One Democratic State Campaign: The killing of opposition activist Nizar Al-Banat shows the status quo cannot continue. The countdown on the Palestinian Authority has begun.
Statement of the One Democratic State Campaign on the assassination of Nizar Banat
Down with the ignominious authority!
“There is no liberation without freedom, no liberation with tyranny, corruption, and cooperation with the colonizer.”
Our people are in a state of shock, astonishment and bereavement at the horrific crime committed by the Oslo authorities against the opposition activist Nizar Al-Banat. It has become almost certain that things can’t continue as they were, and that the countdown on the ignominious authority has begun.
These repressive agencies, trained by the CIA General Keith Dayton, deliberately and brutally assassinated Nizar Al-Banat, after they stormed his relatives’ home in al-Khalil (Hebron) and transferred him to their headquarters in the city. This crime has poured gas on the fire that was already burning in the hearts of the sons and daughters of our people. It adds to the accumulated anger towards the Palestinian regime due to the rampant corruption, oppression, and cooperation with the colonizer. This regime is completely isolated from the aspirations of our people and our hopes for liberation, freedom, and justice. This regime has no role in the liberation struggle, as demonstrated in the glorious popular uprising and the continuous mass movements.
This corrupt and criminal behavior – a structural behavior that constantly reproduces a social political class whose existence and continuity depends on external support – confirms that the situation has reached its peak. It is no longer possible to remain silent on this hypocritical regime, which is alienated from the people. It has become a heavy burden that the people can no longer bear and a serious obstacle to the march of liberation and the achievement of human dignity.
This crime, which is added to the accumulated crimes of oppression, corruption, and cooperation with the colonizer, poses a great challenge to all advocates of change, liberation and freedom. How to put an end to the rule of this incurable political class, and how the forces of change can create an alternative path around which everyone coalesces? This new path should capture the imagination of the people, and draw them towards organized and coordinated action. It should not separate resisting the colonizer from resisting the regime of tyranny and corruption.
The One Democratic State campaign presents its vision for the future Palestine as a democratic country based on the ruins of the colonial system, apartheid, and internal tyranny; A free homeland and a free human being. Our vision is a pluralistic society, in which citizens are equal, freedom of expression is preserved, human dignity is preserved and women’s freedom is preserved. This is because freedom is indivisible, and it does not accept any violation of the rights of an opponent, or the freedom of citizens in general, under any of the obsolete pretexts and slogans such as “national security”, “warding off strife” or “no voice is louder than the sound of battle,” which are still being used by most Arab regimes.
The rebellious Palestinian refuses to establish a system similar to the regimes of oppression and brutality in his homeland, as is the case with the regimes of the Arab world. These regimes turned their countries into prisons and slaughterhouses, treated their countries as their private farms and subjected them to external forces. As a result, the peoples revolted and broke the barrier of fear.
It has become clear, especially in the light of the popular uprising and the battle of al-Quds, that the new generation and its emerging vanguards, and all veteran, democratic revolutionaries, who are rid of the remnants of the past and its double standards, and the slogans of the outdated Arab regimes, are the qualified force to lead a national, democratic and liberation movement based on the values of freedom, human dignity and social justice. For this qualified force, the murder of Nizar Banat will only add motivation to continue fighting colonialism and confronting its agent, the Palestinian tyrannical regime, and linking this struggle with the struggle of the Arab peoples to recover their homelands from the brutal regimes.
This crime has put a defining moment before our people. Our people deserve life, dignity, security and a decent living.
Shame for the murderers, the corrupt and the collaborators with the colonizer!
Down with the ignominious authority!
Freedom for our people!
Glory to the martyrs of liberation and of free speech!
Israel’s claim to be a democracy is based on many false conceptions. The most obvious falsification is the idea there is a “democratic Israel” existing alongside “temporarily occupied territories”, the West Bank and Gaza. In actuality Israel is pursuing aggressive ethnic cleansing all along the occupied territories and illegal settlers are the strongest force in Israeli politics. The complementary falsification is the idea that Palestinians in the territory occupied by Israel since 1948 are citizens enjoying full civil rights, even if denied national rights. Whenever those Palestinians, who are formally citizens, organize to protest their discrimination, the state reveals it true dictatorial nature as an occupying power.
One of the most extreme measures of military oppression is administrative detention. Under Israel’s “emergency laws” — and mind you the “emergency” in Israel has lasted for the last 73 years since its establishment — the military authorities can order the detention of any person without indictment for up to six months, renewable for an unlimited number of times. Administration detention is commonly used against Palestinians in the territory Israel has occupied since 1967, but there is also a long history of it being used in the territories it occupies since 1948, where Palestinian are officially regarded citizens of Israel.
These types of laws were used to crush the “al-Ard” movement – the first Palestinian political movement that tried to organize in “48 Palestine” in the fifties and sixties. In 1988, at the height of the first intifada, some 10 leading members of “Abna al-Balad”, a leftist grass-root movement, were placed under administrative detention. The last cases that I know about were in 2017, and I reported some of them in Free Haifa (here and here).
Now, with the latest popular uprising in solidarity with Sheikh Jarrah, against the bombardment of Gaza and against the fascists’ attacks on Palestinian residents in the mixed cities, it is being used again. In addition to mass detentions and violent attacks by police and border guards against the population at large, Israel is resorting again to administrative detention of Palestinians who are formally recognized as citizens.
On Friday, June 4, as part of the mass detention campaign in Umm al-Fahm, the police arrested Zafer Jabareen. A day after his detention Jabareen was brought to the court with the rest of the detainees and his detention was remanded for 3 more days on claims that he should be interrogated for taking part in disturbing public order. He was taken to Shabak (the secret security services) detention – but was not really interrogated. On Tuesday, June 8, instead of releasing Jabareen or bringing him to another remand hearing, he was informed that Israel’s war minister, Benny Gantz, signed an administrative detention order for four months against him. The next day he was brought before Judge Ron Shapira, the head of the Haifa district court for the “judicial supervision” over his detention.
Zafer Jabareen, age 44, was arrested in 2002, at the time of the Second Intifada, accused of membership in a banned organization and activities against the state. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. After his release in 2019 he married and was working in construction. His wife is now pregnant with their first child, and will be missing her husband at this critical period.
The “United Fahmawi Herak” and the popular committee of Umm al-Fahm called for a demonstration in front of the Haifa court at the time of the hearing on Wednesday, June 9. About a hundred people gathered in front of the court, including leaders from all the Palestinian political parties, the mayor of Umm al-Fahm Dr. Samir Subhi Mahamid and many youth activists from the Herak. The police also were present with many heavily armed military-style types, and completely sealed off all the area around the court’s entrance. The demonstrators carried placards in Arabic, Hebrew and English in solidarity with Zafer Jabareen, calling for an end to administrative detention and denouncing the detentions campaign against the Palestinian masses.
When Zafer Jabareen’s lawyer, Mahmoud Jabareen, came out of the hearing, he updated the demonstrators and the press about what happened in the hearing. He couldn’t hide his frustration. He tried to ask questions about the accusations or suspicions against Zafer, but was told that all the materials are secret and no answers will be given. He told the court there is nothing he can do to defend his client without knowing why he was detained. He was not even allowed to be present in the courtroom when the Shabak presented “secret evidence” to the judge.
I talked with the lawyer later and he explained that the administrative detention is based on an old “emergency law” and is not subject to the newer law governing criminal detention. In the criminal detention law, the judge is obliged to consider the detainees human rights and, if he finds that there is a legal basis for detention, he still should consider whether there are other ways to supervise the detainee without holding him in prison. In the emergency law that governs administrative detention, even as there is no indictment and no way the detainee can defend himself or disprove “secret evidence”, there is also no consideration of the detainee’s human rights and the court is not allowed even to consider other means of supervision.
The police and Shabak love to use the threat of administrative detention as a way to break the spirit of people under interrogation. They can tell the interrogated that, if they don’t confess to any crime, and even if there is no evidence against them, they can still find themselves in prison for an unlimited period. So, better close a plea bargain and you will know at least when you will get out of prison.
Meanwhile, Haaretz, while reporting on Jabareen’s administrative detention, mentioned that there is another administrative detainee from the Nazareth area. This detainee was also detained for interrogation (on May 17th) and later transferred to administrative detention.
On Sunday, June 13, Judge Shapira issued his decision ratifying General Gantz’s administrative detention decree against Zafer Jabareen. Jabareen’s family and friends, and some political activists gathered outside the courtroom’s closed doors and were not surprised to hear the ruling. Some of them repeated the popular saying: “When your judge is your oppressor, to whom do you complain?”
Since May 9th, Israeli police and the Shabak (security services) have detained more than 2,000 Palestinians inside the territory Israel has occupied since 1948. But the detention of Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib in Kafr Kanna (north of Nazareth) on Friday, May 14, was the most dramatic and notable. As the police surrounded the Sheikh’s home, local residents spontaneously organized a mass demonstration against his detention, and soon there were clashes with the police. The police used live ammunition to disperse the crowd, and Mako reported (here, in Hebrew) that eleven of the demonstrators were evacuated for medical treatment, at least four of them in severe conditions.
When al-Khatib was indicted two weeks later (on May 27) in the Nazareth Magistrate’s court, his lawyers protested that his violent arrest was illegal to start with. The factual base of the indictment only mentioned three posts on Facebook. By law, the police are entitled to invade people’s homes and arrest suspects without a judicial warrant only in hot pursuit or to prevent imminent crime. Old posts of Facebook don’t justify it. In many previous occasions, when the police or the Shabak wanted to warn al-Khatib about his political activities, he was summoned to the police station where he was interrogated. But the new aggressive approach was exactly the message that the Israeli oppressive state wanted to convey.
Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib is one of the most prominent political figures among the ‘48 Palestinian public. He was the deputy leader of the Islamic Movement (sometimes called “the northern faction of the Islamic Movement”, but it is definitely the real thing) before it was outlawed by Israel in November 2015. Like many other members of the Islamic Movement, he continued his public activity after the movement was banned, and served, between other roles, as head of the “Liberties Committee”, the committee responsible for the defense of political and Human Rights on behalf of the “high follow-up committee”, the unified representative body of 1948 Palestinians.
Al-Khatib is represented in court by a joint team from Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, led by advocate Hassan Jabareen, and from Al-Mizan Rights Foundation (from Nazareth) led by advocate Omar Khamaisi.
Indictment of the Palestinian narrative
On receiving the eight-page indictment against al-Khatib, Jabareen protested and informed the court that he could not relate to such a lopsided document. Ten out of the 22 articles in the indictment are not connected to anything that is related to the accused, but are simply used to “set the context” – presenting a one-sided narrative of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Zionist movement and Israel from the beginning of the previous century until the latest bombardment of Gaza. In this narrative there is no ethnic cleansing, no occupation, no settlements on confiscated lands, no discrimination, no oppression, no Apartheid, only Arab rioters and terrorists constantly attacking innocent Jews and their revered security forces.
Against this background the court is required to assess the “danger” of the three Facebook posts, the only specific subjects of the indictment, that are taken from the page named “The Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib” (here, in Arabic). The indictment repeats many times the accusation that al-Khatib “called for violence”, “encouraged acts of terror” and “praised Hamas”. But in all the three quoted posts, even after being translated to Hebrew by police translators (his lawyers dispute the accuracy of the translation) – there is not a single call for violence, no praise for violence, and the name of Hamas (or any other organization that Israel considers as “terrorist”) is not even mentioned.
One of the posts that the indictment describes as “supporting terrorism” relates to the “Buraq Revolution” of 1929, which al-Khatib compared to the recent events, as both started with Jewish extremist provocations in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque. He mentions that in both cases the ensuing struggle quickly spread all over Palestine, and he mentions the casualties on both sides. Al-Khatib explained during his interrogation that he warned of the explosive potential from provocations in Al-Aqsa in order to prevent bloodshed. But the very fact that he speaks about these historic events from a Palestinian perspective was enough for the prosecution to declare it “support of terrorism”.
How to identify incitement?
In his 1982 satirical play “The Patriot”, Hanoch Levin wrote:
“Security instructions: A man walking down the street glancing nervously from side to side and over his shoulder – shall be suspected of being an Arab terrorist. A man walking down the street looking calmly ahead of him – shall be suspected of being a level-headed Arab terrorist. A man walking down the street looking up at the sky – shall be suspected of being a religious Arab terrorist. A man walking down the street staring at the ground – shall be suspected of being a shy Arab terrorist. A man walking down the street with his eyes shut – shall be suspected of being a drowsy Arab terrorist. A man not walking down the street – shall be suspected of being a sick Arab terrorist. All the suspects listed above shall be arrested. In the event of an attempted escape, a warning shot will be fired in the air. The body will be taken to the forensic institute.”
The first of the three posts that are cited in the indictment as “incitement to violence” was published on April 19. On the previous day there was a demonstration in Yaffa in solidarity with the people of al-Quds. The demonstrators were attacked by the police and there were clashes. The post includes four images of wounded people and one image of a police concentration, all apparently taken in Yaffa the previous day. This post is relatively short, so I will quote it here in full (my translation from the original Arabic text):
“Jaffa the hard number
Jaffa has always been the lung and flank of Jerusalem.
Just as Jerusalem faces the settlers’ flocks, so did Jaffa last night in the face of their swarms.
It is the same police and its hostile attitude toward every Palestinian, Arab and Muslim, which attacked our people in Jaffa, but Jaffa’s heroes prove every day that they are a difficult number.
All greetings and kisses on the forehead of each of you, O lions of Jaffa.
Jaffa, the definitive evidence of the failure of the Zionist project to distort the identity of our people in the Palestinian inside (a term relating to 1948-Palestine – YH), despite the 73 years of the Nakba of Jaffa, and indeed of every Palestinian.”
Al-Khatibs’ lawyers explained in court that the text should be understood, according to the accompanying images, as encouragement to and solidarity with the people that were wounded by police violence. They claimed that in these words, like in the two other posts, there is nothing that constitutes an offence according to the law.
The prosecutor admitted that al-Khatib did not explicitly call for violence, but claimed that this is because he is “cautious” and “sophisticated”, which makes him even more dangerous.
On Tuesday, June 8, Judge Doron Porat, the president of the Nazareth Magistrates’ court, decided to accept the prosecution’s request and ruled that al-Khatib should be held in prison until the end of his sentencing, with no option for bail. Even though there were no calls for violence from the accused, he built an incriminating “logical reasoning”, extending Levin’s measures:
“So is the case with the “Yaffa publication”, which was accompanied by pictures of wounded people from the Arab sector. These people seemingly took part in riots that evening, and seemingly were wounded in confrontation with security forces… the advocates claimed that those things were said with the purpose to strengthen the wounded. However, even if I assume that he meant them… those wounded rioted before, seemingly, and hence he encouraged and praised the violent acts that they performed, seemingly. Still, it is people that confronted the security forces and were wounded during confrontation. Hence, the Yaffa publication also can be an inciting publication.” (Page 40 of the protocol, decision by Judge Porat on June 8, 2021)
In short, a wounded Arab is an Arab that attacked the police, and solidarity with him is an incitement to violence!
What was not translated?
The third post in the indictment is a video with a nine-minute-long speech that Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib gave on May 11 at a public meeting that was held in his town, Kafr Kanna, in solidarity with al-Quds and al-Aqsa. The long translated text includes many things that are not connected to the accusations in any way, like al-Khatib citing religious texts including the famous saying that “the best jihad is to speak truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler”. In his speech he mentioned the attacks by fascist settlers against the Arab population in different places and stressed the need for unity against these attacks. He praised the new Palestinian generation as conscious and brave and applauded their steadfastness in the face of the oppressors.
The only section of the speech that was not translated is where he described in detail a specific act of steadfastness: when Palestinians were called to come to pray in al-Aqsa, but the Israeli police decided to prevent them and blocked busses and cars on the main road leading to al-Quds. He described how the Israeli police expected the Palestinians to return to their towns, but thousands of them started, instead, walking the twenty kilometres separating them from al-Aqsa. It created such a huge traffic jam that the Israeli police finally preferred to let them continue their way in their vehicles.
No wonder that this vivid example of victory by popular struggle was omitted from the indictment – it contradicts all the narrative that is built by the prosecution according to which Palestinians are always perpetrating violent attacks for no reason.
Based on this text the prosecution also bases the claim that al-Khatib is “supporting Hamas” – but Hamas is not even mentioned, and what he said, even according to the police translation, is “Bless Jerusalem, bless Gaza, bless “the inside”, bless Palestine, bless our people in the “inside”, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and in the diaspora.”
The logic of this text being considered “support of a terrorist organization” is that, according to their racist thinking, the Palestinian people as a whole are considered a terrorist organization.
Defending the innocents
The defense lawyers presented to the court a video with a sermon that al-Khatib delivered in a mosque in Kafr Kanna on the day of his arrest. In this sermon he talked about events that happened near the town a few days before, when a Jewish driver was attacked by an angry crowd – and other residents of Kafr Kana saved him from the crowd, brought him to receive medical treatment and later escorted him to safety. He said that the protest doesn’t justify attacks on the innocents, praised the actions of the residents that helped the victim and said that, if he was present there, he would have acted like them.
Even this sermon was later distorted by the prosecution and the judge, claiming that by denouncing the attack on innocent victims, al-Khatib actually praised and encouraged other attacks.
Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib was released under restrictive conditions
On Sunday, June 20, in the Nazareth District Court, Judge Arafat Taha accepted Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib’s appeal the lower court’s decision to detain him until the end of the legal proceedings against him. Judge Taha, after reading al-Khatib’s words in the original Arabic, accepted most of the claims of the defense lawyers against the prosecution and the lower court judge that claimed al-Khatib’s speech was incitement to violence and support of terrorism.
Still, as a condition for his release, al-Khatib had to pay high bail, he is not allowed to be in his town of Kafr Kanna for 45 days, and he is prevented from any public pronouncement for three months.
The General Strike in Haifa was a defiant display of unity across all sectors of the Palestinian community, even as ongoing governmental repression intensifies.
(The following is the 3rd dispatch from the Intifada in Haifa that was published in Mondoweiss)
While many around the world are aware of Israel’s ethnic cleansing in al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the massacre of innocents in Gaza, little is known about the fate of Palestinians in the areas that were occupied by Israel since 1948. Yet, for the Palestinian struggle, the uprising in what is called for short “48” is one of the most important developments over the past two weeks. In this third dispatch from Haifa for Mondoweiss, I try to describe the events as they developed day by day (you can find the previous reports here).
Events in Haifa took a sharp turn on Sunday, May 9, when police attacked a Palestinian demonstration in the German Colony in solidarity with Sheikh Jarrah. The Palestinian protests and clashes with the police in the German Colony continued for three days. On Tuesday there was a fascist mobilization to confront the Palestinian protest, and they were encouraged by the police to attack Palestinian in the neighborhood. The same day Palestinian youth took control of many streets far beyond the original center of the clashes.
The fascist attacks continued for three consecutive days, until Thursday. They were looking mostly for Arab residents that live outside the Arab neighborhoods. At the same time Palestinians all over the city were urgently organizing self-defense. The fascist didn’t dare attack the Arab neighborhoods, but the police, reinforced by the military “border guards”, launched a campaign of terror against the population at large: roadblocks, detentions, beatings, throwing stun grenades and teargas at homes and bystanders, and patrolling the streets in a provocative way.
The call for a general strike
The daily bombing in Gaza and the images from al-Quds aroused strong feelings in the local Palestinian population, but it was the need to mobilize a defense against fascist attacks that moved many people to action who would normally sympathize with the struggle but choose not to take part.
One sign of the deep impact of this threat was the news that many Arab soldiers and policemen (30 of them, according to some commentators) announced their resignation from the army and the police. One of them, in an interview (here, in Hebrew), described how he passed by our demonstration in Haifa and heard the slogan “Why are we quiet about Arabs serving in the army?”, before hearing the voice of his conscience and quitting the service.
By the end of the week, the question among the activists was how we go on from here. How do we utilize mass mobilization not only for self-defense, but also to stop the daily massacre in Gaza? The idea of a general strike started circulating in the networks. On Sunday, The High Follow-Up Committee, the united leadership of the ‘48 Palestinian population, declared a general strike for Tuesday, May 18. In the same meeting they also issued an unprecedented call for the international community to take responsibility for the protection of the Palestinian population, including in the ‘48 territories. (The committee’s announcement is here in Arabic.)
The activists are used to distrusting the leadership of the Follow-Up Committee, and some thought that a one-day general strike was not enough. But, soon, in the spirit of unity and empowerment that enabled the current uprising, all energies were united for the success of the strike. Politically, the strike was a great opportunity to involve many more people in the struggle and show that Palestinian society is united beyond a common goal.
During the last couple of weeks, we witnessed the almost total disappearance of the traditional political parties and a surge of new initiatives organized by the youth through social networks. There are multiple groups in WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal where people connect, share information, discuss and organize. From time to time there were last-minute calls for face-to-face meetings that were held in the street or in friendly spaces. After the activists decided what the next activity would be, the news was spread through Facebook and through personal, family, neighborhood and professional chat groups.
All of this frenzied organizational network was working throughout Monday to mobilize for the success of the strike. We thought that it would be necessary to stand by the entrance of local schools in order to ask the parents and pupils to strike, but soon we were informed that the parents and pupils were organizing the strike themselves! We were leafleting around the neighborhoods and everywhere we met shopkeepers that told us “yes, this time we will be on strike!”
After all the fear from fascist attacks and the terrorizing of the people by the police, it was important to revive the self-confidence of the people in the neighborhoods and to reclaim the public space. For this purpose, the activists organized cultural activities in six neighborhoods, including lectures, activities for children, musical programs and more.
Reclaiming the public space
On Tuesday morning all the networks were sharing images of closed shops from all around Arab Haifa, even areas that never participated in strikes before. But it was not only Arab shops and businesses that closed. Many people that work for Israeli companies and organizations were on strike also. So, there were also other types of images that were shared around: threats from managers to their workers, a picture of a chat where an Arab engineer told her boss that she would not come to work this day and his answer was “wishing her success” in finding new work, etc. There were also announcements from big Israeli companies telling their customers that because of the strike they would not be able to provide the expected services. Sharing all these gave a sense of the power of Palestinian workers to make an impact on the Israeli economy.
The activities in the neighborhoods were a great success. In ordinary days, Arab Haifa is pretty much a divided city, mostly along class lines, between marginalized workers and their families who live in poor neighborhoods and the middle class. The struggle, and especially the general strike, created a sense of unity. In my neighborhood, Halisa, the committee that organized the strike was half from local youth and half from volunteers from the activist community. At the designated hour people began to gather in the small commercial center, mostly women and children. Neighbors brought with them food and water and invited everybody.
I didn’t want to bring the Palestinian flag with me – I thought that if it should be raised over the activity it should come from the “ordinary” people and not from the “political”. But the first round of activities for the children included “free painting”, so soon we had plenty of Palestinian flags drying in the sun as well as images of Sheikh Jarrakh, al-Aqsa, and the bombing of Gaza.
In the middle of the activities, a heavily armed patrol of border guards stopped their car near us and came to check what we were doing. Seeing all the children around they went back to their car. They made some calls and apparently were told to leave us alone.
As we were gathering in the commercial center, we heard that there are police harassing the residents in Hussein St, just 200 meters away. I went there and found about a dozen policemen in civil, with completely unmarked cars, searching some homes. They also brought with them police dogs. I started filming them with my phone and they were very unhappy about it.
Back in the commercial center, there was a group of musicians that came to raise our spirits. Some of them fill concert halls in ordinary days, but now they were sitting on the bare ground with Halisa’s children and were singing and playing their instruments. In many songs the whole crowd was singing together. They even prepared a special satirical song for the event that criticized the Palestinian leadership for complacency and praised the unity of the masses all over Palestine in the general strike. (A video from the activity may be seen here).
Similar activities took part with mass participation in other neighborhoods, big and small.
As I described in previous dispatches, after the attacks on the Herak demonstrations during the previous week, there was some fear of holding a new demonstration. On Saturday there were two demonstrations, one in Wadi Nisnas and the other near the court, but the numbers were smaller, about a hundred participants in each demonstration, and no streets were closed. Now, as the momentum started to accumulate again on our side, Tal’at (the feminist Palestinian movement) called for a new demonstration at 18:00 on Tuesday. It was labeled “The march of the dignity strike”, after the name of the general strike. The march had to start near “al-Midan Theater” – on the border between Wadi Nisnas (the center of Arab Haifa) and Hadar (the old commercial center with mixed population). There was at least one mindful consideration in this selection: if there was to be mayhem again, it wouldn’t hurt the same businesses that suffered with us the previous week.
At the designated hour hundreds of Palestinians, mostly youth, gathered with Palestinian flags on both sides of Khuri St., about the same number that was in the Herak demonstration a week ago. Spirits were high again and everybody was chanting slogans and singing freedom songs. The police also brought a big force for the event, but didn’t try to prevent us from gathering.
After about half an hour, the demonstrators started to march toward Wadi Nisnas. Because the police were concentrating in Khuri St. the demonstrators tried to reach the Wadi through a side-street, but soon their way was blocked by a cordon of mounted police. After standing for some time face-to-face in front of the police, the demonstrators returned to Khuri street, but now they occupied the street itself, blocking the main passage from the Wadi to Hadar.
While the previous Tuesday the police closed the whole area more than an hour before our demonstration, clearing the space for a battle, now they didn’t close the street for cars even as it was already closed by the demonstration. Some cars were stuck between us and the police and had to move slowly to cross through the crowd. During the event, all the people in those cars were making “V” signs and chanting with us to show their support for the demonstration…
Apparently, the Haifa police put in their mind that their task is to prevent the demonstrators from marching. So, while if we would have held a march in the small streets of Wadi Nisnas the “disturbance” to the city’s routine would be minimal, they actually let us occupy and block a central route in a much more visible location. The demonstration lasted for almost two hours and we left feeling that the message of our protest was heard loud and clear.
* * *
As I write these lines the clock is showing 2:00 am and the ceasefire is expected to take hold. I hope the current bloodshed will stop, but I know that the killing of Palestinians on a daily basis by the racist army and police, in the West Bank and “48”, is not going to stop. And the siege of Gaza, preventing medical supplies, electricity, clean water and all economic development is killing more people and causing more suffering than the bombing itself. In “48”, due to poverty and long social neglect, organized crime, encouraged by the Israeli police, became an epidemic that daunted Palestinian society. During the last two weeks violent crime fell sharply. We have a long struggle ahead until people here would be able to live safely in freedom, but the Palestinian people are now more united and self-confident than they have been for many years.
To my American audience I must say that even the Israeli leadership wanted the ceasefire for at least a week, as Netanyahu achieved his political goal to prevent the “pseudo-opposition” from creating a government without him. Netanyahu said he would continue the attacks until “the goals would be achieved”, but he couldn’t say what those goals are… The bloodshed continued just because Israeli leaders couldn’t let themselves seem soft on the Palestinians while the USA president avoided calling for a ceasefire and actually pushed them to continue bombing Gaza.
The uprising in Haifa is drawing from all sectors of the Palestinian community, as the Israeli government brings in the Shin Bet to help smash the protests.
(The second report about the Intifada in Haifa, as appeared in Mondoweiss)
On Saturday it seemed that Haifa is somewhat calmer. But that is only relatively to the last stormy six days. But the Israeli massacre of Gaza’s children continues in all its ferocity.
After the first days of fear, shock, and rage at the attacks on isolated Arab homes in mixed neighborhoods by the fascists, and at the attacks on the Arab population at large by the police and the army, people are now closely following all the developments in the struggle. Almost all Palestinians in Haifa are involved in the struggle in this way or that. Wherever you go you meet more people that were attacked by fascists or by the police, and hear more stories about friends and relatives who have been injured or detained (or both).
In this short dispatch I will try to convey some of the events from the 7th and 8th days of the intifada in Haifa.
Saturday, May 15
This was the 7th day since the current intifada reached Haifa. The fascist mobs were not on the streets. But the police, reinforced by heavily armed “border guards”, patrolled the Arab neighborhoods with a clear intention to “take revenge” on the people. It is not only against Gaza that the Zionists want to “restore deterrence”. On the other side, the activists wanted to restore the self-confidence of the people by developing mutual solidarity and social activity, sometimes avoiding direct confrontation.
I went with a group of activists to check the situation in Halisa, where we heard of a campaign of detentions overnight. We climbed our way to an old crumbling house just a hundred meters from the massive buildings of the Haifa police headquarters. In the house we found a mother and her daughters, as the family’s father and three sons were all arrested in a police raid on their house. They show us videos how the police attacked the house, broke in and beat them cruelly in their own home, even after they were laying flat on the ground. They tell us that the police accused them of attacking their religious Jewish neighbors. They told us that they are on very good relations with those neighbors. Actually, the neighbors themselves came to the court to testify with them in the remand hearing! The neighbors waited with them for hours, but the court refused to hear them and remanded the detention of all four of the detainees. (They were later released on Sunday, after the judge finally agreed to witness the videos and was shocked by the police’s violence).
We climbed the hill to Hussein St. where we met a group of youths sitting on the pavement. They told us how on Friday night, at about 1:00 am, as they were sitting near their houses, the police fired tear gas into the street without any provocation. After the tear gas came the border guards and started beating people randomly and detaining some of them. As we were trying to check with our volunteer lawyers what happened with the detainees, some of them came walking from the police headquarters. Some of them spent the night in the hospital after the beating. Now they were released on the condition that they stay out of Haifa (where they live and work) for the next 15 days. The bloodstained signs of the beating could be clearly seen on their bodies.
The breadth of the protests
We hardly know what happens in other towns around Haifa and beyond. We are very busy with the events, the Israeli media hardly write anything about Palestinians suffering from Israeli oppression or resisting it, and the Arab media can hardly catch up with the events. In normal days when there is a demonstration or a clash with the police you can expect to read an article about it in Arab48. Now there are dozens of demonstrations and clashes every day. The daily report only gives a list of seven or eight places where they happened, and mention that it is only a partial list. At best you can find a few lines about some of the events.
Luckily, the police are obliged by the law to bring detainees to court within 24 hours of their detention (more or less). It means that people that were detained on Friday are brought to court on Saturday night. As most courts are closed, detainees from many Arab towns around Haifa are brought to Haifa, and it is an opportunity for us to meet families of the detainees and some of the activists, and hear some news about other fronts in the battle. Everybody that we talk with is in high spirits. We hear of daily demonstrations and clashes with the police in every location. Everybody agrees that all the attempts to wipe out Palestinian identity and make the people, especially the youth, care only for their personal fate completely failed. The youth are leading the struggle and have their own network of organizations, outside the influence of all the traditional frameworks.
We hear of one town where the municipality begged the police to prevent the selling of dangerous fireworks toward Eid al-Fitr. The police did nothing of the sort. Now there is no Eid and all the fireworks are directed at the police.
The same story repeats itself on Sunday morning, as it is the eve of the Jewish Shavuot holiday, and on Monday night after all courts were closed for the holiday.
Long before the current uprising, Herak Haifa planned to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba, in coordination with other Palestinian movements all over Palestine and the diaspora, with a special event with lighting the torch of return. The activity was planned to take place in Prisoner’s Square, in the German Colony, where the clashes started in the first three days of last week. Now, as Palestinians in Haifa are under attack, the German Colony is not regarded a safe place. The fascists issued calls for attacking the Herak activity, and we know very well that the police would be more than happy to take part in such an attack. The youth in the Arab neighborhoods are mobilized for self-defense of the population, but the Herak didn’t want to farther strain their efforts and cancelled the activity.
Meanwhile, many women activists felt that they were sidelined while the main forms of activity are clashes with the police or physically confronting attackers. In the last few years, we have witnessed several very significant struggles led by “Tal’at”, a feminist Palestinian initiative that unites Palestinian women in all different localities. Now Tal’at called for a 15th of May Nakba demonstration in Emil Habibi Circle in the middle of Wadi Nisnas. Many were afraid, after the experience of the last days, that any demonstration would be attacked by the police. But more than a hundred activists, around 80% of them women, came anyway to the demonstration. The police were watching from the other side of the circle and the demonstration took place without being interrupted.
At the end of the demonstration, most of the participants walked through downtown Haifa to the court, and held another lively demonstration there. As we arrived near the court, we found that the police and border guards concentrated heavy forces in front of the building. There was a big gathering of the families of detainees from all the towns in the Haifa district, and the police kept the demonstrators separated from the families. There were even police dogs ready to bite us. Later we learned that the police mobilization was probably due to the fact that Sheikh Kamal Hatib, the deputy leader of the banned Islamic Movement, was also brought for remand. He was arrested the previous night from his home in Kafr Kanna (Cana of Galilee) near Nazareth in a very violent way, which included firing live munition at protesters, wounding many, several of them dangerously.
Sunday, May 16
In the morning we went to the court again, to see who was arrested the previous night, to support the families of the detainees, and to encourage the volunteer lawyers. There are many Arab lawyers that are volunteering to defend the detainees from the protests. Their presence is a very strong message to the detainees and their families: you are not alone; you are part of a society that is under attack and stays strong by caring for each other. We, in Haifa, are lucky to have a special team of young female lawyers that organized prior to the current crisis in order to defend Palestinian political prisoners. Now they work day and night, giving consultations to detainees before they are interrogated and representing them in the remand hearings.
Rashad Omari is clearly the bravest Palestinian journalist in Haifa. He is the owner and editor of “Al-Madina”, a local weekly that is freely distributed in Haifa and surrounding towns. He personally covers all of the Palestinian demonstrations in Haifa, as well as many social issues. On Friday he was arrested from his home in Haifa and was accused of “incitement”. They did not say what this supposed incitement consisted of, or where and when it was published. He spent the night in prison and later the police suggested to release him on condition that he keep out of the city for the next 15 days. He refused, and as a reprisal the police brought him to court on Saturday night and requested to remand his detention. The judge didn’t find any evidence of any offense and he was released without conditions. He was the last person to walk out of the court at 2:00 am.
On Sunday morning he was already in front of the court again, covering the remand hearings of other detainees, interviewing families and laughing with friends.
As we were waiting in front of the court, we saw a man approaching with a sense of urgency. It was Ashraf Kortam, a well known local public figure, a lecturer on life skills. He was looking for the offices of Mahash, the special unit in Israel’s “Justice Ministry” that is responsible for investigating complaints against the police. He shows us a video, filmed by his neighbors, of how a policeman came to his house in a police car and hit him with a police baton again and again without any apparent reason. Unlike in most such cases, he knows the officer’s name. We find that Mahash is in “the missile building”, just on the other side of the avenue. He hurried there but found that the “justice ministry” is on holiday in Shavuot’s eve. He will go there after the holiday. I didn’t like telling him that the main role of Mahash is to hide evidence and close files.
Enter the Shin Bet
It was reported in the Israeli papers that the Shabak, or Shin Bet, was requested by the Israeli government to help the police in suppressing the mass protest. We have started to feel the heat. Before the police would only attack us only after we started to demonstrate in the street, now they sit tightly on our communications and arrest people that try to plan a demonstration. On Saturday they arrested two of the Herak activists just as we were discussing the proper way to commemorate the Nakba.
On Sunday morning one of the activists from Wadi Nisnas called his friends near the court to ask how many people were gathering there. He told them that he planned to bring manakish to the hungry masses. Before he had time to get out of his home, the police were there and took him with them. He was accused of an unclear charge of taking part in organizing the protests. After a few hours he finally joined the crown near the court, as a released detainee and, of course, without manakish. The cooperation between the police and the Shabak proved itself again as an efficient way to prevent “threats to Israel’s security”.
Today, Monday, (17.5.2021), we were all preparing for the general strike that was declared for tomorrow. The general strike is an opportunity for the society as a whole to stand out and prove that the protest is not only the matter of the youth activists. I hope to cover the preparations with the report about the strike itself in the next dispatch.
Since Sunday, May 9, events in Haifa are moving so fast that I couldn’t write fast enough to describe them. Every night there are mass detention of Palestinians – activists and other residents that happened to pass in the police’s trail. Every morning dozens of relatives, friends and comrades gather in front of the Haifa court, hoping to see their dear ones released, or at least to know what is going to happen with them. Every night local hospitals accept groups of detainees and other citizens that were hurt by stun grenades, tear gas, police beatings or attacks by fascist Zionist mobs. Every evening everybody is tuning to social media or patrolling the streets to find where the next attack may come from.
I wanted to write a learned article, explaining the background and giving a political perspective, but I’m exhausted. We spent the day before the courthouse, where we heard that, in addition to 38 people that were arrested in Haifa’s streets last night, there are at list 7 more that were arrested in raids on their homes in the early morning. But there were also more than 50 political detainees from the nearby Palestinian towns that were brought for remand before the Haifa court, and the hearing of the Haifa detainees didn’t start until 3pm, even though it is Friday and the court was supposed to close by 2pm. We were sitting on the pavement before the court house, which we were not allowed to enter (only one from each detainee’s family was allowed in), discussing the next steps in the struggle. Luckily, in the best of Arab tradition, some good people brought us water, cold drinks and Falafel, so we didn’t all starve.
As we came back to our poor Arab neighborhood, we went to check what happened last night in Hussein St., where the police shot tear gas at residential buildings. In these days the neighbors were supposed to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, at the end of the month-long Ramadan. But the neighborhood is quiet and there is no Eid. We find the house of the Bushkar family, and they tell us how a police unit that were stationed in the main street, on the other side of the garden, shoot without any provocation tear gas canisters toward the row of four-story residential buildings. One canister exploded in the stairway just in front of their door and another entered a room from the window. It is illegal to shoot teargas at people at closed spaces, as it becomes even more dangerous, but the police wanted to take revenge from the neighborhood at large after a police car was burned in the main street in the previous night. Everybody in the house has suffocated and the pregnant mother lost consciousness. They called an ambulance, but the police stopped it and didn’t let it enter the neighborhood. Only after a log delay, when more neighbors intervened and shouted at the police, they let a neighbor escort the ambulance in and the women was taken to the hospital. The neighbors, in the spirit of crowd-media, filmed their argument with the police and published it on Facebook.
Later we walked around the neighborhood to see what was going on. There was one group of police on the main entrance to the neighborhood. People told us that a patrol of the border guards just entered our street. There was hardly anyone braving to get out.
So, in short, what happened this week in Haifa?
Sunday, May 9
Five Palestinian movements called for a demonstration against ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrakh. The invitation included Herak Haifa, Tal’at (Palestinian Feminist initiative), The Student’s National Democratic Alliance (Tajamou), The Haifa Youth Movement and The Alternative Palestinian Path. A few hundred people, mostly youth, gathered in “Prisoners Square” in the German Colony, Haifa’s touristic center. The police didn’t wait long before it attacked the participants with a barrage of stun grenades and started to chase protesters and detain them.
Monday, May 10
Some un-organized youth called on Facebook for another demonstration in Prisoner’s Square. I was not there but heard different estimations of the number of participants, between a few dozens and the hundreds. Police wanted to disperse them and there were clashes all over the area.
Tuesday, May 11
The five movements that organized Sunday’s demonstration called for a new protest at 20:30 in Prisoner’s Square, now also against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. More Palestinian movements promise to join. Women in Black (which organize vigils against the occupation) called for a protest in the Bahai (UNESCO) Circle for 7:30, with big participation, and some of them join the Palestinian protesters. Some fascists organize a counter-demo in the German Colony, which is attended by only a few dozens, under heavy police protection.
As the Palestinian protest start, not even moving from the original gathering site, mounted police ride into the crowd, followed by a barrage of stun grenades. There are more protesters now and they hold their ground, disperse and gather again all along the main section of the German Colony. Clashes with sporadic detention continue in the main street for some two hours as the side streets are blocked with burning barricades.
The presence of the fascists, which chant “Death to the Arabs” and cheer the police when they attack the demonstrators is heating the atmosphere farther. After long time a big police force that was chasing the Palestinian protesters turn to the junction where they were located. To say the truth, I thought they might instruct them to disperse, to lower the tension. But, instead, the police organized the fascist in a small column and marched them through the main street of the German Colony, all with their Israeli Flags and their enthusiastic “Death to the Arab” chants. Some of them threw stones at Arab passers-by from behind the thick police wall defending them. If any Arab try to oppose them, he was chased by the police, like you can see in this video.
So, if I initially thought that the police came to prevent demonstrations or limit the freedom of expression, I proved wrong. They came to promote the right kind of un-licensed demonstrations. In fact, the police proved itself in the most open way to be the uniformed and armed vanguard of the fascist mob.
After their demonstration the fascist mob went on to attack random Arab civilians in the area. The police were defending them but at the same time there was an unprecedented popular uprising as hundreds or even thousands of Arab Palestinian youths took control of the streets, raised barricades and defended their homes and neighborhoods.
Wednesday, May 12
There was another Palestinian demonstration planned, this one by The Democratic Front, but it was abolished due to the tension. All the day we followed new in social media about a planned fascist attack on Arab neighborhoods. Toward the evening the youths took control of the streets again.
The fascists gathered in “Kiryat Eliezer” – a mostly Jewish neighborhood to the West of the German Colony (on its East is Wadi Nisnas, the center of the Palestinian population in Haifa). The police attacked the youth gathering in Wadi Nisnas and at the same time allowed the fascists to attack isolated Arab families and Arab businesses in Kiryat Eliezer and the German Colony. They chased and arrested any Arab that tried to come to the help of the attacked.
The Catholic Sun reports that “about 30 Jewish men attacked the three daughters of Wadie Abunassar, honorary Spanish consul and spokesman for the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land. The men beat the young adults with flag poles flying the Israeli flag and threw stones at their cars.”
The fascists didn’t come close to the Arab concentrations, but the police attacked there, also with violence and detentions.
Thursday, May 13
After last night’s events the Arab population was more tense than ever, everybody discussing what to do to defend against fascist attacks. At 17:00 there was an open-air meeting in the middle of the Wadi Nisnas market, with activists from the Arab parties and some maybe a hundred of the youth that were leading the action. They felt that the Arab neighborhoods are more or less safe, but the problem was how to defend Arab homes where Arabs are a minority in mixed neighborhoods. It was decided to gather in Kiryat Eliezer before the fascists come again, not in a demonstration, just stand quietly on the street side, in order to defend the residents.
The peaceful defensive gathering was promptly attacked with extra force by the police, which brought big reinforcement from the military “border guards”, trained on brutal oppression in the West Bank. Hundreds of youths dispersed all the way East to Wadi Nisnas and Hadar, and clashes erupted in many streets and alleys.
Throughout the evening the police and the soldiers were actively terrorizing the civilian population in their neighborhoods, streets and homes. Many soldiers were moving in the streets in civilian cars just to suddenly stop in the middle of the street, stopping the traffic, pointing their guns at the drivers and bystanders, pulling people out of their cars and searching them and the cars and performing random detentions. Walking patrols entered the streets, seeking violent “contact” and shooting teargas randomly at residents. You can see one such patrol, which I succeeded to film just as they shoot gas randomly in Wadi Nisnas, in this video. Later I heard how someone that was filming the soldiers nearby was shot by a rubber bullet in the chest and had three ribs broken.
This night the fascist continued their rioting in Kiryat Eliezer. Later they went to another neighborhood, Wadi Jamal, and shot live bullets at Arab homes.
Friday, May 14
The police and the army still concentrate forces to terrorize the Arab population. Now they invade houses and arrest people, day and night. The fascists are planning for a new demonstration in the German Colony for tomorrow
When I was in Barcelona in 2019, I’ve seen a writing on the wall: “When you don’t move, you don’t feel the chains”. Now that Palestinian Arabs in Haifa moved, the real nature of the Zionist state is crystal clear. Palestinian Haifa is an occupied city and its police is basically a hateful Jewish supremacist militia. The situation in other “mixed” occupied cities, al-Lid, Ramlah, Yaffa and Akka, is even much worse than in Haifa.
But when you struggle for your rights, for your freedom, you are also full of pride, solidarity, love and hope. These are historic moments and the people of Haifa moved like never before since the Nakba of 1948. And, more than ever since 1948, they are part of a united Palestinian struggle against their oppressors.
It is already 3am and I finish this report for now.
On March 23, Israel’s citizens elected a new Knesset, the fourth such election in just two years. The most painful issue under Israel’s control— the fate of Palestinians deprived of their most basic human and national rights— was not even discussed in the campaign. Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which has been under Israel’s military rule for the last 54 years, don’t have the vote. For many Israelis, their fate is a “non-issue.”
In fact, the Israeli media constantly attacks Arab Palestinian Knesset members for caring too much about the fate of their voteless brothers and sisters. According to Israel’s mainstream media, by defending the rights of the disenfranchised, Arab MKs (and not the racist state) are somehow responsible for the continued systematic discrimination against their voters, Palestinians in the areas occupied by Israel since 1948 who have formal Israeli citizenship.
Open racist wounds
Though the Palestinian issue was not discussed, it is still the invisible force that played havoc with Israeli politics and caused the unprecedented anomaly of four subsequent elections. The central issue of contention, as everybody knows, is the fate of Binyamin Netanyahu (AKA “BiBi”), Israel’s longest serving prime minister, who is standing trial for multiple cases of corruption.
In previous elections, Bibi succeeded to distract Zionist public opinion from his corruption by inciting against the “danger” of Arab voters. In the last previous round, in March 2, 2020, the anti-Bibi forces united around General Gantz, the “hero” who, as Israel’s chief of staff, commanded over the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza in 2014. They thought that the general’s war credentials would protect them from Bibi’s description of his opponents as “leftists” and “weak on the Palestinians.”
The Arab parties also united in those 2020 Knesset elections and brought unprecedented representation of 15 seats, raising the traditionally low voting percentage between disillusioned Arab Palestinian voters by promising that with their unity they could gain real influence in Israeli politics. In an attempt to materialize the promised influence, they joined the Zionist opposition in recommending Gantz for the post of prime-minister. That caused panic in the Gantz camp, as the “hero” himself and many of his supporters preferred to join a government led by Bibi, the same person they promised never to support, rather than form a government supported by Arab parties.
Finally, it was Bibi himself who caused the collapse of his own coalition government, trying to utilize his success in rolling out anti-Corona vaccines (but not vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza) before any other country, in order to form a government of true believers that would, hopefully, abolish his corruption trials.
Bibi’s true believers, in addition to Likud enthusiasts, are mostly religious nationalists.
The two Haredi (Religious Orthodox) parties, one for Jews of European descent and one for Jews from the Arab countries, are hooked on monetary transfers from the state, and adopted extreme anti-Arab positions just as they skilfully defend the right of their youth not to serve in the army.
In addition, Bibi personally worked hard to unite all sorts of “national religious” elements to a single election list named “Religious Zionism,” which includes the most extreme far-right “Jewish Power” (Otzma Yehudit) party, the new home of the followers of Kahana after their original party was declared a terrorist organization. Likud, at Bibi’s insistence, even gave a slot in his own list to a member of “Religious Zionism” in order to make sure that Itamar Ben-Gvir from “Otzma” will be in the Knesset.
The collapse of the anti-Bibi camp after the last election and the crawl to join his government, followed by Bibi’s reversal of all his promises, left the “camp” in disarray. There are hardly any real parties, as candidates’ lists change in each election like the colored plastic in a kaleidoscope. Most lists are popularly, or even officially, called by the name of their current leader. In many such lists, “the leader” personally positions his servile followers in the rest of the slots.
The media often describes Bibi as a magician, in an attempt to explain his prolonged control over Israeli politics. A much more honest explanation is the total impotence of the opposition. He was exposed in an endless array of small and big corruption cases, from begging for cigars and champagne from friendly tycoons, through taking his family’s dirty laundry (literally) on visits to the white house to be washed for free at the expense of USA hospitality, to big bribes paid by German submarine producers to his close aides for their effort to sell the Israeli army expensive hardware it doesn’t need.
The value of his political shares inflated as his admirer Donald Trump was elected for the job of US president, but his staunch support for Trump undermined the bi-partisan support for Israel in the US and damaged Israel’s relations with its Jewish community. Meanwhile he filled his Likud party with noisy henchmen and continued to lose the party’s “more serious” politicians, the latest of them, Gideon Sa’ar, led another Anti-Bibi list composed of ex-Likudniks, which prevented the pro-Bibi camp from gaining outright majority in this election.
The general political chaos didn’t spare the Arab “Joint List.” In its unanimous recommendation for Gantz, it crossed all the red lines of Palestinian solidarity without showing any tangible achievement for its voters. This led one component of the Joint List to try to go one step farther.
MK Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamic Movement’s “Southern” faction, started engaging in a series of courtship steps with Bibi himself, explaining that he is ready to cooperate with any side that can deliver real advantage to his voters. (The “Northern” faction of the Islamic Movement, where most of the mass movement is, was outlawed by Israel and its leaders were thrown into jail.)
This division led to a split in the Joint List. Abbas is now leading “The United List” with his Islamic Movement and some more traditional local leaders. As I write these lines, according to the current (not final) election results, Abbas and his list are considered “the wild card” between the pro-Bibi and anti-Bibi camps. But as Israeli politics go, racism is the most prevalent common denominator, and it is unlikely that either camp will be ready to build a government based on Arab parties.
Thus, by the delegitimization of the Arab Palestinian voters, the two Zionist camps would find it hard to command the “Jewish majority” that they aspire to for building a “legitimate” Zionist government. Many commentators assume that the most likely result of the election would be yet another election sometime soon.
The Case for Boycott
It was symbolic that at the time of the Knesset election campaign, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were preparing to vote for the “Legislative Council” of the Palestinian Authority. The ethno-geography of the elections clearly explains the failure of the Palestinians to gain their rights on both stages.
All Jews, everywhere in Palestine, from the river to the sea, are privileged citizens of the state of Israel and take part in deciding not only their own fate but also the fate of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinians are divided. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza vote for the PA, which has no real control under the occupation. Any Palestinian, including elected MPs, that engage in political activity that is regarded “hostile” by the occupation, is arrested by Israel.
Palestinians in the areas that were occupied in 1948 are formally citizens, but they are subject to systemic discrimination, including land confiscation and house demolition that amount to ethnic cleansing. Palestinian MKs have no real influence, and they are subject to constant demonization in the Israeli media. On the other side, the Israeli propaganda machine uses the presence of Palestinian MKs in the Knesset as a “proof” of the false claim that Israel is a proper democracy.
The majority of the Palestinian population was expelled from their homes, villages and cities in 1948 and in the 73 years that lapsed since. Actually, their expulsion was the essential condition for creating the “Jewish Majority” in 1948. Thus, the claim that Israel is a “democratic state” is based on the endorsement of ethnic cleansing. No wonder that this “Jewish Majority” is voting again and again to deny the right of return of millions of Palestinians.
Over the last decades, especially since the Oslo agreement, Israel and its Western and Arab supporters succeeded not only to divide the Palestinian people physically but also to divide them politically. Each part of the Palestinian people is directed to look for his special rights within some special enclave. In each part there is a local leadership that adjusted to these conditions and grew to benefit from them.
Over the last years, we have witnessed the development of new Palestinian protest movements, mostly among the younger generation. Many of them call for boycott of the Knesset elections as well as the elections of the Palestinian Authority. They aspire for the rebuilding of a united Palestinian movement, in all parts of Palestine and throughout the diaspora, as the first step toward liberation and the establishment of real democracy in a free, united Palestine.
The combined problem of hostile racist government and the growing prevalence of organized crime are haunting the Palestinian Arab society within the 48 occupied Palestine. The lack of personal security is multiplied by the feeling that there is no one to turn to for protection when your life is in danger. In the last years there were many struggles against organized crime and against the Israeli’s police giving free hand to the criminal gangs to terrorize the Arab population while the same police acts with excessive violence against people that struggle for their rights or even against ordinary Arab citizens.
Today, Friday, March 5, I took part in one of the biggest demonstrations of this kind. It was held in Umm al-Fahm, the main Palestinian town in the northern Triangle area. It was a high point in a long struggle of the people of the region, led by “al-Herak al-Fahmawi al-Muwahad” – “The United Fahmawi Movement” – after regular shooting at local citizens by armed gangs, and a murder attempt against Dr. Suleiman Aghbaria, a former mayor and one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement, arose tension and anger.
The previous Friday, February 26, Herak demonstrators tried to block the main road and were violently attacked by the police. One was dangerously wounded. The city’s mayor Dr. Samir Sobhi Mahamid and Knesset member Dr. Yousef Jabareen (also Fahmawi), that were trying to cool down the confrontation, were physically attacked by the police in front of the cameras. Four of the demonstrators were arrested. As a response, “The High Follow Up Committee”, the united leadership of the 1948 Palestinians, gathered in Umm al-Fahm and declared a national demonstration for this Friday.
Hours before the time of the demonstration, the police already closed the main highway leading to Umm al-Fahm, several kilometers away, on both sides. We, like thousands of others that were coming from out of the town, had to make our way on unmapped mountain roads through neighboring townships. When the crowd, that was estimated to be between ten and twenty thousand, finally marched to the main street it was already closed and deserted. Palestinian and black flags were hung on the traffic lights and the masses freely poured into the central junction, the same junction from which they were chased violently the other week.
Officially the demonstration was called by the follow-up committee, which is composed of all the 48-Palestinians’ parties and movements. But on the ground, it was clear that the demonstration was organized and led by al-Herak. On a central wall in the first circle of the town, in front of the municipality, a big billboard signed by the Herak waited the demonstrators. It declared “I will not wait until my son will be the next one… Umm al-Fahm started on the road”. It added a short cry in English and Hebrew: “Who’s next?”. Herak activist with specially printed yellow vests took control of the streets, turned away traffic and organized everything, including distributing water and halvah to the demonstrators.
The role of women in the demonstration very significant. Many of them marched in a special block, but most sections of the demonstration were mixed. Women carried Palestinian flags, led and chanted slogans and closed streets.
Al-Herak distributed to the participants a special, elegantly edited, 8-pages pamphlet explaining the background for the struggle. Its title was “The Police is The Problem”. It starts with the demonstrations of the second intifada in the year 2000 and the killing of three demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm by police fire. They relate to the colonialist approach of the Israeli government toward Arab Palestinian citizens and the government’s “justification” that internal violence is part of “the Arab culture”. They contrast the prevalence of violent organized crime in 48 Palestine to the relatively lower level of internal violent in the West Bank society. They show in graphs, numbers and details of police activities how the police systematically fail, or, rather, doesn’t even try, to defend Arab crime victims.
The Herak’s pamphlet ends with a slogan that was also repeated many times in the demonstration: “Revolutionaries, free people, we will march on”.
Internal political conflict
The demonstration was held two and a half weeks before the Knesset elections – the fourth election within two years. This time there is very little interest in the Palestinian society in the elections. The reasons for this lack of interest stems from two-way disappointment: On one side, the Israeli society looks like becoming ever more right-wing and anti-Palestinian, and almost nobody has an illusion that anything good can come from another elections. On the other side, the traditional Palestinian leadership that participates in the Knesset elections disappointed their voters first by supporting Gantz to head the Israeli government (and getting nothing for it) and then by splitting “The Common List”.
Near the entrance to Umm al-Fahm, this junction that was flooded with demonstrators, stands a big board with green election advertisement. It said: “The United Arab List – A realistic, influential and conservative voice”. The “united” list is the conservative alternative to the “common” list – led by Knesset member Dr. Mansur Abbas from the “Southern” (legal) branch of the Islamic Movement. Its slogans about “realism” and “influence” are understood as pointing to the group’s readiness to support Netanyahu, in his effort to remain in government spite of his indictment for corruption, in return for some material benefits. The reference to “conservative” might imply the attempt to use homophobic prejudice to discredit the other, relatively progressive, Arab parties.
In the demonstration, Dr. Abbas “realistic” politics were not welcomed. He was surrounded by angry demonstrators that called on him to go home. Activist from the Herak and other parties helped to drag him out safely in order to prevent farther embarrassment.
Palestinian activists in Haifa and around the world are demanding the release of Muhannad Abu Ghosh, who was taken into custody on Monday and is being denied access to an attorney
(The following article was published in Mondoweiss on January 27, 2021)
(You may find the original declaration of Herak Haifa here.)
On Monday morning, January 25, Israeli police invaded the home of Muhannad Abu Ghosh, 44, in the center of Haifa and carried him away. As a long-time activist for Palestinian rights, he is almost used to this type of encounter, if you can ever get used to it. As a teenager in the 1980s, he was arrested for several years for taking part in the activities of the first Intifada in his native Al-Quds. The last time he was interrogated by the Shabak was only a month ago. Then he was kidnapped in a raid of his home in front of his kids, but he went home free by the end of the same day. Over the years, he was interrogated by Israeli “security services” many times. He even was detained in Ramallah, under the “Palestinian Authority,” in the year 2000, after, as a student in Bir Zeit university, he took part in a demonstration against France’s anti-Palestinian policy.
This time on Monday Abu Ghosh was not taken to regular interrogation. Shortly after being detained he was brought to the Haifa court where his detention was remanded for a whole week. He has not been arraigned or charged with any crime. He was prevented by a special decree from meeting a lawyer, a measure regularly used against Palestinian activists who are interrogated by the Shabak. While his lawyer was not informed where he is presently being detained, I have good reasons to believe that he is in the Shabak section in Jelemeh – where harsh conditions and the usage of all kinds of psychological and physical torture are the standard.
On Tuesday his lawyer, Khaled Mahajna, appealed both Abu Ghosh’s detention, and the decree preventing him from meeting with counsel. Before the appeal hearings started in the Haifa district court, some 20 activists of Herak Haifa gathered on short notice for a solidarity vigil in front of the court’s building, calling for the release of their comrade.
All the court’s proceedings were held behind closed doors. Only the detainee’s wife was allowed into the court building, but she, also, was not allowed even to see him in court.
In a procedure common in Israeli courts, during the appeal hearing Shabak agents met the judge alone, without the presence of Abu Ghosh or his lawyer, to present him with their “secret evidence.” Neither the detainee, nor his lawyer, were allowed to know what it is all about. Finally, “surprise! surprise!”, both appeals were rejected.
Muhannad Abu Ghosh is a writer and an artist. His poignant satirical writing earned him many followers on social media. His book of short stories about the first intifada was printed by a publisher in Beirut. He is also known as one of the founders of Herak Haifa, a movement that played a pioneering role in the struggle for both Palestinian national rights and progressive social agenda over the last 10 years.
Looking at his Facebook page after his detention I found he was one of the relatively few dedicated activists who commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Arab spring with a promise that its message of freedom will never die. Over a picture of snow on Jabal al-Sheikh, he agonizes for the suffering of the Syrian people and the Palestinian people on both sides of the mountain.
Haifa is supposed to be the most “progressive” place under Israel’s apartheid. It is supposed to give an example of “coexistence” between Arab and Jews under Zionist rule. But it is only a thin disguise to the continuing rule of Jewish supremacy over the native Palestinian population. The secretive and lawless Shabak is the utmost authority in all that is connected to the Arab population. They hold a “file” for each citizen and regularly invite young Palestinians (activists and others) for “interviews” – designed to keep them away from any political protest. Around five activists from Herak spent weeks under harsh interrogation in the Shabak dungeons in Jelemeh. Some previous examples of such arrests were reported here and here and here.
In a declaration demanding the immediate release of Abu Ghosh, the Herak warned that by preventing him from meeting a lawyer, “his jailers aim to isolate him from the world and exert the utmost illegal pressure to break his steadfast spirit.” They mentioned that “he suffers from chronic back pain as a result of torture during previous arrests.”
The Herak’s declaration ends by calling “on all Palestinian national and democratic forces, all human rights institutions and all people with a live conscience, to act quickly for the release of comrade Muhannad Abu Ghosh.”
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Added on Thursday, January 28
Persecution for keeping Palestinians connected
The detention of Abu Ghosh was widely reported in the Palestinian and Arab press. Even though he was not officially charged, the press reported that he is detained on the background of contacting “a foreign agent”. Many writers noted that, for Palestinians under the 1948 occupation, to keep connection with Palestinians in other localities can easily be regarded by the occupation forces as “contact with foreign agents”. One writer titled his response to the detention “Muhannad Abu Ghosh is detained for contacting Muhannad Abu Ghosh”.
United solidarity action across borders
Herak Haifa and other groups of Palestinian activists from around the world called for a united solidarity action in social media on Friday, January 29, at 19:30 Al-Quds time. The common activity of Palestinian activists from different geographies is design to protest the detention of Abu Ghosh and to prove that the connections between Palestinians is their natural right and would never be broken by the occupation, walls, borders and persecution. The invitation in Arabic is posted below.
The Covid-19 pandemic posed a harsh “surprise test” for many states as well as local and global organizations and human societies in general. The arrival of the vaccine, though it was long expected, posed another harsh test for our ‘one-but-unequal’ worldwide society.
The first weeks of the distribution of the newly available vaccines exposed the incompetence or indifference of many states in caring for their citizens. But, above all, they exposed the international system of apartheid, where all the supposedly “premium” vaccines from western manufacturers are divided between the western capitalist states. One striking example is the case of Ukraine, that tried to buy vaccine from manufacturers like Pfizer, only to be blocked by an executive order from the USA administration banning its export.
Israel was late to contact Pfizer, which happened to be the first producer to succeed to license its Covid-19 vaccine in the EU and the USA. Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu boasted that he talked 17 times on the phone with Pfizer’s president Bourla over the past weeks. Netanyahu secured enough vaccine for all Israel’s citizens above the age of 16 before the end of March. Needless to say, this bargain, one that puts Israel’s citizens before those of the vaccine’s inventors and producers in Germany and the USA, was not blocked by Trump.
This came just in time for embattled Netanyahu’s personal ambitions, as he tries to avoid a pending trial on several counts of corruption. He caused his divided government to fall by preventing the adoption of a budget, and set elections for March 23. He is hoping to ride the vaccine wave and get a majority in the Knesset that will provide him with legal immunity.
But Israel not only gets top priority in the world-wide apartheid order. It also has its internal deeply established apartheid system. When Israel speaks of vaccinating “all its citizens”, it completely ignores millions of Palestinians who live under its rule as subjects with no rights. Actually, the whole world is adopting this racist Israeli approach. When, for example, we read in the papers that “25% of Israel’s population was already vaccinated”, this percentage is computed out of the some 9 million “citizens” – leaving aside more than 5 million Palestinians that Israel didn’t even think about their need for the vaccine.
Even independent data providers like “ourworldindata.org” (see figure below), buy into this Israeli Apartheid statistics. The excuse, of course, is the artificial division between the territories that Israel occupied in 1948, performing ethnic cleansing of most of the native population, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Israel occupied in 1967. The first, 1948 occupied areas, are regarded by many as a legitimate and “democratic” Israel, as the ethnic cleansing and the prevention of the return of the Palestinian refugees ensured Jewish majority in those areas. The 1967 occupation is regarded as “temporary” – even as most of the population there is a second generation to live under this “temporary” rule that deny them all basic human rights.
The reality on the ground has no connection to this illusionary view, in all aspects of life, healthcare and vaccination included. Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and there are more than half a million of them, of course get the Covid-19 vaccine like any other citizen and are part of the official Israeli statistics. So, the denial of rights, and the wiping out from the statistics, is just in case you happened to be Palestinian.
On December 23, 2020, as Israel started its vaccination campaign, 20 human rights organizations published a call to the Israel government to respect its obligation under the international law to take responsibility for the health of the population under its occupation. They wrote: “The Israeli Ministry of Health has not yet publicly formulated an allocation policy that includes reserving specific amounts for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), nor has it established a timeline for the transfer of these vaccines. However, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”. This duty includes providing support for the purchase and distribution of vaccines to the Palestinian population under its control.”
The situation in the Gaza Strip, a densely populated area with 2 million people, most of them refugees from the 1948 ethnic cleansing, is even much worse than in the West Bank. After the bloody oppression of the second intifada (2000-2005) failed to break the resistance, Israel changed tactics and withdrew from within the strip, converting it to a huge open-air prison, controlled from outside by snipers, artillery and drones. This enabled the only semi-democratic elections in the history of the Palestinian Authority in 2006, which was won by Hamas. Under strict siege by Israel and Egypt, the pandemic was late to invade the strip, but lately it flared there, where there is hardly any space for social distancing and the health services are deprived of resources due to poverty and the siege.
Israel is cynically trying to use the pandemic to press the Hamas government in Gaza to agree to its terms for a prisoners’ exchange deal. Hamas captured two Israeli soldiers during the invasion of the strip in a bloody massacres campaign in 2014 and two Israeli citizens that entered the strip. Israel claims that both soldiers are dead, after doing its utmost to make sure it is true. Hamas wants the prisoners’ exchange to release as many as possible of the some 5000 Palestinian prisoners that are held by Israel. Now Israel is seeing the pandemic as “an opportunity” to lower the number of Palestinians to be released.
The family of one of the soldiers appealed to the Israeli “high court” to prevent any supply of the Covid-19 vaccine to the Gaza strip until the soldiers are released. In their reply, the Israeli state representatives promised the court that there is no intention to let vaccine to the strip anytime soon. They even claimed initially that the whole Palestine Authority (PA) has no vaccine, but on January 13 “admitted” that Israel passed to the PA 100 doses(!) “for humanitarian reasons”.
It is worth noting that the lawyer that is demanding in court, in the name of the soldier’s family, to prevent vaccination from 2 million people in Gaza is the Dean of Sha’arei Mishpat Law School, Professor Aviad Ha’cohen. He is doing it as part of his university’s “pro-bono” program.
Another especially vulnerable population are the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, many of them old (as Israel imprisons Palestinian to ultra-log periods, with no proportion to what they were accused of) and many of them already suffering from other diseases due to harsh conditions and systematic medical neglect. Israel’s minister of internal security, Amir Ohana, which is responsible to the Prisons’ Authority, is a former Shabak operator. He tries to gain popularity with racist public opinion by loudly refusing to vaccinate Palestinian prisoners. He was told by official legal and health experts that public health policies (like vaccinating all people over 60) should be applied also to all prisoners. Lately he seems to have hardened his stance and now objects to the inoculation of all prisoners. The fate of the prisoners is still hung in court while the pandemic is spreading in the prisons.
While Israel’s advanced health services (for those that are entitled to receive them) rely heavily of Palestinian doctors and nurses, the service itself is not equally administered in the Arab Palestinian communities (within the green line) from with most of these doctors and nurses come. Human rights organizations complained of lack of explanatory materials in Arabic, lack of vaccination centers, etc., this on top of the chronic problems of poverty, bad infrastructure, lack of public transport and the situation in dozens of unrecognized villages that are not receiving services at all.
All this is a stark demonstration of the nature of the Israeli regime, which B’Tselem recently declared to be a proper Apartheid State. The Covid-19 pandemic exposes this regime in its most ugly manifestations. The struggle for equality and social justice will probably stay with us long after the virus will be defeated.