Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation with Yousef Aljamal, Gaza Writer and Activist
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Christ Presbyterian Church,
944 E Gorham St, Madison, WI
Meet Yousef Aljamal, a young writer who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and lived through the three devastating Israeli military assaults between 2008 and 2014. He will share his experiences and insights about the lives of youth there and elsewhere in Palestine, including tens of thousands imprisoned by Israel’s military regime in the West Bank since 1967.
A contributor to the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, Aljamal has recently translated into English the book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak.
Both books will be available for purchase at the event. Yousef’s talk will be preceded by brief remarks from Rep. Mark Pocan.
Refreshments including baklawa will be served, and Fair Trade Palestinian olive oil, olive oil soap and crafts will be sold. This event is free and open to the public, but donations will be gratefully accepted to fund another clean water project for Gaza kids.
Just World Ed is delighted that October 13-29 we will be hosting Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal on a speaking tour that will take him to the Greater NYC area, the Washington DC area, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Madison (WI), and Portland (OR). From Portland he’ll travel to Honolulu where he has another whole program arranged.
This is Yousef’s second time touring the United States. In 2014, he was part of a team that toured the country under the auspices of Just World Books and the American Friends Service Committee. They were launching the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, to which Yousef contributed a very moving story.
FOR CENTURIES, the plains that comprise modern-day Gaza were lush with citrus orchards. Though early Zionists claimed to have pioneered the orange industry, Palestinian farmers had maintained orange groves—specifically of the sweet “Jaffa” orange that would later be co-opted as a symbol of Israeli ingenuity—for export since the 1800s. In some cases, these orchards were passed down by generations of Palestinian families. Arabs and Jews set up mutual orange enterprises in the early 20th century, but things started to change following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and especially following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Citriculture largely disappeared from Gaza in the second half of the 20th century, due in large part to Israeli bulldozing of the orange groves. Through the course of investigating the disappearance of the orchards, a researcher with Forensic Architecture—a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, composed of architects, software developers, and others who investigate human rights violations—learned that the low-lying crops that replaced the groves in recent years were potentially dying due to Israeli actions. This prompted the agency to take a closer look at crop disappearance in Gaza.
In July, Forensic Architecture released a report titled “Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza,” detailing the results of their investigation, which finds that the crop deaths were caused by herbicides sprayed by Israel and carried into Gaza by the wind. The findings raise the disturbing possibility that the Israeli military has been engaging in a form of ecological warfare (a possibility first reported by +972 Magazine in 2015).
“The actual campaign against the citrus was sustained during the Oslo and Madrid peace processes,” says one of the researchers, who asked not to be named because of safety concerns (the report itself was not published anonymously, and lists all participating researchers by name). During the peace processes in the 1990s, he adds, Israeli bulldozers systematically destroyed orange groves. Israel claimed this was necessary because “orange groves were used as a shelter for terrorists.”
Israel occupied and illegally settled Gaza between 1967 and 2005, after which it pulled out its settlements. Israeli bulldozing during this period was a significant factor in the decimation of Palestinian orange orchards, and Gazans typically didn’t have the money or resources to maintain the groves that were left. Soon, according to the researcher, Palestinian farmers began gradually replacing citrus trees with crops that couldn’t be said to provide cover for terrorists, and were cheaper to maintain, including strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.
Ever since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling economic blockade, accompanied by periodic bombing campaigns that have killed thousands of civilians. Israel has established and patrolled a “buffer zone,” up to 300 meters or more in some areas, which stretches the entire length of the Gaza side of the border since 2014—roughly the time when a significant number of the lower-growing crops grown by Palestinian farmers close to the border started to die. According to farmers’ testimony—which appears in the Forensic Architecture report and has also been reported on elsewhere—land in the buffer zone, which was previously used by Palestinians as agricultural and residential space, has been razed and bulldozed regularly by the Israeli military for the purpose of surveillance and military operations. When the crops started dying, farmers saw planes spraying herbicides over the Israeli side of the buffer zone, and they assumed the herbicides were to blame.
Working with several NGOs and Palestinian ministries, the researcher collected leaf samples, testimonies, and video footage. Based on a visualization technology called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, a remote sensing tool that uses satellite imagery to measure the health of vegetation), it’s clear that there was significant crop loss during the years that the Israeli military was spraying herbicides, from 2014 to 2018. The images, captured in the days after the sprayings, show many red patches throughout the farmlands, indicating loss of vegetation.
With further analysis provided by a fluid dynamics expert, Forensic Architecture concluded that the herbicides—including glyphosate, the primary chemical in the weedkiller Roundup—were being carried by the wind onto Palestinian farmlands a few hundred meters away, and that they were having a significant negative impact on crops.
This appears to have been no accident. “Every single farmer I’ve spoken with says that before each spraying they see a plume of smoke coming,” the researcher says, adding that the sprayings happen without any warning to the farmers. “The Israeli army, in the information they’ve given us through the Freedom of Information request, admitted that among the preparations that they practiced on the ground prior to spraying, incendiary tires was one of them.” Incendiary tires are tires that are burned to determine the direction of the wind. In this case, it seems they were used to ensure that when sprayings occurred, they went toward Gaza, rather than Israel.
According to Forensic Architecture’s researcher, some Palestinian farmers have said that they’ve lost between half a million and a million shekels’ worth of crops since 2014, or approximately $140,000 to $280,000—significant sums considering that Gaza is under an economic blockade, and that nearly 70% of Gaza’s population is classified as food insecure. “It’s not really so much about what’s going to be exported, it’s more that people rely on these crops,” the researcher says.
In 2014, eight Palestinian farmers sought compensation for crops damaged by Israeli herbicide spraying, but all were rejected; according to Israel’s Civil Damages Order, Israel is “not liable for damage to the residents of the Gaza Strip.” In 2015, a kibbutz on the Israeli side, which had also sustained damage to its crops from the military spraying of herbicides, was initially denied compensation on the basis that it was already receiving compensation for its proximity to Gaza. Besides the damage to crops, Kibbutz Nahal Oz argued that the herbicides also lead to land toxicity, preventing the planting of watermelons. The kibbutz ultimately won about $16,000 in compensation from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
I asked the Israeli Ministry of Defense a series of questions about the use of herbicides, and it responded with the following statement: “The defense establishment conducts weed control, in which the material is sprayed from the air, for operational purposes—among them, removing potential cover for terror elements, which may threaten the citizens of the State of Israel (particularly the communities living adjacent to the Gaza border), as well as IDF troops.” It added that the spraying of herbicides “is conducted only over the territory of the State of Israel. It is carried out by companies specialized in the field, in accordance with the law.” Indeed, the spraying is occurring on the Israeli side of the border—but borders are porous, and they do not stop harmful chemicals carried by the wind. The Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for clarification regarding the burning of tires to assess wind direction.
When the Israeli Ministry of Defense says that it carries out the sprayings “in accordance with the law,” it is unclear whether they mean domestic law, international law, or both (human rights groups have maintained that Israel is breaking both by doing so). In 1977, theConvention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, an international treaty on ecological warfare, banned “any technique for changing—through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes—the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space.” Though Israel is not a signatory to this convention, the practice of spraying herbicides for military purposes does seem to fit the definition of such a technique. (The United States is a signatory to the treaty, as well as Israel’s major military ally and patron. The US State Department ignored repeated requests for comment on Israel’s use of the practice.)
Relatives of Muhammad Abu Namous, one of three Palestinians killed along the Gaza-Israel boundary overnight, mourn during his funeral in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, on 18 August. (Mariam Dagga/APA images)
“Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate,” and would potentially use air force bases in Israel for that purpose, The Times of Israelreported on Monday.
The unnamed official, in Kyiv as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Ukraine, added that more than 35,000 Palestinians left the coastal enclave last year.
Two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to a punishing Israeli economic blockade for 12 years and repeated military offensives.
Residents of the territory have been plunged into poverty and cut off from the rest of Palestine and the wider world.
Every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee from lands inside what is now Israel. That government forbids them from exercising their right to return as enshrined in international law because they are not Jews.
The senior Israeli official was reported by The Times of Israel as saying that his government is asking countries to absorb Palestinians emigrating from Gaza.
“The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year,” The Times of Israel added. It has also been “discussed in the security cabinet several times.”
No European or Middle Eastern country has agreed to participate in the scheme, according to the publication. The official did not say whether any other governments are cooperating.
The revelation is an example of how ideas that supposedly exist only at the extreme fringes of Israeli politics are often not far from government policy.
During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Moshe Feiglin, then deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, proposed a plan to “concentrate” Palestinians in Gaza in border camps and “exterminate” any who resisted, while destroying all civilian housing and infrastructure.
Feiglin, who represented Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, suggested that “Israel will start searching for emigration destinations and quotas for the refugees from Gaza.”
Increased emigration from Gaza
Emigration from Gaza – including among recent university graduates, who face the highest unemployment rates in the world – has been on the rise.
It is no secret that Israeli leaders have maximalist designs on all of historic Palestine. Making life unbearable to coerce Palestinians to leave their land is the primary motivation of many of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza.
But Israeli officials generally don’t admit to it or tell media that government offices are executing such plans.
Human rights groups have long stated that the economic blockade on Gaza is an act of collective punishment, imposed after Hamas took control of internal affairs in the territory in 2007. Israel says it is a security measure.
From the beginning of the Great March of Return protests on Land Day, 30 March 2018 until the end of June 2019, Israeli security forces killed 216 Palestinians, 43 of them minors, and wounded thousands, the vast majority with live ammunition. However, security forces also make deadly use of crowd control weapons, including tear gas canisters which are not designed to hit people directly.
At least seven of the Palestinians killed died as a result of a teargas canister hitting their head or face directly. Four of them were minors. According to the OCHA Protection of Civilians Database, as of 28 June 2019, more than 1,600 Gaza protestors arrived in hospital with injuries resulting from direct teargas canister hits, more than a third of them in the first three months of 2019.
Teargas canisters are a crowd control weapon with a firing range spanning 100 meters to several hundred meters, in the case of extended range canisters. They are designed to be non-lethal and the open-fire regulations, at least officially, as well as use instructions, forbid firing them directly at people due to the grave danger involved.
In the past few months, B’Tselem’s field researchers in the Gaza Strip collected testimonies from protestors who were injured by teargas canisters and eyewitnesses. These testimonies indicate that security forces routinely fire teargas canisters directly at protestors, in contravention of the regulations. The testimonies also indicate teargas canisters are fired from elevated positions, relative to the perimeter fence (earth embankments, or the roofs of military jeeps), or through gaps in the fence itself. B’Tselem has documented direct firing of teargas canisters in the West Bank, which resulted in severe injuries and killed at leasttwo people.
Firing tear gas canisters directly at protestors is not a stand-alone practice. It is part of the open-fire policy Israel has been implementing along the Gaza border for more than a year. This policy, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 200 protestors and injured thousands is patently unlawful and immoral. Using lethal fire, whether live or otherwise, against protestors the vast majority of whom are unarmed and pose no danger to the lives of armored security forces on the other side of the fence, in the same way for more than a year, despite its well-documented horrific results is yet another expression of Israel’s disregard for the lives and bodily integrity of Palestinians.
Muhammad Fseifes, 21, injured in head – 31 May 2019
At about 3:00 P.M. on Friday, 31 May 2019, Muhammad Fseifes, 23, a resident of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah who is unemployed, arrived at the protest near the Gaza perimeter fence to the north of the town of Khuza’ah. At about 3:30 P.M., Fseifes and a group of young men, some waving Palestinian flags, moved forward to a spot a few dozen meters from the fence. Hanan Abu Tibah, 30, a resident of Bani Suheila, married and mother of four, also went with the group, waving a Palestinian flag.
In a testimony taken on 19 June 2019 by B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, Abu Tibah related:
Muhammad Fseifes was with us. We shouted slogans and then the soldiers started to fire teargas canisters at us from a launcher mounted on one of the military jeeps. The gas canisters fell next to us and we moved back. Then we moved forward again and stood at the same spot, and the soldiers fired sponge-tipped rounds at us. Muhammad Fseifes was hit in the shoulder, chest, and leg. Medics who arrived on the scene took him away and treated him in the field.
Ten minutes later, Muhammad came back and stood with us, a few dozen meters away from the fence. There were a few young men and women around us. At about half past four, I saw a woman soldier standing near the fence. She fired three or four teargas canisters at us through gaps in the fence. I was standing a few meters in front of Muhammad. I looked back and saw him fall after a canister hit him in the head. I went over to him. His head was bleeding badly and his skull was fractured. I called out to the medics and signaled to them with the flag I was holding. A few medics and young guys came over. They bandaged Muhammad’s head and evacuated him to an ambulance on a stretcher.
Israel’s unlawful open-fire policy during the demonstrations along the Gaza perimeter fence – which were upheld by the Supreme Court – have so far resulted in hundreds of Palestinian deaths and thousands of injuries. Official sources now admit that they were well aware that people were being killed when even the State did not claim that this is justified. Despite this, no-one has taken action to amend the open-fire regulations. Instead, the military continued with its trial-and-error approach, ignoring the fact that human lives were at stake: people whose lives have been taken, and families who have been permanently devastated.
The day before yesterday (22 July 2019), it emerged that the officials were fully aware, at every stage, of the gulf between their declarations and reality. Carmela Menashe, a reporter for Kan News, reported that the military has now decided to change the open-fire regulations for snipers “after it emerged that firing at the lower limbs above the knee led, in most cases, to death, despite the fact that this was not the objective. Going forward, soldiers have been briefed to shoot below the knee and then at the ankle.” A senior officer at the military’s Counter-Terrorism School stated that the snipers’ objective “is not to kill but to injure, and accordingly one of the lessons learned related to the direction toward which they fire… At first, we told them to shoot at the leg. We saw that this can result in fatalities, so we told them to shoot below the knee, then we fine-tuned the regulations to shooting at the ankle.”
The decision to change the regulations only now, after more than a year during which they led to the deaths of at least 206 Palestinians, including 37 minors, and the injury of thousands, in no way suggests that the military attaches great value to human life. On the contrary, it shows that the military consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans. In its naivety, the High Court of Justice approved this practice. Both the military and the Court bear the responsibility for this criminal policy.
In March 2018, thousands of residents of the Gaza Strip began demonstrating along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel, demanding an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip and the implementation of the right of return. From the outset, following the announcement of the first demonstration, Israel portrayed the protests as an existential threat to the state and regarded the participants as dangerous terrorists. As a result of this approach, the military implemented lethal open-fire regulations from the first day of the protests: regulations that are patently unlawful and immoral. As part of this policy, the military permitted the use of live fire against demonstrators on the other side of the fence and posed no danger to anyone, certainly not the armed and well-protected security forces stationed at a considerable distance from them. B’Tselem urged soldiers to refuse to obey these regulations and to refrain from shooting at unarmed protestors.
The regulation were legally challenged at the High Court of Justice. In its response to the petition, the State defended the regulations, declaring that “there can be no doubt regarding their legality.” The State emphasized that the regulations were approved by the Military Advocate General and the Attorney General, and that they permit live fire “solely in order to address violent disturbances that present a clear and present danger to IDF forces or to Israeli civilians.” The State added that “the rules permit precise fire at the legs of a main rioter or main instigator in order to eliminate the danger from the violence disturbance of the peace.” The State further added that “there is an orderly process in place for operational debriefing and implementation of lessons learned;” that “forces have been provided with clarifications and highlights designed to further limit, insofar as possible, the scope of injuries;” and that incidents involving fatalities have been referred for “review by the General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments which investigates exceptional incidents.”
The Court accepted this position verbatim and made no attempt to challenge it. Supreme Court Vice President, Justice Hanan Melcer, held that the regulations permit live fire solely when “there is an immediate, clear and present danger to IDF forces or Israeli civilians,” and allow only “precise fire at the legs of a main rioter or main instigator in order to eliminate the danger from the violence disturbance of the peace, with the goal of eliminating the anticipated imminent danger.”
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut concurred with Justice Melcer, similarly accepting each and every one of the State’s claims regarding the great caution the military exercises in the use of life fire, “in order to minimize as far as possible the potential harm to uninvolved civilians who participate in [the demonstrations].”
In the months since the beginning of the demonstrations, a gap between the State’s claims and the horrifying outcomes of the actual implementation of the unlawful open-fire regulations approved by the High Court grew wider. To date, the military has killed at least 206 Palestinian demonstrators using live fire, 37 of whom were minors under the age of 18. According to figures published by OCHA, more than 7,800 Palestinians have been injured by live fire. According to the World Health Organization, physicians have had to perform amputations in 139 cases – 30 of which involved minors and 121 involved the lower limbs. Moreover, 24 people have been left paralyzed as the result of spinal injuries.
Human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, as well as various media outlets, reported these outcomes in real time. Despite this, officials refused to change the open-fire regulations, persistently repeating that the regulations are legal and proportionate, and that they permit live fire only as a last resort, in the absence of any other alternative.
On the 69th Great March of Return, 66 Palestinian civilians were injured due to the Israeli military’s continued use of excessive force against peaceful protests along the Gaza Strip’s eastern border. At least 28 children, 4 women and a paramedic were among those injured this Friday, 02 August 2019. Twenty-seven civilians were shot with live bullets and 2 children were deemed in a critical medical condition.
While this week’s protests saw a decline in the number of civilian injuries, PCHR fieldworkers documented many cases of live bullets targeting civilians’ upper bodies. Despite the absence of a real threat to Israeli soldiers’ lives; the occupation forces continued the systematic use of excessive force against protestors.
For the first time since the Great March of Return started in March 2018, there were no injuries reported in eastern Gaza City. The deployment of Palestinian security forces in official apparel along “Jakar” street, who denied civilians from approaching the border fence, contributed to the decline in injuries.
Today’s protest, which lasted from 16:00 to 19:00, was titled “Solidarity with Crimes against Wadi al-Humus,” and involved activities such as speeches by political leaders and theatrical performances. Dozens of civilians protested at varied distances from the border fence across the Gaza Strip.
To this date, PCHR documented 208 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 44 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics, and 2 journalists. Additionally, 13,391 were wounded, including 2,775 children, 413 women, 222 paramedics and 209 journalists, noting that many had sustained multiple wounds on multiple occasions. Among those wounded, PCHR documented cases where 196 persons have become with disabilities, including 28 children and 5 women, and were as follows: 149 amputees; 21 paralyzed, 26 blind or deaf and 9 sexually disabled.
The following is a summary of today’s incidents along the Gaza Strip border:
Northern Gaza Strip: 1500 protesters participated in Abu Safiyah area protests, northeast of Jabalia; only tens approached the border fence and threw stones. Israeli forces, stationed along the fence, fired live and rubber bullets as well as teargas canisters at the protesters. As a result, 20 of them were injured, including 10 children and 2 women: 11 were shot with live bullets; and 5, all children, with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. Yasser Salah Mohammed al-Tanneh (16) sustained a bullet wound to his upper thighs severely damaging a main blood vessel. Also in norther Gaza, paramedic Wafaa Omar Khamis Jaber (24) was shot with a rubber bullet in her left ankle. At approximately 18:30, Israeli forces \ arrested a civilian who crossed the border fence; his identity has not been confirmed yet.