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.