Meanwhile: Why Arab women wear the veil in Israel

20 November 2003

Sally Azzam, 23, a student from the Arab city of Nazareth in northern Israel, tells me fondly of a recent holiday to neighboring Jordan. A highlight was being able to smoke a nargilleh, or water pipe, in cafés and restaurants, anonymous among the local women who do the same. Smoking for unmarried women, at least in the Jordanian capital Amman, is chic. But for Azzam it represents a small feminist victory for Jordanian women, one of the battles she fears is being lost back home. In Israel, a country in which Jewish women take for granted most Western freedoms, young Arab women are facing a resurgence of social and moral controls that even their mothers might have balked at. And in this, maybe there is a lesson for those who believe that the West can impose its values unthinkingly on other civilizations.

Is ‘Facility 1391’ Israel’s version of Guantanamo Bay?

15 November 2003

The roadside signpost bearing the information “Facility 1391” was removed months ago. Now there is nothing to identify the concrete fortress guarded by two watchtowers that sits atop a small wooded hill. But this summer the Israeli government, under pressure from the courts, admitted that Facility 1391 serves as a “secret prison,” what one local newspaper termed “Israel’s Guantanamo”.

Matrix reloaded – yet again

13 November 2003

Israeli academic Jeff Halper has coined the phrase “the matrix of control” to describe the system of settlements, outposts, bypass roads, confiscated land masquerading as national parks, military zones, checkpoints and now hundreds of kilometres of a “separation wall” that together effectively entrap the Palestinian population in ghettoes across the West Bank and Gaza. Halper’s point is to explain how Israel uses non-military tools — planning laws, architecture and geography — as well as military hardware to herd Palestinians into the spaces it allocates them: the “Bantustan” homelands familiar from apartheid South Africa.

Facility 1391: Israel’s Guantanamo

12 November 2003

Facility 1391, close to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, is not marked on maps, it has been erased from aerial photographs and recently its numbered signpost was removed. Censors have excised all mention of its location from the Israeli media, with the government saying that secrecy is essential to “prevent harm to the country’s security”.

Is this where Jesus bathed?

22 October 2003

A shopkeeper running a small souvenir business in Nazareth has made a sensational discovery that could dramatically rewrite the history of Christianity Elias Shama’s small souvenir shop in Nazareth, the town of Jesus’s childhood, barely catches the eye. Tourists usually pass by it on their way to the neighbouring Mary’s Well church, claimed by the Greek Orthodox church as the site where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was carrying the son of God. Before the Palestinian intifada erupted three years ago, the shop did a steady trade selling the usual pilgrim fare……..

Meanwhile: The forgotten palaces of Palestine

8 October 2003

Beit Fauzi Azar, my home for the past two years, is one of the “hidden palaces” of Palestine, according to the Israeli conservation expert Sharif Sharif. These mansions, built in the late 19th century, are one of the few windows left on Palestinian society from before the advent of modern Israel. In the old quarters of Acre and Nazareth in the Galilee, in the Arab sections of Jaffa and Lod in east Jerusalem, in Gaza City and in the casbahs of the West Bank cities of Nablus and Bethlehem, there are still a smattering of these living museums. The most famous is Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in Jerusalem until it was shut down by Israel during the intifada.

Sharon Stokes Israeli Fears of Arab Minority to Serve His Long-Term Interests

1 October 2003

August is known to journalists as the “silly season”—when editors struggling to fill space ask their staff to spice up run-of-the-mill stories with drama or humor. By every journalistic yardstick, the Israeli media’s recent report of a “children’s summer camp of terror” was a silly season story. None of the journalists, however, were smirking as they delivered the punchline. They were all deadly serious. The report originally surfaced July 30 on the Channel 10 news. The station “revealed” that 300 Israeli Arab children—from the community of one million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship—were being trained to become terrorists at a summer camp in the village of Kabul in the western Galilee.

Democratic injustice

25 September 2003

Al-Ahram Weekly – 25 September 2003 I am loath to put pen to paper again to continue a debate with Ran HaCohen that doubtless appears more than a little self- indulgent to many outsiders. Maybe we do sound like two birds singing from the same tree limb, as one of Al-Ahram Weekly’s more compulsive Zionist […]

Shoot to kill

11 September 2003

Wissam Yazbak, at rest in a Nazareth cemetery, cannot tell the story of what happened to him nearly three years ago, on the night of 8 October 2000. That evening a mob of several hundred Israeli Jews from the neighbouring town of Nazareth Ilit marched on the eastern quarter of Nazareth, many armed with guns and chanting “Death to the Arabs”. As the mob attacked the first Arab homes, Nazareth’s mosques called on local residents to defend their town. In the pressure cooker atmosphere of the first days of the Intifada, when communal war between Israel’s Jews and Arabs was in the air, the residents made their way uphill from the centre of town to the road that separates the Jewish and Arab Nazareths.

Or Commission report amounts to ‘balancing act’

5 September 2003

After a wait of three years, including 12 long months of silence as the final report was being drafted, the Or commission of inquiry into the shooting dead of 13 Arab citizens in the Galilee by the Israeli police at the start of the intifada issued its verdict this week. Theodor Or’s 781-page report, published on Monday, severely criticized several senior police officers, including the former national police chief, Yehuda Wilk, and his commander in the Galilee, Alik Ron, as well as reprimanding the former prime minister Ehud Barak and his public security minister, Shlomo Ben Ami. All were implicated to varying degrees in the decision to allow police officers to use rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition as a first line of defence in controlling demonstrations in the country’s north.

A Jew among 25,000 Muslims

27 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.

A violation of the marriage vow and the civil rights of citizens

19 August 2003

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.

Declining to Intervene: Israel’s Supreme Court and the Occupied Territories

4 August 2003

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.

Targeting Haram Al-Sharif

31 July 2003

Israeli police sealed off areas around the Old City in East Jerusalem last Friday in an attempt to severely limit the number of Muslim worshippers reaching the mosque compound of the Haram Al- Sharif to pray. Of those who got past the cordons, only Muslims over the age of 40 were allowed to enter the area, which contains Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock mosques. Officials said they had imposed the measures to prevent rioting at Friday prayers, the occasion for past violent confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces.

Challenging the democracy and legitimacy of Israel

22 July 2003

Confronted by a new generation of Arab-Israeli leaders challenging the Jewish state’s claim to be democratic, Israeli authorities have stepped up their battle to control the country’s indigenous Arab minority according to leading Israeli analyst Asad Ghanem. The two most charismatic figures among the Palestinian minority, Islamic leader Sheikh Raed Salah and secular nationalist Azmi Bishara, have been victims of concerted campaigns aimed at delegitimizing them as politicians, and charging them with criminal offenses. Both have fallen foul of the political establishment due to their skills in articulating opinions that challenge the legitimacy of a Jewish state.