Challenging silence

26 December 2002

The documentary Jenin, Jenin opens with the wild gesticulations of a young mute man charging around the now-famous lunar landscape of the Palestinian refugee camp. Seemingly dragging the camera by the force of his will alone, he points in passing at bullet holes in walls, at the rubble of demolished houses, at the air from which helicopters once rained down missiles. An incomprehensible mumble subtitles everything he remembers. Intermittently he clutches at his chest and makes as if to fall down dead, then quickly regains his footing and heads down a new alleyway to begin afresh. Later in this 55-minute film, his energy and recollections spent, he points an imaginary gun to the centre of his forehead and pulls the trigger.

The three cities most closely associated with Jesus — his birthplace in Bethlehem, the town of his boyhood in Nazareth and the place of his death in Jerusalem — are all resigned to another year without tourists or much seasonal joy this Christmas. Even the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will not be able to make his way to Bethlehem to lead the Christmas service in the Church of the Nativity. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has banned him for the second year running from attending. Instead he will remain cooped up in the remains of his Ramallah compound. Jerusalem is feeling the loss of visitors acutely. Once it had a thriving tourist industry, full of coach parties staying in luxury hotels, eating in the city’s expensive restaurants and buying gifts and religious icons at hugely inflated prices.

Living in Nazareth it is easy to forget that this is the city where Jesus grew up. Visitors prepared to brave the intifada to reach northern Israel’s Galilee region can often be heard complaining about the city’s lack of “spirituality.” Nazareth’s air of overcrowded squalor is interrupted only by oases of bland modernity surrounding its few holy sights. When Israel began in the mid-1990s to prepare for the pope’s millennium visit, officials realized that decades of underinvestment in the Arab city, and the congestion resulting from the confiscation of its lands, would be on show as John Paul II toured the holy places. Hurried facelifts were given to the city’s two most important religious buildings, both of which, it is claimed, stand where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary of her miraculous conception.

Israel is keeping Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in solitary confinement for giving a press interview. Is this a telling sign for the fairness of his upcoming trial. Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader being held by Israel on terrorism charges, was placed in solitary confinement for five days over the Eid Al-Fitr weekend as punishment for giving an interview through one of his lawyers, Khader Shkirat, to the media last week. His legal team said Barghouti was being “victimised” for expressing his political views and that this did not bode well for his receiving a fair criminal trial, expected to begin early next year.

Stand where the Israeli army sniper stood and the questions come flooding in. Foremost among them is how the soldier who shot Iain Hook in the back in Jenin refugee camp could have mistaken the lanky British UN official with a mobile phone to his ear for a Palestinian youth waving a gun, as the army claims. The sniper was only 25 metres from his victim, in daylight, and he had a telescopic sight. British officials say they are determined that the Israelis will not be allowed to get away with a cursory investigation into Mr Hook’s killing a fortnight ago. Whitehall, in turn, is under pressure from Hook’s two sons, both British officers, who visited the site of his death and came away sceptical about the Israeli version of events.

Terror talk

5 December 2002

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s response to the twin attacks on Israeli citizens last week in Kenya was as melodramatic as it was swift. He activated “sleeper” spies in Saudi Arabia and Yemen to wreak revenge for the hotel explosion that killed three Israeli tourists and 10 Kenyans and a near-miss missile fired at an Israeli- owned Arkia charter plane carrying some 260 passengers. A group calling itself the Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mombasa, but Israel’s external intelligence agency Mossad is working on the assumption, as are most other nations, that Osama Bin Laden’s Al- Qa’eda network is the real culprit.

he United Nations has been accused of downgrading, or even trying to bury, an investigation into the killing of one of its British workers, Iain Hook, in Jenin refugee camp 10 days ago. Sources say the UN is worried the inquiry could lead to a further deterioration in its bruised relations with Israel and the US. A diplomatic source said that, despite UN statements describing as “totally incredible” Israeli claims that there were Palestinian gunmen in the compound where Hook was shot, the final report of the UN inquiry was being delayed and “may not be publicised at all”. The source said that the UN depended on cooperation from Israel and the US in the future, and much of its funding came from Washington.

An Interview with Awad Abdel Fattah, General Secretary of the National Democratic Assembly [NDA] on Sept 23 2002 Q: There has been talk of reforming the Arab leadership in Israel? There have even been discussions about creating a national parliament for the Arab minority? What is the likelihood of such reforms? A: We have been calling for reform of the Follow-Up Committee [which comprises all the Arab mayors, MKs and leaders of the political parties, considered to be the representative leadership body of the Palestinian citizens of Israel] for some time. The NDA does not talk about creating a parliament but about building a unified national leadership.

What really happened

28 November 2002

An office swivel chair is still posted at the third- floor window of 75-year-old Tawfiq Marhad’s home. Hidden among the skirts of some heavy blue drapes are a handful of Israel army bullet casings fired during a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in Jenin refugee camp last Friday. “I thought we had cleared them all away,” says Marhad. It was from this window that the bullet that killed Iain Hook, 53, a British United Nations worker, was almost certainly fired. He bled to death some time after 1.15pm, after a UN ambulance was blocked by the army from reaching him. Although the autopsy report has yet to be issued, he is believed to have been hit by a single bullet in the back.

Miriam as human shield

28 November 2002

Discarded in a narrow alleyway behind a row of shoe shops in Jenin’s old town are a pile of metal doors, each with a hole twice the size of a human fist where once the lock was to be found. New doors, courtesy of the council and freshly painted white, now guard the entrance to each home and lead like footsteps up the alley to a cul de sac where a small, two-storey house still has no front door to protect its privacy. In fact it has no privacy left to protect. All its doors are either missing or hanging off their hinges. On the top floor the walls are crumbling, part of the roof is missing, debris of rocks, concrete and earth lie on every surface and there is a rubble-filled hole in the floor with a large metal spike sticking up from its centre.

JERUSALEM: The adoption of the dovish Amram Mitzna as leader by Israel’s Labor Party opens up the central fault line between Israel’s left and right for the elections: the question of whether Israel should stay in the Palestinian territories or begin some kind of separation. Although this row overshadows all else – at least in the foreign media coverage – another debate is raging that will play an equally important part in determining the outcome of the election and hence the face of the next coalition government. It is the urgent question of how to preserve the ethnic purity of the Jewish state, how to prevent Israel from being dominated by non-Jews.

Alone with the settlers

21 November 2002

For the past month the tiny village of Yanun, south-east of Nablus, has breathed deeply the air of liberation that has followed its briefly being thrust into the limelight. Children play on the rocky track that winds up from the wide valley below, men sit on low stone walls smoking, while women lean chatting in huddles on the balconies of their homes. The relaxed atmosphere is, all of them are aware, as temporary as it is contrived. A few weeks ago the alleys of this West Bank village were empty, the last families having fled under a relentless campaign of attacks from neighbouring Israeli settlers. Today, the villagers’ safety is ensured only by the heavy presence of outsiders.

Bloody electioneering

14 November 2002

The horrific shooting spree in which two brothers aged four and five were sprayed with bullets, along with their mother, by a lone Palestinian gunman who later slipped back into the West Bank marked the wretched start to the election campaign between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his rival for the Likud leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu joined the cabinet last week after being cornered by Sharon into accepting the post of foreign minister or risk appearing driven more by personal ambition than the country’s good. Sharon hopes the job will limit Netanyahu’s room for criticising him in the run-up to 28 November Likud leadership primary.

Finishing the job

14 November 2002

hat caused Benny Morris’s recent conversion to the racist ideology of transfer? The “new historian” who began unravelling Israel’s narrative of the war of 1948 — that the Palestinians fled rather than that most were expelled or terrorised from their homes — says he now believes David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, made a grievous mistake in not finishing the job of clearing the land of Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In an article in The Guardian (October 3, 2002) Morris concludes that peace in the Middle East might have been possible had the entire Arab population been removed from historic Palestine to make way for a Greater Israel.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s 19-month unholy alliance between Likud and Labor finally unraveled Oct. 30, ostensibly over funding for the settlements. The Labor leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, had spent the previous few weeks distancing himself very publicly from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the issue. First Ben-Eliezer, the unity government’s defense minister, waged a campaign to dismantle what are known in Israel as “illegal outposts,” huddles of caravans illegal under Israeli law established close to West Bank “parent” settlements that fall foul of international law. Then when Sharon pledged to continue the heavy subsidies in the budget for his settler allies, Ben-Eliezer quit his post, taking Labor with him.

Small red ribbons fluttered in the early evening breeze among the olive groves of the West Bank village of Falamia, leading like a child’s paper trail from the greenhouses and fields of vegetables up a gentle rocky slope towards the brow of a wide hill. There the trail ended and the devastation began. Olive trees lay upended or their trunks had been cut close to the ground, the leaves on the branches already shrivelling in the late sun. “The ribbons mark the path of the fence Israel wants to build through our lands,” said 29-year-old Sami Dahir, a civil engineer whose family owns 250 dunums (60 acres) of farmland. “Each day they inch closer. If we don’t do something soon, they will reach the wadi and we will lose everything.”

Shocking Israel

31 October 2002

The fragile bond of trust between Israel and the country’s Bedouin was in danger of tearing apart over the case of a senior Israeli army officer accused of spying for Hizbullah, writes Jonathan Cook from Nazareth Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Hayeb, from the Bedouin village of Zarzir in the Galilee, was arrested six weeks ago but the secrecy surrounding this espionage case only lifted last week when he was charged in a Nazareth court. Hayeb, 40, is the most senior officer in Israel’s history to be accused of espionage and treason. According to the charge sheet, he passed military secrets to Hizbullah in return for drugs and money.

Israel calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East, a description readily accepted in the West. Only critics in the Arab world and a handful of radical Israeli academics have challenged this orthodoxy, observing that the country is really a democracy only if you are a Jew. Azmi Bishara, a former philosophy professor and now an Arab member of the Knesset, calls Israel a “tribal democracy.” Not included in the tribe, he says, are the country’s million Arab citizens, a fifth of the population. Although they have the vote, they have long complained that they are excluded from participation in the government. Since the mid-1990s they have campaigned for the Jewish state to become a state of all its citizens. The Jewish Israeli public and political establishment angrily oppose such reforms, claiming that they would destroy Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister whose approval of his political rival Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Haram Al-Sharif two years ago unleashed the Intifada, recently gave his first full interview to an Israeli newspaper since his defeat at the polls in February 2001. Concerned only to justify his part in the events that led to the current violent confrontation between the Israeli army and the Palestinians, he refused to express regret or contrition. Of the much shorter-lived clash between the Israeli police and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, in which 13 members of the Arab minority were shot dead, he had nothing to say at all. Instead Barak told the Ha’aretz daily newspaper that he counted the violence that followed the failure to reach an agreement with Palestinian negotiators at Camp David, and a few months later at Taba, as a personal achievement.

Israel is a state for only some of its citizens, says a new report investigating violations of the political rights of the “Jewish State’s” Palestinian citizens. Report co-author Jonathan Cook sums up its findings Israel calls itself a democracy: by its own reckoning, the only one to be found in the Middle East. It is a self-description readily accepted in the West. It has fallen to critics in the Arab world and a handful of radical Israeli academics to challenge this orthodoxy, calling Israel an “ethnic democracy”, a democracy only if you are a Jew. Azmi Bishara, a former philosophy professor and Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, has made the same point more simply, calling Israel a “tribal democracy”.

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