March 2004

If Israel delivered a message with the three missiles that slammed into a Gaza street on Monday morning killing Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s spiritual leader, and eight others, few in Israel could agree either on the meaning of that message or to whom it was addressed. Was it directly linked to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” plan — the promised evacuation of most Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip — or was it planned months in advance, as Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom insisted? Did it bring the withdrawal nearer or make it less likely? Would Yassin’s death fatally harm Hamas’s organisational structure, or send the group’s popularity soaring?

Gone bad

18 March 2004

Ariel Sharon, buffeted by recent revelations linking him to various corruption scandals, was beset by fresh woes this week as the Israeli media scented yet another dubious deal linked to the prime minister and opinion polls showed his popularity with voters plummeting. The latest allegation came last week from the Ma’ariv newspaper, which reported that Sharon had once had business dealings with a relative of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman apparently lured into a trap set by the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah in October 2000. They captured him after he went to Dubai to work out a plan to smuggle drugs into Israel.

Beyond the fences

18 March 2004

Israeli officials were badly shaken by the success of two 18-year-old men from Jabaliya refugee camp who exited the Gaza Strip undetected and then penetrated the security of nearby Ashdod’s port. The pair detonated their explosives at separate locations, killing 10 Israeli port workers. One of the men nearly reached his supposed target, a fuel depot, where an explosion could have resulted in far higher casualties. The operation was jointly claimed by Hamas and Fatah’s military wing, Al- Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. It was the first time since an electrified fence surrounding Gaza was completed several years ago that a suicide attack has been directly launched from Gaza.

In a shocking re-enactment of Nazi Germany practices, Palestinian construction workers were forced to wear distinguishing marks on their hard hats to differentiate them from other nationalities. As a constitutional committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, met in Jerusalem this month to discuss how best to express the values of Israel as “both a Jewish and democratic country”, construction workers outside were building a new wing of the Knesset building. All the Arab labourers wore white hard hats, but on some of the helmets, a large cross had been sprayed in red paint. It was later revealed that security officials had demanded the workers be marked to distinguish them from builders imported from countries like China and Thailand.

A recent trip by Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 79, to see for herself what is happening to Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza ended with shocking humiliation.
Epstein says she was questioned for five hours by a security team at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport when she arrived for her flight home to Saint Louis, Missouri, in the United States. After it was discovered that she had visited the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Qalqilya and participated in protests against the separation wall Israel is building, she was taken off to a side room. There she was told to undress. A woman security officer carried out a “strip search of every part of my naked body,” she recalls. “The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible.

Abeer Zinaty, the 20-year-old McDonald’s employee in Israel who says she was fired by the world’s biggest fastfood chain for breaking a ban on speaking Arabic in the workplace, has spoken to the Electronic Intifada of the circumstances surrounding her dismissal. Her account flatly contradicts claims by McDonald’s head office in the United States that Zinaty’s dismissal had nothing to do with her speaking Arabic. Considerable weight is added to her version of events by documents in the hands of the Electronic Intifada. Senior McDonald’s managers, both in America and Israel, who separately responded to protests over Zinaty’s dismissal, offered starkly differing interpretations of the company’s policy on the speaking of Arabic in the workplace. And the firm’s subsequent claims – in the face of mounting bad publicity – …….

Israel’s army is continuing to use Palestinians as human shields, despite repeated attempts through the courts to ban the practice. But Israel’s justice system is now coming under unprecedented international scrutiny, a fact that might afford Palestinians some hard-won legal victories. The Supreme Court in Jerusalem has been presented with a series of legal petitions from Palestinian farmers and residents regarding the separation barrier in the past month. They are claiming financial losses or separation from family members and emergency services caused by the route of the wall, which in many places cuts deep inside the Green Line, the border until 1967 between Israel and the West Bank.

A photograph of Abeer Zinaty shows the 20- year-old student from the mixed Arab and Jewish city of Ramle in central Israel wearing a T- shirt branded with the logo “Excellent Worker 2003 — McDonald’s Israel”. Less than a year later she is unemployed, fired by the world’s most famous fast food company. Her crime, according to the branch manager, is that she was caught speaking Arabic to another Arab employee. Zinaty’s treatment at the hands of the Israeli management of McDonald’s is a stark illustration of an ever-swelling tide of discrimination against Arab workers, director of Mossawa — a political lobbying group for Israel’s one million Palestinian citizens — Jafar Ferah told Al-Ahram Weekly.

With less than two months left before Mordechai Vanunu completes his prison term for revealing 18 years ago the existence of a large Israeli arsenal of nuclear weapons, the government launched the first stage of a damage limitation exercise. The authorities have been preparing public opinion for continuing, in more limited form, the whistleblower’s isolation even after he is freed from Shikma jail in Ashkelon on 21 April. Most of his term has been spent in severe solitary confinement. Last week, after a meeting of the inner cabinet, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that after his release Vanunu would be subject to “appropriate supervisory measures” to keep watch over him, though further details were not provided.

At 10 one morning in December last year, the police burst into the bedroom of Melinda Romechio, a 39-year-old Filipino maid employed by a close relative of an Israeli cabinet minister.
She was arrested under caution that she would be jailed before her deportation as an illegal foreign worker. Romechio, who had been working legally for the family for seven years, knew her 12-month permit had expired that same morning. What she did not know was that the family employing her, rather than renewing the permit as they had promised, had tipped off the police. Romechio was owed more than $4000 in back pay and overtime that the family wanted to avoid paying.