Did you know that in Palestine, Israeli settlers and companies profit off of stolen land? That’s what our Advocacy Director Nadia Ben-Youssef discusses with Staff Attorney Diala Shamas and client Ziad Alwan in the 16th episode of “The Activist Files,” where we speak about our intervention into a case filed by Israeli settlers against Airbnb.
Diala discusses the responsibility of corporations like Airbnb to respect human rights principles and international law, as well as the status of the case now that Airbnb has decided not to de-list properties in settlements. Ziad recounts his family’s history on and personal connection to the land and explains why he decided to intervene on behalf of other Palestinian landowners in the West Bank.
At Har Gilo, a Jewish settlement overlooking the southern West Bank, American college students get a history lesson. (Ilia Yefimovich for The New York Times)
PSAGOT, West Bank — The fun was over before the tour bus rolled into Har Gilo.
For the past week, 28 college students from the United States had been taking part in a traveling experiment billed as an alternative to Birthright Israel, whose free trips to the country have become a rite of passage for hundreds of thousands of young American Jews.
Birthright’s avoidance of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has made it the target of angry protests by left-leaning Jewish activists. But for sheer ambition, no critique has approached this week’s attempt by the liberal lobbying group J Street to map out an alternative route for Birthright’s tours.
The organizers said they embraced Birthright’s goal of helping young American Jews connect with Israel and with their Jewishness, but that they also needed to be exposed to the realities of the occupation.
On Sunday, after several upbeat days hiking in the Galilee, learning about the kibbutz movement and bonding over buffets and Israeli pop songs, the J Street cohort took a sharp left turn into territory where Birthright does not go.
In the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, they received a harsh history lesson from a veteran opponent of the occupation. Then they toured an impoverished, water-starved Palestinian village that Israeli settlers want to demolish, and visited the city of Hebron, where repeated outbreaks of violence have turned an entire Palestinian business district into a ghost town.
Adam DeSchriver, 21, a clarinet student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., said he had been wowed on the trip’s first few days by the “renaissance of Hebrew culture” he discovered in Israel.
“What breaks my heart,” he said after Sunday’s eye-opening itinerary, “is seeing it at the expense of others.”
Milwaukee resident Ari Bloomekatz. (Photo: Jimmy Rothschild)
It’s just a few seconds caught on video.
Pulled from multiple videos and posted on Twitter, it includes 33-year-old Milwaukee resident Ari Bloomekatz in the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills. The clip shows Bloomekatz in the thick of an altercation involving about 30 activists and a dozen Israeli security forces, some carrying rifles.
It shows an Israeli soldier delivering a swift punch to Bloomekatz’s face. “For what?” the tweet asks. “Rehabilitating a critical access road for Palestinians.”
Bloomekatz was among a group of 17 activists and journalists arrested last month while repairing a road in Palestinian territory controlled by Israel as part of a program sponsored by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.
The managing editor of Milwaukee-based magazine “Rethinking Schools,” Bloomekatz is among a growing number of primarily younger American Jews challenging Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory as morally indefensible and an affront to their faith.
“The American Jewish community needs to know that this is happening in our name and, in many ways, with our support,” said Bloomekatz, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and former managing editor of the left-leaning Jewish publication Tikkun.
“I and many other Jews across the country see our community’s support for the occupation killing the Judaism we love.”
The West Bank clip has been shared heavily in Jewish and Palestinian circles. Its virality reflects the concern among some American Jews about Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories and sheds light on a deeply personal and painful conversation within the American Jewish community.
Even if they don’t support some Israeli policies, older Jews have tended to remain publicly silent, seeing criticism as an attempt to de-legitimize the Jewish state.
But a growing number of younger Jews, particularly millennials, have become less connected to the Jewish state, and less reticent about criticizing what they see as its shortcomings.
A study last year sponsored by the American Jewish Committee found that almost one-third of U.S. Jews, when asked to describe Israelis in familial terms, chose “not part of my family.”
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Jewish activists have begun to question Birthright Israel, which has provided nearly 700,000 young Jews free trips to Israel to foster a connection to the country. Some Birthright participants have walked off tours to meet with Palestinians and protest what they see as the organization’s failure to expose visitors to West Bank occupation.
The same report cited research by Don Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northeastern University, showing 25% of Jews ages 18 to 29 believe Israel receives too much in the way of U.S. support, compared with just 6% of Jews over 50.
Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said her parents were born before a Jewish state had been established. Israel’s formation after World War II was “a huge moment as Jews — it was like they could begin to exhale.”
But Khan, who holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, said youths often don’t feel the same way about Israel, and the community has struggled to facilitate conversations about the reasons why.
“They grew up in a world where Israel didn’t just exist, but Israel included the West Bank and became morally more complicated,” she said.
To repair and heal
The Palestinian territories — the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — are lands once ruled by Jordan and Egypt that were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Israeli soldiers kill one Palestinian, injure many in Jerusalem
IMEMC 28 June — Israeli soldiers and the police invaded, on Thursday evening, the al-‘Issawiya town, north of occupied East Jerusalem, killed a young Palestinian man, and injured many other residents, in addition to imposing a strict siege on the town. Media sources said the soldiers invaded Obeid neighborhood in the town, and attacked many Palestinians while inspecting their ID cards, in addition to searching homes and shops. They added that the soldiers fired many live rounds, rubber-coated steel bullets, gas bombs and concussion grenades at Palestinian youngsters protesting the invasion. Local nonviolent activist, Yousef Obeid, said the soldiers killed a former political prisoner, identified as Mohammad Samir Obeid, 21, after shooting him with several bullets, including a live round in the heart. He added that the soldiers also injured four other Palestinians, causing mild-to-moderate wounds. After killing the young man, the soldiers took his body away, and assaulted several Palestinians with clubs and batons. Furthermore, the soldiers imposed a strict siege on the town, and prevented the residents, including ambulances, from entering or leaving it. An eyewitness, who was standing next to the slain Palestinian, said the soldiers shot him with three live rounds from a close range, including the fatal round in the heart, and one that struck him in his leg, and added that the shooting had no cause or justification, especially since it was carried out an hour after the nonviolent protest ended. His statements, alongside other witnesses, contradict allegations by the police that the slain young man “lit firecrackers in the direction of the police,’” allegedly “endangering their lives.” … The killing of the young man also led to protests in the neighborhoods and towns of Wadi al-Jouz, at-Tour, al-‘Issawiya, Shu’fat, Shu’fat refugee camp and Abu Dis.
Israeli forces hit rally against police abuse
JERUSALEM (AP) 28 June — Palestinians claim Israeli forces attacked them after a peaceful rally against police brutality in east Jerusalem. Forty-nine-year-old witness Abed Zamzam says that after prayers on Thursday, Israeli police were patrolling a rally of several hundred Palestinians in the neighborhood of ‘Issawiya. Zamzam says they beat the residents after fatally shooting 20-year-old Mohammed Obeid. A cellphone video shows a policeman kicking a Palestinian already on the ground as an officer was arresting him. The protests continued Friday.
And here is what precipitated the whole business:
‘Army abducts sixteen Palestinians in West Bank’
IMEMC 23 June — The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) has reported that Israeli soldiers abducted, overnight until morning hours Sunday, at least sixteen Palestinians, including children, from several parts of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The PPS said the soldiers stormed and ransacked dozens of homes in the al-‘Issawiya town, in Jerusalem, and abducted Husam ‘Oleyyan, Abdul-Qader Dari, Mohammad Rafat Dari, Akram Mustafa, Majd Bashir Ahmad, Noureddin Mheisin, Ibrahim Abu Sneina, and Ayyoub Abu al-Hummus. It added that the soldiers also invaded and searched homes in the al-Wad Street, in the Old City of Jerusalem, before abducting Abada Najeeb, Mahmoud Najeeb and Ibrahim Abu Sneina. In Hebron, in southern West Bank, the soldiers abducted Firas Fares Moghannam, 40, after searching his home, along with the home of a former political prisoner, identified as Salim Mohammad Moghannam, and Mohammad Khalil Abu Shaker….
Israeli Forces Kill 3 Palestinian Civilians in Nablus and Bethlehem and Wound Another
In two separate crimes of killing in cold blood, the Israeli forces killed 3 Palestinian civilians in Nablus and Bethlehem and seriously wounded a fourth one in the afternoon of yesterday and the day before. Those two new crimes came in light of the escalation by the Israeli government in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Those crimes and other murders lately committed by the Israeli forces prove the latter’s intention to inflict as many Palestinian civilian casualties as possible. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns these two crimes and holds the Israeli government responsible for the tense situation in the oPt. PCHR also calls upon the international community to assume its legal and moral obligations and intervene immediately to stop the Israeli forces’ crimes against Palestinians and provide them protection.
According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 23:00 on Tuesday, 19 March 2019, Israeli forces moved into Nablus to protect hundreds of settlers, who were going to perform their Talmudic prayers in “Joseph Tomb” in Balata al-Balad, east of Nablus. Fifteen minutes after the incursion, an Israeli infantry force covering behind buildings and stores at the entrance to the sub-road to ‘Amman Street opened fire at a Palestinian civilian car carrying two civilians identified as Raed Hashem Mohammad Hamdan (21) and Ziad ‘Emad Mohammad al-Noury (20), both from Nablus. Following that, an Israeli military bulldozer arrived and crushed the car, turning it over several times. They then confiscated the car, and the corpses were taken to Howrah refugee camp, south of the city. Meanwhile, A Palestinian ambulance tried to reach the causalities several times, but the Israeli soldiers prevented it and even opened fired at, directly hitting its front. At approximately 05:00 on Wednesday, 20 NMarch 2019, after withdrawing from the city, the Israeli forces handed the 2 corpses to an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Crescent Society at Howrah Checkpoint. They were both taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, where it was found that Ra’ed was wounded with several bullets to the chest and shoulder and sustained laceration in his hand while Zaid was wounded with several bullets to the back and head and sustained laceration to the back of his head.
Following that, the Israeli forces claimed that a speeding car opened fire at them on Amman Street, but no causalities were reported. However, the eyewitnesses’ accounts to PCHR’s fieldworker categorically denied that the Israeli forces were subject to fire. Moreover, in an attempt to hide their crime, the Israeli forces confiscated the DVRs of the surveillance cameras in the nearby shops in the area.
According to PCHR’s investigations into the second crime and eyewitnesses’ accounts, ‘Alaa’ Mohammed Ghayathah was driving his car with his wife and two daughters, returning from a visit to his in-laws in Artass village, south of Bethlehem, to Nhaleen village, west of the city, taking al-Nashash Station Road. When he stopped for the traffic light, a car scraped the back of his car, so he got off to check what happened. A female Israeli soldier in a watchtower near the checkpoint immediately opened fire at him, wounding him with several bullets to the abdomen. Ahmed Jamal Manassra, from Foqin Valley in western Behtlehem, whose car was behind ‘Alaa’’s car, saw the incident and immediately along with young men near the checkpoint took ‘Alaa’ to al-Yamama Hospital in al-Khader village near the place. A video captured by the surveillance cameras of al-Yamamah Hospital showed Ahmed taking ‘Alaa’ to the hospital and then cleaning the backseats of his car from ‘Alaa’’s blood to go back again to al-Nashnash checkpoint. When Ahmed reached ‘Alaa’’s car to check out Alaa’s family and evacuate them from the car, the Israeli soldiers opened fire at him. As a result, Ahmed was hit with eight live bullets; six of them hit his chest, shoulder and hand, causing his death before he was taken to Beit Jala Governmental Hospital. Eyewitnesses confirmed that Ahmed seemed worried after he arrived at al-Yamama Hospital and hospitalized ‘Alaa’ as he was making phone calls. Ahmed also asked a young man beside him about the time that an ambulance would take to arrive at the checkpoint. The young man answered that it would take ten minutes. Ahmed said, “I promised the wounded man that I will bring him his wife and daughters.” It should be noted that Ahmed was from Foqin Valley village, west of Bethlehem, and held a BA from the Palestine Ahliya University.
PCHR condemns these two crimes and is concerned over the use of lethal force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians for mere suspicion of their intentions. Accordingly, PCHR calls upon the international community and UN bodies to stop the Israeli escalating crimes and violations and work on providing international protection for Palestinians in the oPt. PCHR also reiterates its call upon the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations under Article 1; i.e., to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances and their obligations under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These grave breaches constitute war crimes under Article 147 of the same Convention and Protocol (I) Additional to the Geneva Conventions regarding the guarantee of Palestinian civilians’ right to protection in the oPt.
Pictured Here: Palestinian killed at random by an Israeli soldier
On March 12, a Palestinian man came to deliver documents on behalf of the Palestinian court in the neighbourhood of Al-Jabari or Wad Al Hussein. His name was Yasser Fawzi Shweki and he was 27 years old. He was probably new to the neighbourhood of H2 because he used to live and work elsewhere. He was carrying a large bag full of documents; maybe that is why an Israeli soldier who guarded an Israeli settlement took interest in him. He ordered him at gunpoint to come closer. A little later, a shot was heard and Yasser fell on the ground, bleeding heavily. The Israeli military dragged him inside the building and refused to allow any medical assistance. The name of the settlement is Beit HaShalom, which means, ironically enough, house of peace.
Previously, two cousins were killed at the same spot and in the same style. Hussam Jabari and Bashar Jabari, who were also new to the neighbourhood, passed by the Israeli settlement to visit their aunt who was living there. After the Israeli military noticed the two young boys, they were shot immediately and the army let them simply die on the floor. The first one was 16, the second only 14 years old.
Right after Yasser died, the Israeli army officially declared that it was due to an attempted knife attack. However, a source declared that, slightly before, he saw how the Israeli army moved the body to another place, put a knife close to it and took a photo. That would fit a pattern in which the Israeli military tries to cover up murders of Palestinians this way, at least according to proof from video recordings from other killings.
And that is not even all that can be said about this notorious spot. It needs to be known that a total of 12 Palestinian people have been killed in this area by Israeli bullets. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is an ugly business and the less known its real practices are to the world, the uglier it gets.