Monday, August 24, 2009

International Human Rights Volunteers Needed in Palestine

The International Women's Peace Service in Palestine is currently inviting applications for women to join them as long term volunteers working on the ground in Palestine.

IWPS is a team of women human rights workers, who provide international accompaniment to Palestinian civilians, document and non-violently intervene in human rights abuses and support acts of non-violent resistance to end the illegal Israeli occupation and building of the apartheid wall.

IWPS-Palestine is currently inviting applicants from women who would like to join our team of longer term volunteers. Successful applicants will serve a minimum of one three month term in Palestine and support our on-going work outside. Preference will be given to women able to commit to further terms in Palestine (1-3 months). Deadline for application 30.09.09. Please contact: for more info and application form. More information about IWPS see:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israeli Massacre in Gaza

I have not written anything since leaving Palestine but I feel compelled to write about the Israeli massacre in Gaza, if only to ensure that people have a chance to hear a different point of view than the one being aired by our glorious government and ‘unbiased’ media.

The death toll currently stands at 345 Palestinians and 2 Israelis, with 1450 Palestinians injured. The UN has confirmed that at least 57 of the 345 Palestinians killed are women and children. Most of the ‘non-civilian’ deaths are policemen, apparently legitimate targets because they belong to the security forces of a democratically elected government that the West doesn’t like.

The rest of the world seems willing to stand by and let Israel continue this massacre to stop Hamas firing rockets into Israel. These rockets, in weaponry terms, are pathetic. Hamas know that they are not going to destroy the Israeli state by firing them but it is the only voice they have left. Without these rockets the world would not hear about Gaza. The media have not responded to the human suffering in the Gaza Strip but they have responded to the rockets. The last 2 months have seen the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. People are starving because there is not enough food, they are freezing because they have no fuel to heat their homes, they are living most of the day in blackouts with intermittent sewage and water systems because there is no electricity, they are dying because there is no medicine.

The Israelis have systematically strangled the whole population of Gaza because they elected a government that wants to stand up to Israel and defend its people against a brutal occupation that has lasted over forty years. People cannot get in and out of Gaza to bear witness to what is happening, the only things that can leave Gaza are these rockets, flying crudely into derelict buildings to remind us that there are 1.5 million people struggling to survive the completely manmade suffering brought upon them.

Our government knows this but they are still blaming Hamas for breaking a truce which saw the suffering of the Palestinian people reach its worst level in forty years, a truce which saw Israel kill scores of Palestinian ‘militants’ while claiming to the rest of the world that they were observing the ceasefire. While they blame Hamas, Israel is continuing to bombard the most densely populated piece of land on earth with hundreds of tons of the most crude and deadly weapons known to man.

The west labels Hamas terrorists but for forty years the Israeli army has attacked the civilian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip indiscriminately. Since the illegal occupation began in 1967, there have been 5 Palestinians killed for every Israeli killed. Over the last 3 days there have been 177 Palestinians killed for every Israeli killed. Why is the West still blaming Hamas? Do the oppressed not have the right to defend themselves against the oppressor and tell the world what is happening to them, especially when the oppressor has unleashed the full force of its army – one of the most well equipped armies in the world – on the civilian population it is illegally imprisoning and besieging?

We cannot stand by and listen to Western governments point the finger at Hamas while the Israelis continue to slaughter innocent men, women and children.

Please join the protests and demonstrations over the next few days (please check for latest events):

Tuesday 30 December, 2 - 4pm outside Israeli Embassy, Kensington High Street, London, W4. Nearest tube Kensingston High Street (turn right out of tube station and walk along the main road.
Wednesday 31 December, 2 - 4pm outside Israeli Embassy
Thursday 1 January 2 - 4pm outside Israeli Embassy
Friday 2 January 2 - 4 pm. Outside the Egyptian Embassy, . 26 South Street, London, W1K 1DW. Call for Egypt to open the border immediately.
SATURDAY 3 JANUARY. DEMONSTRATION AND RALLY. Assemble 2pm Parliament Square, W1. Nearest tube Westminster

Saturday 3 January 12 noon. Outside Lloyds TSB St Vincent Street then assemble for demo at Blytheswood Square 2pm

Saturday 3 January 12 noon. Foot of the Mound, Princes Street

Centre, opposite the Hippodrome, Tuesday - Friday 5.00 - 6.00 and Saturday 3.00 - 4.00.

Tuesday 30 December 12 to 1pm. outside Cardiff Market/ St John's Church, the Hayes
Wednesday 31 December New Year Vigil. Nye Bevan Statue, Queen Street

Tuesday 30 December 12 noon, Market Square

Tuesday 30 December 12 to 2pm, West Quay Entrance, High Street

Saturday 3 January 11am, Guildhall Square
Organised by Portsmouth Network for a Just Settlement of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Portsmouth Stop the War Coalition

Saturday 3 January, 11am. Queen Victoria Square.

Write to your MP urging them to insist that Prime Minister Gordon Brown acts to ensure:
• An immediate end to Israel's military assault on Gaza
• An immediate end to the blockade and siege on Gaza
• An end to Israel's violations of international law
• An end to Israeli occupation

Boycott Israeli Goods

Join the protests

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Ethnic Cleansing of East Jerusalem

Over the past couple of weeks, we have made a number of visits to a house in East Jerusalem in which a family is living under the threat of eviction by the Israeli authorities. The Al Kurd family have lived in their house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood (pictured right) since 1956, but on 16th July 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court issued an order to evict them. This order gives the go ahead for another 27 families living in the neighbourhood to be issued with similar eviction orders.

The Al Kurd’s house is part of a housing project which was built by the Jordanian government with the United Nations Refugee and Works Association (UNRWA), to house 28 Palestinians refugee families who fled their homes after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 (East Jerusalem and the West Bank fell under the jurisdiction of Jordan following the 1948 Arab/Israeli war). It was agreed that after 3 years living in the houses, the refugees would forgo the food assistance they received from UNRWA in return for the ownership of the homes.

In 1967 Israel invaded and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Shortly after the occupation began, 2 groups of Jewish settlers forged documents claiming that the land on which the houses in Sheikh Jarrah were built, belonged to them. With these documents they managed to register the land in their own names with the Israeli Land Registrar.

After continuous calls for the families to be evicted, the 2 settler groups eventually filed law suits against the families in 1982, claiming that they owned the property rights to the houses. The families appointed a lawyer to defend them. Without asking the families, the lawyer reached an agreement with the settlers, in which he recognised their ownership of the land in return for granting the families protection from eviction under Israeli law. As part of the agreement, the families would have to pay rent to the settler associations. Outraged, the families did not accept the agreement and refused to pay rent. They were subsequently issued with eviction orders by the Israeli courts.

For over 20 years, legal proceedings continued. After yet more investigations, the Land Registrar finally accepted that the settlers had registered the land using false documents and their registration was revoked. However, the Registrar refused to confirm that the Palestinian families were entitled to the ownership of the land.

In 2001, the Al Kurd family (pictured) left their home for 1 month to go to Jordan, where the father of the family was to receive medical treatment (he is partially paralysed and suffers from diabetes and heart problems). When they returned, they found that a group of settlers had broken into part of their home and were occupying it. In 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court recognised that the settlers had broken into the home and issued an eviction order but this has never been carried out. (In the picture the door to the right is where the Al Kurd family live while the door to the left is the section of the house that the settlers occupy)

In February 2008, a settler investment company, which the 2 settler groups claimed to have sold the land to, submitted a project to the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem in which they propose to demolish the 28 homes and build 200 settlement units to house new Jewish immigrants.

On 16th July 2008 the Israeli High Court, which did not accept the Land Registrar’s decision to revoke ownership of the land from the settlers and agreed that the settler investment group now owned the land, ordered the eviction of the Al Kurd family who had brought the case against the settlers who were occupying part of their home. Their eviction paves the way for the eviction of the rest families in the neighbourhood.

To reach the Al Kurd family home you have to pass down a few steps from the main road and weave through a small alleyway with houses on the left side and a very small children’s playground on the right. The first house you pass is adorned with Israeli flags – settlers have occupied it. Although all the houses in the neighbourhood were built for Palestinians, a number of them are now occupied by settlers. A temporary wooden hut sits on top of the house and in it, sits an armed security guard. There are no flags on the next house you come to – Palestinians still live in it. The next house is again adorned with Israeli flags – settlers have taken it over.

Then you come to the Al Kurd house. As you walk through a small gate, there is a large patio which is now filled with Palestinians, Israelis and international solidarity activists who sit night and day with the Al Kurd family, waiting for the police and the army to arrive to carry out the eviction order. An impromptu display of posters and banners has been arranged on the walls of the house. However there is one wall of the house that is devoid of any posters, that is because inside this section of the house, live a family of settlers.

The settlers who occupy this part of the house now, are not the same settlers who took over this part of the house in 2001. At the moment they are a young couple with 2 small children who have lived there for a matter of weeks. They belong to an organisation that basically sends people on ‘placements’ to various buildings that settlers have occupied around East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Every 2 or 3 weeks the ‘placements’ end and a new family arrives.

So while one family is defending the home that they have lived in for 42 years, the home in which their 5 children have been born and brought up, the other family is defending a building they have been moved into for the purpose of illegal occupation, they have no attachment to the building or the local community and in fact they will voluntarily leave when they are relieved of their post by the next illegal occupiers.

As we sat with the family, we heard that the settlers continually harass them. Over the years they have played loud music to keep the family awake at night, armed settler security guards have forced their way into the part of the house the family lives in and threatened them, they have brought large groups of settler children to play on the patio, put up posters of Palestinians and encouraged the children to shoot at them with toy guns. Since the court decision in July, an older male settler has come to the house at least once a day, shouting that the family should hurry up and get out of there because he is waiting to move in. One settler occupying a Palestinian home nearby was quoted as saying ‘It’s written in the Bible that we have a right to everywhere in this land, and here we are only minutes from the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.’

There is a feeling here amongst many observers that Israel is trying to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Both see it as the most important site in the whole of Palestine for historical and religious reasons. The UN partition plan of 1947 stated that the city would be divided so that the Arabs had East Jerusalem and the Jews had West Jerusalem. Since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967, 250,000 illegal Israeli settlers have moved into East Jerusalem. Of the 250,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, 120,000 of them have been isolated from the city by the Apartheid Wall which has been built around their homes.

If the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood is taken over by settlers, it will mean that the largest settlement in the West Bank, Ma'aleh Adumin, and a number of other illegal settlements in East Jerusalem will be connected to the centre of Jerusalem and the Old City, where the most sacred sites for Jews and Muslims are situated. Although not a huge neighbourhood, the removal of Palestinians to make way for Israelis would be a significant step in ensuring that there was no longer an east or west Jerusalem, but one unified city – a perfect capital for the Israeli state.

As well as moving settlers in, the Israelis have done their best to move Palestinians out of East Jerusalem. They have made it virtually impossible for Palestinians to get permits to build homes, meaning that 3 out of every 4 built, are illegal and face demolition. Since 1967, 8000 buildings have been demolished, many of these are buildings with several storeys, housing many families.

Last week the Israelis demolished a 5 story building in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. They claimed that the 5th floor of the building had been built without a permit. The owner offered to demolish the 5th floor himself, but the Israelis refused and instead demolished the whole building. They arrived in the middle of the night, told the families to get out and then blew it up the next day. The Palestinians had no time to remove their belongings, although the Israelis kindly allowed them to return to the rubble to dig out what they could and collect the bill for the cost of the demolition – 300,000 shekels (£43,500).

The cruelty did not stop there. A single mother, who just a couple of months ago had bought an apartment in the building, did not even have time to collect her purse before the building was destroyed. A few days later she discovered that her credit card had been used at a restaurant and to withdraw cash. The only people who had access to the building once she left and before it was destroyed, were soldiers. This means that having destroyed her home, they were cruel enough to steal the little she had left.

According to Jeff Halper who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, ‘Illegal building is simply a pretext for destroying Palestinian families' homes and lives…The demolitions are part of a policy to stop the natural expansion of Palestinian communities in and around Jerusalem, freeing up the maximum amount of land for use by Israeli settlers…The demolitions increase the pressure on Palestinians to move into the West Bank, so that they will lose their residency rights in the city.’

Wherever you travel in the West Bank (and I presume Gaza) the picture of Jerusalem is always held up as a symbol of the Palestinian desire for freedom and independence. Not only is the city home to the third holiest site in Islam but it is of great historical importance to the Palestinian people and they have always regarded East Jerusalem as the eventual capital of an independent Palestinian state. With every demolition and eviction in East Jerusalem, and with every new Israeli settler that moves in, Israel is again changing the facts on the ground so that when negotiations on the status of Jerusalem reach a climax, they can point to the demographics and say that the whole of Jerusalem must belong to Israel.

On 9th November 2008 the Israeli army evicted the Al Kurd family in the middle of the night. The father of the family suffered a heart attack during the eviction and died two weeks later. His wife is currently living in a tent which the army, under the orders of the acting prime minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni, has destroyed several times.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A letter to Ahmed's father

Bassam Aramin's 10 year old daughter was killed after being shot in the head by an Israeli border policeman outside her school in 2007. This week he wrote a letter to the father of 10 year old Ahmed who was killed on Tuesday in Ni'lin. Here is a link to the letter:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doctors pronounce 17 year old boy clinically dead after being shot by soldiers in Ni'lin

Late last night after getting home from Ahmed’s funeral, we began to hear reports that another boy had been shot by Israeli soldiers in Ni’lin. This morning, doctors have confirmed that 17 year old Yousef Ahmad Younis Amera, who was shot in the head with 2 rubber coated steel bullets from close range, is now clinically dead. They expect him to survive for just a few more hours.

With tensions running high after Ahmed’s funeral yesterday, Israeli soldiers had remained at the entrance to the village. Two hundred boys and young men had gathered on the main street and built barricades to stop the soldiers entering the village. When an Israeli excavator tried to clear the barricades it was met by a hail of stones. In response, 50 Israeli soldiers stormed the village, firing tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets at the boys and men who had gathered (when I use the term rubber bullets I should make it clear that they are not just a ball of rubber but a ball of steel coated in a thin layer of rubber).

After the death of Ahmed you would think that the soldiers would refrain from using their weapons or if they really couldn’t help themselves they would at least ensure that their actions did not result in death. By the rules of their own army, Israeli soldiers and border police are only supposed to fire ammunition below the waste. The policeman that stood ten metres away from Ahmed had made the decision to fire at his head. You would think the death of a 10 year old child would be so repulsive that the soldiers would not even contemplate firing above people’s feet yesterday.

But no, in total 3 people were shot in the head last night with rubber coated steel bullets. Yousef was shot twice from close range and in a few hours it seems that he will be dead, like Ahmed, another victim of this brutal occupation.

There was no reason for the Israeli army to be in Ni’lin yesterday. The soldiers knew there would be a reaction to their presence. What group of young men anywhere in the world would not react to soldiers stalking through their village after killing a child? Why could they not just stay away and let the villagers mourn in peace? They knew their would be a confrontation and not one soldier who discharged his weapon yesterday can say he wasn’t aware of the consequences.

So in two days, two boys have lost their lives, shot in the head by highly trained military personnel. These were no accidents, this is Israeli policy. This state cannot continue to mask its activities under the cloak of security. These boys did not pose a threat to the state of Israel, they simply asked not to be imprisoned behind a huge concrete wall, where they and their families would have no hope of a future. Taking land from the people you are occupying and transferring your own population to that land is called ethnic cleansing, it is certainly not security or defence.

The longer I stay here the more upset and desperate I feel at the tragedies the Palestinian people have to suffer day after day, while the international community stands by and does nothing. We may think that the support Israel has from countries such as the US and the UK is too great to break, but we cannot ignore what is going on here. Public opinion matters. We only have to look at the role of boycotts and sanctions in bringing down the apartheid regime in South Africa to know that ordinary people can make a difference. While at Ahmed’s funeral yesterday I could not help but think of Hector Pieterson, the 12 year old boy who was shot and killed by South African police in the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The image of Hector being carried by another student, as his sister watched in despair, is now a symbol of the horrors of Apartheid South Africa. The death of Ahmed and the imminent death of Yousef are as awful and horrible as Hector’s. Let us not look back in thirty, forty or fifty years and see how awful this occupation is, let us realise now and be part of the movement to end it.

(Yousef died on 4th August)