Continued from node 9140

The Bedouin Struggle

While stopping short of explicitly protesting the displacement of Palestinians on the West Bank, the coordinating committee of the Tel Aviv rent protests did adopt the demand for legalization of “unrecognized” Bedouin villages within Israel. (972Mag, Aug. 7, 2011)

Pressure on this issue had been mounting throughout the year. For months, Israeli forces had been demolishing homes at the Bedouin village al-Araqib in the Negev—an “unrecognized” village that an Israeli court found to be “illegally” built on “state land,” and slated to be removed. The residents—all Israeli citizens, and one third of them are children—had been in court for several years, to demand their land rights. At least 200 children had been left homeless by the recent evictions. Fruit orchards and olive grove trees were also destroyed. The UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination both expressed concern over Israel’s policy toward its Bedouin population. In July 2011, UNHRC called on Israeli authorities to “respect the Bedouin population’s right to their ancestral land and their traditional livelihood based on agriculture.” (Maan News Agency, Nov. 12, 2011)

In March, Israeli prosecutors launched a $275,000 lawsuit against Bedouin families for the cost of removing them from “state land” they tried to take over northwest of Beersheba. The suit targeted the sheikh of a Bedouin tribe that had staged 13 attempts to occupy “state land” near the Bedouin town of Rahat. Officials estimated there were thousands of “illegal” Bedouin settlements, also known as “non-recognized communities,” with tens of thousands of illegally constructed buildings, in the Negev. (Arutz Sheva, March 2, 2011)

In response to a reported initiative to settle the issue of “unrecognized” villages, Bedouin leaders accused the Israeli government of a “divide and conquer” strategy in order to seize Bedouin lands. A special committee was reported to have prepared a plan under which Bedouins who can prove an historical link to their land could receive financial compensation for a portion of their lots. If the Bedouins accept this offer, the extent of land that could be included in the deal would be approximately 150,000 dunums (about 40,000 acres)—less than half of the land the Bedouins lay claim to. (Ha’aretzYNet, March 10, 2011)

Dr. Awad Abu Farih, spokesman for the local committee for the unrecognized village of al-Araqib, rejected the reported deal, saying: “How can someone discuss the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Negev without involving them at all? [O]ur principled position is to recognize all the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Negev, and nothing but that.” Ibrahim al-Wakili, who heads the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev, said that the offer does not answer the Bedouins claims at all. “There are more than 45 unrecognized settlements on a large portion of land worth hundreds of thousands ofdunums for decades,” al-Wakili said. He asserted, “our land isn’t for sale.” (Ibid)

The committee, which was appointed by former Housing Minister Zeev Boim in late 2007, was preparing a draft report, to be considered by the Prime Minister’s Office, based on a survey headed by retired justice and former State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg. The Prime Minister’s office was preparing its own regional development plan for the Negev, foreseeing a large Jewish influx into the southern desert region. Ramat Negev Council head Shmulik Rifman warned, “If they don’t finalize the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance Jewish settlement in the Negev. This must be addressed if one wants 700,000 Jews in the Negev.” (Ibid)

The land of some of the Bedouin communities slated to be evicted under the proposed Israeli government plan was slated for construction of a new Jewish community, according to documents obtained by Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in the Jewish state. The plan called for the forcible relocation of some 30,000 Bedouin to designated existing Bedouin towns. The Prime Minister’s Office intervened to block the unincorporated hamlets of Atir and Umm al-Hiran (near the legal village of Wadi Atir) from being recognized as “legal” villages, contrary to the recommendations of an advisory committee of the National Planning and Building Council. The some 1,000 Bedouin who live in the hamlets, all members of the Abu Alqiyan clan, say they had actually been relocated to their current lands by the Israeli military in the 1950s. Until 1948, the clan held the land where Kibbutz Shoval now stands. After the war, the clan roamed the Negev desert seeking new land, finally being assigned to the Wadi Atir area in 1956. A classified military document dating from 1957 says that the clan received 7,000 dunams of land near the wadi (oasis). It later divided into two hamlets that shared the land. But a plan to build a new Jewish community, to be called Hiran, was submitted to the regional planning and building committee. The Interior Ministry said that a detailed plan for the first neighborhood of Hiran was already under consideration. (Ha’aretz, June 3, 2011)

Unrecognized Bedouin villages receive no basic services such as water and electricity from the state. An estimated 90,000—nearly half of the total Bedouin population of the Negev—currently live in unrecognized villages. The government’s new policy paper—dubbed the Prawer Report for Ehud Prawer, Netanyahu’s director of Planning Policy—called relocating 40% of the Bedouin population now living in unrecognized villages and concentrating them into the seven Israeli government-planned Bedouin townships. These townships are largely viewed as dormitory towns: residents would only sleep there, and be forced to go outside of the town for nearly everything else they need. An Israeli cabinet vote on the Prawer Report scheduled for early June, was postponed due to pressure from right-wing parties, who said the plan gives too much to the Bedouin. If approved, Israel hoped to implement the Prawer Report within a five-year period. A new Bedouin organization called “Recognition Now” was formed to fight the plan, and demand Bedouin land and civil rights in the Negev. (Electronic Intifada, June 16, 2011)

Bedouin were also facing eviction on the West Bank, of course. Evacuation and demolition orders were handed out to a Bedouin family east of Tubas on March 27. The orders come amid concern from UNRWA officials who noted a near two-fold increase in home demolitions during the first two months of 2011. Nabil Mustafa Daraghmeh, the head of a Bedouin family in the Ein Al-Hilwa area outside of Tubas in the northern West Bank, was served papers demanding he and his family evacuate their tent home and move their herds elsewhere. Palestinian security officials said several Israeli military patrol cars arrived in the area to serve the papers, which gave Daraghmeh one day to leave the area. (Ma’an News Agency, March 28, 2011)

Bedouin herding families were increasinly targeted by Israeli officials, who began executing evacuation orders for areas that the Civil Administration has determined are “state land,” lands that fall under Israeli-controlled Area C, or are designated as firing or military training areas. Areas that are not under Palestinian civil control amount to some 60% of the West Bank. (Ma’an News Agency, March 28, 2011)

Mohamed al-Korshan, representative of the Bedouin community in the West Bank, spoke May 24 at the 10th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, where he appealed for recognition of his people as a displaced indigenous group living as refugees under occupation. Korshan said there were now 40,000 Bedouin in the West Bank, who were separated from Bedouin tribes in the Negev desert after Israel became a state in 1948. They hold Palestinian identity documents, but many live in Area C, under direct Israeli military occupation. Others, who fled the Negev in 1948, are in UN-run refugee camps, where they have lost their traditional livelihood as nomads and are experiencing an erosion of their culture. (WAFA, May 25; Haaretz, May 24, 2011)

“Since the military occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967, the Bedouin in the West Bank are experiencing increasing duress,” Korshan said. “On a daily basis we encounter discrimination, social isolation, multiple counts of home demolition and dispossession, food and water insecurity, harassment by Israeli settlers, all of which constitute triggers to forced displacement.” (Ibid)

Whither Recognition?

With the peace process essentially frozen, the Fatah leadership announced in September that it would seek recognition for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations—a move bitterly protested by Israel and the US. (AlJazeera, Sept. 14, 2011)

Abbas and his team were weighing whether to apply through the Security Council for full membership—which the US vowed to veto—or to go directly to the General Assembly, with no veto and a pro-Palestinian majority. The General Assembly, however, could only declare Palestine an “observer” state, not a full UN member. This would still allow Palestine to join international agencies and treaty groups—including the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, where it could bring complaints against Israel. (Although a further jurisdictional dilemma is raised by the fact that Israel is not a member of the ICC.) (NYT, Sept. 9)

But criticisms of the statehood bid also came from within the Palestinian camp. The team responsible for preparing the UN initiative was given an independent legal opinion that warned of the proposal’s risks to Palestinian rights. The initiative would transfer the Palestinians’ representation at the UN from the PLO to a state—terminating the international legal status held by the PLO since 1975 as sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This could mean there would no longer be an institution to represent the rights of the Palestinian people in the UN and related international institutions, the document stated. The seven-page opinion, obtained by the independent Ma’an News Agency, was submitted to the Palestinian team by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of international law at Oxford University and a member of the team that won the 2004 judgement by the International Court of Justice that the route of Israel’s West Bank wall was illegal. (Ma’an News Agency, Aug. 24, 2011)

Under the initiative, being prepared by a Palestinian team headed by Saeb Erekat, the PLO would be replaced at the UN with a State of Palestine as representative of the Palestinian people. However, an actual state would not be created, as long as Israel’s occupation continues. The dissenting brief was intended to “flag the matters requiring attention” so that Palestinians are not “accidentally disenfranchised.” It warned that the Palestinian Authority, which was established by the PLO as a temporary administrative entity, “has limited legislative and executive competence, limited territorial jurisdiction, and limited personal jurisdiction over Palestinians not present in the areas for which it has been accorded responsibility.” It also noted implications for Palestinian refugees and others in the diaspora: “They constitute more than half of the people of Palestine, and if they are ‘disenfranchised’ and lose their representation in the UN, it will not only prejudice their entitlement to equal representation…but also their ability to vocalize their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the State, and to exercise the right of return.” (Ibid)

The UN on Sept. 2 issued its its report on the deadly 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, criticizing Israel for using “excessive and unreasonable” force but finding that the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip itself was lawful. Prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer for the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the report found:

The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law… Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance. In particular, clear prior warning that the vessels were to be boarded and a demonstration of dissuading force should have been given to avoid the type of confrontation that occurred. The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent.

The report was predictably met with protest by both Israel and Turkey. Ankara expelled Israel’s envoy and froze military cooperation with the Jewish state following the release of the report, citing Israel’s failure to apologize for the raid. The Turkish administration also said it would seek to prosecute all Israelis involved in the raid. (ReutersJurist, Sept. 2, 2011)

US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was meanwhile promoting a bill to suspend Washington’s assistance to three elite Israeli military units implicated in human rights violations. Leahy called for aid to be withheld from the Israeli navy’s Shayetet 13 unit—that involved in the flotilla incident—as well as the undercover Duvdevan unit and the Israel Air Force’s Shaldag unit. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a long-time friend of Leahy, met with him in Washingto to try to persuade him to withdraw the initiative. Leahy began promoting the legislation after protesters staged a rally outside office. The activists pointed out that Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee’s sub-committee on foreign operations, was the principle sponsor of a 1997 bill prohibiting the US from providing military assistance to foreign military units suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes. (Haaretz, Aug. 16, 2011)

On Sept. 8, the IDF reported new “price tag” attacks by presumed far-right settlers on Palestinian targets in the West Bank. A mosque in the village of Yitma, near Nablus, was vandalized with graffiti. Two Palestinian vehicles were torched in the village of Kablan. Vandals also broke into an army base outside the Beit El settlement, slashing tires and breaking windows on 13 vehicles. It was the first “price-tag” attack against the IDF, and drew harsh condemnation from the Israeli government. The attacks came after the IDF razed three homes at the Migron settler outpost. (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2011)

The Israeli right made much of comments by the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the US, Maen Rashid Areikat, at a breakfast briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington September, in which he supposedly called for a “Jew-free Palestinian state.” The offending quote:

“Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future,” he said when asked by The Daily Caller if he could imagine a Jew being elected mayor of the Palestinian city of Ramallah in a future independent Palestinian state. “But after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.” [Jerusalem Post, Sept. 14, 2011]

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (himself, ironically, a vocal advocate of “transfer” of the Palestinians from their homeland) said, “The Palestinian Authority has adopted the German idea of judenrein”—the Nazi policy of a “Jew-free” nation. (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 15, 2011)

Areikat himself responded: “It’s not a misquotation or out of context, it’s a total fabrication. I never mentioned the word ‘Jews,’ I never said that Palestine has to be free of Jews.” Areikat said that he stood by his call for “separation,” but that he intended to refer to the separation of the Israel and Palestinian peoples, not the members of the two religions. “Israeli people includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze… When I say the Israeli people, I mean everybody. This is not a religious conflict, this is not against Jews. We want to be a secular state,” Areikat said. (The Cable, Sept. 15, 2011)

In an earlier interview with the Jewish-oriented Tablet Magazine, Areikat was more forthright, saying: “We need to separate… I’m not saying to transfer every Jew, I’m saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state.” (Tablet Magazine, Oct. 2010)

But he was also unequivocal on recognizing Israel’s right to exist:

One hundred years of struggle over that piece of land that was called Palestine produced a lot of misconceptions and misperceptions. We witnessed the rise of national movements that were struggling to create homelands for their own people, and neither one wanted to acknowledge the presence of the other. I think of the early Zionist slogans of a land without a people for a people without a land… I remember former Prime Minister Golda Meir saying that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people in the early ’70s. I remember Palestinians saying that the only Jews in the land of Palestine are going to be Palestinian Jews. I think the bloody conflict brought leaders on both sides to their senses. We have seen at least, from the Palestinian side, since 1988, a clear acceptance of the existence of the State of Israel. [Ibid]

In October, the Security Council’s Standing Committee on Admission of New Members began considering Palestine’s application for full UN membership. Eight of the Security Council’s 15 members declared their support for the Palestinian application: China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa, Lebanon, Niger and Gabon. But a veto was practically inevitable by the United States, one of the five permanent Security Council members—which, unlike the 10 rotating members, wield veto power within the Council. (KashmirWatch, Oct. 1, 2011)

Palestinians were meanwhile concerned that their economy could collapse if Israel retaliated against the statehood bid by withholding revenue collected on their behalf. And US punitive financial measures were already coming into place. US Congress members called on President Obama to reduce the Palestinians’ annual $500 million in foreign aid if they proceeded at the UN. Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee acted to freeze about $200 million in Palestinian aid in response to the statehood bid. (Bloomberg, Sept. 21, 2011)

“There must be consequences for Palestinian and UN actions that undermine any hope for true and lasting peace,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and the number-two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer (MD), accused Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of “diplomatic warfare” against Israel. Cantor and Hoyer wrote in a joint Sept. 22 opinion in the New York Daily News: “Congress will not sit idly by. The US will likely reconsider its assistance program for the PA and other aspects of US-Palestinian relations should the Palestinians choose to move forward in requesting a vote on statehood.” (Ibid)

But, significantly, the aid freeze only applied to butter—not to guns. In the unambiguous wording of one wire account: “The economic package is separate from security aid, which the US lawmakers say would be counterproductive to block. They fear that withholding those funds would weaken the ability of Palestinian security forces to quell anti-Israel violence.” (AFP, Oct. 1, 2011)

Israel openly replied to Palestine’s statehood bid with new East Jerusalem settlement plans. Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sept. 28 rejected Western and Arab complaints that the newly announced construction of 1,100 Jewish homes in Gilo on annexed land close to East Jerusalem would hurt efforts to revive the peace process. But the PLO executive committee, meeting in Ramallah, said that Israel must halt all settlement building in the occupied West Bank before they will restart talks. (Ma’an News AgencyReuters, Sept. 29; HaaretzReuters, Sept. 28; AP, Sept. 27, 2011)

Israel reacted with even greater blatancy after the UN cultural organization UNESCO’s Oct. 31 decision to grant Palestine full-member status. The government immediately said it would move ahead with “sensitive housing projects”—as a rebuttal to UNESCO. Netanyahu and a forum of eight senior ministers formally decided the next day to initiate a new wave of settlement construction on the West Bank. The Prime Minister’s Office said the construction of 2,000 housing units planned in East Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim should be expedited. “All of the mentioned areas are ones that would remain in Israeli control under any future peace agreement,” the PMO said in a statement. The ministers also resolved to suspend the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of tax remittances collected by Israel in October. Foreign Minister Lieberman additionally announced that Israel would “review its relations” with UNESCO. (Haaretz, Nov. 2; YNet, Oct. 31, 2011)

Only 13 of the 194 UNESCO members voted with Israel against granting full membership to Palestine. 107 voted for, while 52 abstained and the rest were absent. France voted for the Palestinians, and the UK abstained. The US responded to the vote by suspending its $80 million-a-year contribution to UNESCO’s $643 million budget. The cutback, decreed by Congress, went ahead even as UNESCO worked closely with the US in Afghanistan—on literacy, education, gender equity, clean water and basic health programs. (Toronto Star, Nov. 2, 2011)

Israel’s propaganda apparati quickly mobilized to delegitimize UNESCO’s decision. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE, chaired by Yochanan Manor of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) issued a study asserting that Palestinian textbooks do not meet UNESCO’s requirements for tolerance and non-racism. The report, which examined 117 Palestinian textbooks, was purportedly commissioned before the Palestinians filed their UNESCO application. It charged that Palestinian textbooks and maps were largely devoid of any reference to Israel, geographic or otherwise. IMPACT-SE also found that many of the Palestinian schoolbooks glorified jihad, death and acts of violence, predominantly against Jews. (YNet, Oct. 2, 2011) Israeli media accounts did not make clear if these were Fatah-approved textbooks used on the West Bank or Hamas-approved textbooks used in the Gaza Strip, or if the reviewed textbooks were still actually in use.

Netanyahu, in his speech at the United Nations on Sept. 23 urging no recognition of Palestinian statehood, argued that Israeli concessions have only encouraged Palestinian extremists:

But Israel did more than just make sweeping offers. We actually left territory. We withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from every square inch of Gaza in 2005. That didn’t calm the Islamic storm, the militant Islamic storm that threatens us. It only brought the storm closer and made it stronger. Hezbollah and Hamas fired thousands of rockets against our cities from the very territories we vacated. See, when Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, the moderates didn’t defeat the radicals, the moderates were devoured by the radicals. [Haaretztranscript, Sept. 23, 2011]

Israel’s Gaza Gateway blog, which opposes the siege of the Strip, responded to Netanyahu’s portrayal:

[D]evelopments in Gaza in recent years would seem to impart a different lesson… Netanyahu linked…Israel’s “disengagement” and the strengthening of Hamas, but that is not where Israel’s policy towards Gaza ended. The closure policy that soon followed, and which is still in effect, has been the subject of growing criticism by Israeli journalists, commentators and researchers who have argued that rather than fulfilling its explicit objective of weakening Hamas, the policy has actually achieved the opposite outcome…

The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip has remained in place since 2007. During this period, the civilian economy in Gaza has collapsed, and Palestinians living in the Strip have been denied the right to visit their families, study or engage in commerce in the West Bank. To date, the closure has not helped stop the firing of rockets, bring back Gilad Shalit, or cause the downfall of the Hamas regime—objectives cited by the Israeli government to justify the closure. Instead, Israeli soldiers have found themselves discussing how many rolls of toilet paper should be allowed into the Gaza Strip… It’s time to allow Gaza to be a different kind of example, for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Amidst all this, in a deal with Hamas, Israel won the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier held on the Gaza Strip since 2006. Shalit was freed Oct. 18, on an Israeli pledge to free 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Israel immediately released 477, with an additional 550 to be freed in two months. Many were to be relocated to third countries, including Turkey, Syria and Qatar. Hamas officials said their members had been subject in Israeli prisons to “torture, compulsion and revenge.” At least one released Palestinian detainee, Wafa al-Bass (arrested for an attempted suicide bombing in 2005), indiscretely declared her next goal upon stepping off the bus in Gaza: to abduct more Israeli soldiers and thereby win the release of more Palestinian prisoners. (NYT, Oct. 18, 2011)

Shalit himself, after his long ordeal, seems to have immediately become a political football. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan held a press conference in Tel Aviv to blast the prisoner swap. Dagan said: “I oppose the deal which was implemented. I thought it wrong to release 140 terrorists to the territories. Many of them will resume their terrorist activity. We bolstered Hamas and weakened the PA.” He went on to criticize the jubilation around Shalit’s release—and stopped barely short of criticizing Shalot himself: “I’m not sure I was thrilled with the fact that Netanyahu greeted him back. It seemed problematic to me, he’s being portrayed as a hero, I would beware of such definitions.” (YNet, Nov. 2, 2011)

Meshulam Nahari, Knesset member with the ultra-orthodox Shas party, slammed Shalit for going to the beach with his father on the first Shabbat after his release, instead of going to the synagogue for prayer. Nahari asserted that Shalit and his father should have used his first Saturday of freedom to say the benediction of deliverance—a Jewish prayer of thanks traditionally said by those who survived an adversity or were released from prison. (YNet, Nov. 3, 2011)

A New York Times editorial raised concerns about such a backlash:

Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has compromised with Hamas, we fear that to prove his toughness he will be even less willing to make the necessary compromises to restart negotiations… One has to ask: If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas—which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and…vowed to take even more hostages—why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank? [NYT, Oct. 19, 2011]

On Oct. 30, Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 Palestinians. Gaza militants retaliated with rockets that left one Israeli dead—the worst violence over the Strip since August. The Israeli air-strike came hours after Islamic Jihad, which had been firing rockets and mortars into Israel, accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire. (Bloomberg, Oct. 30, 2011)

Class tensions within Israel continued to manifest. The country’s public sector workers walked out for four hours Nov. 7, shutting down trains, buses, airports, banks, government ministries and municipalities. Traffic jams clogged Tel Aviv, and the city’s stock exchange and Ben Gurion International Airport were closed. A general strike by the Histadrut Labor Union was limited to four hours by an order of the National Labor Court. The union demanded that the government officially hire some 250,000 contract workers, who were denied representation and job security. (HaaretzJTAAFP, Nov. 7, 2011)

On Nov. 14, a strike on what the Israeli army called a “terror activity center” in the northern Strip left one police offer dead and four of his colleagues wounded. Also injured in the attack was a French diplomat and two family members. The consul, Majdi Jameel Yaseen Shaqqoura, and his 13-year-old daughter were hit by shrapnel, and his pregnant wife miscarried. “France strongly condemns the consequences of the air raid,” the French foreign ministry said in response to the incident. (Ma’an News AgencyMa’an News Agency, Nov. 16, 2011)

On Nov. 15, Israeli police detained six Palestinians calling themselves “West Bank Freedom Riders” who boarded a Jerusalem-bound bus used by Jewish settlers. The activists said they drew inspiration from 1960s US civil rights campaigners who used the same tactic to oppose segregated buses. The group of six protesters gathered at a West Bank bus stop and waited for an Israeli bus to pick them up, then tried to enter Jerusalem—in what was apparently a first. The activists were arrested when they refused to leave the bus at a checkpoint near the city. (BBC News, Nov. 15, 2011)

A funeral procession in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar erupted into clashes between Israeli forces and locals on Nov. 20, after a man in an unmarked vehicle, initially identified as a Jewish settler, fired towards the group and Palestinian mourners responded by throwing stones. Israeli forces shortly arrived at the scene, and started firing tear gas at the Palestinians. An Israeli army spokesperson later said the man who fired on the procession was an army official traveling in a civilian vehicle paid for by the army. (WAFAMa’an News Agency, Nov. 20, 2011)

Despite the Fatah-Hamas deal to unite the separate Palestinian administrations in the West Bank and Gaza, little progress was made—and the two sides remained at odds in disputes over money and jurisdiction. The Hamas administration in Gaza ordered the PA-controlled Bank of Palestine to pay nearly $100 million in what it called back taxes, and prevented 11 board members from leaving the Strip. (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 21, 2011)

At least four Palestinians were killed in new Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza Strip in early December—including the 12-year-old son of one suspected militant whose house was targeted. Militants responded with a barrage of rockets, some of which landed near Beersheba. No one was hurt in the rocket attacks, but aiir-raid sirens summoned residents of southern Israel to shelters. (Ma’an News Agency, Dec. 9, 2011)

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank Dec. 11 to mourn the death of a Palestinian protester who died after being hit in the face by a tear-gas canister fired by Israeli troops at the village of Nabi Saleh two days earlier. The body of 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi was carried in a procession that began in Ramallah, ending 10 kilometers north at his home village, which had been holding weekly protests against land confiscation for a settlement. The European Union issued a statement protesting the “disproportionate use of force” in the incident. (CNN, Dec. 11; Ma’an News Agency, Dec. 9; JP, Dec. 14, 2011)

The death of Tamimi came as an international coalition of 20 aid agencies and human rights groups issued new findings that Israeli authorities had stepped up unlawful demolitions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over the past year—displacing a record number of Palestinian families from their homes. The statement was timed to coincide with a Jerusalem meeting of the Middle East Quartet in its latest effort to revive peace talks. The humanitarian and rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam International, called for the Quartet to hold all parties to the conflict to their obligations under international law. (Amnesty International, Dec. 13, 2011)

Seth Morrison, a board member of the Jewish National Fund in Washington DC, announced his resignation in December, in protest of the ongoing displacement of Palestinians on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem—especially citing land seizures under Israel’s Absentee Property Law. Wrote Morrison in his resignation letter: “My commitment to building a safe and secure Israel has not changed. My admiration for much of JNF’s environmental work has not changed. What has changed is a sense of betrayal I have at learning that JNF is a force in preventing long-term peace.” (The Forward, Dec. 23, 2011)

On Dec. 12, some 300 settlers hurled stones at Palestinian vehicles on the main road near the settlement of Ramat Gilad in response to rumors of an imminent eviction. They also pelted stones at the jeep of a local Israeli army commander—and later launched an attack on the local base of the army’s Ephraim Brigade, hurling paint, nails and rocks. Around 50 of them broke into the base and proceeded to vandalize vehicles, burn tires and throw stones at the brigade commander. Soldiers dispersed the rioters and detained one man. Another group of settlers under the “Hilltop Youth” banner meanwhile occupied a border post with Jordan. (Haartez, Dec. 14; YNetNYT, Dec. 13, 2011)

Two nights later, presumed Israeli rightists carried out an arson attack on an abandoned mosque in Jerusalem. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze before serious damage was done. Security officials found graffiti defaming Islam and Arabs on the building’s walls, as well as the words “price tag.” (YNet, Dec. 14, 2011)

The Jerusalem city council’s district planning committee on Dec. 28 approved plans for a large tourism complex in the flashpoint neighborhood of Silwan, just south of the Old City. The project was slated for a plot of land currently being used as a parking lot opposite the Dung Gate, main entrance to the Western Wall and the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. It would be managed by Elad, a hardline settler organization, which runs the nearby archaeological site at David’s City. Local Palestinian activists protested the move. “This project aims to promote settler tourism and religious tourism,” said Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Silwan Defense Committee. “This complex will change the character of the area and will emphasize the idea that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people—because it is a political project too.” The complex would be higher than the Old City walls and would in some places block Silwan’s view of al-Aqsa mosque. Silwan is part of the so-called Holy Basin around the Old City, purported site of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the biblical kings David and Solomon. The neighborhood, built on the steep hillsides of the Kidron Valley, was the scene of frequent clashes between locals and a 400-strong community of Jewish settlers living in their midst. (AFP, Dec. 28, 2011)

On Dec. 26, dozens of haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) hurled stones at policein the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh after officers had removed public signs calling for segregation between men and women in the city. Some haredim called police “Nazis.” There were no reports of injury. (YNet, Dec. 26, 2011)

The following day, some 4,000 participated in a rally in Beit Shemesh against gender segregation and violence against women by haredi extremists. The rally was held near a religious girls school attended by 8-year-old American immigrant Na’ama Margolis, who was featured in an Israeli TV news program, saying she was afraid to walk to school following harassment by local haredi men. She said haredi spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.” (JTAAP, Dec. 27, 2011)

A missile fired from an Israeli drone at presumed militants near the Gaza Strip’s border wall left one dead on Dec. 30, after a dozen rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza over the past week. None caused injury or damage. (NYT, Dec. 30, 2011)

At year’s end, Arab families and their supporters erected a small tent camp outside Old Acre’s Khan al-Umdan district to protest their eviction from an apartment building by Israel’s state-owned Amidar Company. Amidar said the eviction was to allow for the building to be renovated and made safe for its residents. But the residents charged that Amidar, the Old Acre Development Company and the Israel Lands Authority want to evict as many Arab families as possible for the benefit of developers and potential buyers, mostly Jews and foreigners. (Ha’aretz, Jan. 3, 2012)

Amid growing tensions in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s nuclear program, the US and Israel prepared to hold the largest missile defense exercise in the history of the Jewish state. The drill was to include establishment of US command posts in Israel and IDF command posts at European Command headquarters in Germany. The US prepared to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and ship-based Aegis missile defense systems to Israel to simulate the interception of strikes on Israel. The US systems were to work in conjunction with Israel’s missile defense systems—the ArrowPatriot and Iron Dome. (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2011)

In US political discourse, the hardline pro-Israel position was becoming more hegemonic. At a campaign stop in Iowa, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told a questioner that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. They’re not Palestinians—there is no Palestinian—this is Israeli land.” (The Lede, Jan. 5, 2012) Newt Gingrich made similar remarks, telling a Jewish cable TV show: “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.” (Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2011)

Israeli and Palestinian officials met for the first time in more than a year in Amman on Jan. 3, and agreed to hold further preliminary talks in Jordan as part of an effort to renew formal peace negotiations. The meeting of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Molcho—the first since the breakdown of talks in September 2010—was arranged by the Quartet, with help from Jordan’s King Abdullah. (Bloomberg, Jan. 4, 2012)

But Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said the Amman meeting would damage Fatah’s reconciliation deal with his party. “We consider these meetings a blow for national reconciliation, especially as we agreed in Cairo to face Israel’s settlements, wall, and attacks together,” Radwan said during a meeting of the community reconciliation committee in Gaza. In a show of strength, thousands of Hamas supporters attend a rally in Gaza City on Dec. 14 marking the 24th anniversary of the Islamic movement’s foundation. (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 4, 2012)

Israel’s High Court on Jan. 11 voted to reject a challenge filed against provisions of the Citizenship Law, which bar Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from receiving Israeli citizenship or residency. Six judges voted to reject the challenge, while five voted to accept it. Israel generally grants citizenship to spouses of Israelis in a gradual process, with a somewhat longer process for spouses of permanent residents. However, a 2002 temporary order—which has been repeatedly extended—excluded Palestinian spouses from these processes, barring them from becoming Israeli citizens. Despite a 2006 ruling that the order is unconstitutional, it has continued to have force of law while it was amended by the Knesset to bring it into compliance with constitutional standards. The provision still imposes harsh restrictions on the freedom of Arab citizens of Israel to live with spouses from the Occupied Territories, as well as from so-called “enemy states” (defined as Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq). The new decision upholding it affects thousands of couples. (Ha’aretzHa’aretz,Electronic IntifadaYNetYNet, Jan. 12; Ha’aretz, Jan. 11, 2011)

In the ruling, Justice Asher Grunis wrote that “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide”—a term often used in reference to allowing a return of Palestinian refugees. Similar language was used in reference to the ruling by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who warned about the need to protect the Jewish majority. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) also praised the High Court’s decision in terms of ethnic separation: “The High Court decision articulates the rationale of separation between the [two] peoples and the need to maintain a Jewish majority and the [Jewish] character of the state.” Far-right National Union MK Yaakov Katz explicitly portrayed marriage as a subterfuge for a strategy to reverse the Jewish majority in Israel: “A fantastic miracle took place last night in the High Court when by a happenstance majority the State of Israel was saved from being flooded by 2-3 million Arab refugees.” (Ibid)

The legal challenge was brought by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, and affected individuals. The Adalah Center issued a statement in response to the decision, saying: “The High Court of Justice today approved a law the likes of which does not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnic affiliation of the male or female spouse. The ruling proves how much the situation regarding the civil rights of the Arab minority in Israel is declining into a highly dangerous and unprecedented situation.” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also slammed the decision, stating that “the majority opinion has stamped its approval on a racist law, one [that] will harm the very texture of the lives of families whose only sin is the Palestinian blood that runs in their veins.” (Ibid)

Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population of 7 million (excluding the Mizrahi, or Jews of Arab origin). About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many families were divided by ceasefire lines after wars, and marriage between the two groups has been common over the years. Between 1993 and 2002, more than 100,000 Palestinians obtained Israeli residency permits in this manner—which the Israeli rights has portrayed as a security threat. Many couples now fear residency will be withdrawn retroactively following the new high court decision. “The Citizenship Law will lead to the expulsion of thousands of families from the country,” said Hatam Iyat, an attorney from the village of Qara whop is married to a Palestinian woman, the mother of his four children. “But we will not remain silent; we will take action against the law.” (Ibid)

Continued at node 12054

Southeast Asia

Burma signs ceasefire with Karen rebels

The government of Burma signed a ceasefire agreement with ethnic Karen rebels who have been fighting for regional autonomy since independence from Britain in 1948. Some 100,000 have been displaced by the conflict.