Thursday, June 10, 2010

Human Rights Activist Held by Israeli Police, then Released

I have frequently used the postings of Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh to tell the story of what is happening in the West Bank, as Israel continues to confiscate land, building the wall ever closer to Palestinian towns in the West Bank to “protect” the Israeli settlements that have been built to colonize the Palestinian areas. For example, see my May 10 posting about Israel’s confiscation of land in Al-Walaja.

On my May trip, as we traveled from Beit Jala (one of the towns in the Bethlehem region, where the wall was being built directly in front of our hotel--see picture) back to Jerusalem, our bus headed for the nearest checkpoint. When we arrived, we were told that it was not a checkpoint for tourists. We had to turn around and drive for about 45 minutes back through Bethlehem and the main checkpoint there. The checkpoint where we tried to cross was Al-Walaja. You can see the town on the map—it’s just northwest of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. It’s the town with the red dotted line around it—showing the wall being constructed in a circle around the town, cutting it off from its olive groves, which are being uprooted for the construction of the wall. All to protect the large Israeli settlement of Gilo and the tiny Har Gilo, built on Beit Jala’s orchards.

On the map, the green line is the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line after the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It was drawn as a tentative boundary between Israel and the West Bank. The solid red lines are where the wall has already been built. The dotted red lines are where the wall is currently being built and the purple lines are where the wall is planned.

When we toured Gilo with a guide from Ir Amim, he told us that in the early 70s, the site for Gilo had been chosen because they were looking for a place where people were not already living—he said there were “only 100 Palestinians living here, with a few olive and fruit trees.” So Gilo was built—on Palestinian land. And now the settlements are expanding and wanting to create a buffer between themselves and the Palestinian towns, so they are digging up more olive trees to make way for the 24-foot high security wall.

Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh has been organizing non-violent demonstrations against the wall and yesterday he was arrested, but this morning he was released.

He writes (you can also read his posting on his blog: )

I was released from detention after investigation only with minor bruises, threats and warnings but both Israeli activists Shy and Yotam were brought in front of a judge on some false charges and judged to stay away from the wall for 30 days (last time for me it was 15 days) with hefty fines if they violate the order. I was honored to share a few hours with them in detention.

The past two days have not been easy (videos below). Yesterday (Tuesday June 8th), we witnessed how the land of Al-Walaja was being destroyed. Abu Nidal watched as Israeli colonizers uprooted olive trees that his family has planted decades ago and trees donated by Europeans 8 years ago. After the devastation, activists were determined to do something and this morning some even chained themselves to a bulldozer. The 'Border police' are known for being ruthless and mean. In this case, there was also the added complication of the Israeli army deciding to put a unit headed by a Druze officer named Asa'ad that included a mix of Ashkenazim and Druze and a token black soldier. One of the Ashkenazi soldiers was particularly aggressive. The Druze soldiers appeared out of place. Some soldiers confided that they are merely forced to serve. But Captain Asa'ad was clearly in command and interested in action. He was busy ordering his soldiers to push us around, instructing them to not talk to us, telling them to arrest us etc. After Yotam was arrested for chaining himself to the bulldozer, we were pushed up the hill toward the paved village road past the old destroyed fig tree that Zakhariya used to sit under every day for decades. We had a sit-in for over an hour at the side of the street.

Towards the end of it, it was clear that this commander had it in for us.

At two times as I was trying to talk to him and his soldiers, he came to tell me that I would be arrested. As we finally ended our sit-in and were moving away from the soldiers, the commander called for me and took my ID card and told me I was being detained. As his soldier led me away, other activists rushed to talk to the soldiers including the commander. I was thus not surprised to see Shy also arrested even though he did not do anything other than trying to talk to the occupation soldiers about why they detained me. I was released without charges four hours later with a strong warning and threat from Asa'ad that he would shackle me, hurt me, 'and worse' if he caught me near the wall work areas again. Shy and Yotam were given a suspended sentence but they must stay away from the wall areas for 30 days. If you know any Druze, I urge you to write to them. It is a shame what they are doing serving in an army of occupation. But it is also a shame for any human being to serve in such a sadistic brutalizing colonization force.
Heartbreaking video of devastation Tuesday June 8th at
And the action and arrests on Wednesday June 9th
And here is a report from Palestine monitor with great photos

This destruction is carried on while the US administration bribes Mahmoud Abbas with more millions in aid for more streets and government buildings and security forces to ensure we do not have any demonstrations against the occupation. This is done as the US shields Israel from International law and sends more arms shipments to Israel in violation of US law (which demands weapons not be used to violate human rights)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kidnapped by Israel--eyewitness account

From what I have read since I returned from Israel/Palestine yesterday and what I read in the Israeli media, it has been difficult to find information from eyewitnesses who were passengers on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. This one is written by Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Elshayyal. His bio precedes his report.

Jamal Elshayyal is a news producer for Al Jazeera English. He joined the network in 2006 as one of the founding members of its specialized Middle East Desk, later serving as the channels Middle East editor. Jamal has studied, lived and worked across Europe and the Middle East, with particular focus on Arab politics and Western/Arab relations. He has worked on some of the region's biggest stories including Israel's war in Lebanon in 2006, the Qatari-sponsored Darfur peace talks, Egypt's role during Israel's war on Gaza and the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca.

Firstly I must apologise for taking so long to update my blog. The events of the past few days have been hectic to say the least, and I am still trying to come to grips with many of the things that have happened.

It was this time last week that I was on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and first spotted Israeli warships at a distance, as they approached the humanitarian flotilla. Little did I know how deadly and bloody the events that soon unfolded would be.

What I will write in this entry is fact, every letter of it, none of it is opinion, none of it is analysis, I will leave that to you, the reader.

After spotting the warships at a distance, (at roughly 11pm) the organisers called for passengers to wear their life vests and remain indoors as they monitored the situation. The naval warships together with helicopters remained at a distance for several hours.

At 2am local time the organisers informed me that they had re-routed the ship, as far away from Israel as possible, as deep into international waters as they could. They did not want a confrontation with the Israeli military, at least not by night.

Just after 4am local time, the Israeli military attacked the ship, in international waters. It was an unprovoked attack. Tear gas was used, sound grenades were launched, and rubber coated steel bullets were fired from almost every direction.

Dozens of speed boats carrying about 15-20 masked Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth surrounded the Mavi Marmara which was carrying 600 or so unarmed civilians. Two helicopters at a time hovered above the vessel. Commandos on board the choppers joined the firing, using live ammunition, before any of the soldiers had descended onto the ship.

Two unarmed civilians were killed just metres away from me. Dozens of unarmed civilians were injured right before my eyes.

One Israeli soldier, armed with a large automatic gun and a side pistol, was overpowered by several passengers. They disarmed him. They did not use his weapons or fire them; instead they threw his weapons over board and into the sea.

After what seemed at the time as roughly 30 minutes, passengers on board the ship raised a white flag. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. The ships organisers made a loud speaker announcement saying they have surrendered the ship. The Israeli army continued to fire live ammunition. Read more....


Yes, I’m back in Denver. For those of you who have asked if I’m OK—physically, yes, but the rest is more complicated, of course. My heart is especially with those who remain in the land, working for change. The lives of peace activists who want to change their country’s policies are truly in danger. We met with many of these courageous people. Israel’s government sees peacemaking as the greatest threat to their existence.

It looks to me like there has not been much news in the US from the peace activists who were killed aboard the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. To read about the event from the perspective of the participants in the Free Gaza flotilla, please read their press release describing what happened:

A report from The Guardian newspaper illustrates the way many in the Israeli leadership, as well as ordinary citizens, view the deaths of the Mavi Marmara victims:

Especially important: Please read who these victims were:

Below is a photo of Turkish passengers attending to wounded IDF soldiers who attacked their ship. You can see more: