August 2009

The inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Amra have good reason to fear that the harsh tactics used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been imported to their small corner of Israel’s Negev desert. Over the summer, the Tarabin tribe, all of them Israeli citizens, have had the sole access road to their homes sealed off. Coils of razor wire encircle much of the village, and children as young as eight have been arrested in a series of night-time raids.

If a single person deserves the title of serial thorn in the side of the Israeli state, Uri Davis, a professor of critical Israel studies at al Quds University on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, might be the one to claim it. The crowning moment for Dr Davis arrived last weekend when he became the first Israeli Jew to be elected to one of Fatah’s governing bodies, the Revolutionary Council. It is a public relations breakthrough for Fatah.

The municipality of Beersheva, the capital of southern Israel, is racing to put the finishing touches to repairs of the city’s long-neglected and unused Great Mosque, built more than 100 years ago by the Ottoman rulers of what was then Palestine. But, over the protests of Beersheva’s thousands-strong community of Muslims, the Jewish-run municipality is not planning to restore the city’s only mosque to its former glory as a place of worship. It wants to convert it into a museum.

In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents. The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel – including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally – and the West Bank.

Despite the loss of their village, the 4,500 Palestinian refugees from Saffuriya and their descendants have clung to one hope: that the Jewish newcomers could not buy their land, only lease it temporarily from the state. According to international law, Israel holds the property of more than four million Palestinian refugees in custodianship, until a final peace deal determines whether they will be allowed back or compensated for their loss. But last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, forced through a revolutionary land reform.

An Arab couple whose one-year-old daughter was expelled from an Israeli day-care centre on her first day are suing a Jewish mother for damages, accusing her of racist incitement against their child. Maysa and Shua’a Zuabi, from the village of Sulam in northern Israel, launched the court action last week saying they had been “shocked and humiliated” when the centre’s owner told them that six Jewish parents had demanded their daughter’s removal because she is an Arab.

Two immigrants from the former Soviet Union staged a very public wedding in the streets of central Tel Aviv this week to highlight the plight of hundreds of thousands of Jews barred from lawfully marrying in Israel. Nico Tarosyan and Olga Samosvatov chose to tie the knot in a special ceremony on Tuesday after Orthodox rabbis had denied them the right to wed. The rabbinate says that Mr Tarosyan cannot prove he is Jewish according to its strict standards and therefore should not marry Ms Samosvatov, who is considered a proper Jew.

In a bid to staunch the flow of damaging evidence of war crimes committed during Israel’s winter assault on Gaza, the Israeli government has launched a campaign to clamp down on human rights groups, both in Israel and abroad. It has begun by targeting one of the world’s leading rights organisations, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), as well as a local group of dissident army veterans, Breaking the Silence, which last month published the testimonies of 26 combat soldiers who served in Gaza.

The Jewish community of Kfar Vradim, set in the still-verdant hills of northern Israel close to the Lebanese border, has taken the idea of neighbourly feuds to a new – and noisier – level. Last week, it set up a large sound system, pointed it at the neighbouring homes in the Arab town of Tarshiha, the nearest of which are less than 1km away, and blasted them with Beethoven and Mozart. Officials said they were forced to take the drastic step in retaliation for what they call the “deafening” blare of Arab music from late-night street parties.