Dareen Tatour and the Right of Return

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(The following article was first published in Mondowiess)

We were visiting poet Dareen Tatour in her house arrest in Reineh on April 17th, which is known here as “The Palestinian Prisoner’s Day”. Two and a half years after she was arrested for publishing a poem, Tatour is still under house arrest, waiting the verdict in her trial that is now set to be announced on May 3rd.

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Dareen Tatour in the Annual Return March

In these days Palestinians are protesting 70 years of ongoing Nakba. For Palestinians inside the “green line”, those that succeeded to stay on their land or near it after the 1948 ethnic cleansing, “The March of Return”, held at the same day that Israel celebrates its establishment, became over the last two decades the central yearly gathering to express their national identity and their aspirations for freedom and equality. This year we also witness a new initiative for mass non-violent struggle in the besieged Gaza Strip under the title of “the great march of return”. On every Friday since Land Day (March 30th), tens of thousands of Palestinians march toward the prison-walls that Israel had built all around them. Israeli army snipers shoot at them in cold blood, killing dozens and wounding thousands. Through these marches the Right of Return regained its natural place at the center of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

To see how Tatour’s story fits within the context of these contemporary events, I decided to interview her about her personal experiences with the Nakba and the struggle for “Al-‘Awda” – the return.

Dareen’s Granma and the Nakba in Safsaf

Are you a refugee yourself? I asked her. “No”, she said, “the Tatour family lived in Reineh long before the Zionists came to Palestine.”

So how did you become aware to the ethnic cleansing of 1948? I continued to ask. “Well, it all started with my grandmother.” She said. “She told me how they were expelled from Safsaf”.

Dareen and grandmother

Dareen and her Grandmother – remembering Safsaf

Safsaf was a Palestinian village northwest of Safed. On October 29, 1948, it was occupied by the Israeli army. After the villagers surrendered, the soldiers performed a massacre, shooting more than fifty bound villagers and throwing their bodies into a pit. Young women were raped and killed, including a 14 years old girl. The story of the massacre in Safsaf is recognized not only by Palestinian historians but also by Israeli sources. The Israeli army held an internal investigation but its results are still a state secret.

Dareen’s grandmother was 16 years old at the time of the occupation and was already married to a man from Al-Jesh, a nearby village. At the day of the occupation she was in Safsaf and witnessed the horrors of the massacre. She told Dareen how, before the mass shooting, when the soldiers were instructing people to gather in the middle of the village, she saw how they found two young women and a young men hiding in a cave. They shoot the three of them dead before her terrified eyes.

Most of the people of Safsaf, including the grandmother’s brothers and sisters, ended up as refugees in Lebanon and Syria, thrown into an ordeal of statelessness and suffering to which, after 70 years, there is still no end in sight. The grandmother joined her husband in Al-Jesh and stayed there, where Tatour’s mother was later born. Most of the people from Al-Jesh, after hearing about the massacre in Safsaf, also fled, so more relatives, also from the grandfather’s family, became refugees. Some of them, as a result of Israeli and/or Arab massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps, later found refuge in different European countries, but most of them are still in Syria and Lebanon.

Tatour never met her grandfather, who died when her mother was still a girl. But she is proud of what she heard about him from her grandmother. He was a revolutionary and took part in the organization of the great Palestinian general strike against the British occupation and against the Zionist colonization of Palestine, back in 1936. Later he took part in the revolution that lasted from 1936 till 1939, until it was bloodily repressed by the British army.

She felt very close to her grandmother, who was telling her about life in the lost paradise in Safsaf, as well as about the Nakba and the fate of the refugees. From here came her urge to write down the stories, to photograph whatever was left from people, memories and homes, and to devote her life to the Palestinian struggle for restoring lost rights.

Photographing, Oral History and Activism

Just as she finished high school, Tatour started documenting Palestinian life before the Nakba, interviewing old people, filming on video and writing down stories. She started by interviewing her own grandmother, but soon widened her effort and started looking for displaced people from any of the more than 500 villages and towns that were destroyed by Israel in 1948. She would accompany them to their destroyed villages, or go there herself to take pictures.

She published some of her documentary evidence in the “Palestine Remembered” site, as well as her own Youtube channel, Facebook, a blog and a dedicated site she established for this purpose, “ynbu3.com” (yanbu’a in Arabic means “water spring”). During her detention and later house arrest, prevented from any access to the internet, she lost contact with the service providers of the ynbu3 site and now the site is not accessible. She is afraid that the precious materials in it might have been lost, as well as many documentary evidence that she kept on her computer that was confiscated by the police.

In 1995, a few years before Tatour began her documentation effort, representatives from groups of displaced Palestinians from different towns and villages united to form “the national committee for the defense of the rights of the internally displaced Palestinians in Israel”. In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, they started the new tradition of “The Annual March of Return”. In the year 2000 the national committee established itself as an officially registered association.

Visiting destroyed village

Dareen organizing a visit to a destroyed Palestinian village – and taking videos

The activist of the internally displaced association discovered Tatour’s documentary efforts in Palestine Remembered and invited her to take part in a “guides’ course” that they held in order to expand their activities. Tatour joined the association and found another platform for her effort to perpetuate Palestinian memories. She combined the guidance of groups of visitors to the destroyed villages with documentary work – bringing old refugees to tell their memories to the visitors – and taking videos with their stories.

As the March of Return events evolved to draw tens of thousands participants, they now also include tents with special exhibitions. In the last marches before her arrest Tatour maintained her own tent, with an exhibition of more than 500 photos from the destroyed villages and towns, under the title “tell me about my village”.

She gave new dimension to the struggle to save the memories by using the Ynbu3 site to build connections between the internally displaced and refugees beyond the borders. Each side gave what the other missed. The people that stayed in Palestine could visit the sites of destroyed villages and send pictures. Refugees were contacting the site to request from local activists to find what remained of their houses or to send photos of the locations of endeared memories. The people in the refugee camps conveyed a treasure of precious memories and Tatour interviewed them by Skype and wrote their stories. She also helped to coordinate visits of refugees that now hold European passports to their destroyed villages. She produced three films about such “return visits” to the villages of Al-Damun, Al-Birweh and Tirat Haifa.

Wounded in Saffuriyya

While I was looking in Tatour Facebook page, which she is not allowed to do but everybody else can, I found her image lying in a hospital bed, visited by Knesset Member Jamal Zakhalka. She told me how she was wounded during the 2008 March of Return.

It was the 60th anniversary of the Nakba. On that year there was a surge of right-extremists’ and settlers’ incitement against the March of Return, which was held on the lands of the destroyed town of Saffuriyya, northwest of Nazareth. There was a very big Palestinian presence, with many families bringing kids of all ages to take part in the educational event. As the marchers were returning from the site of the gathering toward the parking, the police allowed a group of settlers to come close and throw stones at them. As some Palestinian youth tried to confront the settlers, a big police force, including special mass-oppression (“anti-riot”) units, some of them mounted on mighty horses, attacked the whole Palestinian public with tear gas, shock grenades and batons. The police weapons caused a wild fire in the dry vegetation, which put the participants in extra danger.

Dareen at hospital

Dareen in hospital – after being injured in Saffuriyya in the March of Return in 2008

There was havoc. Many people that didn’t expect such violence were confused and tried run away in all directions. Children were crying and many people lost contact with their relatives or friends. Tatour, armed with her professional camera, tried to stay calm and document the events. She still remembers the scenes of policemen beating whoever they could catch, sometimes stumping with their boots on their victims. She also vividly describes how people were wounded when the mounted police rode their horses into the crowd.

Suddenly she saw three children that lost contact with their parents and were stuck between two lines of the police, not knowing where to hide. She stopped filming and went there to help them. She succeeded to guide the children out of danger, but was caught herself between the police lines, and became direct target for their fury. Officially gas canisters and shock grenades should be shot in the air, but she remembers how the policemen were shooting them directly at her from close range.

She especially remembers one direct hit at her leg, and another shock grenade that hit her chest. She felt the burning heat of the iron and the force of the blow left her unable to breath. She fell on the ground. She remembers herself calling for help before she fainted and was evacuated by an ambulance to a hospital in Nazareth. She was hospitalized for one day before her situation stabilized.

Exactly 10 years later, on Friday, April 20, some twenty thousand Palestinians attended the 21st March of Return on the site of the destroyed village of Atlit, just south of Haifa. It was the third march in a row that Tatour missed due to her house arrest. Some Israeli politicians and Facebook racist activists demanded to abolish the march and threatened havoc if it will take place.  They didn’t show up. I just hoped that on the next year Tatour will be marching with us again.

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How China is winning by playing its own game

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The media is full of news about the trade war that Trump is threatening to unleash against China. President Xi, on his side, is calling for calm and for everybody to play by the rules, but Chinese officials are threatening severe repercussion for everybody in case of a widening conflict.

What is it all about? Is it just that the US is upset about its uneven trade balance with China? Well, nobody forced it to buy Chinese goods… and loan money from China to finance its living beyond its means.China-vs-America-Dragon-arm-wrestling-Eagle

Recent reports by the US administration show that much more is at stake than just the trade balance. They complain about China’s industrial policy, its drive for innovation and development of local tech industry. Special wrath is reserved to China’s flagship international economic policy, titled “The Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI).

In fact, the USA administration and big companies understand, correctly, that by current trends they are losing fast on all fronts: technological leadership, economic power, world hegemony.

Uneven playing ground

Just for being fully transparent, I must admit that I’m not at all neutral in this battle of the US to save its hegemony. For me all the talk in western media about the US representing “freedom” or “liberal values” sounds as sheer hypocrisy. I would welcome any chance that this hegemony will be dented, not least because under USA hegemony the Palestinian people are doomed to stay destitute and enslaved forever. And I’m not blind to the old and new crimes of colonialism, imperialism and neo-liberalism all over the world.

Anyway – I hate war, but I find a lot of fun in the ideological war.

The last twist in the script is that the US and other western powers complain that they are losing in the economic competition against China because of the intervention of the Chinese state.

Well, until yesterday they told us that it is an absolutely objective fact of the science of economics that free capitalist competition is superior to state-managed economy. They would tell us dummies that state planning is not working, so we should give up any dreams of Socialism, and let private capital manage the economy for profit. They would swear that their ugly unjust profit is the only way that Humanity can have economic progress and hope that some material gains will reach all of us humble working people.

I would expect them to pity the poor Chinese people that their government is trying to manage their economy and will soon drive it into a wall…

But, no, they all run to populist Trump and cry for government intervention in order to save them from the economic success of the government-led Chinese economy.

How awful the Chinese government can be?

So, what is the Chinese government doing that is so unfair?

In the 2008 economic crisis, while US banks were busted by greedy bosses, the US government poured millions of taxpayers’ money to save the banks, and the western economies felt into long stagnation. Millions of Chinese workers lost their jobs in export industries. So the Chinese government gave special grants to hundreds of millions of poor peasants to buy electric appliances – to keep the factories working.

Last year the Chinese government’s intervention prevented a world cyclical economic crisis by reducing capacity in the coal and steel industries in a managed way instead.

On April 17th, 2018, the economist brought just another economic report from China that explains how its government intervention enabled it to overcome some obstacles and keep steady growth. Between the details I found one that seemed to me the best striking example why China’s economic model is so “unfair” that developed capitalist economies just can’t compete with it.

Remember the shocking reports about “ghost cities” in China that filled western media just a few years ago?

In a healthy capitalist economy, when supply outpaces demand, there is a “natural”, “healthy remedy”. It is called an economic crisis. Prices are falling, production is closed, until demand overcomes and prices and production rise again. In the meantime many workers lose their work, many productive forces are destroyed, and a lot of suffering takes place.

The economist’s reporter visited Wuhan, one of the so-called ghost cities, and found it full of life. He explains how the government of China intervened to solve the supply surplus in the housing market. The government bought millions of houses (all over the country) from constructors and gave them to poor people. Problem solved.

You can’t expect honest capitalist companies to compete with such unfair practices.

 

 

A New Initiative for One Democratic State in Palestine – Meeting in Shefa’amer, April 21, 2018

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(This article was first published in Arabic on “Arab 48” on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Due to the importance of the subject, I also published it in Arabic and Hebrew.)

“We strive to contribute to the development of an alternative vision in the spirit of liberation and democracy”

A consultative meeting was held today, Saturday, in the city of Shefa’amr, attended by dozens of academics and political and civil society activists. At the end of the meeting the participants announced the launching of the “One Democratic State in Palestine” campaign.picture of whole meeting - 21 April 2018

The closing statement of the meeting, which was forwarded to “Arab 48”, explained: “In view of the re-emergence of the one-state option as a more just solution to the Palestinian cause and the Jewish question in Palestine, and after all the partition and separation plans have reached a dead end, and in view of the human, material and moral disasters that these plans caused, a group of activists, academics, intellectuals, writers and  pioneers from the new generation, Palestinians and Israelis, gathered and announced their intention to embark on a broad campaign, promoting the establishment of One Democratic State (ODS) in historic Palestine.”

The participants defined the One State as a state where “the Palestinians, including the refugees, and the Israelis will live in a humanistic democratic regime based on equality, on the ruins of the colonial apartheid regime, putting an end to its continuing destructive consequences.”

The meeting discussed “a preliminary policy paper, composed of ten articles, prepared in advance by a small coordinating committee, which outlines the vision of the desired solution.” They also discussed “practical steps for the preparation of a conference next fall, for officially launching of the campaign in all the different regions where the Palestinian people are concentrated, as well as within the Israeli society.”

The participants agreed, according to the statement, to adopt the general outline of the document, while continuing to discuss the controversial issues. This approach is due to the way the initiative / campaign regards itself as part of a broader movement, active in the country and abroad for many years, in which groups, activists and academics, Palestinians and Israeli anti-Zionists, are all partners. The new initiative seeks to establish contact with all those activists in order to create a broad influential popular movement through popular mobilization and organizational, media and educational work around the ODS solution.

The participants called for “the transfer of the sublime idea of one state from the academic sphere and the discussion in limited circles to the public sphere and the popular strata.” This is in view of the ongoing changes in the structure of the conflict, with the starting point being the principles of justice, liberation and freedom, which are contrary to racist separation, colonialism and aggressive wars.

The participants emphasized their opposition to the use of the one-state solution as a threatening scarecrow to frighten the Israelis. They called for genuine support for this program as an expression of “a noble idea that guarantees justice and freedom from colonialism and creates a genuine basis for living together.”

In their discussions, the initiators clarified that this strategic vision requires a great effort and an organized continuing struggle at the public, ideological and political levels.

The message notes the importance that the initiators attribute to “the role of young activists in shaping the initiative, in formulating the vision and in leading the activity to realize it, because they are the age group most in need of a humanistic liberation vision and a path that will lead them from the reality of the bloody conflict to a better future and a free and secure life.”

 

Why did Yifat slap the military prosecutor at the Tamimi trial?

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(The following interview with Yifat Doron appeared in “Mondoweiss”. A Hebrew version of it appeared in “Haifa Ha-Hofshit” and a short Hebrew version in “Local Call”)

Yifat in detention 1

Yifat Doron under detention after slapping a military prosecutor

Although it is officially subject to the open court principle, the public is rarely allowed a glimpse into the Israeli military tribunal at Ofer (near Ramallah), one of the pillars of the occupation in the West Bank, which denies the basic human rights of the Palestinian population. At a time of general despair and loss of way for the Palestinian resistance, the trial of Ahed Tamimi is repositioning the Palestinian struggle in its original context: a confrontation between a mighty oppressive apparatus and a people aspiring to basic freedoms. The trial has also momentarily shed light on the military court at Ofer.

Much has been said regarding the court’s decision to hold Ahed’s trial in camera, denying her request for an open trial. The judges claimed to be protecting her interests as a minor. But they certainly were not protecting her from public disgrace, as her actions have been lauded by both Palestinian and international public opinion. Obviously the judges were trying to protect themselves from disgrace and farther public outrage.

But even the trial of Nariman Tamimi, Ahed’s mother, was not really held in an open court. The military court allows the presence of only two family members for every Palestinian defendant at best. It offers a certain advantage to supporters in possession of an Israeli ID who wish to enter the compound: they may be allowed to attend trials, subject to special authorization issued by the military, after sending a formal request by fax.

Ofer military court entrance

The fortified entrance to the Ofer military court. Never really open to the public.

Despite these restrictions, Yifat Doron has been a regular visitor to Ofer. She is not a lawyer or a member of a human rights organization, but for over ten years she has regularly participated in Palestinian protests: protests against the separation barrier where there is an organized effort to include non-Palestinian supporters, and Palestinian-only protests which take place regularly across the West Bank, far from the eye of international media. In the wake of these protests, she found herself time and again attending court sessions for friends and acquaintances standing trial for their involvement. Naturally, she could only enter the secure compound upon receiving proper authorization. Now that she has slapped a military prosecutor, she fears she will never be allowed back in again.

I met with her shortly after her release in an attempt to understand the motivation behind her unusual action.

The motive

Mainstream media will, as always, attempt to fit news events into well recognized patterns, thus it mentioned an incident which took place during Ahed Tamimi’s trial. It spoke of an Israeli-Jewish supporter who got up and slapped an officer. By meeting Yifat and reading the court papers for her remand, I learned that both the facts and the political perspective behind her actions differ from those first offered by the media.

First, as mentioned, Ahed’s trial took place in camera, so the incident could not happen within it. The same Wednesday, March 21, 2018, another trial was held at Ofer, that of Ahed’s mother, Nariman, and her cousin, Nur Tamimi. Due to the decision to hold them in remand until the end of the proceedings, faced with the possibility of being held in prison for a longer term until the trial concludes, both Ahed and Nariman were forced to accept a plea bargain which includes eight months jail time for each. The court was in session to formally sanction these pleas, including that of Nur, who had been previously released and whose punishment did not include further jail time. Although obviously a mere formality, the military judge took her time during the hearings to contemplate whether or not to sanction the agreed upon terms. Finally, just before 7 pm, the judge rose and left the hall after sending Nariman to eight months in prison. That was the moment when Yifat approached the prosecutor, a high ranking officer, and expressed her protest.

Ahed Tamim in Ofer court - Oren Ziv

Ahed Tamimi in the military court at a remand hearing, before the judges decided to hold her trial behind closed doors. Photo by Oren Ziv, Activestills.

Yifat explains that not only did her protest technically take place at the end of Nariman’s trial; it was in fact motivated by the distress caused to her by Nariman’s arrest. She kept close contact with Nariman throughout years of political struggle and feels strong friendship and deep appreciation toward her.

She speaks of a sense of kinship brought about by difficult experiences. She remembers the time when Rushdi Tamimi, Nariman’s brother, was shot by Israeli soldiers just behind the family home. When news came that Rushdi’s physical state was deteriorating, she, along with other people from the village, went to the hospital and were gathering there when the news came out that he “istashhad” – became another martyr of the struggle. She sat by the hospital bed of another family member, Mustafa Tamimi, whom she describes as “kind hearted and a true gentleman”. The soldiers shot a tear gas grenade directly to Mustafa’s head; he was fatally wounded and died the following day.

She accompanied Nariman when her husband, Bassem, was arrested and consequently tried for organizing protests in their village of Nabi Saleh. She recalls how Nariman was shot in the leg by a live bullet during a protest, an injury which shattered her bone and took her down a long road of recovery. She was with her and felt her pain when her children were beaten by soldiers and at times arrested. For years Nariman and Bassem’s home has been a safe haven for her.

Now, with Nariman herself in prison, Yifat felt that she could not just pretend that matters were business as usual. She felt the need to act, to protect her friend, to cry out against what seemed to her to be so utterly unjust, an additional pain inflicted on the least deserving of all women. For her this is not about solidarity in its abstract form, or a mere political statement, it is rather a more personal involvement, the politics of non-separation, of being connected organically. In this sense she was no stranger to the thought of spending some time in prison, as she has seen many of her friends do throughout the years.

The act

Just as pilots lay their murderous bombs through the impunity afforded by distant heights, so does the military court system, judges and prosecutors, cause the deepest distress and injustice under the guise of sterility with a feeling of impunity verging on complacency.

The remand request against Yifat, which was submitted to the court on the following day, under the title “the facts”, describes the act in one simple sentence: “The suspect assaulted the military prosecutor at the Ofer court, at the end of a hearing in the case of Nariman Tamimi.” On this one fact, the prosecution seeks to base five different offenses: “criminal threats, assault of a public officer, plain assault, obstructing a public official in the course of his duties, insulting a public official”.

In court, seeking her remand, the police representative tried to show the gravity of the incident: “…inside the courtroom, while prosecutors and the chief legal counsel for Judea and Samara were present, the suspect slapped lieutenant colonel Rasem, after blaring at him that they had no authority to judge her” (Nariman).

ofer prison

The Ofer military court is located within the fortified compound of the Ofer Military prison – physically and in spirit.

In the appeal submitted to the district court against the decision to release Yifat, police representative claimed that “she assaulted the chief of the prosecution of Judea and Samara during the decision about the sentencing of a Palestinian defendant, resident of the village of Nabi Saleh, also suspected of assaulting IDF officers. The suspect began shouting in the court room at the military prosecutors: ‘Who are you to judge her?’, and at the same time slapped an IDF officer, a lieutenant colonel, who acts as the chief of the military prosecution in Judea and Samara.”

In attempting to prove the element of risk to the public posed by Yifat, the appeal further states: “In her actions the suspect attempted to undermine the authority of the military court… The magistrate court erred in disregarding the element of risk to public order posed by the actions of the suspect against uniformed IDF officers who represent law authorities, actions which could discourage emissaries of the law in Judea and Samara, a fact that in itself constitutes an element of risk.”

In detention

Many television crews were present in the courtroom that day. Rules of the court dictate that they may not film while the judge is still present. Since the judge left they were all getting ready to start filming. It is unclear whether any of them caught this rare moment on camera, but no video documentation had been published in the media. The courtroom itself has security cameras, so it is very likely that the police are in possession of the full documentation of the incident.

Although the room was full of soldiers and security personnel, they did not jump upon Yifat but asked her to leave the hall, most likely so as not to provide the media with more graphic materials. As media and supporters were quickly ushered out, Yifat managed to sit on a vacant chair in the courtroom. Eventually soldiers took her out of the back door, the same door through which the judge had previously left. The judge, still not far from the scene, stared terrified at Yifat, despite the fact that she was handcuffed and surrounded by soldiers.

Away from the courtroom and far from the media, Yifat was now officially under arrest, stripped of her rights almost like the ones whose fate she protested. She began growing accustomed to the idea of spending long months without freedom, between courtrooms and jails.

From the Ofer compound she was taken to Binyamin Police station near the settlement of Ma’ale Edumim. In a room inside the building she saw two Palestinians prisoners, their eyes blindfolded and their hands and legs in handcuffs. They were guarded by soldiers. At late night, after her interrogation ended, Yifat was placed for a while in the same room with the two. It appears they were held there for quite some time and taken into interrogations intermittently. Pain and exhaustion were evident on their faces as they were moving uncomfortably on their plastic chairs. The older appeared to be about 20, and looked like a poster boy for everything we hear about torture. His shirt was stained with blood. The younger was merely a child. When the soldiers came to take him to interrogation, they momentarily took off his blindfold and Yifat managed to ask him for his age. “Thirteen”, he replied. “Don’t be afraid of them”, she said, “God will keep you strong”. She was swiftly taken out of the room.

Her interrogation started about midnight and continued until half past two in the morning. She was confronted with a complaint lodged by the prosecutor and the testimonies of two eye witnesses. She refused to cooperate with the interrogation; a matter of habit and of principle. Their job is to uphold the repressive order and she didn’t feel there was any reason she should ease their task.

Due to the lateness of the hour the police officers in Binyamin asked and received special authorization to hold her in the police station rather than transfer her to jail. For a while they kept her sitting handcuffed until a cell was free for her. She spent the rest of the night in a narrow dirty cell, one meter by two. There were no mattress and naturally no blankets. The only furniture was a short uncomfortable metal bench. When she remembered the two Palestinians with whom she had recently shared a room, she realized that even under these conditions she was privileged.

The next night she spent under “normal” conditions, as far as the Israeli jail system allows, at Neve Tirza women’s detention center.

Court hearings

On Thursday morning she was brought to the magistrates’ court in Jerusalem. The police applied for remand by five days. The causes stated were obstruction of justice and risk to public safety.

Yifat told the judge that she does not wish to be represented by a lawyer, and intends to represent herself. Talking to me in retrospect she explains: “There is no legal question involved for me. This trial is political and politics is something I do understand. Representing myself I can express myself in the clearest manner.” The court was somewhat dismissive of her decision. Attorney Lea Tsemel, who came to the hearing to express support, was, at the request of the judge, listed in the protocol as “present (not representing)”.

Yifat in Jerusalem district court 23 March 2018

Yifat Doron during the hearing in the Jerusalem district court into the prosecution’s appeal against her release.

During the hearing, Yifat forwent her right to interrogate the police prosecutor and instead announced that she does not object to the request for remand. She went on to say: “Concerning the risk, I agree with them that anyone who does not toe the line with your apartheid regime, who thinks independently, must necessarily prove a risk to that very regime.” (The protocol mistakenly states “apartheid police” instead of “regime”; in Hebrew ‘mishtar’ was substituted by ‘mishtara’).

The judge, however, remained unconvinced and ordered her release. He stated in his decision “I find no cause for remand, despite the vileness of her actions”. He ordered her release on bail and added a six month stay away order from all military courts. The police asked for an adjournment to base an appeal which was granted.

On the appeal notice, police superintendent Yousef Amoyal emphasized the political nature of the protest. He writes: “the magistrates’ court did not give due consideration to the fact that in her actions the suspect attempted to undermine the authority of the military court and disrupt the proceedings of the prosecuting and adjudicating authorities in the zone”. Thus he concurred with Yifat that she must be rendered dangerous by her decision to challenge the foundations of the regime.

In the hearing in the district court, the following day, Friday, March 23, a representative for the police emphasized again the political nature of the act and said: “the element of risk stems from the very act. One cannot overlook the place where the act was committed, a military court. Israelis and Palestinians come to this place which constitutes a corner stone, a ruling body which delegates authority in Judea and Samara to all law enforcement agencies in the zone.”

For her own part, Yifat, having resisted another attempt by the court to have attorney Tsemel speak for her, reasserted that she does not object to the request for remand. She added: “I will not willingly participate in your game of ‘democracy for Jews only’”. The district court judge rejected the appeal stating: “The actions allegedly committed by the suspect do not pose a risk which mandates further remand”. He also addressed the common police practice of adding on allegations regardless of the nature of the offense, saying that he fails to understand why the suspect was interrogated under suspicion of criminal threats when nothing in the investigative material suggests that. With the appeal denied, Yifat was released. She still does not know if she is going to be charged.

The results

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represented the Tamimi women, fought a hard legal battle demanding their release on bail before the trial. Her failure to achieve this mandated the plea bargains, since the period of their arrest during a long trial could have easily exceeded that of the plea bargains. In contrast, Yifat was not represented by a lawyer, did not object to the demands for remand, yet was released within two days on similar charges. The result was determined by a regime which makes distinctions according to race, which could only be called an apartheid regime. All Israeli courts view any Arab-Palestinian opponent of the regime as a dangerous enemy to be deprived of basic human rights. Democracy in Israel is reserved for whomever is perceived as part of the nation of rulers.

In retrospect, and although it was not Yifat’s intention, the court’s decision gave good service to the struggle which she acted to support. As the eyes of the world turn to Ahed Tamimi, a girl imprisoned for slapping a soldier, Yifat’s swift release supplied the utmost proof for the real reason behind Ahed’s arrest. Ahed, like thousands of other Palestinians, is under arrest for the worst crime in Israeli law books: that of being Arab.

Yifat is frustrated by the fact that not only the courts but other well-meaning folk relate to her as that “Jewish Israeli activist”. “If what they want is to label us according to sectors and not based on our humanity, they might as well write that a woman protested on behalf of another woman, her friend”, she says, “That would be much more relevant to the case at hand.”

“The differentiation made by the police and the court system classifying us as Jews and Arabs and treating us accordingly is not only part and parcel of its apartheid regime but also serves to strengthen and maintain the status quo”, she explains. Judaism to her is a religion and as she is not religious, she finds the description irrelevant. She does not define herself as Israeli either, at most, she can be described as a blue ID holder (as opposed to the green ID issued to Palestinians in the West Bank by Israel, which is a symbol of their rights deprived). Her message is the steadfast resistance of all those fighting for freedom and justice in taking apart the divisions forced on us by government.

Yifat in court for Ahed - by Iris Bar

Yafat Doron in court – painting by Iris Bar

Haifa demonstration against the massacre of demonstrators in Gaza

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As the news started to emerge that the Israeli occupation army was shooting in cold blood unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in the March of Return, on the borders of theHaifa Demo Gathering at Martyr Bassel junction besieged Gaza Strip, we were all in the Land Day demonstrations in the Galilee and the Triangle. While still demonstrating, we started to coordinate a protest in Haifa for the next day, Saturday, March 31.

On Saturday night about a hundred residents of Haifa and the area gathered at the Martyr Bassel al-A’araj junction(*) in the German Colony to protest against the massacre. The initial invitation came from Herak Haifa, but members of Palestinian parties and other democratic activists in the city soon joined the call and helped to spread the word. Most of the participants were young Palestinians, many of them with red keffiyehs on their necks, but there was also significant participation of Jewish democratic activists.Haifa demo slogans in 3 languages

The protesters carried Palestinian flags and signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English, including “Stop the massacre!”, “Shooting demonstrators is a war crime”, “Stop Israel’s war crimes”, “We are all Gaza”, “Free Palestine”, “Our masses join us, our people in Gaza sacrifice their blood”, “Freedom, freedom, My people want freedom”, “Down with the Oslo agreement”, “Today we close the streets” and much more. The demonstrators also carried slogans calling for a general strike to protest the massacre.

Although no march was pre-planned, after about half an hour the demonstrators began marching through Allenby Street in the direction of Wadi Nisnas. From there the procession turned into the alleys of the Wadi, where they even invented a special slogan: “Rise up Wadi Nisnas, defend Gaza and defend the people” (in Arabic it is a rhyme). After the tour, the procession returned through Khuri Street, the main street that crosses the Wadi, and from there to Emile Habibi Circle, where we stood on the middle of the crossroads and chanted slogans. Finally, the procession closed Allenby Street again on its way to its point of origin in the German Colony.

March in Allenby street toward Wadi Nisnas 2

Marching in Allenby Street toward Wadi Nisnas

A small police force waited for us on the other side of the Martyr Bassel junction and followed us through the march, but this time the “anti-riot” Special Forces were nowhere to see. The demonstration dispersed without the intervention of the police.

You may watch a video of the demo here.

(This post appeared in Hebrew in Haifa Ha-Hofshit)

(*) After Bassel Al-A’araj was murdered by the occupation forces on March 6, 2017, Herak Haifa decided to name the junction, where many demonstrations take place, after him, to commemorate his revolutionary legacy. This came after the successful experience of naming another central square in the German Colony “Prisoner’s Square”, a name that is now widely used by people in Haifa.

The Alternative to Facebook is not Facebook 2

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(Written fully seriously with a little smile)

Draft 0.1 for comments

Many of us spend much of our time in the virtual world. In fact, while in the physical world we basically care to some basic needs, most of our creativity and spiritual revolution is cominginteraction take place in the net. Naturally, the design of the net has a crucial influence about our personal lives and our society. This by itself is a compelling reason to spare some time to understand this design, why is it the way it is, where does it help us and how does it hurt us. As a result we will be able to explore what we can do to make it better fit for our needs as human beings.

Why Change?

More than two hundred years ago, we thought we were entering the era of enlightenment. In addition to knowing more, this was supposed to imply that people will have basic rights and that they will take part in the design and control of social institutions. Through many struggles and some achievements, we even started to believe that some sort of progress toward these ideals was taking place on the political level…Stand For the Banned

But now, just as we make leaps forward in the accumulation of knowledge and science, we fell back in the framework of the social organizations that control the new domains of human behavior to a political paradigm that have more to do with slavery, feudalism, absolute monarchy and robbers capitalism.

Take, just for one example, Facebook, which controls most of the space of our social interactions. We are the tireless producers of the contents that give the net all its value, but we are not paid for producing it, neither own what we produce. Facebook is ruled by a single man for the goal of his own material profit. Even absolute monarchies will pretend to have some obligation to protect the common good. We are not citizens, neither subjects, nor have any bill of rights. The absolute rulers control what you can say and what you will hear from all that others are saying.

For any suspected activity the Facebook dictatorship may punish you by paralyze and bans, with no right to appeal. They will not hesitate to apply even the most extreme punishment – executing your virtual personality, cut you from your social contacts, wipe out your memories and destroy your accumulated creativity – with no pretense of due process.Facebook tyranny

Facebook also spies on all of us, helping governments to oppress restive citizens. The information that they collect about us, to which we are not allowed access, is sold to third parties that want to make a profit at our expense. They even sell our time and mind by spamming our walls and feeds with advertisement and trash.

And, even if all was well, change must come. Nothing stays like it is. With the rapid technological developments things change faster. So the right question is not “why change?” but is it really responsible of us to wait for changes to happen, or would it be more logical and beneficial to start planning for the next stage?

The Science of Social Change

I joined Facebook only after the Arab Spring proved it an indispensible tool for social change. I soon bumped against Facebook’s arbitrary rules. I issued a call for all of us, as good Facebook patriots, to make a revolution against the Facebook Dictatorship. I believe it is the duty of all patriots to struggle for democracy and justice wherever they are. Not surprisingly, nobody answered my desperate calls.your annoying ad here

This reminded me that social change is not the result of the wishes of individuals but of the accumulation, maturation and conjunction of material, cultural, social and political processes. If you want to work seriously for the future you should study the contradictions in the current order, identify the counter-currents that work for its destruction and develop potential agents of change and partners for the creation of a new, better, order.

In parallel to the search for the seeds of change within current conflicts, we should also try to define what is basically wrong in the current order and what should we do in order to make sure that whatever comes next will be better. The forging of the new order is dependant both on objective and subjective conditions: what material changes may make it more effective than the current one and what social forces may win the battle to establish it and go on to safeguard and develop it.

Also, when we look for the practical path to solve current problems and establish a better world, and in spite of the revolutionary appeal of destroying everything and building a whole new perfectly logical and just order, we must remember that real history is going through a much more complex process with many twists and bounds in the plot. You can start with a revolutionary movement and find that all that you achieved for now is frightening the current rulers into making some reform. Or you can start with a reformist movement but have all your efforts at polite protest produce more oppression, causing the situation to explode. To be really effective in your struggle you should be ready and able to exploit divisions and splits in the system and the ruling class to create space for your movement to grow and take hold.

Obstacles and Seeds of the Future

There are many reasons why Facebook netizens are not revolting. First, even by the standard of fast forward movement, typical to our modern times, we are still in the beginning of the new era. Many people still remember the days that they were not able to publish anything or express their opinions about what they read – and thank the new rulers for their generosity in providing whatever they give. We also lack the ideology and the organization that may produce a revolt. Our citizenship of Facebook and Google pretends to be voluntary, ignoring the fact that they control the global resources of networking that are vital for our lives. As a result many potential opponents and trouble makers simply stay out of the system – making life easier for our rulers.

Like bourgeoisie democracy, which promotes the illusion of “democratic change“ within the system, the corporate monopolies hold the illusion that change can come through capitalist competition. You can always choose another supplier or build your own startup. But this is an illusion, as those that have the big money set the rules of the game and can always block or buy any competitor. The most that can come out of the current “competition game” is another predator dinosaur to share our stolen creativity.wikipedia logo

But this is not the whole story. While the corporates’ rule over our lives seems ever more total, there are other new continents (or at least some islands) that were occupied by free thinking people with other motives and a different way of social organization. Wikipedia is one astonishing example of what people can achieve by voluntary organization for the sake of humanity, with nobody becoming rich at the expense of our efforts. The community of open shared code is producing some of the most important pillars of the new technological order, between them Linux that drives most data servers and Android that manages most smartphones.

On another level, China, which blocked Facebook and Google, enabled the development of local alternatives. Today it is the source of some of the most advanced operating eco-systems for net users. Perhaps the Chinese net-corporates are not better, but, at least, they are a living proof that there is life after Facebook if you have the political and economic muscle to get out of the maze.

Some Possible Elements of a People’s Net

Facebook and Google developed from providers of simple services to be the emperors of data and connectivity. They didn’t plan the world order that they created and control.

But if we want to build a new net order that will be the result of voluntary collective effort of many developers and contributors, it might require deeper understanding of what is wrong and what we want to do. It will be a collective product that will develop over time and experience, but here are some small contributions for inspiring your imagination and creative thinking:

1.      Who owns the content?

Today all users have plenty of memory to hold their content. Cloud storage is a public utility that should be cared for by society like roads, parks, hospitals and natural reserves. There is no reason that if I want to share a picture with a friend it should become the property of any third party. Hands off our data!

2.      Who owns the knowledge?

The data that we place in the internet, including our activities there, are the source of the most valuable knowledge. In order to use our data in the most efficient way we have to gain control of the storage, organization and analysis tools.next exit no ads

3.      Who owns the net?

There should be no kings or central rulers. Services should be available on demand – like applications that you can download.

4.      Where is the money?

A world without advertisement is possible – Cuba has proved it. But if anybody wants to pay to make me read about his new product, they should pay me. I would still probably prefer to be a smart consumer and read an objective review about whatever service or product I might like to buy – but this is a personal choice.

Please leave your comments

This article was written with the purpose of instigating discussion.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thank you!

‘A Blade of Grass’: Support Ashraf Fayadh, Dareen Tatour, and New Palestinian Poetry

ArabLit

Smokestack Books is currently crowdfunding — through October 15 — for their forthcoming anthology A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry. Those pledging £20 or more will receive a copy of the book:

Designed by Belal Khaled.

By crowdfunding, the press seeks to raise money to help pay contributors’ fees and printing costs, as well as to donate to the legal campaigns of imprisoned poets Ashraf Fayadh and Dareen Tatour.

The title of the collection comes from a Mahmoud Darwish quote: “Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by cultivating an attachment to human frailty, like a blade of grass growing on a wall as armies march by.”

A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry will be a facing-page, meet-in-the-middle collection that brings together, in English and Arabic, new work by poets from historic Palestine and the diaspora, including work by Marwan Makhoul, Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, Fatena Al-Gharra, Dareen Tatour, Ashraf Fayadh, Fady Joudah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Deema K. Shehabi, Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Farid…

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Talking about Catalan Independence

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As if the world was lacking problems, with hurricanes and Trump and wars in the Middle East, we had two “new” topics to think about. The referendums about independence in Southern Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on September 25, 2017, and in Catalonia on October 1, reminded the world about the aspirations of these two peoples.catalonia_peopes power

The initiatives to hold such referendums represent an optimistic approach, a belief that the expression of the will of the people carries a moral weight that may influence political events. But in both cases we also witnessed the refusal of the local and world ruling powers to accept the legitimacy of the referendum. The perspective of conflicts that might get out of control is looming. What is it all about and what does it teach us about the state of the world these days?

I was lucky to meet a distinguished guest in Haifa a few days after the referendum, an intellectual activist from Catalonia.  He agreed to help me understand better what is behind the Catalan referendum and how people in Catalonia think about their future as an independent nation. I will try to summarize below what I heard from him as well as the result of some reading and research on my side and deliberations about current discussion of the issue in leftist circles.

The deep roots of Catalan aspirations

Catalonia‘s history as a nation with distinguished language, culture and history goes back many hundreds of years. But the roots of today’s struggle for Catalonian independence can be immediately traced to the harsh history of Spain in the 20th century. Being industrialized earlier than most of Spain, Catalonia became a hotbed of republican and democratic aspirations, as well as of social movements, with a big role to the trade unions and to anarchist and socialist parties and organizations.

Barricades in Barcelona in 1909

Barricades in Barcelona, 1909. Refusing to oppress rebellious Morocco

During the 1909 “Second Rif War”, waged by Spanish colonialism to oppress liberation struggles in Morocco, anarchists and socialists in Catalonia called for a general strike against forced conscription to the Spanish army. The people of Barcelona took control of the streets, and soldiers from the local units of the army refused to move against their brother workers. Soon army units were sent from other parts of Spain. They crushed the popular uprising by deadly fire, killing about 150 people. Later the Spanish courts ordered the execution of some of the political leaders of the movement, including anarchist thinker Francesc Ferrer.

The repressive dictatorship of Primo De-Rivera, a general who suspended the constitution and ruled Spain with the support of the king between 1923 and 1930, spent special efforts to suppress “separatists” in Catalonia and the Basque country. Economic crisis and mass protest forced the dismantling of the dictatorship and opened the door for the establishment of the “Second Spanish Republic” that lasted from 1931 until it was slaughtered in the bloody 1936-39 civil war by General Franco’s fascist forces.

francesc-macia-on-the-balcony-of-la-generalitat

Francesc Meciá addressing a rally

Just before the republic was declared, on April 1931, after parties supporting Catalan independence won local elections, Catalan republicans led by Francesc Macià declared the establishment of an independent Catalan Republic, hoping to be part of an “Iberian Confederation”. They were soon pressed by the new republican leadership in Madrid and agreed to settle for an autonomous Catalonia within Spain.

After the election victory of the right-wing and fascists and the formation of a republican government led by CEDA, the Catalan local government declared, on October 6, 1934, a “Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic”. It was meant to be part of a leftist resistance movement against the rising danger of fascism, which was threatening the PresidentCompanys imprisonedwhole European continent. Soon the Spanish army crashed the independent state, suspended local autonomy and arrested many activists including president Lluís Companys and all his government.

All this was just prelude to Catalonia’s special experiment during the 1936-39 civil war between the Spanish Republic and General Franco’s fascists. There are many books and films about this extraordinary social experiment aimed not only to defend the democratic republic but also to create a better society, led by workers and peasants in a real democratic and egalitarian spirit. In fact, my early love for Catalonia started with reading Orwell’s book “Homage to Catalonia”.

Later, of course, followed the bleeding experience of almost forty years of oppression by the Franco dictatorship. Mr. Companys, who was Catalonia’s president during the civil war, was among many who were executed in revenge for their struggle for freedom and justice. The Catalan language was outlawed and tens of thousands were imprisoned or had to go into exile.x-default

There is a direct line connecting the experiences of the 20th century and current events in Catalonia. Most people that are active today have living memories of parents, grandparents, relatives and friends who were killed, tortured, imprisoned or had to go into exile during the civil war or Franco’s dictatorship. The party of Macià and Companys, the “Republican Left of Catalonia” (ERC), is still leading the movement for independence and in the 2015 elections, as part of the “Together for Yes” coalition (JxSí), returned to be the biggest party in the Catalan parliament with 62 out of 135 representatives. And Spain is still a monarchy with institutions that have never completely broken with the tradition of Franco’s dictatorship. The “People’s Party” (PP) of Prime Minister Rajoy was actually established by a previous interior minister under the Franco dictatorship to assure this continuity.

Sympathy and ambivalence about separatism

Some young comrades here see this reference to Catalonia’s idealistic and rebellious past as pure nostalgia. They say that now Catalonia is simply richer than most of Spain, and wouldn’t like to share its affluence. Comparing the current complaints of the Catalan with those of the Kurds (or the Palestinians), outside observers may say “they have nothing to complain about”.

It reminds me of the response of some poor people, which are used to the view of women being abused, beaten and prevented from going out of the house, to hearing of a middle-class woman that asks for a divorce just because there is no love in her marriage. “Let her be beaten and shut up”, they might say. But don’t we all believe that unity, in state or marriage, should be the result of free will?

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“You say that Spain is not a democracy?”

Well, now, with the clumsy attempts by the Spanish state to oppress the referendum, and the views of police beating citizens furiously just for their will to cast their vote, Catalonia can show the blooded noise and bloated eye that turn public opinion in its favor. Wasn’t all the argument about staying in Spain based on the assumption that Spain is now a democracy? What is more democratic than letting people express their opinion? Britain allowed the Scots to vote on independence. British politicians campaigned to convince them to vote “No”, and won in a democratic way.

All the idea of “the right of nations for self-determination” is not about the argument whether staying in one state is better or worse than separation. It states the obvious fact that keeping a nation within a state contrary to its will is basically wrong, both morally and practically. Even if initially there were no compulsory reasons for separation, the oppression and enmity that are the inevitable results of trying to forcefully suppress separatism are making life miserable for the oppressed, and awkward in many ways for the oppressors, and undo any possible benefit of unity. This was recognized by the greatest leader of Arab nationalism, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who let Sudan separate peacefully.CATALONIA-demo_independencia

I learned from my Catalan guest that the same effect worked also within Catalonia itself. Initially many more people supported the referendum than supported total independence. They were saying: “We may agree to be part of Spain, but this should be decided by our free will”.  And after the brutal assault on the referendum, Catalan people who supported unity with Spain joined the protesters for the first time, some of them waving Spanish flags.

I find it especially wired while some leftists consider the corrupt rightist ultra-centralist government in Madrid as God’s invisible hand that was sent to redistribute Catalonia’s excessive wealth to Spain’s poor regions. It is doing much better job at holding Barcelona back than at helping anybody else.

The long road to the current referendum

There is also a more recent historical experience that led to the current surge in support for Catalan independence. It goes back to the previous decade, when the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) was in government in Madrid, under Prime Minister José Zapatero. At the same time the socialists were also in government in autonomous Catalonia, and there was a long process of negotiations to redefine the place of Catalonia within Spain, to satisfy the demand for greater autonomy. After compromises on both sides, the agreement was approved in 2006 by both Parliaments, in Barcelona and Madrid, and in a special referendum in Catalonia.

The Spanish rightist party, PP, then in opposition, objected to the 2006 agreement and appealed against it to the constitutional court. In 2010 the court decided by 6 to 4 judges to rewrite and re-interpret the status of Catalonia, annulling most of the achievements of the Catalan people in terms of language, legal rights and economic autonomy. This intervention by the court, based on laws that are mostly relics of the fascist era, which overthrew all what was agreed upon in long negotiations and approved by a democratic process, convinced many Catalans that they can’t rely on Spain’s democracy to meet their aspirations.Catalonia is not Spain

The immediate response to the annulment of the autonomy status by the court was the first mass pro-independence rally, which was estimated to number more than a million people. The main slogan of the protest was “We are a nation. We decide.” Since then mass independence demos continued in Catalonia every year.

Opponents of Catalonia’s independence emphasis polls in which respondents were given three options: Full independence, wider autonomy or preserving the status quo. Those clearly stating their preference for independence usually fall short of outright majority. Catalonia-regions-mapBut the option for greater autonomy was unilaterally blocked by Madrid, so it is hardly a viable alternative. And, put together, there is a clear majority that is unsatisfied with the status quo.

Also, many of those that avoid calling for separation from Spain do it out of fear from outright repression and economic sanctions that may follow. The nightmares of the civil war and the dictatorship are still a strong force in Spain as a whole. Of course, these are legitimate considerations that should be taken into account while choosing your path. But it means that not all those that prefer to stay in Spain do it because this is what they really want.

Popular movement

What the Spanish government doesn’t understand, explains my guest, is the deep popular nature of the quest for independence. They negotiate with political leaders, hoping to convince them to abandon the call for independence. But now, as so many

Ballot box saved

One ballot box saved

people are active and emotionally involved and the ideas are so widely spread, this is not an option. If some leaders will give up, they will immediately lose their popular support.

He describes the political map in Catalonia. The support for independence is strong both among local establishment (pro-capitalist) parties and among the different leftists, socialist and anarchists. Parties that didn’t join the movement, like the local socialist party, were split and abandoned by many of their grassroots activists as well as intellectual highlights. Podemos, the new alternative left on the Spanish level, is supporting independence in Catalonia and gained farter credibility by defending Catalans’ right to choose their way in the Parliament in Madrid.

The day of Truth

The popular character of the movement was strengthened and highlighted toward the referendum, as the challenge of oppression by Madrid became more threatening. My guest tells the story of thousands of ballot boxes that were bought in China, flown to France and smuggled through the borders by thousands of ordinary Catalan citizens, many of them farmers, hiding them under beds and in cowsheds. In spite of the efforts of the Spanish regular police and aggressive “civil guards”, which were sent in in great numbers by Madrid, almost none were caught.

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Hooded police confiscating ballot boxes – can they confiscate the will of the people?

He also tells the story of the defiance of more than five hundred local mayors, the great majority of them, who openly defied the orders of the central government and supported the referendum. Will they all be arrested?

His two sons, he tells, woke up at 04:00 on the morning of Sunday, October 1, their day off work, in order to be, with many others, at the gates of the polling center before 5 am, four hours before voting started, to prevent any attempt by the police to disrupt the voting. He also didn’t only vote “Yes!” but stayed the whole day to guard his vote lest it will be stolen by a police raid. They were all tuned to hear the news from friends’ phones of brutal police attacks on nearby polling centers. Fortunately the police had a hard time where they did attack and couldn’t disrupt the voting in most centers.

The rest of it is the history that everybody knows; the 90% yes vote for independence and the denial by Madrid that there was a referendum at all. And, of course, King Philip the sixth expressed his disappointment with the disloyalty of his subjects in Catalonia. He should really consider choosing another nation to rule over.

The vision

I ask my guest how the Catalans view their future independent state. He explains that it is not a return to old style nationalism. Actually, most Catalans feel very much part of Europe. They speak from the beginning on limited sovereignty within the European Union, with common market, free movement of people and no visible borders. But if they anyway belong to the European club, why do it through the mediation of Madrid and not directly through Barcelona?

Anarchist collectives 1936

Agricultural Anarchist Collective – Catalonia 1936

But not all Catalans are to this level mainstream Europeans. There is a strong anarchist tendency, which enjoys the support of more than 10% of the electorate. And there is the radical left that is critical of Europe’s conservative economic policies. My guest is concerned with the radicalism of these parties, but he can’t deny that they are integral part of Catalan political history and culture. In the framework of Free Catalonia Podemos might well be the next government party.

He stress that Catalan nationalism is not xenophobic. Because of Catalonia’s economic prosperity it drew economic migrants from all over Spain and from other countries. He says the independence movement take care to put in the front not only people from Catalan origins but also immigrants from different races and regions of the world.

Catalonia’s people have all different views about the future. Now they are (or most of them) united in a struggle for independence. When this struggle will be won they will have the chance to pursue their dreams, free of outside chains and interventions.

To some extent this vision may be viewed as converging toward a modern concept  of trans-national unity, with no physical borders, combined with decentralized democracy and multiculturalism, which distribute as many powers as possible to all local levels, where the people are. The Kurdish left, confronted with the much more complicated quagmire of the Middle East, developed it into a comprehensive concept of Democratic Confederalism.

Reality check

I ask my Catalan guest about the danger of violent oppression. What will really come next after a declaration of independence?

The immediate expected response is more oppression from Madrid. But the worst he can think about is hundreds of political prisoners, mostly the imprisonment of the political leadership. He doesn’t think that in democratic Spain that wants to stay as part of democratic Europe there could be massacres or uncontrolled violence.

I hope he is right, but Madrid’s refusal to negotiate before the referendum will be “annulled” and threats to abolish Catalonia’s limited autonomy and force direct rule don’t bode well. As the people of Catalonia are mobilized in the struggle and the government only opts for more repression there are unlimited options for friction and confrontation to escalate and get out of control.

The Catalan leadership is striving for negotiations. Their main hope is that the European Union will intervene to find an agreed solution. But they are ready for any other kind of mediation, including Pope Francis who already intervened to solve sharp internal conflicts in other countries.

We like to think that the world is moving forward toward a more democratic order, where conflicts are solved by arguments and votes, not by guns and violence. The two referendums in Kurdistan and Catalonia pose an intriguing test to this assumption.

The Kurds know that they live and the most dangerous and politically oppressive region of the world, where hereditary kings and dictators rule by the power of the sword, and nationalism and sectarianism mix to create a combustive atmosphere.  They don’t dare to declare independence as the armies of all neighboring states are ready to intervene to crush their dreams,

The Catalan referendum poses the question of how different Europe has become, has it really left behind its not so far violent past?  It will test Europe’s pretension to represent a more democratic order that others may take inspiration from.  If the holy unity of the state will prove stronger than the will of the people, than democracy is only a thin mask over the ugly face of dictatorship.

 

World Economy with Chinese Characteristics

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I started following China’s Rise in detail from the nineties, as the West was celebrating the victory of the capitalist system after the collapse of the Socialist Block around the Soviet Union. The rented ideologues of capitalism, including most of the world media China Rise US Falland academy, wanted us to believe that Communism is dead because it was a wrong idea (not to say evil) from the beginning. But could it be that the failure was not due to the principles of the proposed communist system but to their distorted implementation in Russia, led by brutal self-serving bureaucratic elite that found in Stalinism a new version of its former Tsarist central rule and world power-struggle?

If one prototype was flawed and failed, could another team build a better implementation?

The Riddle of the Chinese Miracle

The phenomenal development of China from one of the poorest nations on earth to the world’s leading economic power is the central feature of the world scene over the last decades. But how should it be explained? Is it because new Chinese capitalism is even more exploitative and ruthless, as many critics from both left and right want us to think? Or is there something different, maybe they are doing something right? Could it be that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party learned how to initiate and control economic development in a more scientific way, synchronizing social economy, market forces and some capitalist initiatives, inducing them all to drive its grand plan, instead of unleashing the destructive rule of Greed?The economist reporting China capacity cuts

One special characteristic of the Capitalist system are cyclical booms and busts. As capital is in constant movement in search of wider profit margins, investment is flowing into the most profitable sectors. This creates over-capacity, which causes a fall in prices and profits, which in turn causes withdrawal of investment, destruction of productive forces, layout of workers and so on. Finally the reduced production can’t meet the demand in the market, prices, profits, production and employment surge again, toward the inevitable next bust.

Somehow China’s economic development over the last decades succeeded to avoid these cyclical crises that continue to haunt the capitalist system like seasonal storms. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was not a typical cyclical crisis, but it provided a good example how China played differently to avoid it. The reason for the crisis was the reckless behavior of Western bankers, taking ever greater risks to maximize profits while relying on the state to come to their rescue when their gambles fail.  Western governments poured money to the broken bankers while many poor people where kicked out of their homes to restore some of the banks’ bad debts.

In China’s export oriented economy millions of workers faced the sack as Western consumers had to cut spendings. China’s government mitigated the situation by handing-out money to poor families to buy electric appliances to keep its factories going, avoiding the worst of the crisis.

China Going Global

One of the numbers that I was following closely, like many other observers, was China’s GDP, as computed by Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP. According to the CIA’s “World Facts Book” China’s real GDP passed that of the US in 2014. But it was not a “photo-

World top 10 economies by GDP

World top 10 economies by GDP/PPP

finish”. Economic development goes on and according to the same source in 2016 China’s GDP was worth 21.14 trillion US$, or 14% more than the US’s 18.56 trillion and counting (see pictured table). The fact that Western economists continue to speak routinely about China as “the world’s second biggest economy” only shows that they are now in a deep state of denial.

But GDP numbers say little about the real dynamism of an economy. Maybe the single number that is most telling about a country’s success in the world economy is the value of its exports. Here China is a clear number one, with export worth 2.1 trillion US$ to the US’s 1.5. So here China is already 40% ahead of the US, and the export numbers are not corrected for distorted exchange rates.

Actually, used to support the under-dogs of the world all my life, I started feeling uneasy to be a China-fun lately. While in the nineties China’s pride was in lifting people from utmost poverty, is it not now a world bully that should be feared and contained?

The riddle of China’s internal development became a main riddle on today’s world economic and political scene. Is China just another power looking for its self-interest at the expense of others, or is it proposing to the world a different and more advanced system of cooperation?

The Crisis that Wasn’t

The British pro-capitalist crusaders in “The Economist” are one of my favorite sources for following economic analysis about China and its role in the world economy. They had a very interesting story to tell on their September 9, 2017, issue.

In an editorial named “Making sense of capacity cuts in China” they say that the main reason behind today’s relatively buoyant world economy is a drive by the Chinese government to cut capacity and production in central industries like Steel, Coal and Aluminum. According to their analysis overcapacity in these sectors led to falling prices and profits, which actually threatened a world economic crisis in 2016. Instead the Chinese government’s central planners intervened by a studied policy, setting targets for cutting capacity to restore prices, profits and healthy growth,

According to a detailed news item in the same issue, named “Capacity cuts in China fuel a commodity rally and a debate”, China’s planners simply ordered all coal mines to operate no more than 276 days throughout 2016, in a move that is apparently designed to keep most workers at work. In another detail that shows how massive China’s capacity cuts were, they mention that the planned cuts in Steel capacity equal 15 times Britain’s Steel production.

China coal as percent of world total

Source: The Economist

As China’s share of world production in these major industries is about 50%, its unilateral actions were enough to get the wanted effect and restart a new period of healthy economic expansion without the suffering of an unplanned crisis. And China was not so altruistic as to cause its own economy damage for the benefit of the world economy. As The Economist reports, its managed capacity cuts enabled it in an orderly way to close the less productive facilities, changing its industrial mix be more technologically advanced, such increasing its world economic leadership even farther.

The story of the world economic crisis that was avoided in 2016 may illustrate one of the most significant changes in the world economic system – a big step toward a world economy with Chinese Characteristics.

 

Will the Yaffa theatre be the next martyr on the road to freedom?

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Persecution against Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is expanding to her defenders

In July 2014, when 16 years old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive, it was a shock for the Arab Palestinian public. People felt that the atrocity was a result of constant anti-Arab incitement by Israel’s top politicians and mainstream media. They also felt that the Israeli police and courts are not very concerned to prevent or punish violence when the perpetrators are Jew and the victims are Arab. Arabs were protesting all over the country. Hundreds of Arab activists shared a profile picture on Facebook, designed like obituary, saying “I’m the next

I am the next martyr

“I am the next martyr” – protesting the killing of the innocents

martyr”. Its meaning was clear for everybody: while children are randomly kidnapped from their streets and murdered, any of us can be the next victim.

More than a year later, in October 2015, this very same profile picture on the Facebook page of poet Dareen Tatour was wrongly interpreted by Israeli stupid “intelligence” as a declaration that she is going to make a suicide attack. Her house was surrounded at a pre-dawn raid by a big force of Israeli police and border guards and she was arrested. In the first interrogation they told her that she wrote that she wants to be a martyr (“Shahida” in Arabic). Soon they understood their mistake, but they wouldn’t apologize and let their victim go free. They started digging deeper in her Facebook page and found a poem and some posts that they also maliciously misinterpreted, this time as “incitement”. So started the saga of “The Jewish State against Poet Dareen Tatour”, which is now a world famous example of Israel’s unjust persecution of Palestinian arts and the freedom of political protest.

From protesters to victims

Just like Dareen Tatour protested the fate of other victims and became a victim herself, now the state of Israel is turning against those people that protest the persecution of the poet.

A group of Jewish and Palestinian artists plan to stage a protest event in solidarity with Tatour in the Yaffa (Jaffa) “Arab-Hebrew Theater” on August 30th, before her trial is going to resume. They prepared a rich artistic program including reading from Tatour’s poetry and original works by other poets, and staged reading from the trial’s minutes. The full text of the invitation with the program is cited below as the last section of this post.

Today, Monday, August 21, Haaretz published (in Hebrew) a long news item titled “The Ministry of Culture requested the treasury to examine whether the Jaffa Theater violated the Nakba Law”. This is the beginning of a process, directly centered against the hosting of the solidarity event on August 30th. It aims to cut the budget of the theater and might even end with the theater having to pay destructive high fine of up to 3 million shekel.

The tail wagging the dog

The whole process shows how extremist elements are now driving “mainstream” Israeli politics and government institutions are mobilized by populist-racist politicians like Miri Regev to serve their anti-democratic agenda.

It all started with one “Shai Glick”, that is sometimes mentioned as CEO of an organization called “Bezalmo – Jewish human rights organization”. This organization calls for a demonstration in front of the Yaffa event, which it describes as “calling for the release of a terrorist” (using the Hebrew degrading word “Mehabelet”). The picture that

Invitation Dareen counter demo image

Bloody Caricature inciting against the Yaffa Theater: “stop financing terror”

was selected for the event page (copied here) is an example of the worst kind of bloody propaganda. Till now the Facebook event of this counter-demonstration has 5 people signed as “attending” (and 15 “interested”), compared to 136 “going” (and 239 “interested”) for the solidarity event.

But Shai Glick is not alone. If he doesn’t have the public, he can mobilize the whole power of the state. On August 7 Israeli “mainstream” site “Maariv” reported (in Hebrew) that as a result of a complaint by Mr. Glick, a little known Knesset member from the governing Likud, Sharren Haskel, sent a concerned letter to Ms. Regev, the Culture minister, reporting the solidarity event, repeating Glick’ accusations and requesting the minister to “handle it”.

Hence comes the current initiative by minister Regev, demanding investigation by the ministry of finance which is responsible for the financing of theaters and has the authority to reduce or abolish funding or imposing fines.

The Nakba law

Everybody is somewhat perplexed by the whole process, as it is a new attempt to use new laws and procedures to squeeze freedom of expression. The common knowledge in Israel is that even as Palestinians are persecuted for anything or nothing, the freedom of expression for the Jewish population was more or less secure. Now the event in Yaffa may become a test case of the new laws and the old assumptions.

Regev and Mandelblit

Regev and Mandelblit, changing the rules of the play to shut up theaters

The Knesset seems to be always busy passing new racist and anti-democratic laws, so much so that people relate to the “status quo” and tend to ignore these new laws, hoping that they will not be implemented. Specifically, the new “Nakba law”, which is the legal base of the investigation against the Yaffa theater, was almost ignored, as it mostly speaks about the denial of government funding. People were wondering are there any government funded institutions that actually commemorate the Palestinian Nakba?

But the so-called “Nakba law” is not only about commemorating the Nakba. It counts many possible offences that deserve denial of funds, including questioning the “Jewish democratic” nature of the state – i.e. opposing Jewish supremacy. And lately, in a new twist to the plot, the government’s attorney general agreed with Ms. Regev to hold theaters responsible not only to their own plays and programs but also to the contents of any event held in their premises.

In a detailed report in Haaretz (August 16, in Hebrew) about the consultations between Regev and Mandelblit, the attorney general, about the strengthening of political supervision of theaters, she is cited as saying: “Hear me well. I’m not ready to be laughed at. I have 20 complaints about the Yaffa Theater. They say that in the Yaffa Theater there are extreme organizations that call for boycott of Israel”. So all that Mr. Glick and his likes should do is write 20 letters, and they become the Ten Commandments for the minister.

“Al-Midan”, the Arabic theater from Haifa, was persecuted for similar reasons over the last two years and as of now is still closed. Now, with the new law, the Yaffa Theater might be the next martyr.

The invitation for the August 30th solidarity event

Here is the full text of the invitation, with the detailed program, taken for the event’s Facebook page:Invitation Yaffa Dareen solidarity

A poetry and theater event for the immediate release of the poet Dareen Tatour
On the stage
Reading from the minutes of Dareen’s trial. Actors: Doron Tavori and Liora Rivlin. Director: Einat Weitzman
Music and Spoken Word: Tamer Nafar
Reading original poetry and translations of Dareen’s poems: Tal Nitzan, Rachel Peretz, Yonit Naaman, Sheikha Hlewe, Mahmoud Abu Arisha, Michal Ben Naftali and Dana Amir
Facilitator: Orly Noy
Selling books >>>> Limited edition of social and political literature:
The Independent Bookshop “Sipur Pashut”. Percentage of sales will be contributed to Dareen’s legal defense.

(This article appeared also in Mondoweiss)