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

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.

Israelis kill crops to oust Bedouin

Four crop-spraying planes circling overhead have brought silent death to the fields of wheat and barley that Shaikh Salih Abu Darim and his beduin tribe will need to feed themselves and their goats and sheep for the year. The Araqib tribe have farmed the land close to the city of Beer Sheva in southern Israel for generations. But in the past year the Israeli government has declared war on them and some 70,000 other beduin living in 45 communities it refuses to recognise in the Negev (al-Naqab). On 15 January the authorities stepped up the pressure on the Araqib to leave by spraying powerful herbicides on their crops, making the young shoots shrivel and die in the following weeks.

Another dead end

Palestinians are discovering that Ariel Sharon's announcement of "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza is a cleverly constructed trap, writes Jonathan Cook Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that most of the 7,500 Jewish settlers living in the Gaza Strip would be soon evacuated came as Palestinians were celebrating Eid Al-Adha. That coincident, and the understandable caution which nowadays greets every "painful concession" Sharon makes for his neighbours' benefit, may explain why it took so long for the Palestinian leadership to digest the news.

Camp 1391: ‘I would pray that I’d die’

Mustafa Dirani, once a leader of the Lebanese militia group Amal, had been held in Israeli prisons since he was abducted from his home in the Bekaa Valley by commandoes 10 years ago. In the early months of his detention, interrogators tortured him for news of an Israeli airman, Ron Arad, who was captured in 1986 after his plane was downed over Lebanon.

Skirting the issue

Israel's furious diplomatic activity to sabotage a decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly last December to seek the opinion of its highest judicial body, the International Court of Justice, on the legality of Israel building its separation wall across large swaths of occupied Palestinian territory began to pay dividends at the weekend. By the Friday deadline for submitting affidavits, 31 states had joined Israel in rejecting the court's authority to rule in the matter: 15 member states of the European Union, 10 further members-in-waiting, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, South Africa and Cameroon. Britain, Germany and France presented their own, separately written affidavits.

Jesus’s Bathhouse

Przekroj magazine (Warsaw) - February 2004 In the centre of Nazareth, a stone’s throw from Mary’s Well, the place where the mother of Jesus is believed to have drawn the family’s water each day, is to be found a small souvenir shop called Cactus. Its owners, a local Christian Arab, Elias Shama, and his Belgian wife Read More

Skeletons in the closet

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should have been celebrating this week the first anniversary of his re-election last January. Instead his mind was concentrated on the more pressing matter of his political survival, as the legal noose drew ever tighter around his neck over a series of corruption scandals. At the forefront is the case of a millionaire Israeli businessman, David Appel, who was charged last week with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sharon's family in the form of a bribe. According to the charges, he hoped to use Sharon's influence to secure a huge real estate deal, in what has become known as the "Greek island affair".

The Passion of Christ won’t be showing at the Repression Cinema

Guardian Weekly - 19 December 2003 Weekends in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s one million Palestinian citizens, are often a dismal prospect. For more than a decade a night out has entailed either leaving town or visiting a pub known locally as the Frank Sinatra, housed in a drab building paid for by the singer Read More

Email from Nazareth

Through the dark nights of the intifada, the gigantic illuminated spire of the Basilica of the Annunciation has glowed brightly in the centre of Nazareth like a beacon of inextinguishable hope. The basilica, the biggest in the Middle East, is built over a grotto believed to have been the home of Joseph and Mary and the place where the Archangel Gabriel appeared to tell Mary she was bearing the son of God. This Christmas the two cities associated with Jesus - Nazareth, in Israel, and Bethlehem, in what might one day become Palestine - will be shunned again by pilgrims. The nativity festivities will have to wait for another day, and a far-off peace. But the story of Nazareth, the town of Jesus's childhood, is not just of interest to pilgrims. The hills and the valley in which we know it has nestled for the past 2,000 years are revealing an older, but sadly neglected, record of human history, of our species' struggle to survive and its search for meaning.

Lessons of history

Two items of news broke simultaneously this month. The first concerned an apology by a member of the German Parliament, Martin Hohmann, for remarks in which he suggested that Jewish communities in Europe shared a historic "guilt" with the Germans and other nations for the events of the 20th century, a comment which predictably provoked denunciations of Hohmann for being anti-Semitic. The second report was of a survey of various publics in the European Union which showed that a convincing majority, 59 per cent, judged the actions of Israel to be the gravest threat to world peace, knocking more familiar bogeymen like North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran from the top slot.

Hush, hush about Israel’s bomb

A recent attack on a Knesset member underscores the country's hostility towards calls for transparency in Israel's weapons of mass destruction programme. At midday on Friday, 24 October, Issam Makhoul, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, and his wife Suad got into their two cars outside their home in the centre of Haifa. Issam Makhoul reversed his Knesset-supplied Ford out of the driveway as his wife started the engine of the family Honda to collect their twin children from school. Seconds later an explosion flooded Suad Makhoul's car with flames. She leapt from the vehicle moments before the fire could engulf her.

Meanwhile: Why Arab women wear the veil in Israel

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?

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

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

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?

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

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

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.