A letter from Gaza to the Natives of Standing Rock

Israa Suliman, WE ARE NOT NUMBERS, November 15, 2016

Dear Native Americans,

Although we are of different color, religion, culture and place, I have learned, as I read about the protests at Standing Rock, that we have much more in common than differences. When I read your history, I can see myself and my people reflected in yours. I feel in my core that your fight is my fight, and that I am not alone in the battle against injustice.

My ancestors were not the only ones who lived in Palestine. Jews, Christians and Arabs all lived side by side in my country. But my ancestors—including my grandparents and great-grandparents—were the indigenous people, just like you. And they suffered the same fate as your people. America's policy of occupation and displacement through forced marches like the Trail of Tears, and the gradual transfer of so many of your people to massive, impoverished reservations, hurts me deeply because it is so similar to the ethnic cleansing of my ancestors by the Israeli military occupation in what we call “al-Nakba” (the catastrophe). We know what you know: that our land is sacred.

In 1948, my ancestors—along with nearly a million other Palestinians—were frightened away or forced off their lands, in some cases at gunpoint. More than 10,000 others were massacred. Hundreds of our villages and cities were completely destroyed in a systemic plan to erase our identity—just as yours has been under continuing assault.

Native Americans' Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears

Palestine today is just 22 percent of our original homeland. Like you, some of my people (an estimated 1.5 million) must live in degrading “camps” (our word for reservations), where living conditions are "comparable to the Third World." Like your reservations, they are characterized by high rates of unemployment, poverty and suicide.

Many other Palestinians (about 6 million)—now including descendants of the original residents—are scattered elsewhere around the world, just as yours are around the United States. Today, not only has the military occupation taken over our land and declared it "the state of Israel," but it continues to carry on a policy of expulsion, demolishing Palestinian houses in the little bit of land we retain, building illegal settlements and preventing free movement with a network of “security checkpoints.”

The Palestinian Nakba

Like you, we don’t control our natural resources. Just as you were not consulted about the Dakota Access Pipeline that will traverse your land and contaminate your water supply if installed, we are not consulted by Israel, which wants to mine the gas supply in our harbor for its own use and monopolizes the water supply in the West Bank for the green lawns of its own residents—leaving Palestinians parched and dry. In Gaza, where I live, only 10 percent of our water supply is drinkable due to the conditions in which we must live. We too know that “water is life.”

When I was young, I saw how the media portrays negative images of you, especially in Hollywood films—depicting you as uncivilized, savage, racist and drug abusers. Likewise, my people are portrayed as terrorists, “backward,” misogynists and anti-Semitic. And yet no one regards whites as all the same.

Like yours, our resistance has been labeled as acts of terrorism and violence rather than as a fight for survival and dignity. That's not surprising, since this is the policy of every oppressor who seeks to criminalize others to justify its acts. It is the oppressor's way to create its own version of reality to rationalize its behavior and brainwash the masses. And it is the oppressor's plan to make the colonized feel weak and alone. But you are proving they won’t succeed and I want you to know that my people are with you.

Seeing your women, elders and youth stand together to protest the pipeline and your exclusion from decision making is so inspiring! It gives us strength to go on with our own struggle.

As a Palestinian in Gaza, I have grown up feeling detached from the rest of the world as Israel tightens its decade-long blockade. I am sure many of you feel the same way. But we are not isolated. We are “soulmates” in the way that counts.

Mentor: Pam Bailey

Ben Ehrenreich Writes a Love Letter to Palestine

Next we meet Hani Amer, whose farm lay on the route of the infamous wall. After a long struggle, Amer won the right to have his house and some of his land preserved . . . The Israeli Army built a gate that they opened for 15 minutes every 24 hours. . . Most disturbing is “planet Hebron,” where the list of abuses considered normal includes soldiers firing tear gas at schoolchildren to mark the beginning and end of each day of school.

BEN RAWLENCE, The New York Times, July 14, 2016

Children playing in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City in 2007 (Ruth Fremson/The New Yorkr Times)

An intimate, vivid look at daily life in Palestine

Life and Death in Palestine
By Ben Ehrenreich
Illustrated. 428 pp. Penguin Press. $28.

“It is perhaps unavoidable and surely unfortunate that any book about the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea requires introduction, and some small degree of defensiveness on the part of the author.” So writes Ben Ehrenreich, a journalist and novelist, in the (avoidable) introduction to his love letter to Palestine, “The Way to the Spring.”

I say avoidable because, as Ehren­reich acknowledges on the same page, the current debate about Israel-Palestine is virulently partisan. His exposition of the politics of storytelling (“choosing certain stories and not others means taking a side”) and the task of the writer (“to battle untruth”) is eloquent, though I fear more likely to deter than move those who have already made up their minds on the issue. His cause would be better served by letting his stories do the talking, for they are both heartbreaking and eye-opening.

The book begins with Bassem Tamimi, whom Ehrenreich met in 2011. Bassem is a resident of the village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, which had been holding weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation — protesting the grabbing of the village spring (its water supply) and the arrest and detention of villagers, as well as the death of one of them, a 13-year-old boy. The intimacy of Ehrenreich’s reporting domesticates the violence and injustice, thus rendering it more shocking: A fragment of a tear gas grenade and broken lawn furniture mingle beneath a fruiting mulberry tree in the garden. Children proudly show where an Israeli bullet scarred one of the rooms. Bassem’s wife, Nariman, reads Dan Brown in Arabic translation outside, at night, watching the brake lights of cars at the checkpoint down the hill.

The people of Nabi Saleh are among the few who still regularly protest and resist the occupation, and Ehrenreich accompanies them on marches, getting tear-gassed more times than I can count. But this is not the story he has come for, not the only one he is interested in. He spends enough time among the family of Bassem and others to realize that “the people of Nabi Saleh were crafting a narrative of their own struggle.” They needed “to see themselves a certain way.” And this is the heart of the book: the stories people tell themselves to survive.

Next we meet Hani Amer, whose farm lay on the route of the infamous wall. After a long struggle, Amer won the right to have his house and some of his land preserved but enclosed like a bubble with the wall divided into two loops. The Israeli Army built a gate that they opened for 15 minutes every 24 hours. Nonetheless, within the space, he has planted olive, fig, apple, peach and plum trees, vegetables of all kinds. “Instead of seeing the wall,” he says, “I try to see the garden.”

The narrative doesn’t linger for long with any one character. Like an over­eager tour guide, Ehrenreich has too much to show us and too much to say. He pulls us back to Ramallah to see the incremental theft that is the process of a new settlement going up. Then to the refurbished muqata’a, the official residence of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to illustrate how the building works as a “palimpsest of 80 years of colonial and now neocolonial rule,” designed to create the impression of a state without the substance. Most disturbing is “planet Hebron,” where the list of abuses considered normal includes soldiers firing tear gas at schoolchildren to mark the beginning and end of each day of school.

We meet a new cast of characters in Hebron, and another in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, including the unforgettable vegetarian pastoralist Eid Suleiman ­al-­Hathalin, who makes model bulldozers out of scrap and whose ambition is to have one of them exhibited at the Caterpillar company’s museum in Peoria, Ill. In between are set-piece “interludes” examining the mechanics of the occupation — the “humiliation machine” of the checkpoint at Qalandia, the apartment blocks of Rawabi, near Ramallah, not, as the promotional materials and newspaper reports would have you believe, a “city of hope,” but in fact a tangle of financial interests tying Palestinian elites to Israeli developers and Qatari ­financiers.

Ehrenreich’s vivid, lyrical, sometimes snarling prose overwhelms the attempt at formal structure, however. The reportage motors forward, propelled by Ehrenreich’s wonder at the outrageous curiosities of the occupation. In Umm al-Kheir the Israeli Army dispatches a platoon to confiscate a portable toilet and demolish a bread oven. In Hebron, a settler scales a wall and snares himself in barbed wire to request that his Palestinian neighbor remove a Palestinian flag. “The citizens of each city are trained from infancy to unsee the other city and its residents,” Ehren­reich writes, citing a work of science fiction.

The book is not a polemic, Ehrenreich says in the introduction. This is argument by way of anecdote. The French writer Jean Genet also wrote a passionate homage to Palestine (“Prisoner of Love”) and also pondered the question of how the battle for truth is waged: “It’s not enough just to write a few anecdotes,” he warned. “What one has to do is create and develop an image or a profusion of images.” In those terms, Ehrenreich’s haunting, poignant and memorable stories add up to a weighty contribution to the Palestinian side of the scales of history.

Ben Rawlence is the author of “Radio Congo” and “City of Thorns.”

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Amira Hass: I Went to See the Plight of the Dried-out Settlements. I Found a Pool

Amira Hass, Haaretz, June 26, 2016

With Israel having cut the Palestinians’ water supply, I visited two settlements where the people are supposedly suffering too.

Thus tweeted MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) on Friday: “No joke: We’ve gone back 100 years!” He reported on five stations for providing drinking water that were placed that morning in the settlement of Kedumim.

That day, the religious Zionist weekly Makor Rishon published an article titled “The water crisis in Judea and Samaria: In the settlement of Eli huge bags of drinking water were distributed to the residents.”

So I set out to witness this suffering at two settlements. I left before I saw the tweet by one Avraham Benyamin in response to Smotrich: “We’re waiting for a series of empathetic articles in Haaretz. We’ll continue to wait.”

Indeed, last week I started writing my annual series of articles on the systematic theft of water from the Palestinians. I was surprised not to find any newspaper reports about water problems in the settlements. There weren’t any on Army Radio and Israel Radio – notorious clandestine supporters of the BDS movement. But neither did I find any mention of it on websites linked to the settlement lobby.

After all, since the beginning of June, when the Mekorot national water company began cutting water supplies to the Palestinians in the Salfit and Nablus areas by some 30 to 50 percent, Israeli spokespeople have claimed there is a shortage in the settlements too. (Or in the unsanitized words of a Palestinian employee in the Civil Administration: They’re cutting back from the Arabs so there will be water for the settlers.)

Makor Rishon reporter Hodaya Karish Hazony wrote: “In the communities of Migdalim, Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Tapuah, Givat Haroeh, Alonei Shiloh and others there have been water stoppages. ‘We’re between insanity and despair on this matter,’ said one resident.”

So I went to check the water shortage that’s driving the people from insanity to despair in Eli. I looked for people lining up for water. I didn’t find them. Then I drove from the center of the lush settlement to isolated Hill No. 9, the site of the Hayovel neighborhood mentioned in the article.

There I found two huge and swollen blue sacks from the Water Authority, with faucets attached to them. A sign requests that you “maintain order” while waiting and notes that “priority will be given to the elderly, the ill and children.”

At about 3 P.M. I didn’t see any elderly, ill people or children waiting next to the faucets. Nor did I see any ordinary adults. A few drops leaked from the faucets and wet the asphalt. People entered or left their cars. Artificial grass adorned areas near the neighborhood’s prefab homes.

Near the soldiers’ guard post, about 50 meters from one sack of water, there was an area of natural grass that was quite green. Next to it were a few tree saplings, and the soil around them was wet, with several puddles. A soldier said that over the week there had been several water stoppages, and he thought the sacks were brought on Thursday. The article said Wednesday.

In a small public building nearby, the bathroom was open and sparkling clean. The toilet flushed nicely, and refreshing water flowed from the sink’s faucet. A woman who got out of her car next to the sack of water said, hesitantly, “I’ve used it sometimes.” And why not more? “It’s unpleasant; the water is warm.”

Further down, in the center of Eli, I came across girls holding bags with towels and bathing suits. “Is the pool open? Where is it?” I asked.

Following their instructions I arrived at the Eli pool. Splashing sounds and the joyful shouts of swimmers could be heard from behind the fence. The lawns around the pool were natural and green. I wondered: Where’s the solidarity? Why don’t they bring water from the center of Eli to the neighborhood that’s suffering because of its altitude?

Makor Rishon quoted Meir Shilo, head of infrastructure for the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council: “The problem is overconsumption caused by the [settlers’] population increase and mainly, it seems, because of the consumption of water for agriculture.”

Dror Etkes, an independent researcher of the Israeli colonization policy, told Haaretz that in the settlement bloc surrounding Shiloh, “settlers are cultivating 2,746 dunams [679 acres; most of this is around Shiloh: 2,600 dunams]. Of this, 2,133 dunams are private Palestinian land.”

Meaning: In recent years, the settlers have discovered that piracy (as opposed to state theft) for agricultural purposes facilitates the grab of more Palestinian land than the construction of villas or prefab homes does.

The army, by preventing the lawful Palestinian owners from reaching their land, has made this piracy possible. And along with the private illegal agriculture comes the increase in water consumption at the expense of the Palestinians and their agriculture and drinking water.

From Eli I traveled west to the settlement of Kedumim, where the lush streets welcomed me. I looked for the water stations that Smotrich had tweeted about.

From my car windshield I saw a sign: “The swimming pool in Kedumim is open. Register now.” They probably forgot to take it down from last year.

In the Rashi neighborhood I arrived at a water-distribution station, under the awning of the Rashi religious study hall. Opposite stood a truck with a large water tank. Someone returned from it with a pail and headed for the prefab homes at the top of the hill.

“Yes, there are water stoppages,” he confirmed. “An opportunity to get a taste of the siege of Jerusalem,” he added, referring to the events of 1948.

And why not go down to fill up with water in Kedumim’s lower neighborhoods? “It’s more convenient this way, close to home,” he replied.

At the faucet children were filling various containers. The girl next to the red sack told the man who was taking her picture: “Make sure the bottle is seen in the photo.”

Israel Adds $20 Million in Funding for Settlements in the West Bank

While strengthening the settlements, Israel has continued to demolish unlicensed Palestinian homes and livestock pens

Money for “construction of hotels in the main tourism areas in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank

Israeli troops demolishing unlicensed sheds belonging to Palestinians near Yatta in the West Bank on Sunday.(Mussa Issa Qawasma/Reuters)

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 20, 2016

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government on Sunday approved about $20 million in additional financing for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, underlining its strengthened right-wing orientation and raising the ire of political opponents and the Palestinians.

The move came as the Israeli hard-liner Avigdor Lieberman was to arrive in Washington on his first visit in his new role as defense minister, during which he is expected to meet with Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter. Mr. Lieberman, a settler, was appointed last month in a coalition deal that brought his ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government.

The new money would add to what the settlements already receive from various parts of the government’s budget. It was approved days after blistering condemnations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by two former Israeli defense ministers and military chiefs of staff. Speaking at a prestigious security conference, they accused the prime minister and his government of pushing a divisive agenda that threatened Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy and undermined its core values.

In remarks before the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud Party, said the assistance plan was intended to strengthen security for the settlements, as well as to bolster small businesses and encourage tourism.

Yariv Levin, the tourism minister, said in a statement that some of the money would “provide financial support for the construction of hotels in the main tourism areas in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

The settlements have long been a source of friction between Israel and the United States, along with much of the rest of the world. Most countries view settlement construction as a violation of international law and an impediment to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the Obama administration has described the settlements as “illegitimate.”

Israel considers the West Bank territory that it conquered from Jordan in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 to be disputed, not occupied, and says the fate of the settlements should be determined in negotiations.

Under growing international pressure, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman recently affirmed their commitment to the principle of “two states for two peoples,” meaning the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but the Palestinians and others are skeptical about the Israelis’ motives.

Houses in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, with the Palestinian village of Al-Eizariya in the background. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

“Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace,” Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement after the Israeli government approved the settlement financing. “It is time for the international community to assume its responsibilities towards this extremist government that openly supports apartheid and stands against the two-state solution.”

While strengthening the settlements, Israel has continued to demolish unlicensed Palestinian homes and livestock pens in the part of the West Bank known as Area C, the more than 60 percent of the territory where Israel exercises full security and civil control.

The financing measure was approved after months of deadly Palestinian attacks in and around the settlements, as well as in Jerusalem and in cities around Israel.

But Amir Peretz, an Israeli legislator from the center-left Zionist Union and a former defense minister, said of the financing measure, “They are using the name of security baselessly, because the defense establishment will not abandon the settlers even without getting the millions it is getting today.”

Mr. Peretz added that the allocation was “rubbing the salt in the wounds of those who need every shekel.” He pointed to a cross-country protest march led by mayors of towns far from the center of Israel as they campaign for a fairer distribution of government funds for education and welfare.

April 5, 2016
Noga Kadman on Erased from Space and Consciousness

Noga Kadman speaks about her book Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948
7:30 pm, Elvehjem L150, UW-Madison Campus.

“Poignant, sensitive, and compassionate, Kadman’s deeply-informed inquiry exposes graphically the process of ‘demographic Judaization’ of Palestine, in physical reality and cultural comprehension.” – Noam Chomsky

A dramatic transformation took place in the landscape and demography of Israel after the 1948 war, as hundreds of Palestinian villages throughout the country were depopulated, and for the most part physically erased. How has this transformation been perceived by Israelis? Kadman’s talk suggests some answers, based on a research that systematically explores Israeli attitudes concerning the depopulated Palestinian villages. Noga Kadman lives near Jerusalem and is an Israeli researcher in the field of human rights and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a licensed tour guide. Her main interest is to explore the encounter between Israelis and the Palestinian presence in the landscape and history of the country. She is co-editor of Once Upon a Land: A Tour Guide to Depopulated Palestinian Villages and Towns (in Hebrew and Arabic).

Sponsored by: The Havens Center, Comparative US Studies, UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, the Dept. of Geography, and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project