli jail, Ahmad Sabah, a 40-year-old Palestinian, was sent to Gaza, instead of being released to the West Bank where his family was waiting for him.

Israelis sent him to Gaza because he had a Palestinian ID issued there.

His family said that Sabah, who was arrested in 2001 for “security offences” against Israel, has no connection to Gaza and he has refused to leave the border crossing in protest at his treatment.

“It is my right to return to my wife and family,” he said.

‘Inhumane policy’

The Israeli move drew condemnation from Palestinian political leaders, who denounced Sabah’s deportation as “inhumane”.

Issa Qaraqi, the minister of prisoner affairs in the government of  Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said that Sabah should have been released to the West Bank.

“He has no connection to Gaza, no relatives there, nothing.”

He said that the deportation was an example of Israel invoking the controversial new military orders that allow “illegal” residents of the West Bank to be expelled.

But Israeli authorities denied the orders were behind the decision. “The individual’s release to the Gaza Strip was done in accordance with the Prison Service’s decision and in light of the location of his place of residence, and was not due to a repatriation order issued by any military commander,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

Sabah’s case follows that of Saber Albayari, who was deported to Gaza after seeking medical treatment in an Israeli hospital on Wednesday.

Albayari had been living in Israel for the past 15 years, but was returned to Gaza when Israeli authorities discovered that he had been born there.

Some fear that the expulsions could be the first in a wave of deportations of Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank.

Up to 70,000 Palestinians could be at risk of deportation under the military order, which has been roundly condemned by Arab politicians.

Last week President Abbas vowed to confront the order. “Israel has no right to deport any Palestinian, and the Palestinian Authority will not allow it and will confront it with various means.”

Al Jazeera’s Jackie Rowland, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the individual stories put a human face on what is a deliberate strategy by Israel to treat the West Bank and Gaza differently.

“It fits into a pattern of Israel’s strategy to treat Gaza and the West Bank as separate geopoliticial entities,” she said.

Palestinian PM blasts Israel ID law

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Fatah, Gaza, Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, History, IDF, International community, Israel, Israel politics, Israel's separation wall, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, War crimes, West Bank on 23/04/2010 by 3071km

Source: Aljazeera English

Israel has defended a new policy that critics say could allow the Israeli military to expel tens of thousands of Palestinians from their own homes.

The new legislation, signed off six months ago and due to be implemented on Tuesday, amends an existing order from 1969 to prevent infiltration into the country.

The military policy now stipulates that all Palestinians in the occupied West Bank not carrying what Israel deems a valid identity card can be classified as “infiltrators”, and as such, could face deportation or up to seven years in prison.

The Israeli military order does not specify what would be accepted as valid identification.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, denied that the amended measure was aimed at expelling Palestinians, but instead, said it would safeguard their rights.

“What we’ve done here is we’ve strengthened the rights of people who face such deportation by creating … an independent judicial oversight mechanism, which makes sure there are checks and balances and that the legal rights of people are protected,” he told Al Jazeera.

Under the old order, those served with deportation orders could be deported the same day, whereas the new amendments provide a 72-hour appeal period, he said.

Vague language

The controversial aspect of the measure, however, arises from the vague language now used to define an infiltrator, as reported by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on Sunday.

“The order’s language is both general and ambiguous, stipulating that the term infiltrator will also be applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, citizens of countries with which Israel has friendly ties [such as the United States] and Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jewish,” Haaretz said.

“All this depends on the judgement of Israel defence forces commanders in the field.”

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have condemned the policy, saying it contradicts international humanitarian law as well as UN Security Council decisions.

The measure “threatens the emptying of large areas of land from its Palestinian inhabitants,” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said in a statement on Monday.

“The order targets thousands of Palestinians from Gaza who work and live in the West Bank and could lead to their forced deportation to the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Palestinians who have identification papers from neighbouring countries and foreign women married to Palestinians residing in the West Bank could also be affected by the changes.

Israeli forces besiege Prisoners Day commemoration

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, IDF, International community, Israel, Israel politics, Israel's separation wall, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, War crimes, West Bank on 22/04/2010 by 3071km

Source: Electronic Intifada

BEIT UMMAR, occupied West Bank (IPS) – A young Palestinian man died in Israeli custody as hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of villages and towns across the West Bank and Gaza to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners Day on Friday, 16 April.

Raed Abu Hammad, 31, was found dead in his prison cell late on Friday after spending the last 18 months in solitary confinement.

The Hamas member was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2005 for attempted political assassinations.

His lawyer Tareq Barghouti told the media that Hammad was on medication and psychologically ill.

The exact cause of his death is still being investigated after the Israeli authorities announced an autopsy was being carried out.

However, rights groups and fellow Palestinian prisoners, both current and former, have accused the Israeli Prison Services of maltreatment and neglect.

“Hammad is the 198th Palestinian prisoner to die in Israeli custody since 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza,” said Shawan Jabarin from the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq in Ramallah.

“Many of the deaths have been from natural causes. However, Israel has carried out a deliberate policy of maltreatment and neglect by denying appropriate medical treatment to ill Palestinians. This has aggravated their physical condition and hastened unnecessary deaths,” Jabarin told IPS.

“Several prisoners died from force feeding when they embarked on a hunger strike. Tubes were forced through their noses which subsequently caused damage to their livers.”

“Furthermore, approximately 20 Palestinians have died during Israeli interrogation from beatings and torture since the outbreak of the first Palestinian intifada in December 1987,” explained Jabarin.

Israeli human rights organizations forced the domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet or General Security Services, to change its methods of interrogation after taking the torture of Palestinian prisoners to Israeli courts.

There are now limits to the amount of physical abuse Israeli interrogators can apply to Palestinian prisoners during interrogation.

Palestinian prisoners and their families also accuse the Israelis of forcing the prisoners to endure unhygienic conditions, substandard food, beatings and the denial of family visits.

There are currently approximately 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. Hundreds are being held in administrative detention or without trial.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military sealed off the village of Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank, north of Hebron, where a prisoner commemoration ceremony was taking place.

Several photographers working with IPS took photos of Israeli soldiers using a young boy as a human shield despite being shot at by the soldiers.

IPS managed to enter the village prior to the exits and entrances being blocked by soldiers as clashes broke out between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers.

The confrontations broke out after military jeeps entered the agricultural village and attempted to break up the commemoration.

The village committee had laid out hundreds of chairs and organized music for the celebration when it was stormed by the Israeli military.

Youngsters in the village had spent months rehearsing and preparing for the event which included speeches, dances, plays and music.

“You’ve got five minutes to evacuate the area,” barked the Israeli military commander to the organizers who tried to negotiate the peaceful withdrawal of the soldiers. “If you don’t leave we will arrest you all. This is not open to negotiation.”

“I tried to negotiate with the soldiers. I told them if they withdraw from the village we will control the youngsters. The place where the celebration was taking place is far from the main road and the settlements,” Mousa Abu Maria, an activist leader from the village, told IPS.

But the youths remained defiant and sat down on the ground and refused to move. After the Israeli soldiers withdrew to the entrance of the village, the commemorations continued.

Military jeeps then returned and were met with a hail of stones. They responded with tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and some live ammunition.

Sabri Ibrahim Awad, 15, was left bruised and limping after he was used as a human shield by the Israeli soldiers as he rode his bike past them. He was not involved in the clashes.

He was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and marched in front of the soldiers as rocks showered down. He was then cuffed and arrested and thrown into the back of a jeep.

Several hours later a traumatized Awad was released.

Israel security forces have used Palestinians as human shields both in Gaza and the West Bank despite international law and Israeli courts ruling this illegal.

The UN-commissioned Goldstone report admonished the Israelis for endangering the lives of Palestinian youngsters during Israel’s assault on Gaza in winter 2008-09.

While the Gazan youths faced live fire and Awad “only” faced rocks, Abu Maria said it represented a dangerous escalation in Israeli tactics.

“The soldiers have abused many youths in the village. But to take a completely innocent youngster and expose him to this danger is totally unacceptable,” Abu Maria told IPS.

In another development, the Israeli military has placed the West Bank under a complete lock-down for several days as Israel celebrates its independence.

This is the third time since the beginning of March that Palestinians from the West Bank have been sealed off from Jerusalem for days.

All rights reserved, IPS — Inter Press Service (2010). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

El Al sued for racial profiling

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel politics, Israel's separation wall, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, War crimes on 22/04/2010 by 3071km

Source: The Electronic Intifada, 20 April 2010

Two Palestinian citizens of Israel have won $8,000 in damages from Israel’s national carrier, El Al, after a court found that their treatment by the company’s security staff at a New York airport had been “abusive and unnecessary.”

Brothers Abdel Wahab and Abdel Aziz Shalabi were assigned a female security guard who watched over them at the airport’s departure gate for nearly two hours, in full view of hundreds of fellow passengers, after they had passed the security and baggage checks.

Later, El Al’s head of security threatened to bar Abdel Wahab, 43, from the flight if he did not apologize to the guard for going to the toilet without first getting her approval. Abdel Aziz said he had been humiliated and “cried like I’ve never cried before in public.”

Although surveys of Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of Israel’s population, show that most have suffered degrading treatment when flying with Israeli carriers, few bring cases to the Israeli courts.

The brothers are now planning to sue El Al and its New York staff in the United States over Israel’s racial profiling of passengers in a country where the practice is illegal.

“I’d rather go to New York by donkey than fly with El Al again,” said Abdel Aziz, 44. “We will keep fighting this case until Israel is embarrassed into stopping its policy of discriminating against its Arab citizens.”

The brothers, who live in northern Israel, were the only Arabs in a party of 17 Israeli insurance agents on a two-week business trip to Canada and New York in 2007.

They arrived four hours early at John F. Kennedy airport in New York for their return flight with Israir, an Israeli charter company, to allow time for the additional checks they expected from El Al’s security staff.

El Al has special agreements with most countries’ airports to carry out its own security checks for passengers flying with Israeli airlines.

The brothers said they were questioned, searched and had to wait two hours while their bags and carry-on luggage were subjected to lengthy inspections.

“The Jews with us went through in minutes,” said Abdel Aziz, in his home in the village of Iksal, near Nazareth. “The difference in treatment was very clear.”

After they had passed the checks, an El Al security guard, Keren Weinberg, was assigned to them until they boarded the plane. They were told to make sure she could see them at all times.

When Abdel Wahab visited a toilet without her permission, a noisy argument broke out between the two, with Weinberg accusing him of “roaming freely.” He said he told her to “either arrest me or go away.”

Ilan Or, the head of El Al security, was then called and issued him an ultimatum that he apologize or be prevented from catching the flight. Abdel Wahab told a magistrate’s court in Haifa this month that he broke down in tears and finally said he was sorry.

“I was in shock. One minute I was made to feel like a terrorist and then the next like a naughty child,” he said.

Judge Amir Toubi said the security staff had admitted that neither brother was deemed a security threat and that Israeli law did not allow checks to continue after passengers had passed the security area.

“With all due understanding of security needs, there is no justification for ignoring the dignity, freedom and basic rights of a citizen under the mantle of the sacred cow of security,” the judge ruled.

El Al told the court that it had been “asked by the state to conduct security checks abroad on behalf of [charter companies] Arkia and Israir airlines, and is acting under the security guidelines set by official bodies of the state.”

Abdel Wahab praised the court’s decision but said the damages were minor and would not act as a deterrent against El Al repeating such behavior in the future. He said the brothers would appeal to a higher court in Israel and were planning to initiate a legal action in New York, too.

“I will not rest until we get an apology from El Al and they acknowledge that what they did is wrong,” he said. He called on all Arab citizens to boycott El Al until it committed to stop its discriminatory policy.

A 2007 report on racial profiling by Israeli carriers, published by the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism, concluded: “This phenomenon is so widespread that it is hard to find any Arab citizen who travels abroad by air and who has not experienced a discriminatory security check at least once.”

The two groups found that Arab and Muslim passengers typically faced long interrogations and extensive luggage searches, and were also regularly subjected to body and strip searches, had items including computers confiscated, were kept in holding areas and were escorted directly on to the plane.

The report noted that foreign countries that allowed Israel to carry out its own security checks at their airports failed to supervise them and preferred to “ignore their discriminatory nature and the human rights violations committed on their own soil.”

New York’s JFK airport was one of the airports that refused to answer questions from the groups about incidents of discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslims.

Israel has also come under harsh criticism for the standard racial profiling policies it uses against its own Arab citizens and foreign Arab nationals at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

The practice of putting different color-coded stickers on Jewish and Arab passengers’ luggage ended three years ago. However, airport guards still write a number on uniform white stickers indicating the level of security threat. Critics say higher numbers are reserved for non-Jews.

Faced with a lawsuit from Israeli human rights groups, Menachem Mazuz, the attorney general at the time, instructed the airports authority in early 2008 to implement “visible equality” by ending discriminatory screening policies.

However, observers have noticed no change in practice. “This was a very cynical exercise. ‘Visible equality’ simply means making it look like there’s equality when the inequality persists,” said Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth.

In December an airport official told the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper: “Profiling makes the biggest difference. A man with the name of Umar flying out of Tel Aviv, whether he is American or British, is going to get checked seven times.”

Two years ago Israel’s racial profiling policy made headlines when a member of an American dance troupe with a Muslim-sounding name was forced to dance at the airport to prove he was who he claimed.

The incident with the Shalabi brothers follows on the heels of a diplomatic crisis between Israel and South Africa over revelations that spies posing as El Al staff have been operating at Johannesburg airport, gathering information on non-Jewish passengers visiting Israel.

El Al has threatened to close the route after South African officials stopped providing the airport guards with diplomatic immunity.

South African TV reported last month that two of the Mossad assassins suspected of killing a Hamas commander in Dubai in January may have used Johannesburg airport to fly back to Israel.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.