Haifa: A demo supporting Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike closed central streets

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(The following article was published in Hebrew on May 23, 2017, in “Local Call” and Haifa ha-Hofshit)

While Trump‘s visit attempted to revive the illusions of “peace” in the framework of Pax Americana of the region, the ongoing hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners reminds us that the Israeli occupation regime denies the Palestinians even the most basic human rights.

A communiqué issued by “the captive movement” (al-Harakah al-Asira), as the prisoners call their resistance movement inside the occupation prisons, on the 20th day of the strike, called for the unification of the struggle on both sides of the Green Line and in the Palestinian Diaspora by a unified action of all the Palestinian

Nazareth Market street on strike - May 22 2017

Close shops in Nazareth on the day of the strike

patriotic forces, including the follow-up committee that represents Arab citizens of Israel. In a historic precedent, the leaders responded to the prisoners’ initiative, met in Ramallah and declared a general strike by the entire Palestinian people in all areas of the homeland and in exile, set for Monday, May 22, the 36th day of the strike. Indeed, throughout the West Bank, there was great response to the call yesterday, and streets were lined with closed shops and businesses. The strike was also felt, to a lesser extent, in East Jerusalem and Palestinian cities within the Green Line.

The Prisoner’s Square, Haifa

Haifa continues to be a focal point for Palestinian protest activity, in which an expanding stratum of activists emphasizes the unity of the Palestinian struggle beyond the borders dividing the territories occupied since 1967 and those occupied since 1948. However, the struggle also exposes the leadership crisis and the difficulty of giving effective expressing to the frustration, the anger and the desire to struggle. This difficulty is exacerbated because, according to the rules of the game of the “Jewish democracy”, Palestinian public opinion is not a factor to be considered.

Gathering in Prisoners Square

Gathering in prisoner’s square

The first protest vigil in support of the prisoners’ hunger strike took place in Haifa on the second day of the strike, April 18. It took place in the German Colony, the tourist center of the city, in the square named “The Prisoner’s Square” since October 2011, when a group of activist staged a hunger striker there, under the slogan “Hungry to Freedom”, in solidarity with a previous prisoners’ strike.

The vigil was also meant to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, April 17, which was chosen not coincidentally as the appropriate date to launch the strike. It should be noted here that when we speak in Arabic we don’t use the term “sajeen” (prisoner) but “aseer” that means “captive”. It conveys the view of Palestinian prisoners as prisoners of war – those held by the enemy as a result of their struggle for freedom. Compromising the correct translation is another concession that we inadvertently do to Israeli and Western public opinion, which have difficulty digesting the Palestinian narrative.

Marching up the German Colony

Marching up the German Colony

The next two protest vigils were held on April 29 and May 9 at the initiative of Herak Haifa. The site chosen by the Herak was a little up the German Colony, on the corner of Allenby Street and HaCarmel Avenue (Ben Gurion), a smaller space at the intersection where more traffic passes. When, a few months ago, Bassel al-A’araj, activist and theoretician of al-Herak al-Shababi in the West Bank, was assassinated by the occupation forces, Herak Haifa decided to name the junction after him. The holding of protest vigils at the junction is also intended to establish the name in the public consciousness.

On Friday, May 19, the Communist youth held another solidarity activity with the prisoners, slightly higher at the German Colony, in the Bahai Circle. They brought water, salt and glasses and offered passers-by to drink salt water as a symbolic show of solidarity with the strikers. The youth movement’s orchestra created another attraction to draw attention to the event.

Taking to the Streets

In the meantime, young activists began to organize, in the spirit of the movement that had halted the Prawer plan, aiming to initiate more united and militant activity. They called for a demonstration on Monday, May 22, even before the Palestinian leaderships on both sides of the Green Line declared the general strike on this day in support of the prisoners’ struggle.

They published an invitation to a Facebook event entitled “Ash-Shaware’a” (to the streets), hosted by 8 activists from different movements, and many activists worked intensely to invite and prepare. There were 254 “attendees” at the FB event and on Monday, before the scheduled hour, “The Prisoner’s Square” was already filled with young people, as well as many veteran activists, from Haifa and the region.

Entering Wadi Nisnas

Entering Wadi Nisnas

The police also made their preparations, bringing reinforcements, including special anti-riot units, some attack dogs and a special police van to carry potential detainees. In practice, however, the police preferred not to intervene, even when the demonstrators, after about half an hour of shouting slogans in the square, went down to Carmel Avenue, blocked the street and began marching.

Some 200 demonstrators marched on the main street of the German Colony in the direction of Allenby Street, between the crowded cafes and restaurants, providing the iconic images of Haifa with Palestinian flags waving and the Bahai Gardens and the golden Shrine of the Bab in the background. From there the protesters continued on Allenby Street in the direction of Wadi Nisnas, where the police blocked traffic on both sides. The demonstrators marched up al-Jabal Street (“ha-Ziyonut Avenue”), turned to Khuri Street and finally poured into al-Wadi Street, the narrow main street of Wadi Nisnas.

When the demonstrators reached the last intersection inside the Wadi (the valley), they made a small meeting in the middle of the street. The organizers thanked everybody for taking part and asked for their active participation in a pre-determined plan for the continuation of the struggle, including demonstrations, leaflets distribution and a “Day of Rage” on Thursday, June 1.

No More Erdogan

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Why I support the NO vote in the Turkish referendum?

When I was touring Turkey with my family in 1996, I fell in love with the country. I had the feeling that it looks very much like Palestine would have been if it was not torn apart and stepped over by settlers.

Not that everything looked good. There was poverty almost everywhere, and the military presence was thick and frightening. The soldiers would look suspiciously at people in the streets and point their guns as if ready to shoot you. Going to the countryside we noticed that the government seemed absent while people were building mosques everywhere. The country was ripe for the rise of political Islam.

Turkey’s Contradictions

Following Turkish politics over the years was very instructive. Turkey is not just another big country in the Middle East. In the last decades the political developments in the region concentrated around the conflict between the powers of the old order, Imperialism, Zionism and entrenched local elites, and a mass movement mostly under Islamic orientation. In Iran there was a stormy revolution in 1979, followed by war, internal terror and upheavals. In Turkey the Islamists came to power by elections in 2002 as a reformist force. Also, Turkey’s Islam is mostly Sunni and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main Islamic party in Turkey, is regarded to be close to the Moslem Brotherhood – the biggest political party (even as it is persecuted in many places) in most Arab countries. So the Turkish experience was regarded as probing one alternative for developments in the wider region.

The AKP election victory in 2002 didn’t mean that the party could really lead the country, as Turkey’s democracy was a very limited and ultimate power laid with the army. Even after AKP was already long time in government there were attempts to “outlaw” it, as was done with a previous democratically elected Islamic government in 1997-98. The struggle about who really governs Turkey continued. By gradually neutralizing the grip of the army over the state, the AKP, led by Erdogan, made an essential service to democracy in Turkey. Only after the failed coup in July 2016 did the elected government achieve effective control over the army.

Many critics of Turkey in the Arab world like to speak about the danger of Erdogan’s attempts to revive the Ottoman Empire, much the same as others speak about the Iranian danger. I tend to be more conservative in my analysis and assume that the main hegemon (politically, militarily and economically) continues to be external imperialism. I look at the rise of local powers more as an opportunity. In its 15 years in government AKP changed the political and economic orientation of Turkey to be less dependent on Western powers and more oriented to its regional neighbours and other third world countries. It seemed to have a very positive effect for Turkey’s development.

The Kurdish Litmus

The most pressing internal contradiction in Turkey is its control over northern Kurdistan. The denial of the Kurdish nationality, language and culture kept alive the experiences of ethnic cleansing against minorities that accompanied the establishment of modern Turkey as a nation-state. The continued military effort to suppress the Kurdish aspirations for freedom and equality gave constant legitimacy to internal oppression and fascist nationalism. It is another example of Marx’s saying that people who oppress other people can’t be free. The position toward the Kurdish question is the most important litmus test for the democratic attitude of any party or government in Turkey.

In his first period in power it seemed that Erdogan is moving toward a more compromising position toward the Kurds. He relieved restrictions over the use of the Kurdish language and opened negotiations with the PKK and its jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. In 2013 they reached an agreement about ceasefire that was supposed to open the way for a peaceful solution.

But recent developments showed that Erdogan is turning Turkey away from the path toward democracy. Naturally it started with changing policy toward Kurdistan. You can set the turning point in the June 7, 2015, general elections. The partial democratization allowed the democratic forces in Turkey, led by Kurdish militants, to create The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and pass the restrictive 10% hurdle for representation in the parliament, gaining 13% of the popular vote. Erdogan’s party used to get much of the Kurdish vote before as the less-anti-Kurdish choice. It lost its majority in parliament and had to choose between forming a coalition government and new elections. It unleashed a wave of oppression in Kurdistan in order to beat its Kurdish opponents on one side and appease Turkish nationalist voters on the other. It won absolute majority in rerun of the elections in November 2015.

After the failed coup, in spite of the wise support of all political parties to the government against the coup plotters, Erdogan used his reasserted legitimacy not only to persecute supporters of the coup but also to raise the general level of political oppression. The main victims were, how not, the Kurds. Many HDP leaders were arrested and any pro-Kurdish political activity can (again) result with charges of terrorism.

On the most important “foreign affairs” front – the civil war in Syria – the choice for Turkey was most blunt. It could give a major boost to democracy in Syria by supporting and helping to unite all democratic forces. Instead the Turkish regimes indulgence with oppressing Kurds in Turkey dictated its enmity to the Kurdish forces and their Arab allies in Rojava, united under the umbrella of The Syrian Democratic Forces. This approach bears much of the responsibility for the resulting disaster in Aleppo and continued weakness of the Syrian opposition.

Western Hypocrisy

One reason why democracy in Turkey is so fragile is the hypocritical preaching by Western imperialists and their Turkish allies. You can start from the latest campaign for the referendum to change Turkey’s constitution, when European “democrats” were hunting Turkish ministers in aeroplanes and trains to prevent them from meeting Turkish voters in their “freedom-of–speech heavens”. I followed the news closely but till now I can’t even imagine on what legal grounds this was done. And you can go back to the root, where the Turkish-NATO army was regularly overthrowing democratically elected governments, razing to the ground hundreds of Kurdish villages and torturing thousands of political prisoners from all backgrounds – supposedly all in the name of freedom and Western values.

In between there is a whole encyclopaedia of double-talk and racist double-standards. Turkey should fight to defend the West against its Middle Eastern brothers but it and its citizens are refused access to the EU because they are too poor, too Islamic and not white enough. Every move by the Turkish regime is met with ridicule and patronizing disdain. Maybe the most hypocritical of all is the way that Humanistic Europe is paying the Turkish government (and Libya and others) to make the crossing of the Mediterranean so deadly for refugees, just because they can’t see the suffering on their own side.

Time to change course

All these contradictions return us to the methodology of political analysis. It is wrong to analyse a party or a regime according to its declared ideology. In every country there are concrete issues and everybody should be judged by their concrete answers and actions.

Some of my most secular friends tell me that they know what is the position of this or that Islamic movement, because they learned Islam and they know what is written in Islam’s holy books on that case. This will never explain why there are so many Islamic currents, with such different positions, some of them even fighting each other.

As much as I can see, the problem with Erdogan his not that Islam is contrary to democracy. The problem with him and his movement is that it started as a popular movement against oppressive regime, but now, after fifteen years in government, it entered a marriage of convenience with Turkish nationalism and the oppressive state apparatus. History can tell about many other movements, from all ideological hues, which went through similar transformations.

Even if Erdogan was a perfect leader, I wouldn’t recommend letting him concentrate more state powers or extend his spell at the head of government. Everybody can learn from this wise old Chinese, Deng Xiao Ping, who showed by personal example that the way to ensure your political agenda even after your death is to relay power in an orderly way to a new generation while you are still at your best.

 

 

 

El juicio surrealista de poetisa Dareen Tatour

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La poesía política como delito

La detención de una persona por publicar un poema político es insólita. Tener que demostrar en el juicio que la policía tradujo mal un poema es poco menos que surrealista.

(Este artículo también está disponible en inglés. Traducido por Rebelión.)

Ha pasado casi un año y medio desde que la poetisa palestina Dareen Tatour fue detenida en su casa por escribir un poema. Pasó tres meses en varias prisiones y medio año bajo arresto domiciliario en la ciudad de Kiryat Ono, cerca de Tel Aviv. A pesar de que pudo volver a su pueblo natal de Reineh, cerca de Nazaret, permanece bajo arresto domiciliario hasta el final del juicio.

Tatour, de 34 años, fue detenida por la policía israelí el 11 de octubre de 2015 a causa de un poema que había publicado en Facebook, junto a una serie de manifestaciones que publicó en el mismo medio, coincidiendo con la reciente ola de violencia de 2015-2016. Fue acusada de incitación a la violencia e identificación con una organización terrorista, todo a causa de su poema.

La cláusula principal de su acusación se basó en un poema que supuestamente había publicado en YouTube bajo el título: Qawem ya Sha’abi, qawemhum (Resiste pueblo mío, resístelos). Otra cláusula principal en la acusación se refiere a un artículo de prensa, citado en la página de Tatour en Facebook, según el cual “El movimiento Yihad Islámica llama a continuar la Intifada en toda la Ribera Occidental…” El mismo artículo llama a una “intifada integral”.

La fiscalía concluyó sus argumentos en septiembre del año pasado, la mayoría de los cuales fueron diseñados para demostrar que la cuenta de Facebook de Tatour le pertenecía realmente y que fue ella la que publicó el poema y las dos opiniones en Facebook.

En noviembre Tatour testificó y admitió que había escrito los artículos. Explicó que estaba protestando por la ocupación, denunciando los crímenes cometidos contra los palestinos por el ejército israelí y los colonos, añadiendo que la traducción de la policía había distorsionado sus textos. Tatour quedó exhausta por los más de tres largos días sometida al interrogatorio por la fiscal Alina Hardak, quien trató de presionarla para que admitiera su “apoyo al terrorismo”. En vano.

¿Hay que detener a los poetas?

El domingo 19 de marzo los abogados de Tatour, Gaby Lasky y Nery Ramati, trajeron dos peritos para que declarasen ante el juez Adi Bambiliya-Einstein en la Corte de Magistrados de Nazaret.

El primer testigo fue el profesor Nissim Calderon, un experto en literatura hebrea. En su dictamen pericial escrito Calderón afirmó que existen normas especiales relativas a la expresión de los poetas, que describen una larga tradición de poetas que utilizan palabras duras para oponerse a la opresión o la injusticia y que, a veces, van tan lejos como para llamar claramente a acciones violentas. Los poetas, dijo Calderón, no fueron procesados ni siquiera por regímenes opresivos como el zar de Rusia o el Mandato británico en Palestina.

Dareen and Propf Calderon smaller

Dareen Tatour y él profesor Calderón (centro) hablan en la Corte de Magistrados de Nazaret, 19 de marzo de 2017

Para probar su argumento Calderón eligió tres de los más destacados poetas hebreos, llevando ejemplos específicos de sus textos subversivos. Citó a Hayim Nachman Bialik, uno de los pioneros de la moderna poesía hebrea que escribió las líneas: “Con crueldad furiosa / Vamos a beber su sangre sin piedad”. Calderón también citó al poeta Shaul Tchernichovsky, que escribió: “Dame mi espada, no volverá a su vaina / ¿qué provoca mis labios? Quiero batallas“. A pesar de estos reclamos claros de violencia de destacados poetas judíos, la antisemita policía secreta del zar se abstuvo de detener los o procesarlos.

El tercer ejemplo que Calderon citó en extenso era del poeta sionista de derecha Uri Tsvi Greenberg, quien incitaba abiertamente a la violencia y fue miembro de Brit HaBirionim (La Alianza de Matones), una organización sionista que resistió violentamente a la ocupación británica. Nunca fue castigado por sus poemas.

Cuando la fiscal argumentó que Greenberg no fue detenido por su poesía porque el Mandato británico no procesó incitadores, Calderón respondió que su tío fue exiliado de Palestina por el apoyo a la inmigración judía ilegal. Cuando la fiscal sugirió que los poetas no necesariamente deben ser inmunes a la acción legal durante los momentos de tensión, Calderón dijo que los británicos no procesaron a Greenberg, incluso cuando llamó a la resistencia a su Gobierno.

¿Qué quiso decir la poetisa?

Tanto el fiscal como el juez entendieron que tienen un problema con la traducción de la policía del poema de Tatour. El oficial que lo tradujo no tenía ninguna experiencia específica en traducciones. Cuando al oficial traductor se le preguntó con anterioridad durante su testimonio por qué fue elegido para traducir el poema respondió que estudió literatura árabe en la escuela secundaria y tiene amor por la lengua.

Durante el testimonio de Tatour la fiscal quiso que ella misma proporcionara su propia traducción al hebreo del poema. Ella se negó, añadiendo que no sabe el suficiente hebreo como para traducir la poesía. La fiscal quiso entonces que se leyera el poema en árabe para que el traductor de la corte lo tradujese y así las palabras le serían atribuidas e incluidas en el protocolo. Ella lo rechazó.

Tal vez la acusación sintió un poco de alivio cuando la defensa trajo su propia traducción del poema al hebreo, realizado por el doctor Yoni Mendel, un traductor literario experimentado y experto en lengua árabe. Su traducción fue significativamente diferente de la que apareció en la acusación. Mendel también proporcionó testimonio experto, afirmando que la traducción de la policía había distorsionado el texto deliberada y sistemáticamente para que pareciera extremista y violento.

La contradicción más flagrante entre las dos traducciones se encontraba en las siguientes líneas: “No temas a las lenguas del tanque Merkava \ La verdad en tu corazón es más fuerte \ Mientras seas rebelde en una tierra \ que ha vivido atravesada de redadas, pero aún no está exhausta”. Los dos últimos versos fueron traducidos por la policía como “mientras que resistes en una tierra \ Viva la Gazawat y no hemos de cansarnos”.

El oficial de policía omitió la palabra “Gazawat”, probablemente porque no podía encontrar la traducción correcta al hebreo. En su testimonio Mendel explicó que la palabra fue utilizada por las tribus árabes en el momento de la Jahiliyya (lo que los musulmanes llaman el período anterior a la fundación del islam) para describir los ataques a las tribus con fines de robo o para esclavizar a las mujeres. El texto de Tatour usa claramente estas líneas para referirse a los ataques a los que los palestinos están sometidos. La traducción de la policía, de alguna manera, había logrado transformar a la víctima en el agresor.

¿Quiénes son los mártires?

En un nivel más profundo, gran parte del énfasis en la traducción, y una gran parte del interrogatorio, se centró en la frase: “Siga la cadena de los mártires”. La palabra árabe para mártires, “shuhadaa,” no fue traducida al hebreo por el traductor de la policía, sino que más bien la ajustó gramaticalmente al hebreo y se convirtió en “shahidim”, una transliteración israelí que para la mayoría de los israelíes evoca la imagen de palestinos asesinados mientras llevan a cabo ataques contra israelíes. Mendel explicó y demostró que cuando se transliteran términos árabes en lugar de traducirse se neutraliza su significado original y la empatía humana básica que subyace en ellos. Divorciadas de su contexto original las palabras árabes como shahid o intifada adquieren un nuevo significado amenazante para el hebreo.

Yoni Mendel

Dr. Yoni Mendel en el juicio de Dareen Tatour

Mendel pasó a explicar que para el público árabe palestino la palabra shuhadaa se refiere a todas las víctimas de la ocupación, la mayoría de las cuales no estaban involucradas activamente en la resistencia. En el contexto específico del poema de Tatour Mendel apoya esta interpretación con el hecho de que el poema de Tatour se refirió a tres mártires específicos: Muhammad Abu Khdeir, de 16 años, que fue secuestrado y quemado vivo por los judíos de Israel; Ali Dawabsheh, un bebé palestino que fue quemado vivo con el resto de su familia en su hogar en Cisjordania y Hadeel Al-Hashlamon, quien fue asesinado a tiros por el ejército en un retén en Hebrón.

El fiscal trató de demostrar que Tartour no se refería a los palestinos asesinados, ya que nadie quiere ser asesinado. Mendel explicó que el llamado a “seguir los mártires” no significa un deseo de morir, sino que se refiere a un concepto más general de adherirse a la herencia palestina. Esto incluye abrazar a las familias de las víctimas, no renunciar nunca a la lucha y negarse a aceptar soluciones que niegan los derechos nacionales y humanos de los palestinos.

Tatour se ha convertido en un símbolo de la persecución de Israel a los palestinos por expresarse políticamente, sobre todo en las redes sociales. Muchos poetas, escritores, intelectuales y activistas, tanto en el país como en el extranjero, han expresado su solidaridad con ella pidiendo su liberación inmediata.

El hecho de que destacados intelectuales como Calderón y Mendel se ofrecieran para dar testimonio durante un interrogatorio agotador (Mendel estuvo en el estrado cinco horas) es un buen ejemplo de lo mucho que este peculiar juicio repercutió en gran parte del público liberal. Incluso los defensores de la libertad de expresión y las artes han comenzado a recoger dinero para ayudar a sufragar los gastos legales de Tatour.

Los últimos testigos en el caso de Tatour serán llamados a declarar el 28 de marzo, que será probablemente la última audiencia antes del veredicto que se dictará en unos meses. Tatour se enfrenta hasta a ocho años de prisión y una apelación de una o ambas partes es probable en este hecho de alto perfil. Mientras tanto Tatour permanece bajo arresto domiciliario y puede permanecer detenida durante un total de dos años hasta que el tribunal llegue a una decisión sobre el significado de su poema.

Free Political Detainees Firas Omary and Suleiman Agbariya!

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When the “Northern” Islamic Movement was outlawed by the Israeli government, in November 2015, it was a relatively low-profile event. It came almost three decades after the Islamic Movement replaced the Israeli Communist Party as the main mass political organization within the 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs that survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing and are formally regarded citizens of the state of Israel. (“Northern” relates to an internal split that took place within the Islamic Movement in the nineties, when the more pragmatic “Southern” wing decided to participate in the Zionist Knesset, while the more popular and militant “Northern” wing concentrated on grass-root organization.)

You Can’t Outlaw Life

The outlawing of the movement was not followed by detentions or physical attacks – instead the oppression apparatus preferred to concentrate on rooting out the many NGOS, educational and welfare institutions that were identified with the movement. Confiscating the funds that were distributed regularly to poor Arab orphans was no doubt a lucrative profitable business for the Israeli Shabak (GSS). But, anyway, outlawing the biggest political movement of a community that struggles daily for its survival and human and social rights within a systematic apartheid system was due to add a new aspect of illegality to any public expression or struggle.

Free Dr Sleiman Agbariya

Dr. Suleiman Agbariya in the protest tent against the outlawing of the Islamic Muvement, Umm Al-Fahm

Back in November 2015, the response of the Palestinian population was also relatively low profile. The united position of all the parties that are active within the Arab public was expressed by the “High Follow Up Committee” denouncing the outlawing of the movement as an anti-democratic and racist step, targeting all the Arab masses as part of a much wider oppressive wave led by the Israeli government. There was one mass demonstration in Umm Al-Fahm, the biggest city in the Arab Triangle and the traditional capital of the Islamic Movement, a big and very lively protest-tent there and some other activities around the country. But basically the Arab Palestinian public opinion is totally disregarded in Israeli politics. People are fully aware that there is now way that the Arabs can “save” or “defend” Israel’s fake democracy when its government is determined to tear it to pieces.

Firas al-Omary - with writing

Human Rights activists – Firas Omary

The outlawing of the Islamic Movement didn’t “solve” any of the issues that motivated its struggle or caused people to support it. Israeli provocations in Al-Aqsa mosque continue as well as constant offences against Palestinian cemeteries, holy sites and the population in general. As the expression of protest “in the name of the movement” was banned, more energy is invested in united action under the name of local committees and national coordination bodies under the umbrella of the Follow-Up Committee. One example of such democratic united struggle was the campaign of demonstrations against administrative detention and in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Hunger strike.

Escalating Political Detentions

It was strange enough that the first time we heard about political detention as result of the outlawing of the Islamic Movement was the case of an old woman from Al-Quds (Jerusalem). Her main activity was to pray regularly in Al-Aqsa mosque. Over the last year many of those caring for Al-Aqsa, praying there or organizing travel to the mosque from around the country were arrested. In this way the Israeli government actually vindicates the claim of the Islamic Movement that changing the status quo in Al-Aqsa is a strategic goal consistently pursued by the state of Israel. The latest case escalating the persecution of Al-Aqsa lovers was the administrative detention of Muhammad Ibrahim from Kabul.

In the meantime Sheikh Raed Salah, the charismatic, soft-spoken and widely popular leader of the movement, Spent 9 months in prison on old “incitement” charges, related to a speech he gave in Al-Quds some ten years ago.

But a new wave of detentions in the last weeks looks like an attempt by the Israeli police and GSS to bend the rules farther against any kind of political activities, going after central political leaders and subjecting them to secret interrogation while denying their basic rights for legal protection.

Firas_Omary_Home_after_Search

Israeli occupation police was here – Firas Omary’s house after his detention

At 1:00 after midnight, on March 22, 2017, Israeli forces surrounded and invaded the house of Firas Omary in Sandala, a village inside the “Green Line” on the road between Afula and Jenin. They awakned the family, terrorizing the small kids, and searched the house in a way that is designed to show force and contempt more than to find anything. They took with them Mr Omary, the leader a prisoners’ rights NGO named “Yusouf Al-Sadiq” and a central activist in “the liberties committee” – an organ of the Follow-Up Committee that specializes in defending political freedoms and caring for the human rights of Palestinian prisoners.

On April 2, another post-midnight police operation targeted in a similar way the house of Suleiman Agbariya, the previous mayor of Umm Al-Fahm. According to Richard Silverstein in Tikun Olam there are now 5 ex-activists of the outlawed Islamic Movement that are now detained in this wave. Even Silverstein that usually knows all the unpublished details about oppression in Israel couldn’t get the names of the other three.

Denial of legal counsel and defence

Closed doors

Behind closed doors – Omary’s remand hearing in Nazareth

When Mr. Omary was brought before the Nazareth court for remand, on March 22, it came out that he is not allowed to meet his (or any other) lawyer. The court extended his detention for six days.

On Tuesday, March 28, I was in the vast waiting halls of the Nazareth court building when Mr. Omary was brought for a second remand. I met there dozens of the central activists of the different Palestinian movements within the green line (those parts of Palestine that are occupied since 1948), in addition to relatives of the detainee. Nobody was allowed in to the hearing, in front of Judge Lily Jung-Goffer, except for the lawyers from Al-Mizan, a Legal Human Rights NGO.

The prevention of contact between the detainee and his lawyers is not only designed to deprive him from legal counsel so that he will not be aware to his rights according to the law. It is also a very important part of the practice of isolating the detainee from the world while he is being subjected to harsh interrogation, aimed to provoke psychological breakdown. For this reason it is not only that the detainee is not allowed to meet his lawyer in private – he is even prevented from seeing him in the court room.

The lawyers out

Mizan lawyers had to leave the courtroom

To achieve this, the detainee was not present at most stages of this own remand hearing. After the legal argument finished, the defense lawyer was instructed to leave the courtroom so that the judge will speak with the detainee without his presence. Only after Mr. Omary was taken away his lawyers were allowed to return to the hall to hear the judge extending the detention for another 6 days.

On Monday, April 3, Omary’s detention was remanded again for another 6 days. He’s expected to appear in the Nazareth court again on Sunday, May 9, the same day that Dr. Agbariya is expected to be brought before the court in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv.

(There are some more details about the case of Firas Omary in a previous Hebrew post in Haifa Ha-Hofshit)

 

The Poet’s Trial: How to Prove a Poem?

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Below is a report about the Sunday, March 19th, hearing in the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour. An edited version of this report was published in the +972 site. This article was also translated to Spanish by Rebellion.

Arresting a poet for publishing a poem is extraordinary enough. Putting her on trial while a translation of the poem by a policeman is fully cited at the center of the indictment made thing surreal. Last week the defence case laid the lyric response by bringing a literature expert and a translator to testify in court. Update about the unprecedented trial of Poet Dareen Tatour.

The poet’s ordeal

It is almost a year and a half since Poet Dareen Tatour was arrested from her home in Reineh (near Nazareth) on the 11th of October 2015. She spent 3 months in different prisons and half a year in house detention in exile in Kiryat Ono. Now she is still under strict house detention in her home as the trial against her on charges of incitement is grinding to its end in the Nazareth Magistrate’s court.

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Waiting for the hearing to begin

The prosecution finished to rest its case in September 2016. Most of it was designed to prove that Tatour’s Facebook account belonged to her and that she really published the poem and the two Facebook statuses that are the subject of the indictment.

On November Tatour testified in the court and admitted that she published those publications in their Arabic original. She explained that she expressed a legitimate protest against the occupation denouncing the crimes that are committed against the Palestinians by the army and the settlers. She said that the police translation distorted her texts. Over three long days of counter interrogation, in November and January, she was grilled by prosecution attorney Alina Hardak that tried to make her “confess” her “support of terrorism”, but she solidly defended her principles.

Should poets be arrested?

On Sunday, March 19, defence lawyers Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati brought two expert witnesses to testify before Judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein.

The first witness was Prof. Nissim Calderon, an expert on Hebrew literature. In his written expert opinion he stated that there are special rules concerning the free expression of poets. He described a long tradition of poets that used harsh words in response to oppression or injustice, sometimes clearly calling for violent actions. He concluded that such calls in the context of poetry were not legally persecuted even by very oppressive regimes like the Tsarist regime in Russia or the British Mandate in Palestine.

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Dareen Tatour and Prof. Calderon

Prof. Calderon chose three of the most prominent Hebrew poets and brought specific examples of their subversive texts. He cited Bialik writing that “With furious cruelty / We will drink your blood mercilessly”. In other lyrics, also cited, Tchernichovsky says “Give me my sword, I won’t return it to its scabbard / What did my lips elicit? I want battles”. Despite these clear calls for violence by leading Jewish poets, the anti-Semitic Tsar’s secret police didn’t arrest or prosecute them.

The third example cited in length by Prof. Calderon was the case of right-wing Zionist poet Uri-Tsvi Greenberg. He openly incited for violence and was actually a member and ideologue of the explicitly named “Brit Ha-Biryonim” (The Thugs Alliance) that organized violent resistance to the British occupation but was not punished for his poems.

In cross examination the prosecutor tried to imply that Greenberg was not arrested for his poetry because the British Mandate didn’t prosecute inciters. No, said Calderon, my uncle was exiled from Palestine because he supported illegal Jewish immigration. When the prosecutor suggested that the immunity of poetry should be limited at tense times, he mentioned that the British didn’t prosecute Greenberg even as he called for resistance to their rule at the time that they were fighting the Nazis in the Second World War.

What did the poet mean?

Both the prosecutor and the judge already understood that they have a problem with the police translation of Tatour’s poem. The policeman that translated it had no specific expertise in translation. When he testified in court he was asked why he was chosen to translate the poem and answered that he learned literature in high-school and loves the Arabic language.

Yoni Mendel

Dr. Yoni Mendel – opening a window to understand Palestinian way of thinking

When Tatour testified, the prosecutor wanted her to give her own translation to Hebrew, but she refused, saying that she doesn’t know Hebrew well enough to translate poetry. The prosecutor wanted her to read the poem in Arabic so that the court’s translator will translate it and the words will be written in the protocol as her own words. She refused.

Maybe they felt some relief as the defence brought its own translation of the poem, made by Dr. Yoni Mendel, an experienced literary translator and a researcher of the Arabic language in its social context and its role in Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. His translation was significantly different from the one in the indictment. He testified as an expert that the police’s translation is deliberately and systematically distorting the text to make it appear extremist and violent.

The most blatant contradiction between the two translations was in the following lines: “Do not fear the tongues of the Merkava tank \ The truth in your heart is stronger \ As long as you rebel in a land \ That has lived through raids but wasn’t exhausted.” The last two verses were translated by the policeman to “As long as you resist in a land \ Long live the Gazawat and will not tire”. Typically the policemen left the word “Gazawat” in Arabic, probably because he didn’t find the proper word. In his testimony he explained that the word was used by Arab tribes at the time of the Jaheliya (before Islam) to describe attacks on other tribes for robbery or enslaving women. Where the text clearly speaks about the raids that the Palestinians are subjected to as victims, the police translation transformed the victim into the aggressor.

Who are the martyrs?

On a more profound level, much of the emphasis about the translation, and much of the counter interrogation, surrounded around the sentence “Follow the convoy of martyrs”. The Arabic word for “martyrs”, Shuhadaa, was not translated to Hebrew by the police translator but grammatically adjusted to Hebrew to become “Shahidim”. In his expert opinion and enlightening explanation in the court Dr Mendel showed how basic Arabic terms are kept in Arabic in a way that neutralizes their original meaning and the basic human empathy that this meaning implies. Instead Arabic words like Shahid or Intifada acquire new threatening meanings in Hebrew far from their original context.

Lawyer Gaby Lasky

Lawyer Gaby Lasky – All the objections were refused

He explained that for the Palestinian Arab public the word martyrs refers to all the victims of the occupation, the majority of them didn’t even try to resist. It is an Israeli invention to interpret the word “Shahid” as referring to those Palestinians that died while attacking Israelis. In the specific context of Tatour’s poem, Mendel supported his interpretation by the fact that the poem relates to three specific martyrs: 16-years old Muhammad Abu-Khdeir from Jerusalem who was kidnapped and burned alive, Baby Ali Dawabsheh who was burned with his parents in his home at Duma and Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun who was shot at an army checkpoint in Al-Khalil.

The prosecutor tried to prove that the interpretation of “Shuhadaa” as victims was wrong as, after all, the poet couldn’t advise her readers to be murdered like them. Dr. Mendel explained that the call to follow the martyrs didn’t mean a wish to die but a more general concept of following their heritage: Embrace bereaved families, don’t give up the struggle and refuse to accept solutions that deny Palestinian national and human rights.

Solidarity

The case of poet Dareen Tatour became a symbol for the hundreds of cases where Israel is persecuting Palestinians over political expression, mostly in social media. Many poets, writers, intellectuals and activists, both in the country and abroad, expressed their solidarity with her and called for her immediate release and for the charges against her to be dropped. Pen International and related writers organizations all over the world adopted the case.

The fact that leading intellectuals like Prof. Calderon and Dr. Mendel volunteered to give evidence and endure torturing counter-interrogation (Dr. Mendel was grilled for 5 hours) is the last example how this trial resonated in much of the liberal public opinion. Now defenders of the right of expression and free arts also collect money to help with the legal expenses, which till now fell solely on the poet’s family.

On Tuesday, March 28, the last defence witnesses should give evidence. As the sides will summarize in writing, it will be probably the last hearing before the verdict will be given, maybe two or three months from now. The maximum penalty might be up to 8 years in prison. An appeal from one or both sides is very likely in this high profile case. In the meantime poet Dareen Tatour is under house arrest and might easily stay so for full two years before the judicial decision about the meaning of her poem.

(If you know Hebrew you can read more about this hearing in Haifa HaHofshit, Local Call and HaOketz).

Free Muhammad Ibrahim – Administrative Detainee from Kabul in the Galilee!

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When the news about the administrative detention of Muhammad Ibrahim were first published in December 2016, after he was already more than half a year in prison, it was written in some papers that this is the first case of such detention against Palestinians inside the 1948 occupied territories, who are formally citizens of Israel. But it was less than a year since Asmaa Hamdan, a woman from Nazareth, spent 3 months in administrative detention which started at the turmoil of “the third intifada” of October 2015. At the heights of the first intifada, in 1988, some ten leading members of Abna Al-Balad and related Palestinian movements were held in the same way. Several Palestinian activists inside ’48 spent times in administrative detention before and after these days…muhammad-ibrahim-with-al-aqsa

In the 1967 occupied West Bank (and previously also in Gaza) Israel is using administrative detention en-mass as a tool for political oppression. The use of administrative detention also against Palestinian in ’48 is another proof that it is basically the same occupation and the same oppressive system that is used all over occupied Palestine.

The Administrative Detention of Muhammad Ibrahim

[The following article was published in Hebrew on 23/01/2017 in “Local Call” and Haifa Hahofshit]

They say that if the police would look hard enough at the past of any person they would find a legal reason to arrest and put him or her on trial. It turns out that this rule has exceptions. One of them is the case of Muhammad Ibrahim, a 20-year-old computer technician from the Western Galilee town of Kabul. Not only the police, the Shin Bet (Israel’s notoriously harsh “internal security services”) also made every effort to bring him to trial, but they didn’t find any legal reason for this. So he was subjected to administrative detention, without indictment and without trial.

Muhammad gets into troubles

Muhammad’s troubles probably stems from his love to the Al-Aqsa mosque… He was not a political activist but used to travel frequently to Jerusalem to pray at this mosque. This mosque is the third holiest site for Islam, but some of Israel’s leaders seek to destroy it in order to build “The Third Temple” in its place.

Muhammad’s first encounter with the law was when Israeli police wanted to arrest a woman in the mosque’s yard and he threw himself before her and was arrested instead. He spent the night in custody in the “Moskubiya” (a Russian Church’s compound in the middle of Jerusalem used as a detention center). On the following day he was released by the judge in the absence of any offense.

After the first detention cops already knew Muhammad and when they saw him in the mosque’s yard they used to arrest him. He was arrested five times, and was released five times, without being accused of any offence. Occasionally he was required to sign a pledge to stay away from Jerusalem for a while as a condition for his release.

On May 11, 2016, at 3 o’clock in the morning, a police force from Nazareth, including riot squad, accompanied by a Shin Bet operative, surrounded Muhammad’s house and awakened his family. The Sin Bet agent in charge of the region did not even know the young Muhammad whom he came to arrest. He turned to Muhammad’s father and asked him “who is Muhammad?”… This is just another piece of evidence proving that the reason for the arrest belongs to a different place – to Jerusalem.

Harsh Interrogation

After searching Muhammad’s room and some other rooms in the house, the police took with them Muhammad himself and also all the computers that they found, including computers of customers who brought them for repair.muhammad-ibrahim-sitting

The terrified family spent the next day running around between police stations and detention centers to find their son. Finally, they were informed that he was detained by the Shin Bet in a special interrogation center in Petah Tikva.

During the interrogation Muhammad was not allowed to see a lawyer. He was questioned in difficult conditions and was subjected to the harsh “special interrogation methods” of the Shin Bet, including sleep prevention. Later he told how he was interrogated for 22 hours non-stop while tethered to a chair.

25 days of intensive interrogation did not produce anything; the mountain did not give birth even to a mouse. Finally came the court session in which Muhammad was supposed to be released. But then the Shin Bet people informed the judge that they are going to put Muhammad under administrative detention. The judge delayed his release for a day until the defence minister will sign the decree, which was signed by Avigdor Lieberman on June 5, 2016, for a period of six months.

The other likely reason for issuing the administrative detention order is revenge of the Shin Bet’s failure to extort a confession from Muhammad and prosecute him. It constitutes a threatening message to all detainees: if you do not confess you can be arrested anyway, so you should better confess even if you never violated any law.

Significantly, although the investigation was concluded long time ago, and although no indictment was filed, the confiscated computers, including those of Muhammad’s customers, were not returned until this day.

Administrative Detention as a tool of the Military Regime

“Judicial supervision” on the procedure of administrative detention against Muhammad Ibrahim is being held at the Haifa District Court. At the first hearings in this procedure he was represented by the “Adalah” legal center. In fact this is not a proper judicial proceeding that allows any viable legal defence but a meaningless formal procedure. The contents of the “charges” or “suspicions” were not disclosed to Muhammad until this day, neither to his lawyer. All the Shin Bet’s claims are “secret material” submitted to the judge without the presence of the suspect or his representative. Once, when Aram Mahameed, Adalah’s lawyer, was order to leave the courtroom when confidential materials were submitted, he left behind his briefcase. State officials rushed to distance the briefcase also.

Not only that Muhammad’s lawyers are not present when secret materials are submitted, family members are not allowed at all to be in the courtroom, not even to hear the arguments of the defence. At the same time a blanket GAG order was issued to prevent the press from covering the case. Only on January 2017, following an appeal by journalist Jacky Khoury (from Radio Al-Shams and Haaretz), the military censorship confirmed that there is no reason to prevent reporting. In any case, there is nothing to report except the fact that there is nothing as there was nothing, and that this nothingness is a state secret.

On December 5, Muhammad’s six months detention was due to expire, but then the family was informed that the detention order was renewed for another six months period. This time he was represented by lawyer Omar Khamaisi from “Mizan”. The judge himself found it difficult to understand the justification for the continued detention without indictment and asked the Shin Bet representative whether, in their view, administrative detention is life imprisonment… But eventually the usual ritual was repeated: The detainee and his lawyer were ordered to leave the courtroom and the Shin Bet operatives stayed alone with the judge who finally reaffirmed the detention. The next hearing of this judicial farce, which takes place every three months, of “legally supervising” this unlawful detention, is set for March 15.

I sat with lawyer Khamaisi who explained to me the legal basis for administrative detention. The practice of detention without trial was inherited from the colonialist laws used by the British Mandate (see Wikipedia: Defence Emergency Regulations 1945). When Zionist leaders were subject to these laws they severely criticized them as draconian, but later Israel continued to use the same draconian British laws against its Palestinian Arab citizens.

Now Israel has a wholly “Blue and White” Made in Israel detention without trial, under the “state of emergency laws” from 1979, in full accordance to the Jewish and “democratic” character of the state. (The law is so new, only 38 years, that it still doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia). The authority to issue administrative detention order is given by the Minister of Defence, stressing the fact that this is basically a military act against the “enemies of the state”. It should remind us that beneath the thin camouflage of democracy we are all subject to a regime of military occupation.

Abusive Conditions at the Families’ Visits

Although not indicted for anything, Muhammad is held in harsh conditions with “security prisoners” in the desert Ketziot prison in Nizzana sands, near the Egyptian border.

Khaled Ibrahim, Muhammad’s father, told me in detail about his harsh experiences while visiting his son in this remote prison.

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Khaled Ibrahim, Abu Muhammad

The Israeli prisons’ authority requires that the family will register in advance for visiting, but Ketziot prison guards are not answering the telephone number designed for coordination. He only learns about the dates of the visits from families of prisoners from the West Bank which are coming in pre-arranged transportation.

Travelling from Kabul to Ketziot, almost 300 kilometers, can take three and a half hours in each direction when the road is free, so it is by itself a torture for the body and the soul. When he arrived at Ketziot he was imprisoned with his car in the parking lot of the prison and had to wait about an hour and a half to the arrival of the buses from the West Bank. The guards forbade him to extricate himself by walking in the parking lot and ordered him to stay in the car. When the buses arrived all visitors were guided to an internal courtyard and had to wait there another two hours until visits actually began. At the time of the visit, which lasted three-quarter of an hour, they were separated from their beloved ones by a glass wall and could talk only through a phone.  Later they had to wait closed in the yard until the second round of visits finished and they were allowed to return to the parking lot… Why should the guards make an extra effort and open the door twice?

The three-quarters of an hour visit lasted in total over fourteen and a half hours, from six in the morning until eight thirty at night. This systematic abuse against the families of prisoners and detainees causes many of them to reduce their visits.

Popular Struggle

The family expected that the six-month administrative detention will pass just as the 25 days of the interrogations and that Muhammad will be released… After all, he was not accused of anything. The secrecy of the hearings and prevention of media reports created an atmosphere of fear and they did not know what to do or who to contact. This secrecy has allowed the authorities to keep the entire subject far from the public awareness. The oppressive apparatus like to abuse their victims in the darkness under the cover of media blackout. However, one of the most difficult problems with administrative detention is that it has no time limit.

The extension of Muhammad’s detention for another six months resulted in breaking the isolation and silence. Over the last several years, a “popular committee” was formed and is operating in Kabul, as part of the policy of “the follow-up committee” of the Arab population inside the 48 occupied territories for the construction of the organs of popular struggle in every community. The popular committee undertook to publicize the case of Muhammad’s administrative detention and to coordinate the struggle for his release.

The activists of the “popular committee” organized protest, invited the Follow-Up Committee and Arab Knesset Members from “The Joint List” and turned to the media. They opened a special Facebook page called “Free the administrative detainee Mohammed Ibrahim from Kabul” (in Arabic). At the last hearing in the Haifa District Court there were already about 30 people who were not allowed in… My visit to Muhammad’s family in Kabul and this article are my modest contribution to this campaign.

Now the family’s sole hope is that the public struggle will expose the severe unjustified abuse caused to Muhammad by the administrative detention and will embarrass the authorities and bring about his release. At the end of our conversation the representative of the Popular Committee expressed his hope that until the next hearing, on March 15, the protest will expands, and maybe there will be a demonstration in front of the court. I expressed my wish that, even before, due to the exposure of the case, the public pressure will bring to Muhammad’s release and we’ll come to congratulate him for that. We never lose hope, but in the current public atmosphere to speak of “a danger to democracy” rings like a hollow mockery while we face a regime which prides itself for abusing democratic rights.

 

12 reasons for optimism about 2017 and beyond

learned-optimism-helen-kellerThere are many reasons to be pessimist today. Everybody is talking about it. There is a world economic crisis for already 10 years and it is not going anywhere. The rich continue to buy influence, corrupt politics, set the rules, exploit and rob working people and the poor. It seems that the poor working people, instead of uniting to fight for their rights, are turning against each other, as we see from the rise of the Populist Right demagogy against minorities and immigrants in the West and from sectarian civil wars in the Middle East.  And when people are fighting for their rights they are confronted with bloody oppression and nobody will come to their rescue, as the people of Halab (Aleppo) have just learned.

But for me Optimism is not a mood but a systematic studied approach. If we want to make the world better, we must concentrate on those processes that show the Human potential for improvement. And when you start looking for reasons to be optimist you can find plenty. Here are some to cheer you up as you go to celebrate a new 2017.

Health

My grandma told me that she didn’t know anyone from her family that lived more than 60 years. So she naturally expected to die as she became 60. She was surprised when it didn’t happen. Finally she lived to 93, most of it a healthy life.

Today we see a great tragedy in every family that lost a child. It was not a long time ago when most families suffered the death of babies and children. Actually, historically what kept the balance of the human population was the natural death of most children. When early death stopped to be natural, the world’s human population inflated. Only now we are approaching a new balance based on the conscious choice to have fewer children.

Similarly the main problem that was daunting humanity till recently was the search for food. My mom used to tell me: We are farmers, so we will never go hungry. As a child I was advised: Eat bread with every meal to fill your stomach. Now if anybody goes hungry it is not because the lack of food but because the failure of the distribution system or the greed of merchants and speculators. The problem of excess eating is now becoming a major health hazard around the world – until we will find a new balance in a world with plenty of food.

Bringing decent healthcare to everybody around the world is not a dream – it is something that is technologically possible and economically affordable.

Education and Knowledge

It is not so long ago that even the most basic education was the privilege of the few. The spread of general basic education is an ongoing revolution around the world. Now we witness a second wave of the education revolution where high education is becoming available to ever more people.

But formal education is only a technical detail. The real issue is the availability of knowledge and the ability to use it. Today as we chat at the family reunion my kids check online for historical and scientific facts. As we stroll in the forest we take a picture of a flower and can reach its botanical file… And the knowledge revolution is only at its beginnings.

I’m not sure at all whether Trump is more disgraceful or ignorant than previous US presidents. But what is sure is that now the news about his every fallacy is more ubiquitous and spreading faster than ever before. The same go for the facts (and some false news) about the corruption and servitude to big business of his nominees as those of Hillary Clinton. Part of our disgust at current politics is a result of being more enlightened. It should be a force for good in the longer run.

Speaking Up

The reading revolution is centuries old, but just recently less than 1% of us ever wrote anything that other people would read. Actually it was Facebook (launched on 2004) that gave everyone a wall to write on.

I still remember the times when an intelligent person would read one and the same paper every day. When speaking with a person you would typically find that he holds the views of the paper that he reads, and knows the set of facts that the paper supplies to support these views.

Now that everybody have a voice we see all kinds of nonsense, insults and prejudice coming out – but they were there in peoples’ minds much before. The fact that people speak up their mind and the lively discussion that ensues will make people think better, as now what they think makes a difference and they get much more feedback.

It is a new process that can hardly be evaluated. Just think about the development of a child, how much time and experience is required between she starts speaking and until she can express herself clearly or present a case about complicated issues. Now remember that it is only a few years since hundreds of millions of people started to speak up and try to figure out how to make sense out of the ensuing noise.

Democracy

After a period of enthusiasm about the rise of social movements and leftist governments in Latin America, we see a backlash with the election victories of conservatives and rightists and some suspicious power-grabs. Yet, comparing with previous rightists onslaughts just a few decades ago, this time governments are changing mostly peacefully and it is just possible that leftist governments will come back peacefully in some next elections. The same trend of changing governments peacefully is taking root also in much of Africa and other parts of the world.

The benefit of changing governments by elections is not only the avoidance of violence and destructive wars. After repression everywhere, and after a leftist wave almost everywhere in Latin America, now those government that succeeded more in fulfilling their promises, like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, may keep their leftist regimes. The left in other countries will have to reorganize to regain public trust and work harder to give their voters what they really want.

Democracy is not only about changing governments by elections. Actually we are still looking for the real thing: How to enable people take control of their destiny. Bottom-up democracy is the more promising model, as people may be involved on a daily basis with the essentials of their lives as they see and understand them, and improve with experience.

In many places around the world, people are experimenting with new types of popular involvement and control. Some of the most amazing experiments of self-rule come amid the harshest conditions. In Greece, as the traditional economy stopped functioning, people were building democratic cooperatives. In Syria people experiment with popular democracy in Kurdish Rojava as well as in some liberated cities and villages in other parts of the country.

Travel and Immigration

Just where progress faces the harshest resistance – we may be making a real breakthrough. The technological progress that drives travel and communication is a one-way process that interconnects our world and transforms it into one global village. The national state is an anachronism that runs counter to the direction of the economy, our culture and the spirit of the time. Whoever will try to resist it will do it at his own peril.

We can celebrate as more people travel around the world, choose their place to live by what is better for them and not by where they were born, and mix together into one beautiful human race.

Gender equality and Personal Freedom

Some of the greatest achievements of the last decades were the progress in women’s rights. We also experienced some breakthroughs with the social recognition of different sexual choices and gender identities. Of course, there are battles ahead before we would be able to declare full victory over misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia and bigotry.

Every achievement on this road is a relief and blessing to all humanity as there is less social oppression, violence, prejudice and hatred. It expands the limits of what one can do and what you can be. With every obstacle that is removed, there will be more options to explore new ways of life and social interaction.

Technology

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Solar power generation in California

Unlike political and social development, which goes through conflict, ups and downs and upheavals, technological progress is mostly a one way process. Many of our problems can simply be solved by the right technical solutions. Energy can be produced from renewable sources like sun and wind without much pollution. Food can be produced using much smaller land and without harming animals. Water can be desalinated. Self-driving cars can prevent most road accidents. Biotechnology may prevent or cure most diseases.

The knowledge that all these technologies are here ready to serve us should make us wake up and remove the current obstacles that stand in their way.

Less Work More Life

One danger that scares many people is the disappearance of jobs. As most people’s work life is only slightly better than slavery, we would expect people to celebrate the falling of their chains. Really, it should be the best of news that all humanity’s needs may be supplied with a fraction of the work that was required previously. This is the inevitable result of technological progress.

Looking at the current economy, much work that is done is actually a burden and not a benefit for society. Armies around the world are getting huge budgets that are more likely to cause war than to protect the people. The police, courts and prisons are doing more to perpetuate crime than to prevent it. A single political decision to legalize drugs may abolish at once most of the criminality around the world. Bureaucracy is a burden over the real economy and constant stress over ordinary peoples’ lives. Much of the white collar tasks can be replaced by computers just as blue-collar tasks were replaced by machines.

The economists that portray the current capitalist order as the law of nature say that people are becoming redundant and are destined to poverty because they are no more required for the economy. It is a simple question of political power: who serves whom. If the economy is ours to serve people, it is our time to take control of it.

The recent experiments, in several places around the world, giving basic wages to all people without connection to work, is an overdue first step to break the yoke of wage slavery.

China and Vietnam

International bodies agreed about the millennium goals of reducing poverty and

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Vietnam and China outstanding for their peoples’ optimism

improving human conditions in essential fields like health and education. The greatest contributions toward fulfilling these goals are due to two countries: China and Vietnam. Over the last half century they demonstrated an unprecedented spell of economic development, starting from the harshest levels of poverty and mostly working against hostile obstacles from the dominant world powers.

China started by leading the world in the production of most goods. Cheap Chinese products improved the standard of living of consumers all over the world.

Now China also leads the efforts to develop clean energy, stop climate change, bring high quality education to wide masses, develop fast trains and electric cars and much more. Within 15 years China built new modern cities (no slums there) for 300 million people that had to leave under-productive village life and became part of the modern economy – building the equivalent of a whole new USA or Western Europe all at once.

Just 15 years ago most third world countries were subject to different kinds of sanctions by Western powers that were supposed to “educate” them but actually served to subdue their economies to the interest of imperialist multinational companies. Now China builds a new world economic order, based on unconditional cooperation and mutual development.

It is mostly due to China’s role that the balance of world economic power started to change, over the last 15 years, to the benefit of the third world.

The rebellious human spirit

In the development of Human society there are always measures and counter measures. There are long term consistent trends like technological progress, the spread of knowledge and the interconnection of the world. But politics are working in many different ways, many times producing the reverse of what their initiators wanted. One force that is constantly working is the rebellious human spirit inspiring billions of people to try new ways to improve their lives…

The two world wars, the biggest clashes between imperialist powers in their quest to control the world, brought immense misery. But they ended with two big waves of decolonization and the formation of alternative socialist regimes. Today, as the Western powers are becoming hostile to immigrants, more people from the 3rd world will try to build their future in their (or other 3rd world) countries – and the decline of the western powers will accelerate. Iran, which tried to force strict religious behavior over its people, is now probably the Middle Eastern country with the most free-wheeling population.

Fast Changes

They say: “If it is not broken, don’t fix it”. But now it clearly is!

As fragile human beings we look for security and are afraid of change. Those who are most disadvantaged by the current order are the most vulnerable to any disturbances. But they also have the most to gain from fundamental change. And the majority of humanity is disadvantaged by the current world order. Palestinians in particular are denied basic Human Rights or any decent place in the current order and their plight is not going to change until there will be major changes to the rules of the game, at least in our region.

Change may come faster in our age than ever before. Almost a hundred years ago Britain occupied Iraq and faced stiff popular resistance – the Iraqi Revolt (1920). With air bombardment and the systematic burning of villages they succeeded to consolidate their rule over a nation that was mostly composed of illiterate peasants. The US occupation of Iraq in 2003 had even bigger military advantage, but the cultural gap almost disappeared. It ended up with the US spending a devastating one trillion dollar on the military adventure, with no political gains to show for its money.

The Arab spring is a social and political movement on the scale of the democratization of Europe that started with the French revolution in 1789, or the fall of the Soviet Union and its East European block in 1989-1991. But it is the first great revolutionary wave that uses social networks and new media. Till now it proved, at least, that no amount of force and no level of cruelty can assure the forces of the old order the suppression of the will of the people.

Respect All Lives

I was raised as a vegetarian, a relic of my grandma’s Tolstoyan tradition. I still remember the times when most ordinary people didn’t eat meat on a regular basis, simply because they couldn’t afford to buy it. I remember old people in the neighborhood saying how lucky they are – they eat meat on every holiday… (It was a cynical refrain to Islam having only two holidays a year). Later it became harder to be a vegetarian as people started to eat meat every day. Friends from the new generation would wonder: what do you eat at all if you don’t eat meat?

But now people everywhere are starting to reassess their behavior out of conscious and not out of necessity. When we invited our friends to a vegetarian wedding party, we heard everywhere stories about people trying to be vegetarian or thinking about it.

I must admit that when we decided, just a year ago, to make another step toward healthier and more moral life as vegans, one consideration was that it is easy to do it these days. Now, even in the most commercial supermarkets, there is a lot of choice of vegan alternatives for people that don’t want to give up spoiled tastes.

Technological progress and consciousness help us all make the moral choice and respect all lives.

 

Smuggling phones is humanitarian aid, not a security risk – Free Basel Ghattas!

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Pity our friends in Al-Tajamu (NDA – National Democratic Alliance, AKA Balad)… The government’s blows fall upon them one after the other. They can’t even respond to the barrage of lies and propaganda that comes to justify the arrests and political persecution. In the last blow, this Thursday, December 22, 2016, Dr. Basel Ghattas, a Knesset member for the NDA, was arrested on the accusation that he tried to smuggle cellular phones to Palestinian prisoners in an occupation prison.free-basel-ghattas

Now NDA members are in a fix. If they argue that the charge of smuggling phones to “security prisoners” is not as serious as presented by the prosecution, it may be interpreted as if they plead guilty while their comrade is under interrogation in custody and, as I understand, denies the accusations. That lets the Israeli security apparatus control the public debate and spread their distorted view of things to justify every injustice and abuse against the Arab public.

Although I know and appreciate Mr. Ghattas from many struggles in which we have participated together, there is no organizational connection between us, and I have no idea whether he might have tried to smuggle phones to prison. So I consider myself free to discuss here objectively not the facts of the case but the racist lies and concepts behind his arrest.

All phones are reliable informers of the regime

Israel’s “security forces” and mobilized media talk day and night about the supposed “security risk” of smuggling phones to security prisoners. They argue or imply or are rolling their eyes to the heavens to convince us that, of course, no doubt, the phones are used by Palestinian prisoners to coordinate “terrorist attacks”. Such baseless arguments could perhaps, and even this is unlikely, be believed by Honi Ha-M’agel who spent 70 years in a cave, did not read newspapers and had no connection to the Internet…

We all know, for example, that Angela Merkel’s phone was tapped by American intelligence agencies. Could anyone, even a diehard Zionist, be so silly to believe that Palestinian prisoners’ phones are not tapped? We are all crammed in a sardine tin, under the supervision of the most stifling Big Brother superpower in the world. All conversations are recorded from all sides and all locations are identified down to the building and the room. Did you ever use navigation system like Waze? The most brilliant Israeli minds are busy exchanging the most intimate details of the romantic life of the laboratory mice under their supervision.

So, as they say, if there were no phones in the hands of the prisoners, the security services would find a way to put them there, as a tool for supervision and monitoring. How much more convenient and expedient for them to have those phones smuggled… They can be used as a fertile ground for economic blackmail and a handy justification for oppression and constant campaigns of arbitrary punishment whenever they see fit.

Lynch by the law

The invention of imaginary security risks in order to justify the crimes of Israeli apartheid is a national pastime and profession. No surprise that most Israeli politicians compete to show their support for El’or Azaria – a solder that shot dead a wounded helpless Palestinian in Al-Halil (Hebron) in March 2016. As they say, “we are all El’or”. They are all conscious partners to the same lies. If you only succeed to think that an Arab is attacking you, you are allowed to shoot him. With a little practice and some effort you can, this way, shoot every Arab you like.

The classic example of this behavior pattern was the cold blood execution of the 14 years old girl Iman al-Hams in 5 October 2004 as she passed by an occupation army outpost near Rafah. The soldiers succeeded to imagine that if her school bag was full of explosives she could constitute a danger to their lives…

This pattern grew stronger until, on October 2015, lynch of “suspected” Arabs became a national sport. The only cases in which “a mistake” was admitted, and the charges were found to be baseless, are those cases in which it eventually turned out that the lynch victims were not Arabs.

Even them

Unfortunately, as usual, even most Israelis who try to show things in a different light are captive to the false “security worldview” posing as if Israel is acting in self-defense against Palestinian “security risks”.

An editorial in “Haaretz”, from December 21, 2016, opposed dismissing Dr. Ghattas from the Knesset before exhausting the legal process. But it also supports the security-hype and lies against Ghattas by writing that he is suspected of smuggling phones to “imprisoned Palestinian senior terror operatives”. As if the Palestinian prisoners are busy organizing terror nets from prison…

Walid Daka was 25 back in 1986, when he was detained on charges of membership of a cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 30 years ago. If he was a Jew who was involved on a similar level in activities against Arabs, he may not be arrested at all or, at most, would spend a short time in prison. Today he could be a Knesset member or a minister. Since his arrest Mr. Daka excelled and earned fame for his studies, writings and political stance. He is not a “terror operative” of any kind and the only thing that may make him “senior” is the long period he spent in prison due to Zionist vendetta.

Amira Hass, full of sympathy, depicting the humane side of Palestinians, describes in detail (also in Haaretz) the humanitarian benefits of smuggling phones to prisoners. Nice of her… But she finally drifts to share the ruling slander as if those phones can be a “security risk”. She even volunteers to suggest her own methods to counter those risks: “If one really wanted to prevent future smuggling, the authorities should allow Palestinian prisoners to use public phones. Security services can listen to calls in real time, decipher them or place a guard nearby to listen. All of these can be done simultaneously.” How sad.

(This post was initially published in Hebrew in Haifa Ha-Hofshit.)

Who is learning Chinese?

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What do we learn from it about where the world is going?chinese-club-girl

When I was young, in the seventies, the cold war was still raging. We told a lot of cold war jokes, some of them I still remember. One such “black” joke said that the optimists are learning Russian, while the pessimists are learning Chinese.

Don’t look from the windows!

There are many reasons to be pessimistic today. It is enough to see the massacre in Halab (Aleppo) and to know that there is nobody in the world today that is ready to act to prevent the mass killing of innocent civilians. But, looking back in history, this is how things were all the time.

But, from other aspects, the world is changing very fast. Technology is having a big impact. Today we can know at real time what is happening in almost every corner of our one and ever more connected world. Nobody has a monopoly over what we know. The Facebook revolution made ordinary people write and publish. Friends, as we are all friends now, can decide which writings deserve to be spread.

Changes in the world’s economy and politics are just as fast and profound. Just in 1990 the US emerged from the cold war as the single unchallenged world super-power. We were told that we enter a new area characterized by the end of history as political struggle. From now on human development will be driven by market forces. It didn’t take long for this supposedly blind driver to drive our small world into a wall. For ten years now we live through a seemingly endless economic crisis…

The world is changing so fast that it is hard for us to guess where we are going. Sometimes we close our eyes as if scared to look out of the windows. The political reaction in much of the “developed” rich world is pessimistic and reactionary. Many blame the immigrants, minorities or excessive liberties.

Does it mean that the world as a whole is going back? Not necessarily, as there are other amazing developments in other parts of the world. Now it is not only the optimists that are learning Chinese but also the opportunists …

The news from China

Suddenly news about China is everywhere… The most outspoken mouthpiece of capitalism, “The Economist”, can hardly say a good word about China. But now they dedicate to china a special section, just as they have a section dedicated to the US. Lately, as Trump was elected president of the US, and it seems that he will retreat from promises to limit climate change, they wrote that the rest of the world should anyway continue the effort to save itself. After all, it is China that leads the development of renewable energy sources and clean technologies like the electric car.chinese-outbound-expenditure

Chinese people, which you could hardly meet twenty years ago, are also everywhere. In 2015 Chinese people made 120 million trips abroad, spending 292 billion dollars. In the same year more than half a million Chinese went to study in other countries (just as 7.5 million graduate locally). Chinese companies are building infrastructure in many places around the globe, many times bringing with them Chinese workers. We have seen them in Haifa, as they built the Carmel tunnels.

In 2014 China became the biggest economy in the world, according to the most accepted criteria of GDP as measured by “purchasing power parity”. For most people in the rich west, China is still too poor to look at as an inspiration. But for the majority of humanity that lives in poor third world countries, the inevitable question is whether China can show the way out of poverty?

The Chinese way

For most of history, China’s economy was the biggest in the world. Chinese traditions, attitudes and institutions are very different from the European model for historic

examinations-in-imperial-china

Examinations in imperial China

development that we were taught about. The majority of Chinese people were not enslaved but free peasants. The civil service was not a monopoly of an aristocratic, hereditary class, but a meritocracy. Centrally administered exams were the key to jobs in the state apparatus, from the bottom to almost the top. Children from toiling families were studying in order to get up the social ladder.

While socialism became the official system in Russia it was painted by the local culture. The local elite, trained by the previous Tsarist rule, was happy to have modern justification for central control and totalitarian rule. China’s communist party, after the first upheavals, returned to concentrate on pragmatic development and the Confucian goal of “Social Harmony”. Relying on the centuries’ long tradition of a “serving elite”, the Chinese government succeeded to lead the biggest ever economic and social leap-forward in Human history.

The market and the plan

Adam Smith, the British economist, preached that it is the self-interest of people that make them cooperate productively. Neoliberal economists try to convince us that if we loosen the chains of the state, free market forces will drive the economy forward for the benefit of all. But when the inherent greediness of capitalist companies is let loose, they easily distort the free market for their profit and impoverish everybody else. The new Chinese model tries to harness market forces and capitalist initiatives to the service of society by keeping them away from political control.

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GDP estimation – by the CIA “World Facts Book”

On the international level China is also offering a new model of mutual development. It is now the main economic partner for many countries all over the world. The capitalist multi-nationals invest in third world countries with a single goal – to get as much profit as fast as possible. Because of political instability they tend to avoid long term investment that will not bring fast profits. China’s state-led economic cooperation is based on the notion that only through mutual development there can be long term profit. They invest huge sums (and expertise) in developing infrastructure, education and health.

Western powers always pose themselves as the great example that everybody should learn from, and try to dictate conditions to all their poor “partners”. China just cooperate with everybody and makes a point of not telling other people how to manage their affairs. Either they don’t want us to learn the secret of success or they think that deeds are louder than words.

La guerra contra las drogas es la nueva Inquisición española

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(Este artículo también está disponible en inglés)

En el siglo 15, los Reyes Católicos Fernando de Aragón e Isabel de Castilla estaban ocupados estableciendo su dominio sobre la España reconquistada y con el sometimiento y la limpieza étnica de los musulmanes y los judíos. Por otro lado, estaban iniciando un Imperio que pronto se expandió en gran parte del continente americano recién invadido. El establecimiento del Imperio era ante todo un acto de puro robo, y de construcción de un spanish-inquisition-torturesistema de opresión y esclavitud para la población nativa. En algunos lugares, incluso se convirtió en un genocidio.

Nadie puede construir un estado, ni hablar de un imperio, bajo las banderas del robo, la explotación y la opresión. Ellos necesitaban un lema que los puso en el terreno moral. Mientras más opresión sea necesaria para subyugar a los reacios, se requiere más motivos ideológicos para justificar esta opresión. La Inquisición española, que supuestamente promovería y salvaguardaría la fe cristiana, en su interpretación católica ortodoxa, dio el marco ideológico necesario para una campaña de terror que se requería para la consolidación del imperio.

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En la mayor parte del siglo 20, la principal justificación para la opresión en el hemisferio latinoamericano fue el peligro del comunismo. Bajo esta bandera los Estados Unidos de América promovieron dictaduras militares en Brasil, Chile y Argentina, por citar sólo algunos ejemplos. La guerra contra el pueblo y la dependencia de los opresores locales del imperialismo estadounidense frenó el desarrollo de la economía local y se aseguró la sumisión económica a los intereses de las empresas multinacionales norteamericanas.

Como el comunismo pasó de moda después de la caída de la Unión Soviética y el bloque socialista de Europa del Este, la justificación de la represión violenta desvaneció. Nuevos movimientos populistas comenzaron a ganar terreno.

Guerra contra las drogas en los EE.UU

El término “Guerra contra las drogas” se deriva de la declaración del presidente de los nixon-watergate-testimonyEstados Unidos Richard Nixon en 18 de junio de 1971. A continuación declaró el abuso de drogas el “enemigo público número uno”.

Esto se convirtió gradualmente en una guerra contra los pobres en los propios Estados Unidos, y sobre todo contra los negros. Desde la declaración de guerra contra las drogas, el número de personas encarceladas en Estados Unidos, como parte de la población, aumentó más de cuatro veces.us_incarceration_rate_timeline

El uso de la guerra contra las drogas como un instrumento de opresión contra la población negra es evidente en muchos sentidos. En 1986, el Congreso de los Estados Unidos aprobó una ley que hace que la pena por posesión de una pequeña cantidad de “crack”, una droga usada en su mayoría por negros pobres, es la misma que la pena por posesión de una cantidad cien veces mayor de “cocaína”, la cual es mayormente utilizada por la elite blanca. Según una investigación, los negros son el 13% de los consumidores de drogas, el 35% de los detenidos por el uso de las drogas, el 55% de los condenados y el 74% de los encarcelados por delitos de consumo.

La guerra contra las drogas en México

La guerra contra las drogas en México es sólo el último ejemplo grave de la guerra internacional contra la droga. En realidad, México se convirtió en un centro del comercio de droga sólo últimamente, como resultado del éxito parcial en la opresión de la producción de drogas en Colombia, mientras que la demanda lucrativa de los EE.UU. continúa sin cesar.bodies-pile-up

Desde el año 2006, bajo la presión de los EE.UU., el gobierno mexicano desplegó el ejército para combatir a los traficantes de drogas. Esto causó un aumento alarmante de la violencia. Según Wikipedia, en 2013 el número de muertos estimado estaba por encima de los 120.000, además de 27.000 desaparecidos.

El éxito ideológico de la guerra contra las drogas hace que la opinión pública mundial “acepte naturalmente” este número de muertos, al contrario que el número de muertos mucho menor (pero todavía horrible) de, por ejemplo, la campaña de terror de la dictadura argentina de 1976.no-more-drug-war-demo-big

El alto número de muertes tiene varias razones. En primer lugar, el ejército no es apto para la vigilancia y utiliza la violencia indiscriminada impunemente contra los sospechosos. Además, si algunos comerciantes están muertos o detenidos, mientras que la demanda de drogas sigue siendo el mismo, se produce un fuerte aumento de los precios de las drogas e inicia una lucha feroz entre los diferentes traficantes para llenar la brecha entre la oferta y la demanda.

Los políticos que iniciaron esta guerra sangrienta niegan cualquier responsabilidad por el increíblemente alto costo humano en vidas perdidas y sufrimiento. Ellos incluyen no sólo el gobierno de Estados Unidos y el gobierno de México, sino también los cuerpos especiales dentro de las Naciones Unidas. Pero aunque quisiéramos creer ellos que inicialmente no podían esperar el resultado de sus decisiones, aún continúan buscando esta devastadora guerra inútil año tras año con indiferencia total al costo humano.

Efectos Secundarios

Además, la violencia derivada de la guerra contra las drogas está socavando la economía regular, que requiere estabilidad. Como resultado, mejora el atractivo de tráfico de drogas como la única manera de tener una vida “digna” para amplias capas de la sociedad.missing-students-ayotzinapa

Por último, pero no menos importante, en la atmósfera de terror e impunidad, las clases dominantes tienen una mano libre para aterrorizar a las masas también para servir a sus intereses económicos y políticos.

El secuestro masivo y la desaparición de 43 estudiantes que protestaban de una escuela normal en la ciudad de Iguala, en el estado mexicano de Guerrero en 2014 es el famoso caso que dio luz a este fenómeno y encendió las protestas masivas en contra de la responsabilidad del gobierno.maxico-till-when

Las matanzas, desapariciones, encarcelamiento y el terror contra las masas no son un subproducto accidental de una política de buenos deseos. Son las medidas necesarias para mantener la hegemonía del Imperio.

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Y, sí, si se piensa en ello, la criminalización social de la sexualidad de las mujeres y el consiguiente terror contra las mujeres está en la base del sistema que permitió que la opresión a las mujeres y la preservación de los privilegios masculinos durante milenios.