Jonathan Cook: the View from Nazareth - www.jonathan-cook.net

Israeli Arabs suffer state discrimination

This year's US State Department annual report on human rights practices in Israel identifies discrimination against Palestinian citizens in most spheres of their lives. It says: "The government did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens." Among many issues, it notes the humiliating treatment of Palestinian citizens, including community leaders, during security checks at airports and checkpoints. Last month, Amir Makhul, director of Ittijah, the umbrella organisation for Israel's Arab non-profit groups, was detained at length and searched by security staff at Ben Gurion airport.

Israel’s housing apartheid

The small affluent community of Katzir has become a byword for the apartheid policies of the Israeli state. For nine years, an Arab family, the Kadans, who live a short distance away in the Israeli Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, have been fighting through the courts to be allowed to join the Jewish community. Katzir sits high on a hill just inside Israel that overlooks the rolling landscape of the northern West Bank close to the Palestinian city of Jenin. It is one of hundreds of exclusive Jewish communities in Israel which are built on state land and that weed out Arab applicants, unofficially, through strict vetting procedures.

It’s lonely at the top

Ariel Sharon emerged on Sunday from the referendum of Likud Party members on his unilateral "disengagement" plan from Gaza stranded in a political cul de sac. Even though he is sitting on one of the biggest electoral majorities in Israeli history, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now friendless, without allies among the settlers whose support he once cultivated or the mainstream of his own party. Even the White House was sounding cautious about the special relationship. Israeli analysts suggested that Sharon, the army general who had never played by the rules, might yet stage another of his famous comebacks after his defeat by a 20 point margin in the poll, on a turnout of just over half the Likud Party's membership.

Israeli whistleblower nears freedom

In less than three weeks, Israel's most notorious prisoner will be released. Mordechai Vanunu, the man who exposed his country's secret nuclear weapons programme, will walk free after 18 years behind bars - most of them in harsh solitary confinement. For nearly two decades, the Israeli authorities have been dreading the moment when Vanunu would be free to speak to the world in person about Israel's development of nuclear arms, his abduction by Mossad agents and the details of his incarceration. The timing of his release - as the issue of weapons of mass destruction tops Washington's Middle East agenda - could not be worse.

Email from Beit Fagi

Yesterday a procession of pilgrims, each holding a palm branch, made their way up the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives from the Palestinian village of Eizariya, once the Biblical town of Bethany and home to Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. The annual procession follows the route of Jesus's triumphal journey to Jerusalem, where he would soon suffer the agonies of the Passion so graphically portrayed in Mel Gibson's recent blockbuster, and is one of the final moments of celebration in the Christian calendar before Easter. Churches around the world marked Palm Sunday with their own symbolic processions and a final blessing of palm branches.

Palestinian right of return: history still in the making

HAIFA, Israel: It was a historic moment, personified in the diminutive figure of a 35-year-old scientist from Toronto, Canada who took the stage in Haifa at the weekend to tell a mixed audience of Palestinians and Israeli Jews: "I am the poster girl for the right of return." Ayeda Ayed - both of whose names derive from the Arabic word for return - was in the Israeli port city on a double mission. First, she was there to attend the first-ever conference held in Israel on the right of return for the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war that founded Israel. The Palestinian refugee population, now standing at 5 million, is the largest in modern history, with some 3.5 million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East more than 50 years after the war.

Broken lives

Away from the protests marking the 28th anniversary of Land Day this week, the plight of two villages -- one a former Muslim community, now destroyed, inside the state of Israel; the other an inhabited, largely Christian community located in occupied East Jerusalem -- illustrates the continuing and unifying struggle of Palestinians to prevent their ever greater dispossession by Israel. Land Day commemorates the killing by the Israeli police of six Palestinian citizens in the Galilean town of Sakhnin in 1976 during protests against a wave of land confiscations by the state from the town's inhabitants. The land was later transferred to a Jewish local authority, which built a ring of settlements around Sakhnin.

Following Jesus’ path for last time

While the clashes over land confiscation from Palestinians in the West Bank have been capturing the headlines, another shocking development in the evolution of Israel's wall, in Jerusalem, has gone entirely unnoticed. IIn recent weeks, Israeli bulldozers have finished their work at the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and moved to the very heart of the Holy City: the Mount of Olives. There demolition crews have begun scarring the eastern slopes of the mountain and uprooting hundreds of ancient olive trees. Paradoxically, the place where Israel's activity is concentrated is at a hamlet known as Bait Fagi, which at this time of year is the focus of global Christian attention.

No concession: Will Sharon’s disengagement end Gaza’s occupation?

There is an understandable, though unhealthy, trend among prominent critics of Israel to suggest that any scheme proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that appears to benefit the Palestinians must be an illusion, as Mustafa Barghouti has suggested. But Sharon's "disengagement" plan – the evacuation of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip – would not end the occupation. It would simply reinvent it.

Sharon’s shameful death

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

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

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.

Arab workers face discrimination in Israel

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.

Airport security as political bullying

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.

McBusted: McDonald’s manager admits speaking Arabic led to firing

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, and document we have seen, flatly contradict claims by McDonald's head office in the US that her dismissal had nothing to do with her speaking Arabic.

Justice still evades Israeli court

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.

No Arabic at McDonald’s Israel

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.

The whistleblower returns

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.

Israel jails foreign workers

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.

Future backward

It was a momentous week for the Jewish state. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics published the latest census figures for the year 2013 showing that the Arab population in Greater Israel was the smallest ever at just 687,000 compared to a Jewish population of a fraction over eight million. Who could have imagined 10 years ago -- when then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was grappling with an evacuation of settlers in Gaza -- that only a decade later the demographic time bomb would have been so completely defused? At the time, let's recall, the media was full of dire predictions that soon the Palestinians -- in what were often distinguished separately as the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper -- would outnumber Jews in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.