Saturday, October 25

The Olive Harvest in Occupied Palestine

During the autumn months of each year, Palestinian olive farmers are getting ready to harvest their olive crops which are the main source of their livelihood. One would expect that this should go smoothly and without any incidents. However, this is far from the case, many Palestinians are attacked by the settlers, and they are harassed during the olive picking season for no reason.

This is appalling and there is no justification for this loutish behaviour by the occupying settlers in the West Bank. Is this the direction that Zionism is moving? As it is those settlers living in the occupied territories are also very right wing Zionists, and the justification for their hooliganism against their Palestinian inhabitants even gets support from their right wing fanatic rabbis who somehow goad them on in violence against the Palestinians.

Today, even the Security Forces turn a blind eye towards settler violence against the Palestinians and even if these hooligans are caught breaking the law (which by the way, is not enforced in the territories the way it is within the green line) they are treated very leniently and are released without much problems.

This was no less evident than during the Sukkot (Tabernacles) holiday when tens of thousands of Israelis accepted the Jewish National Fund's invitation to take their families to visit olive groves across the country. Many participated in the harvest celebrations and heard the tale of the olive tree, the symbol of peace. And as happens every year when the olive harvest begins, dozens of youths set out from the settlements and outposts to the olive groves of the West Bank to confront their Palestinian neighbors. They also threatened human rights activists who volunteered to help the harvesters and beat a photographer who came to document the Sukkot riots.

The Torah - focus of Simchat Torah - the holiday celebrating the conclusion of the annual reading cycle and its renewal, reminds the people of Israel that they were foreigners in Egypt, and prohibits them from exploiting foreigners, orphans or widows. But enlightened religious laws like these are themselves, foreign to the spirit of the hooligans who wear large skullcaps and dare to call themselves Torah-observant Jews.

These “Torah – observant” Jews – the zealous God-fearing religious Zionists have been stealing Palestinian agricultural lands since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank. They also steal the produce of these poor Palestinian farmers. Is there any wonder why the Palestinians are not enamored of Israelis when this type of behaviour is even sanctioned by their rabbis? These rabbis have remained silent and have not even condemned the shocking behaviour of their followers. The occupation has resulted in increased violence and theft by the illegal religious settler fanatics and there is no doubt that this represents the most sinister aspect of Israel’s “humane occupation” as the Zionists call it. Israel has failed in its duty to protect the Palestinian people from the hooliganism of the settlers who move around beating up Palestinians and even attacking the Israeli Security Forces who occasionally come to their (Palestinian) aid from these marauding, bestial settlers. Most of these attacks on Palestinians have occurred in Areas B and C which according to the Oslo Accords have placed the responsibility of security of the Palestinians on Israel’s shoulders. However, if the Palestinians were to behave in this fashion towards these settlers, the Israeli Security Forces would be out there ready to defend them. However because they are not Israelis but Palestinians, they are not entitled to the same protection as the loutish settlers.

Where are Israel’s religious leaders – the Rabbis who are the source of strength for the zealously observant in the occupied Palestinian lands? Silence is golden! By their silence they are also guilty of injustice by the result of the violence against the Palestinian olive harvesters.

Lately there has been an outcry because of the proposed beatification of Pope Pius xii, the reigning pope during the Hitler years. He had shown insensitivity towards the extermination of the Jewish People by Nazi Germany. He preferred to remain silent for the sake of expediency. Surely these rabbis are behaving in the same way by remaining silent while the settlers beat and abuse the Palestinian farmers while they are harvesting their crops, not to mention the theft of their lands and the total anarchy that exists in the southern Hebron Hills, Tel Rumeida and central Samaria. The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service also should not tolerate settlers' shameful attacks on olive harvesters and not only protect the settlers.

Wednesday, October 15

The Akko Riots

Rioting in Akko

It all started on Kol Nidre Night (Eve of Yom Kippur). An Arab driver, Jamal Taufik, 48, of Acre's Old City, drove through a Jewish neighbourhood. He said he recognized the fact that he had made a mistake but denied speculations that he was drunk or was driving with loud music. This incident sparked off the most horrifying violence between Jews and Arab with chants of “Death to the Arabs”. Homes, shops and cars were burned and the whole incident blew out of all proportions.

I wonder if a Jew had driven a car through a Jewish neighbourhood in Akko on Yom Kippur it would have caused the same reaction. The Jewish driver would probably be stoned and that would be the end of the story. There would not have been a rampage against Jewish residents. Many Jews in Akko are racists. They used this opportunity to take the law into their own hands to carry out violence against their Arab neighbours.

Jamal Taufik should not have driven through the Jewish neighbourhood on Yom Kippur. He was in the wrong. The reaction to this was also wrong. It further proves how fragile relationships are between Arabs and Jews in Akko and possibly even further afield. Riots would have occurred anyway, but because of the sensitiveness of Yom Kippur, a precedent for violence was created.

The virulence and the hate of Arabs have become pathological amongst many Israeli Jews from poor neighbourhoods

There are many reasons that created the tensions between both Arab and Jewish communities in Akko. In fact, these tensions go beyond Akko and it will only be a matter of time before ignition of a fuse will send both communities down the path of violence.

Israel is a country that is in total denial of discrimination of its Arab citizens. Arab citizens of Israel are identifying more and more with their Palestinian brethren in the occupied territories. Why the surprise? Is Israel giving its Arab citizens a feeling of identity with it? The answer is a very clear “No!” Israel has prided itself on the Jewish character of the state. How can we expect the Arab citizens of Israel to be able to identify with that? They are a non-Jewish minority. They form about 20 % of the Israeli population and this is a considerable minority whose feelings are not considered by the Israeli establishment. At worst, there is a paternalistic attitude in Israel’s relationship with its Arab citizens who, theoretically, have equal rights on a par with Israel’s Jewish citizens. In practice this is not true.

Israel’s Arab citizens, today do not wish to be referred to as Israeli Arabs but rather as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. I have travelled through Arab villages on Independence Day and I noticed the complete absence of flags and joyous crowds in the street. Is this due to the memory of Al Naqba – the Catastrophe because of Israel’s establishment – which is a tragedy to the Palestinians? After asking them that question, I received an answer in the positive. The problem starts from this point. Israel has not given its Palestinian Arabs a sense of belonging. The national anthem, which supposed to reflect the aspirations of all Israel’s citizens, is very partisan when it comes to Israel’s Palestinian population.

Discrimination against Israel’s Arab population starts at school when children are the most impressionable. Human Rights Watch has published some rather disturbing findings and even though these findings are from the year 2000, nothing much has changed since then.

Nearly one in four of Israel's 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in a public school system wholly separate from the majority. The children in this parallel school system are Israeli citizens of Palestinian Arab origin. Their schools are a world apart in quality from the public schools serving Israel's majority Jewish population. Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educational opportunities than are offered other Israeli children.

The Israeli government operates two separate school systems, one for Jewish children and one for Palestinian Arab children. Discrimination against Palestinian Arab children colors every aspect of the two systems. Education Ministry authorities have acknowledged that the ministry spends less per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish school system. The majority's schools also receive additional state and state-sponsored private funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies. The gap is enormous--on every criterion measured by Israeli authorities.

The disparities between the two systems examined in this report are identified in part through a review of official statistics. These findings are tested and complemented by the findings of Human Rights Watch's on-site visits to twenty-six schools in the two systems and our interviews with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and national education authorities.

Palestinian Arab children attend schools with larger classes and fewer teachers than do those in the Jewish school system, with some children having to travel long distances to reach the nearest school. Arab schools also contrast dramatically with the larger system in their frequent lack of basic learning facilities like libraries, computers, science laboratories, and even recreation space. In no Arab school did we see specialized facilities, such as film editing studios or theater rooms that we saw as a sign of excellence in some of the Jewish schools we visited. Palestinian Arab children with disabilities are particularly marginalized, with special education teachers and facilities often unavailable in the system, despite the highly developed special education programs of the Jewish school system.

The widening gap between Israel's Jewish majority and the Arab minority is worrying and poses many questions as to the country's Arab-Jewish coexistence. Nearly every day statements are heard from senior figures concerning the legitimacy of Arab citizens, and unbridled attacks have become routine: MK Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beiteinu talks about a second War of Independence against the Arab citizens in Israel, MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima talks about establishing task forces to examine the possibility of population exchanges and the head of the Shin Bet security service refers to the Arabs as a strategic threat. When statements of this kind are made how can we expect the Arab communities of Israel to love us?

When the Israeli Authorities are apathetic towards improving the relationships between the two peoples the results are plain for all to see. What happened in Akko was a spark and that set up a chain of tragic incidents. It could have been worse. At least, no lives were lost.

According to a report by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel:

A number of areas of discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens have increased over the past eight years:

Police violence toward Arab citizens: Since the events of October 2000, 34 Arab citizens have been killed by police, the most recent of which was the death of Sabri El Jarajawi, who died of his wounds in July 2008 after being assaulted by police. In most cases, no charges at all, or very lenient ones, have been pressed. The officers involved continue to work in their current positions. None of these officers was dismissed. The complete disregard of the police for the lives of Arab citizens, raises concerns proves that the police have blatantly ignored the findings of the Or Commission, which urged the police to adopt measures to reduce hostility toward Arab citizens.

Interrogation of political and social activists by Shin Bet: We have witnessed a growing trend whereby Arab social and political activists are interrogated by Shin Bet Security Services about lawful social and political activities. This trend limits legitimate public activity, and severely infringes on freedom of expression and thought and the right to political organization.

Planning freeze in Arab communities: Israel's planning authorities continue to disregard the development needs of Arab towns, thereby harming residents' living conditions. Due to lack of official planning procedures, thousands of houses have been built without the necessary permits. The families living in houses built without permits are deprived of basic services by the State such as water, electricity, etc. Similarly, because of the lack of planning, these communities suffer from a shortage of buildings to house public services such as health, education, and culture.

House demolition in Bedouin villages in the Negev: Each year, the State demolishes dozens of houses belonging to Arab-Bedouin families in unrecognized villages in the Negev. Each time this happens, dozens of families, including children, are abandoned, left without shelter. This ongoing policy breaches the Bedouins’ right to dignity, privacy, and security. Moreover, the government has recently stepped up its official policy of removing entire Bedouin communities from their lands in the Negev and moving them to a smaller area, forcing them to give up their traditional lifestyle, culture and economy.

The events of October 2000 were one of the most pronounced manifestations of institutionalized racism and discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel's history. The mindset of the police - the belief that they were facing an enemy rather than Israeli citizens during the demonstrations that day - led to the deaths of 13 people.

In a democratic country, the protection of minority rights is in the interest of both the minority and the majority. Racism and discrimination directed at one minority group undermines democracy and risks affecting other groups and society as a whole.

As we can see, Israel has not done enough to ensure that it is a country for all its citizens irrespective of their race, or religion. The emphasis of Israel being a Jewish state alienates a large non-Jewish minority who do not feel part of the country.

More needs to be done in the sphere of human rights to ensure that the Arab minorities feel part of this country, and not just “temporary sojourners” subjected to the racial whims of the right wing in the Knesset, who wish to follow the late Rehavim Ze’evi’s legacy of transfer of Arabs to the neighbouring Arab countries.

There should be more projects financed by the Ministry of Education to raise the standard of Arab education and encourage integration of Arab pupils and Jewish pupils in the same schools. Both Arab and Jewish pupils could learn together and each side could learn about the other’s culture and history within the school curriculum. This does not have to come at the expense of study of Torah in the case of Jewish pupils or the Koran in the case of Arab pupils.

A common patriotism held by both peoples as does exist in most countries of the world that have a heterogeneous population would go a long way in the promotion of coexistence which ought to start from an early age. Israel should be viewed as a secular state with a Jewish majority rather than a Jewish state. Obviously, the character of Israel is determined by the majority of its people which in this case is Jewish.

When there is a common patriotism held by both Arab and Jewish Israelis, riots would not occur and let us hope that the day will come when this will be achieved for the benefit of all Israel’s citizens. This would also go a long way to establishing peace with our Palestinian neighbours and an eventual open borders policy with cultural and worker exchanges.