August 2003

Even as a young girl in Wimbledon Susan Nathan knew she would one day move to Israel. But why did she choose to settle in the Arab town of Tamra? She explains to Jonathan Cook
She makes an incongruous figure, waiting in front of the central mosque in the northern Israeli town of Tamra. There is no danger I will miss her. She has short blonde hair, in contrast to the rest of the women who cover their dark hair with scarves, and is wearing a loose-fitting floral kaftan, better suited to the streets of Wimbledon, her former home, than here in the Middle East. The difference runs much deeper than mere looks: Susan Nathan is the only Jew among 25,000 Muslims in Tamra, one of the country’s dozens of Arab communities whose council is run by Islamic fundamentalists.

Crossing the divide

21 August 2003

She is an incongruous figure waiting infront of the large central mosque in the northern Israeli town of Tamra for my arrival. There is no danger I will miss her. She has short blond hair, in contrast to most of the women who cover their heads with scarves, and is wearing a loose-fitting, floral kaftan that would be less out of place on the streets of Wimbledon in south London, her former home, than here in the Middle East. But the difference runs much deeper. Susan Nathan is the only Jew in Tamra, living among 25,000 Muslims in a town run by Islamic politicians. More than this, she is one of only two Israeli Jews known to have crossed the ethnic divide in Israel to live in one of the country’s dozens of Arab communities.

Eyes wide open

21 August 2003

In these pages recently (Al-Ahram Weekly, 7 – 13 August) the left-wing Israeli academic and journalist Ran HaCohen argued that most Israelis had almost no idea what their government and army were doing in their name in the occupied Palestinian territories. “The Israeli public is kept in the dark about what is happening just a 20-minute drive from Tel-Aviv, or just across (and even within) the municipal borders of Jerusalem,” he wrote in an article headlined “Eyes Wide Shut”. HaCohen’s usually admirable qualities as an analyst of the situation inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza appear to have deserted him on this occasion. Let us examine how plausible the assumptions he is making about the “Israeli public” really are.

JERUSALEM: Israel faced a stinging rebuke last week from a United Nations watchdog body for passing a law two weeks ago, days before the Knesset’s summer recess, that bans Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from living together in Israel. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Israel to revoke the law immediately, adding that it “raises serious issues” about whether Israel is violating an international human rights treaty it ratified in 1979. The panel, comprising 18 human rights experts from around the world, is due to issue a periodical report assessing Israel’s compliance with the treaty in December but was so concerned by the new law that under emergency procedures it rushed out an early statement criticizing the legislation.

Absent voices

14 August 2003

As Sharon manoeuvers in the shadow of the roadmap, the shortcomings of the mainstream Israeli peace camp have never been more evident. This Saturday a convoy of Jewish and Arab Israeli peace activists will venture into the olive groves of Anin, a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank close to the pre-1967 border with Israel. They will be there to help Anin’s farmers prepare for the autumn harvest, hoping to use their Israeli citizenship to defy military restrictions and reach more than 2,500 acres of fields that have been off-limits to the villagers since Israel recently erected its apartheid wall. The trip is not without risk: only two weeks ago, international demonstrators who joined the villagers to protest against the wall were shot by Israeli police and soldiers.

The forgotten prisoners

14 August 2003

Early one morning two years ago, as the fields below the small hilltop town of Deir Hanna in the central Galilee soaked up the dawn light, Diana Hussein’s life changed for ever. Woken by violent knocking at the front door, the 43- year-old school nutritionist found several dozen armed Israeli police surrounding her house. They were looking for her 16-year-old son Rabiah, asleep inside. For an hour and a half, five men searched his bedroom, looking through photos, opening up his collection of radios, confiscating his Umm Kulthoum tapes and trawling through files on his computer. All they found of note was a screensaver that read “Rabiah Saleh Hussein from Deir Hanna in occupied Galilee”, a reference to the capture of the Galilee in the 1948 war that founded Israel.

Racism reinforced

7 August 2003

Morad as-Sana and his wife Abir returned home from their honeymoon in Istanbul last Saturday to the news that the Israeli parliament had passed a law two days earlier that will make their planned life together impossible. As the young couple crossed back over the land border from Jordan to Israel, they parted ways: Abir to her family in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and Morad to his apartment in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. Neither knows when they will be able to see one another again. The enforced separation is the result of legislation rushed through the parliament last week on the orders of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, before the Knesset’s summer recess this week. Sharon made the new law — an amendment to the Citizenship Law barring Palestinians from joining a spouse to live in Israel — a vote of confidence in his government.

In its annual report issued in July 2003, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) painted a familiar yet surprising picture of Israeli army maltreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. A wide range of army practices — from house-to-house searches in villages to “targeted killings” of Palestinian militants — came in for harsh criticism, unusually harsh by the standards of the mainstream human rights group. “Most of the abuses occur not as a result of operational necessity on the part of the army,” the report continues, “but from vindictiveness on the part of soldiers, who receive implicit approval to denigrate the dignity, life and liberty of innocent Palestinians.” ACRI goes on to cite army data revealing that most incidents of possible abuse, including most shooting deaths, are never investigated.