Israel sunk in ‘incremental tyranny’, say former Shin Bet chiefs

“You live in a democracy, and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more”

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, 6 April 2017

Ami Ayalon, ex-head of the Shin Bet intelligence services, suggests Israel has a dynamic ‘of ongoing war’ and ‘like 1984, there’s always an enemy’. (Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June.

One of the pair warned that the country’s political system was sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”.

Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his recent visit to the UK, Netanyahu also asked Theresa May to cut UK government funding to the group – a request that baffled diplomats as no direct UK funding exists.

“Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”

Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.

Issues of freedom of speech and expression have become one of the key faultlines in Israeli society – in everything from the arts to journalism – under the most rightwing government in the country’s history.

The Babur gallery is under threat of closure after being censured by the country’s culture minister, Miri Regev, for holding an event with Breaking the Silence on publicly owned property – a group which Regev claimed “hurts Israel’s image”.

Gillon was equally bleak in his analysis of Israel’s trajectory, saying that the country was being “driven by this occupation towards disaster”.

He added: “This country was established on the values of liberal democracy, values written in the only kind of constitution we have – which is our declaration of independence – values we don’t fulfil any more. You can analyse what happened to us in the last 50 years, but everything is under the shade of occupation. It has changed us a society. It has made us an unpleasant society.”

The comments by Ayalon and Gillon come amid a growing and heated debate between the right and opponents of the occupation over the historic meaning of the six-day war, in June 1967, which marked the beginning of the occupation. Rightwing ministers celebrated the occupation on Thursday as the “liberation” of the occupied territories.

“I am here,” added Gillon, “because I think that Breaking the Silence and groups like it are completely legitimate organisations. Sometimes I don’t like what they say, but the mission they took on themselves, through interviews with soldiers, should give a better understanding [about] what it means to occupy another people.”

The decision by Ayalon and Gillon to make such a public show of support, was seen as a big coup for the human rights group, which has been facing increasing official efforts to limit its activities.

The two also criticised the unwillingness of the Israeli media and senior opposition politicians to speak up for freedom of speech, in particular concerning the moves against groups like Breaking the Silence.

“They do what they do because they understand it is their moral duty. They are soldiers who serve and like every gatekeeper they hold up a mirror image of the Israeli reality in the occupied territories. What they see is very ugly. So we hate the mirror and blame the mirror and don’t hear what they say,” said Ayalon.

They added that they were also deeply concerned about a growing apathy in Israeli society where, after so many years, an occupation justified by the Israeli courts and legal system as temporary had come to defy the meaning of the word.

Ayalon suggested an Orwellian dynamic that supported Israelis in a state of fear for political ends. “What is necessary to pave the way for this concept of incremental tyranny is an ongoing war. It is like 1984. There is always an enemy.”

Just days ago Regev, a controversial rightwing minister, said that Breaking the Silence and others who supported it “had no place in Israel”.

The two former Shin Bet chiefs were speaking as it was revealed that one of Israel’s main official ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the six-day war would controversially take place in the settlement of Gush Etzion in the West Bank.

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Banksy Customizes A West Bank Hotel, Offering Rooms With A View Of The Wall

Bill Chappell, NPR, March 3, 2017

A doorman stands at the entrance of The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem Friday. Dusan Vranic/AP

There’s no pool, but there is a piano bar that exudes “an air of undeserved authority.” That’s part of the promise at The Walled Off Hotel, the artist Banksy’s vision of a hotel along the wall Israel built in the occupied West Bank.

The project blends Banksy’s trademark style — a trickster’s eye for trompe l’oeil and a political cartoonist’s ear for satire — into more traditional hotel amenities such as food, drinks and well-appointed rooms. The hotel will begin taking reservations on March 11.

Just don’t call it the Waldorf. For a hint of what awaits visitors to the small hotel in Bethlehem, consider this description of the piano bar inside:

The Walled Off Hotel, which offers what it calls the “worst view in the world,” has rooms that look onto an Israeli security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Dusan Vranic/AP

“Guests can peruse a collection of Banksy artworks that include vandalized oil paintings and statues choking on tear gas fumes. Warm scones and freshly brewed tea are served daily on fine bone china and the Walled Off Salad should not be missed.”

That’s from Banksy’s website, which adds that the engagement is open-ended: “We’re aiming to be here for the whole of the centenary year, maybe longer if people come.”

Israeli forces raid At Tuwani after women and children’s nonviolent action

Operation Dove, February 12, 2017

More information on Operation Dove

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This Saturday morning residents of the Palestinian village of At Tuwani were grazing sheep and enjoying a day of outdoor picnics when Israeli soldiers entered the village en masse, turning the peaceful village into a military theatre. The raid appeared to be part of the price paid by residents for their nonviolent resistance to settler violence in the South Hebron Hills:  twice in recent weeks Palestinians have gathered to peacefully plant olive trees on Palestinian land on the outskirts of the village, near the illegal Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on.

On the morning of February 11 more than a dozen Israeli soldiers entered the village in military vehicles. The heavily armed soldiers forced their way into houses and courtyards and began questioning the inhabitants, demanding to see all of their children between the ages of 13 and 18. They ordered Palestinians who asked for an explanation for the raid to show their ID’s, and forced several young men to spread their arms against buildings and cars while soldiers searched their bodies and clothing at gunpoint. The soldiers showed no official orders for the raid, but moved from house to house throughout the morning, questioning men and women, terrifying the children, and violating the human rights of the Palestinian residents of At Tuwani. Soldiers also demanded to see the passports of Operation Dove volunteers who were filming the raid.

Saturday’s military invasion was the second time in ten days that Israeli soldiers have completely disrupted work and life in the village of At Tuwani, and it will likely not be the last.  Before leaving the village this Saturday the soldiers threatened to return in the night.

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Operation Dove’s campaign #TogetherAtTuwani provides volunteers in the South Hebron Hills to support Palestinian shepherds as they remain on their land and choose to use nonviolent means, along with Israeli activists, to protect their lives and rights.

Operation Dove volunteers were first called to the village of At-Tuwani in 2004. Today, 13 years later, they still share daily life with communities throughout the South Hebron Hills. They support the popular nonviolent resistance by accompanying Palestinians on lands vulnerable to settler attacks and to harassment by Israeli soldiers.

You can donate to this effort.

A Dangerous Road to Education

Dear Friends,

It is absolutely bizarre to be watching Trump’s policies of hatred unfold from inside Palestine — here where ANY traveler or foreigner finds herself overwhelmed by kindness and hospitality. If we find ourselves at a loss to imagine resisting over the long haul we should take courage from these schoolchildren who for the past THIRTEEN YEARS have required a military escort in order to reach their school safely in the face of settler violence and intimidation. We have a long long road ahead!

Thank you so much for helping me to spend this time working here — and for all your efforts to stop the madness in the US!!!

Mary House of Hospitality

The second semester of school has just started for these children, and Operation Dove has compiled the following report of the challenges faced by the children during the first semester.

A DANGEROUS ROAD TO EDUCATION

Palestinian students under settler violence and military negligence
SUMMARY OF THE 2016-2017 SCHOOL YEAR – 1ST SEMESTER
Period: 2016/08/28 – 2017/01/10
Full report here: http://tuwaniresiste.operazionecolomba.it/a-dangerous-road…/

Children from the Palestinian villages of Tuba and Maghayir Al-Abeed began the first semester of the 2016-17 school year with Israeali soldiers escorting them to their school in the nearby Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. This is the thirteenth continuous year that these children have needed a military escort in order to walk to school safely.

To get to school the children must walk along a road which once provided easy travel between the villages, but which now runs between the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on. For the past thirteen years violent behavior by settlers from the outpost, the existence of which is illegal under both Israeli and International law, has made the road inaccessible to Palestinians. Even escorted by Israeli soldiers the schoolchildren continue to face the possibility of violence, harassment and intimidation as they walk to and from school.

During the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year an average of eight children between the ages of six and 16 walked with a military escort to and from school in the Palestinian village of At- Tuwani. Under Israeli Knesset Committee for Children’s Rights order, the military escort is responsible for protecting the children from settler violence and intimidation throughout their walk to school in the morning, and their return trip home in the afternoon.

Even with a military escort the walk between home and school remains difficult for the children of Tuba and Maghyir al Abeed. During the first semester of the 2016-17 school year the escort arrived late 23 times (in the morning) out of a total of 88 monitored school days. As a result the children missed a total of 7 hours of school (441 minutes).

Operation Dove volunteers reported an even greater incidence of late arrival by the escort in the afternoon, forcing the children to arrive home late and to lose their free time waiting. On 33 out of 88 school days (37%) the children were forced to wait in At- Tuwani after school for the arrival of the escort. During the first semester they waited for a total of more than 27 hours (1630 minutes).

The meeting points with the military escort, for both the morning and the afternoon walk, are very close to the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on, and as a result, when the escort is late, the children must wait where they are vulnerable to settler violence and harassment. During the first semester of the 2016-17 school year the children waited for the escort at these dangerous meeting points for a total of 35 hours.

During the first semester the military escort failed to arrive on four occasions, once in the morning and three times in the afternoon. These incidents constitute extremely serious failures on the part of the escort to adequately protect the children. The children cannot use the road without the presence of the soldiers, due to the danger of settler attacks. In previous years, when the escort has failed to arrive, the children used an alternative footpath which runs around the outside of the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on. However settlers from the illegal outpost have now built a new structure near the path, some distance from the outpost, making this path nearly impassable. The presence of this structure and an increased level of settler violence and intimidation of Palestinians using this path has made it too dangerous for the children, and as a result they must now take a much longer route between school and home if the soldiers fail to arrive. This longer path takes between 45 minutes and one hour, and is extremely difficult, especially for the youngest children. Even on this longer path the children are vulnerable to violence and harassment from settlers. During the first semester the children used this longer route on three of the four occasions on which the escort failed to meet them.

In one case the escort failed to meet the children after school because the soldiers did not know the location of the meeting point, which has been unchanged for thirteen years. The schoolchildren began to take the longer route, even though it is also dangerous for them if they are unaccompanied. They found the soldiers on the path and reached the village of Tuba safely, escorted by Israeli soldiers under strong pressure of Operation Dove volunteers.

In all four of these cases the Israeli soldiers gave no reasonable explanation for their failure to meet the children, either to Operation Dove volunteers or to the children themselves.

MILITARY ESCORT MISCONDUCTS

Even when the military escort does arrive, the soldiers often fail to provide adequate protection to the children.

In contravention of the agreement between the Israeli Civil Administration (DCO) and the mayor of At-Tuwani, Israeli soldiers often do not walk with the children during the escort, even when asked by Operation Dove volunteers to do so. On 52% of the trips made by the children with the escort this semester (90 of 173 total trips) the soldiers remained in the jeep and did not walk with the children as they passed between the settlement and the illegal outpost.

The soldiers charged with escorting the children also frequently fail to complete the escort, either forcing the children to meet them closer to the outpost that the agreed-upon meeting point, or leaving the children before they reach the end of their walk. This forces the children to travel a portion of the road near the illegal outpost unprotected. On 73% of the trips made by the children with the escort this semester (127 of 173 total trips) the soldiers failed to escort the children for the full agreed-upon distance.

Operation Dove volunteers also reported another extremely serious failure of the military escort during the first semester: On 27 October the soldiers who were escorting the children threw rocks towards the schoolchildren they are charged with protecting, and carried a slingshot, which is illegal for them to use or possess.

When the military escort fails to arrive on time, when the soldiers fail to walk with the children, and when the escort fails to accompany the children for their entire walk, the soldiers not only fail to protect the children, but actually place the children whom they are charged with protecting in dangerous situations.

SETTLER VIOLENCE

On three occasions during the first semester of the 2016-17 school year settlers used violence against the children during their journey to and from school.

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Palestinians protest moving US embassy to Jerusalem

Israeli forces suppress weekly marches in Bilin, Kafr Qaddum

Ma’an News Agency, January 21, 2017

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Israeli forces Friday suppressed weekly marches held in the villages of Billin and Kafr Qaddum in the occupied West Bank districts of Ramallah and Qalqiliya.

In Bilin, the weekly march, which occur every Friday to protest the Israeli separation wall and illegal settlements, was launched in solidarity with the Bedouin village of Umm Hiran on Wednesday which was violently raided by Israeli forces on Wednesday, leaving a local teacher and an Israeli police officer killed, before Israeli forces carried out home demolitions in the village.

The demonstration was also centered on protesting President Donald Trump’s support of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Palestinian and international solidarity activists held up Palestinian flags and signs condemning the potential embassy move and threatening an escalation of the resistance if such a decision is made.

As the demonstrators marched through the streets, they called for national unity, resisting the Israeli occupation, and releasing all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The popular resistance committee’s spokesperson Ratib Abu Rahma called upon Islamic, Arab, and all nations of the world to stop the new US administration from moving the embassy, while also urging Palestinian factions to unify their efforts to defend Palestine.

When the protestors reached the western part of the village near the separation wall, Israeli forces prevented them from marching on, declaring the area a military post and firing rubber bullets, sound bombs, and plastic bullets at protesters.

Abu Ahmad noted that Israeli forces detained Palestinian activist Ahmad Abu Rahma during the protest, but he was released afterwards.

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