Just 7 items tonight—some quite long, some you are unlikely to hear about from your domestic commercial media (as the first item).
The initial item from the Christian Peacemaker Teams relates in brief the Heartbreak of a Palestinian family that awakened to find that 6 dunams (approximately 1½ acres) of their grape vines had been devastated, most likely by neighboring settlers, who cut through a wire fence to enter the property. Not the kind of neighbors that you or I would want to have.
Item 2 is longish but informative. Israel in August 2005 began implementation of the Wisconsin Plan [for more on it, see http://meretzusa.blogspot.com/2006/10/victims-of-israels-wisconsin-plan.html ]. In brief, it requires that a person accept whatever job offer is given (no matter the salary or if one is or is not suited for that kind of work) or forfeit receiving unemployment benefits. This has had dire effects on the poor, and is one reason that even in cases when both spouses are working, the family might be making so little as to be under the poverty line. Item 2 shows how the Wisconsin plan is used to the detriment of Arab women in Israel.
Item 3 relates the aftermath of the fatal shooting in Silwan yesterday. The situation in Silwan has been tense since Jews have moved into this Arab area of Jerusalem.
Item 4 relates Egypt’s reaction to Israel’s refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation [nuclear weapons] Treaty.
Item 5 finds fault with the term ‘Jewish democratic state,’ and argues that it can be the one (Jewish) or the other (democratic) but not both. I will have more to say about the argument preceding the essay.
Item 6 is an essay on the Druze village Magdel Shams, and on what the author feels is “The changing generations of Syrians in Israel.” The article is informative and interesting, but does not bear out its title. The only ‘change’ that is offered is at the end, and is of one individual. He might be representative of his generation, but the author gives us no facts to back this up.
Item 7 reports the preparations being made for the October commemoration of October 2000, when Israeli police killed 13 Palestinians—12 of whom were Israeli citizens. I still have in my workroom a picture of a handsome young 18 year old who was one of the individuals killed. According to his father, he was not rioting. He was sitting on the hill watching what was going on, yet was shot dead. The boy had a scholarship in math and another subject (perhaps music?) to the Hebrew University.
I learned this when I accompanied others from New Profile to a condolence visit to 3 families, one of whom was his. The families received us graciously, but their pain and bitterness was obvious. The mother and grandmother of this young man kept crying the entire evening, “My flower, my flower.” It was heartbreaking. And, why, indeed did the police shoot? Israeli police never shoot at any other group demonstrating, no matter how violent. The ultra orthodox have more than once been most violent in their demonstrations, but nary a shot is fired by the police.
NOR SHOULD IT BE! DEMONSTRATORS SHOULD NOT BE SHOT AT. In a democratic country people have the right to demonstrate. But, then, who says that Israel is democratic. I feel very personal about this incident. It was what drove me over the edge to finally begin seeking answers to the questions I’d long had about Israel, Zionism, etc. The research and learning were traumatic, but worth the effort. I finally understood why I could never again be a Zionist or approve a Jewish state
May we see better days.
Forwarded by CPT Hebron
1. PALESTINIAN FAMILY AWAKES TO DISCOVER VANDALS DEMOLISHED ARBOR OF 100 MATURE GRAPE TREES
On the morning of September 20th 2010, the Abdul Rahman Sharif Sultan family of the Al Bweireh neighborhood awoke to find that Israeli settlers had cut down six dunams (6000 m²) worth of their mature grape trees and vines during the night. Slfyian Sultan, said “I have tended these trees since I have been very young and they have killed them….. We raise these trees like children, they grow up and then (the settlers) kill them when they are all grown just so they can have our land.” According to Ma’an News, Slfian Sultan estimated that the immediate damage to the property reaches thousands of dollars. Additionally, the grapes harvests from this arbor would have fed (currently) 3 families with nineteen children. This arbor of carefully nurtured grape trees would have continued to produce grapes for 40 or 50 years, if they had not been killed on 20/9/2010.
The Sultan property lies adjacent to the settlement; settlers gained access to this field by cutting a wire fence erected to protect these fields. Israeli police told CPT that they would not be able to pursue the perpetrators because there was “no evidence.”
This incident continues a pattern of destruction of property and harassment that the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba has carried out on these villagers. Earlier this month, there was a report of other fields damaged by settlers; this past weekend there were several incidents of settlers throwing stones at vehicles .
2. How the Israeli job offices “attempts” to find work for the Palestinian women in Israel
The testimonies of women workers confirm the Israeli employment offices policy to systematically cut the income and unemployment benefits of Arab women by listing them as refusals to work.
Report published by Sawt el Amel- Laborers Voice – Nazareth – September 2010
During the past years Sawt el Amel has received and registered hundreds of cases and testimonies by working Arab women who demand their rights as workers and citizens in the state of Israel to receive unemployment benefits and income support. The women’s testimonies clearly shows the officials in the employment offices attitudes towards the Arab Women and the instinctual belief that the Arab women are not interested in working or participating in the Israeli workforce, but rather remain on the governmental welfare system and burden the Israeli society. Through this report we aim to showcase the general need to change the governmental policies that clearly discriminates against the Arab population and the Arab Women working and living inside Israel. The report opposes the Israeli officials repeated claims that the Arab women has no interest in working and do not desire to be a part of the Israeli working society. In many cases nothing could be further from the truth.
The governmental policies are clearly and most definitely affecting the working Arab population from many aspects of their lives. The governmental policy of not developing the Arab villages or cities with industrial zones or workplaces are sending the Arab communities deeper and deeper in to financial deprivation creating financially restricted ghettos in the Arab villages and areas, restricting the Arab populations possibilities to provide a decent life for their families.
In the below testimonies we will be referring to the Income support benefits. Only families with an already restrained financial situation are able to receive these “benefits” and the benefits come with a number of conditions for the whole family, such as the restriction to own or even drive a car. The Arab communities are in general more depending on the Income support benefits due to the lack of work places and the low salaries the families are receiving. As the below table shows the amount received from the National Insurance Institute for income support are meant to keep the families above the poverty line and do not make the families rich or even able to live according to a normal standard.
Persons 20-25 years of age who are exempt from reporting to the Employment Service and persons 25-55 years of age – who received a benefit in December 2002 at the increased rate:
Composition of Family Amount of benefit
Maximum income from work for entitlement to benefit
Couple + 1 child
Couple + 2 or more children
Single person, divorcee, widow/er + 1 child
Single person, divorcee, widow/er + 2 or more children
Table copied from the National Insurance Institution and shows the amount of compensation received by the women and families receiving income support
In a unique case an employee of the employment office in Haifa was in 2003 dismissed from her work place, since she did not sign enough unemployed as refusals.*
It is important to point out that this specific employment office received thousands of Arab unemployed, especially from the area of Shfaram. The former employee filed a lawsuit to the District Labor Court in Tel Aviv which confirmed that the dismissal was unfounded and based upon the reasons mentioned above. The representative from the unemployment service responded that the basis of lawsuit was incorrect and the dismissal stems from cuts in public employment service offices. However, the allegations against the employment offices correlates with the actual situation on the ground and the Israeli labor courts are continuing to receive complaints from unemployed who have lost their benefits as a result of being listed as a refusal.
On the 19th of July 2010 the Newspaper “Haaretz” published an article which confirms and support our report, claiming that the staff of employment service offices in Israel, receives a “bonus” of 20% of their salaries in case of “successes” in listing refusals to work, cutting the unemployment benefits and income security for the workers. The article stressed that the awards granted to employees in 2008 and reached 2 million and NIS 183 thousand shekels, but this number had risen in May 2009 to 1.841 million shekels. The number of registration decisions, “who refuse to work” reached 2321 in 2008, and until May of 2009, 2499 people was registered for “rejecting a job.” (See table below).
* An unemployed person refusing to accept a job or if the person do not show up to the employment office according to the scheduled times, he/she will be listed as refusing to work and the persons unemployment benefits or income support benefits will be suspended. If the person is receiving unemployment benefits, these benefits will be suspended for 3 months, if the person is receiving income support the benefits will be suspended for 2 months.
. . . [for the omitted table, use the link]
“Refusing” to work against their will
Testimony by L. Bsol, Reine Village:
I have been receiving income support since 2004, the income support do not exceed 2000 NIS per month for me and my children. On 16th of August 2009 the employment office in Nazareth Illit sent me to work as a cleaner in the National Insurance Institute building in Nazareth. I happily accepted the work, since I want to improve my life and living condition for me and my family.
I went to the National Insurance Institute in Nazareth, and I met with a representative from the manpower company that is in charge of cleaning the building. The representative guided me through the workplace and informed me of their rules and conditions. During our walk through the building she asked me what I am doing now. I told her that I am registered as an unemployed and that I hope to start studying next year. She informed me that they currently have a part time job, 3 days a week, and she asked for my phone number to call me later on, when to start working.
After a week I went to the employment office in “Nazareth Illit”, I informed them that since the meeting I had not received any call from the manpower company. I was very surprised to find out that they had listed me as I rejected the work, under the pretext of my studies the following year. Since I was now registered as refusing to work, my income support was suspended for 2 months.
On the 13th of September 2009, I contacted Sawt el Amel Union in their office in Nazareth for support and guidance in how to proceed. Sawt el Amel filed an appeal to the Local Appeal committee regarding the decision by the employment office. The Local Appeal committee returned with a decision to support and approve the decision to suspend my income benefits, although a representative from the trade union “Histadrut” was apart of the committee and supported the decision.
After the Committee rejected the appeal, I through the representation by Sawt el Amel turned to the labor court in Nazareth.
The labor court issued decision in the case and acknowledged that the decision by the employment office to cut my income support was unfair and arbitrary, since I had acted honest and sincere in my claims and I was indeed interested and sincere in my intention to accept the work. The court also added that I was sincere when I informed the responsible in the workplace regarding my intention to begin studying.
The labor court accepted our appeal and the income benefit for L Bsool was returned retroactively amounting to 5000 shekels. The court also required the employment office to the expenses of Sawt el Amel amounting to 1500 NIS.
Testimony by A. Ozeri, Toran Village:
I am a mother of 3 children and I was receiving income benefits because my husband works part time. The employment office asked me to come for an interview with a potential employer. During the interview the employer asked me to fill in an application form and my personal details and return the form within one week.
I returned to the employment office in Kfar Kanna the following week and gave in my application form and I asked the officials in the employment office when I will start to work. The officer told me that according to the information on the computer I was registered as a refusal since I refused to accept the job. The officer also asked me to sign a document acknowledging that I refused to accept the job and is therefore listed as a refusal, without giving me the possibility to oppose to the decision.
Ozeri adds, I submitted an appeal to the appeal committee opposing the decision, in the committee I informed them that I didn’t refuse to work. I had informed the potential employer that I can not work night shifts since my husband works nights, from 11-4 and I have no one to take care of my children. Considering the difficulties to find childcare during the day it would have been an impossibility to find someone to take care of my children during the night. The committee replied by saying that I make it difficult for myself to find a work and rejected my appeal. I approached Sawt el Amel and they submitted a complaint to the labor court in Nazareth. On the 25th of July 2010 the Labor court decided to favor the appeal of Sawt el Amel and returned the income benefits top me, amounting to 4000 shekels and the expenses for sawt el amel of 1500 shekels.
Testimony given by N. Hassan
My family and I receive income benefits from the national insurance. On the 4th of August 2009 I was sent to a training Centre in Tamra town to learn how to sew. I agreed to go to the training and later on I understood that the director had signed me as a refusal.
N. Hassan explains; I arrived to the center in Tamra and went for an interview with the responsible teaching staff. During the interview I was asked if I would like to participate in the course which I clearly stated I would. They then asked me about my medical condition and if I have any health problems. I informed them that I do have medical problems which are clearly documented but I would still want to participate in the training since I want to work and improve my families’ financial situation. I do not want to stay at home and receive cheap handouts from the government which are far from enough to cover our living expenses. When they looked to my medical documents they decided that I am not suitable for this training.
After one week I returned to the employment office and I informed them that I am according to the officials of the course are not suitable for this training. The director of the employment office gave me an ultimatum in order to delete the decision of refusal. My husband needed to find a job, on his own, within a week. It’s important to point out that my husband suffers from severe health problems and due to these he was not sent out to even one job during the period he was registered as unemployed. My husband was not able to find a job and therefore I stayed registered as a refusal and we lost our income support for two months. On the 4th of September 2009 Sawt el Amel submitted an appeal to the appeal committee; they decide to support the decision of the employment office. Lawyer Sima Knane from Sawt el Amel submitted a complaint to the labor court in Nazareth, the case is still pending and the first hearing will take place in November 2010.
Testimony of D. Nicola
I have been receiving income benefits for 10 years and until today I have not gotten any job. I want to work and I can not continue to live on income benefits, it doesn’t cover even my basic expenses.
During these 10 years I have not been sent to any jobs and no jobs has been offered to me.
I agreed to take part in the course for sewing in Tamra which I was sent to by the employment office, although all the textile factories in Israel has closed and moved to Jordan. In Tamra I met with the committee for the course, they asked me which level of education I had finished. I informed them that I have finished the 10th grade. The head of the committee informed me that I was not suitable for the course since it required that you have finished high school and gave me the official document stating their opinion. I took the paper with me to the employment office, the officials in the employment office decided that I refused to work or study and listed me as a refusal and took away my benefits for 2 months. In September Sawt el Amel submitted an appeal to the appeal committee, whom discussed the case on the 20th of September, their decision is still pending.
Sima Knane, lawyer from Sawt el Amel and representing the women in the committees and labor courts, states that this is a systematic policy with the aim to cut the benefits from the Arab unemployed. From our experience after handling hundreds of cases against the employment offices there is a specific system the officials use, both by the officials in the employment offices and in the appeal committees. As observers, lawyers and representatives from Sawt el Amel we face several problems in dealing with the behavior of the officials and even their directors. We also view in close range the exploitation of the people by these governmental institutions and its affect on the people.
The officials also force the people to sign documents in Hebrew, which many of them do not understand the content of. The appeal committee never writes the full information provided by the people, especially when unemployed have signed the document stating that they are aware that they refused to accept the job. Furthermore, the representative of the Histadrut, (the official Israeli Union) which should be the workers representative in these committees usually, takes the other position representing the employment offices.
Our existence is based upon the need to protect these women and men by representing them in the committees and in the labor courts, preventing the governmental offices to profit further from the unemployed.
3. Los Angleles Times Wednesday,
September 23, 2010
Fatal shooting sets off violent clashes in East Jerusalem
With peace talks at an impasse, the killing of a Palestinian man by an Israeli security guard leads to rioting in an Arab-dominated area. Rock-throwing attacks spread to the Old City.
With U.S.-brokered peace talks hanging by a thread, clashes erupted in East Jerusalem on Wednesday after a private Israeli security guard, working for Jewish residents of an Arab-dominated area, shot to death a Palestinian man during an early-morning altercation.
Hours later, following the funeral of the slain man, Samer Sarhan, 32, Palestinian youths in the restive Silwan neighborhood confronted Israeli police, throwing rocks, setting three cars on fire and injuring at least seven passersby, Israeli police said.
Rock-throwing attacks soon spread to other parts of East Jerusalem, including the Old City. At least five Palestinians were also injured, Palestinian authorities said.
The riots marked one of the most violent days in Jerusalem in recent months, with the sounds of police sirens and helicopters filling the air and black smoke rising in the sky.
In a rare move, Israeli riot police briefly raided the compound around the Al Aqsa mosque, an Islamic holy site in the Old City, to clear the area of young Palestinian men whom they feared would pelt Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below. Israeli police typically do not enter the compound area, to avoid exacerbating religious tensions.
Palestinian leaders accused the Israeli government of provoking the violence as an attempt to deflect attention from the current impasse in peace talks, which could collapse as early as Sunday if Israel ends a partial moratorium on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“This violent escalation by the Israeli occupying forces represents destructive measures that defeat the peace-building agenda,” said Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib. He blamed Wednesday’s violence on Israel’s policy of allowing “heavily armed settlers in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods.”
A leading Israeli human rights group said security in Palestinian neighborhoods should not be left in the hands of private security firms.
Israeli officials in turn accused Palestinian agitators in Silwan of ambushing the security guard, who they said shot in self-defense. Police denied that the violence was linked to the recent restart of peace talks.
“There’s no connection whatsoever,” said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “This was a local incident that should be put in proportion.”
Still, the violence is likely to heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and increase pressure on leaders from both sides to resolve their dispute over Israel’s settlement construction.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to quit direct peace talks, which resumed less than a month ago, if Israel does not extend its moratorium beyond the Sept. 26 deadline.
But in a speech to Jewish leaders in the United States on Tuesday, Abbas indicated that he was unsure whether he would walk out.
“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it will be very difficult to continue if [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will announce that he will start building,” Abbas was quoted as saying, according to a transcript obtained by the Associated Press.
Other Palestinian negotiators, however, continued to warn that they would quit if construction resumed.
Netanyahu is under growing pressure from the U.S. and others to extend the moratorium. The international community considers such building on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War to be illegal.
So far, Netanyahu has refused to say what he will do, raising hopes among some that a last-minute compromise can be reached.
Egypt called Israel’s position on nuclear weapons “chutzpah” at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) general conference on Wednesday, taking place in Vienna.
Egypt’s representative, Ali Omar Sirry, responded to the speech of Israel’s representative to the conference by using the Hebrew word, commonly used in English, meaning “shamelessness.”
Israel’s delegate to the IAEA conference, Dr. Shaul Horev, presented Israel’s nuclear policy and explained its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Horev criticized Egypt for attacking Israel, and mentioned the fact that Egypt has not yet approved the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.
In response, Sirry said that Israel’s remarks demonstrate the full meaning of the word “chutzpah”.
According to Sirry, Egypt is making real efforts to create a nuclear-free Middle-East, while Israel’s attempts are merely “lip service”.
The IAEA conference is expected to discuss on Thursday the Egyptian proposal to condemn Israel for refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. The Egyptian proposal also mentions Israel’s nuclear reactor facility in Dimona, and requests that international inspectors be able to access to it.
Israel is trying, with the help of the United States and other western countries, to prevent the approval of the Egyptian proposal.
5. While I can in no way agree with the conclusion of this opinion piece, nor with any view that places land aquisition above life, the argument below articulates clearly why a state cannot be at one and the same time Jewish and democratic. On this point I do agree. Israel is not, indeed, democratic—that is to say, it by no means affords equal rights for all its citizens.
September 22, 2010
Making a Choice
The Jewish democratic state
Op-ed: Israel must make a choice, as it cannot be both truly Jewish and democratic
Roughly 60 years after the establishment of the modern State of Israel, by far the most ubiquitous term employed today to describe the political and social nature of the country is that Israel is a Jewish democratic state. Be it in the media or on the lips of politicians, the use of the term has become so widespread that most people in Israel simply accept it as a given truth without so much as a passing thought. Nonetheless, despite the extensive usage of the phrase, it should be clear to anyone with a discerning eye that the term resonates with cognitive dissonance.
The term, or more properly the confusion that led to the term, started in the early days of the state. In May 1948, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel proclaimed the Jewish nature of the country by declaring “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.” However, the same declaration also promised to “ensure complete equality of…. political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion….”
Thus, on the one hand Israel was to be a Jewish state while on the other hand it was declared to be a state of all its citizens regardless of religion. As a result of this ambiguity, right from the start there was a built-in contradiction of terms. Namely, was Israel to be a Jewish state that would incorporate some democratic aspects or was it to be a democratic state with a “Jewish feel?” Since these terms describe situations that are mutually exclusive, Israel could not possibly be both.
The Jewish component in the above equation was given precedence by the 1950 Law or Return, which stipulated that every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel. However, the subsequent 1952 Nationality Law reestablished the confusion by stating, inter alia, “A person who, immediately before the establishment of the State, was a Palestinian citizen…. shall become an Israel national….” Thus citizenship, and with it the right to vote, was further anchored for the non-Jewish population.
This lack of clarity continued for decades and then in 1992 under the activist court of Justice Aharon Barak, the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom was passed in order to “establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Moreover, according to Justice Barak’s subsequent writings on the meaning of the vague phrase “Jewish democratic state,” it became apparent that his intention in the law was to define Israel as primarily a democratic state, albeit one that also encompasses a variety of Jewish aspects. Of course, Barak’s litmus test for these Jewish aspects was that they must be consistent with the values of a democracy.
Despite Barak’s true intention as to what actually took precedence, namely the democratic aspect, the neutral phrase “Jewish democratic state” has been promulgated ever since. This is a shame since the term is problematic for several reasons.
Most importantly, the term perpetuates confusion and avoids dealing with a very serious issue. Israel has a large Arab minority, the majority of which will never connect to the collective dreams and aspirations of the Jewish people and likewise will never really feel part of a Jewish state. To think otherwise is foolish. In addition, it is demeaning to the Arabs to expect differently since they naturally have pride in their own culture and a bond to the larger Arab nation.
Downplaying Jewish component
Thus, in order not to antagonize or alienate the Arabs, as well as to avoid being condemned for making statements that are not politically correct, Israel downplays the Jewish component and promotes the democratic one. To its own Jewish residents, however, the majority of which has some connection to the land and the tradition, it sells the Jewish component under the amorphous “Jewish democratic state.” Thus, the term is very useful for placating the Jewish population, even if doing so is somewhat misleading. More importantly, by hiding behind the term “Jewish democratic state” Israel continues to shirk its responsibility in dealing with a very complex and difficult issue.
If Israel is a true democracy of “one man-one vote” then the Arab minority could hypothetically take over the country via the election process and change the nature of the state. However, since this is a scenario that most of the Jews in the country would never agree to and even fear, the phrase “Jewish democratic state” should stop being rammed down the collective mindset of the nation since it is only seeding more confusion. Moreover, should the Arabs ever get close to taking over the country, it’s a sure bet that most of the advocates of the phrase “Jewish democratic state” would be out of here in a flash, leaving the rest of us to deal with the mess.
On the diplomatic front, a Jewish state connected to its inner meaning, its heritage and its land, would never consider relinquishing part of its ancestral homeland. However, a democratic state for which the Jewish component is weak or sentimental at best has no qualms under difficult times of relinquishing land since ultimately the land has no deeper significance
This fact is clearly understood by the Arabs as well as by all those who are pressuring us to surrender land. For this reason, the supremacy afforded the democratic component at the expense of the Jewish component has severely weakened Israel’s bargaining position vis-à-vis the Arabs. Moreover, since everyone knows that the term “Jewish democratic state” does not mean Jewish in any profound way, then constantly using the term to describe the State of Israel is only helping to facilitate its downfall.
At the end of the day, Israel must choose. Either it is a Jewish state with some democratic aspects or it is democratic state with a Jewish flavor. It cannot be both. The continued use of the term “Jewish democratic state” is simply a way to avoid making this choice. Moreover, it represents a state of denial that underlies all the confusion and weakness that abound here. For the survival of the country, the term “Jewish democratic state” must be discarded and in its place the real “Jewish state” must rise.
On the foothills of the Hermon, one finds a border community much more complex than meets the eye.
The drive to Majdal Shams, the center of Druze life in the Golan Heights, is aesthetically spectacular.
An expansive town on the rolling foothills of Mount Hermon, the view from Majdal Shams is full of green: apple and cherry orchards; expansive vineyards; Israeli army outposts; and grazing sheep.
Outrage continues in Madjal Shams
“On the other side of this mountain is Lebanon – here we are in Occupied Syria and down there is Palestine,” says 68-year-old retiree Abu Jabal Hayil Hussein. “They offered us Israeli citizenship and we refused, so we are considered temporary residents with Syrian citizenship. I am Syrian, I was born in Syria and I want to continue to be Syrian.”
While Majdal Shams has been on the Israeli side of the de facto border between Israel and Syria for over 40 years, one is hard pressed to find someone in Majdal Shams who has something nice to say about Israel.
“Israel is a thief,” says Abu Jabal. “Israel is not serious about peace. We are Syrian Arabs under occupation and this situation can’t continue.”
Majdal Shams, the village featured in the award-winning 2004 film The Syrian Bride, is the largest of four remaining Druze villages in the Golan Heights: a lush, mountainous region in Israel’s northwest captured from Syria during the 1967 war. The rest of the Druze villages that existed before the war have been destroyed, or taken over by Jewish Israeli villages like Neve Ativ, just a couple miles down the road.
“I was there when they built it,” says Dr. Nissar Ayoub, Director of the Majdal Shams-based human rights organization Al Marsad. “It was built on part of the cemetary of a Syrian village called Jubatha Izzeit. You could see bones in the bulldozers.”
Indeed, on the northern side of a small resort called Rimonim that is located inside of Neve Ativ, one finds an overgrown Arab cemetary just beyond the pool.
“More than 95 per cent of the population in the Golan was forcibly transferred out,” Dr. Ayoub claims. “If Israel hadn’t ethnically cleansed the Golan, instead of having half a million refugees in Syria you would still have them in the Golan and the same problem as the Palestinians.”
There were some 150,000 Druze residents of the Golan Heights in 1967. Today, the vast majority of the 18,000 or so that remain refuse Israeli citizenship.
“Israel has a security problem,” says Salman Sakheraldeen, coordinator of Al Marsad. “It’s a settlement on someone’s land and you can’t live quietly in such a situation.”
The center of Druze life in the region, Majdal Shams residents hold Syrian citizenship, often go to Syria for university studies, and consider the Golan Heights to be illegally occupied territory.
“The Israelis who settled in the Golan will have to leave and it will be the Israeli government’s responsibility,” says Hussein. “Some of us work with them in agriculture but there is no friendship beyond work relations.”
About half of the village’s income comes from labor for Jewish Israelis. But residents claim that despite amicable relations with their Jewish neighbors, Israeli authorities treat them like second class citizens.
“We built the roads, the schools, the water system,” says Sakheraldeen. “We pay local taxes but in return they just collect the trash and fix the roads once in a while.”
“If the police are angry with the village they put checkpoints on the outskirts of the village and give people tickets,” adds Hussein.
The village is still reeling from an incident earlier this summer in which Israeli special forces raided the home of a local family.
“My son Anas and I were home when the police came with a search warrant,” says Muna Al-Sha’ar, sitting beside her 15-year-old son Anas. “They said forced their way in and locked the door. There were nineteen of them and then another three joined.”
“They made a huge mess and beat up my son,” she alleges. “The phone rang and when Anas tried to answer it they smashed it and threw all the cables on the floor. They were drinking our water and breaking the glasses and they smashed all the lamps on the wall. They even stole our two computers and stole two cellphones.”
“Then we started hearing firing outside and they closed all the windows,” Muna remembers. “If you use water with tear gas it burns your face so my son heard them telling each other in Hebrew not to touch the water. Then they told us to wash our faces.”
The incident caused an impromptu mass protest outside the family’s home. The police accused the crowd of imprisoning them in the house, while village leaders accused the police of unjustified aggression. Indeed, a police commander in the nearby Israeli town of Katzrin is said to have criticized the special forces for the way they handled the case.
“They accused us of a relationship with the Syrian security services,” Muna says. “My former neighbor Midhat Saleih went to Syria and became a parliamentarian. I am still in touch with him. My son was studying in Damascus and knew him.”
Muna’s son Fida was arrested the same day at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport upon returning from overseas. Muna, her husband, daughter and other son were all jailed by the police. Fida and his father remain in prison, and the family now has no income.
“It’s Israeli paranoia,” says Sakheraldeen of the raids. “Today for Israel, any Arab person is suspicious. It’s just cheap hate.”
The Al Sha’aer family’s story mirrors those of many village residents, who claim Israeli police regularly accuse locals of being spies for Syria, or cooperating in some way or another with Syrian intelligence.
“We are not spies and we are not a Syrian investigative unit,” Hussein says.
There are many stories in Majdal Shams of people allegedly being arrested for just going to a demonstration.
“My crime was the same as everyone else: we protested,” says a man named Busaid, who asked that his family name not be printed. “There was no violence on the side of the protesters yet they arrested eighteen of us for six months. Hundreds of people in this village have been arrested for participating in demonstrations over the years. Our only crime is having an opinion.”
But while Busaid claims to have been arrested for simply sticking to his opinion, others admit to taking their opinions much further.
Last month the village held a large march to mark the 26th anniversary of the imprisonment of Sudqi Almakit, who has spent over half his life in an Israeli prison.
“We were a group of twelve arrested, and we were all sentenced to 27 years for militant resistance to the occupation,” says 45-year-old Bishir Suleiman Almakit, who was arrested along with his brother Sudqi 26 years ago. “It was for an action against the army – I don’t want to get into it, but my brother is the only one left in prison.”
But after a bit of pushing, Bishir, who was released last year, admits he and his brother were involved in militant activities.
“We stole mines from the army’s ammunitions depots and mined the army roads,” he says. “The purpose wasn’t to kill a specific person, the purpose was to fight the occuptation and in a war soldiers die.”
“Did anyone die?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he answers. “They didn’t tell us.”
But spend more than a day in this expanding Druze community and one finds a bit less talk of occupation, police brutality and colonialist hegemony, and more talk of designer jeans, the best place to get a macchiato, Israel’s top universities and money.
“I’m not a political person, all I can say is it’s fine living here,” says Ihab Zahoa, a 29 year old car assessment agent. “There’s no big money here but it’s like anywhere in the world – you can do whatever you want as long as you stay away from the country’s security. If you don’t make trouble nobody will bother you.”
“I don’t feel like I want to be in Syria because I was never there,” he says. “I was born in Israel so I cannot tell you if Syria is a better place or not, but the elders have seen both countries and they say Syria is better so that’s why they are demonstrating.”
“The only problem is I can’t see my family and I miss them,” Ihab continues. “All my aunts and cousins – I don’t know them – so I just want peace and the ability to go there when I want and to be here when I want.”
While Israel grants special permission to some 150 to 200 residents of Majdal Shams to study in Syria each year, family unification, or the ability of Majdal Shams families to meet their relatives on the other side of what is for them an artificial border, is a major local issue.
For decades families would meet once a week and shout to each other through megaphones at the ‘Valley of Tears’, a depression between two opposing hills known by Israel as ‘The Shouting Hill’. Today cellphones, Internet and family reunions in Jordan or Turkey have taken over, and the Valley of Tears is only used for the occasional joint protest.
“Why is the border open to Palestinians who have been in prison to visit Lebanon, Amman, Iran, wherever they want, yet peaceful people like us are not allowed to go see our families in Syria?” asks Dr. Ayoub. “We are trying to pressure the Israeli government and we believe that if we can meet the decision-makers we can change the procedures.”
Aneel Khanjar, a 35-year-old gardener, says the issues of concern to Majdal Shams residents are changing.
“About 10 or 15 years ago there were real clashes between the village and police, but today people view resistance to the occupation differently,” he begins. “We don’t see much point in fighting the police. Why do I need to worry about getting arrested?”
“We are more interested in working, making money, and leaving the bigger fight to Syria, which can represent us,” he says. “You’ll still see young people fighting but only if they are threatened like the incident with the Al Sha’aer family. Why send 20 special forces agents to confiscate two computers? It just makes people feel threatened and the second the neighbors asked the police what they were doing they started with the tear gas.”
Aneel speaks perfect Hebrew and is working towards a degree in landscape design at a Jewish college nearby.
“My generation still has a problem with the [Israeli] state, but not the people,” he says. “There are lots of us that study in Jewish universities, and I have no problem with a Jewish person – I will respect them, host them — I even dated a Jewish woman.”
“Her parents were against it and I didn’t even tell my parents,” Aneel continues. “People here don’t like it if someone marries a Jew, or Christian or Muslim, and they kick them out of the village. The religious control this village. I’m against it, but this is not a political issue, it’s a religious issue about marrying out of the Druze.”
Sitting in a chi chi local cafe, which doubles as an art gallery, Aneel says that on the whole Majdal Shams is changing for the better.
“Economically, we are well off relative to the other villages in the area,” he says. “People here are not lazy. The percentage of people here with an academic degree is very high – something like 70 percent of the people go straight to university after high school – and there are some 300 dentists and over 100 doctors.”
“The women you see in this cafe, they would never dress that way 5 or 10 years ago,” he continues, pointing to a number of women in modern Arab dress and without a hijab covering their head. “These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has nothing to do. We have a cinema, a music school, an art gallery coffee house, a youth art association and we just finished a sculpture festival.”
He takes a sip of water, looks out over the mountainside view and heads out onto the street, walking past a Diesel Jeans shop, fancy cars and a number of signs for upcoming demonstrations.
7. Haaretz Thursday,
September 23, 2010
Israeli Arabs prepare for month to commemorate October 2000 riots
Police killed 13 Israeli Arabs in October of 2000, during riots that broke out during the second intifada.
Demonstrators commemorated on Thursday the Israeli Arab riots of October 2000, during which 13 Arab youth were killed by Israeli police.
Israeli Arabs were rioting in solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada which had just begun in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During the riots, which lasted some ten days, 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip were shot and killed by police and security forces during violent demonstrations at the entrance to Umm al-Fahm.
The events of October 2000 have become a contentious issue for Israeli Arabs, many of whom say Israel has failed to properly investigate the circumstances of the riot and take action against the police officers who killed the youths.
Israeli Arabs have expressed anger over the issue by holding demonstrations and strikes during the month of October in the years since the incident.
Demonstrators gathered on Thursday in small groups in Nazareth and Haifa and at 12 major intersections across Israel. They waved Palestinian flags and held pictures of those killed in the riots.
The official event which will begin the commemorations is scheduled to take place on October 1, in the Israeli Arab town of Kfar Kanna. A general strike in the Arab sector is scheduled to begin then as well.
In the next few days, the parents of those killed will present a special report which slams former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who decided not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths.
Families of the 13 killed still stand firm on their demand that a new investigation into the incident be opened and the police who killed the rioters be brought to justice.