Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dissent despite repressive silencing in Israel

1) Alert from the Alternative Information Center (AIC) on the detention of AIC worker Mohammed Abu Humus;
2) Interview in the Guardian with Sharon Shalev
3) Report on Gathering to Mourn and Protest in Jaffa

Up to and also after Israel announced its unilateral cease fire, just in time to make sure that U.S. inaugural celebrations could go ahead unmarred, people all over Israel were vehemently expressing their outrage at the government's (equally unilateral) blanket destruction of Gaza. Despite repeated claims that a huge majority supported government and military actions, protests were a visible presence in the public sphere all over the country. In fact, the repressive measures taken by state authorities, clearly intended to stifle public opposition, seemed to belie the alleged wall-to-wall support described by media and identified in polls. Police resorted to arrests on an unprecedented scale to intimidate, stem and silence dissent. Among many others (most of them Palestinian citizens of Israel), the police arrested Nir Oren, co-chair of the Bereaved Families Forum and such (by her own account; see:
"wishy-washy … middle of the road" figures as Leah Shakdiel, an orthodox feminist pedagogue and Israel's first female member of a local Religious Council.

An intensified version of Shakdiel's comments on her own arrest is applicable to the overall treatment, by Israeli authorities and media, of acts and statements of opposition to the "war": "The police these dark days are apparently instructed to play an active role in boosting public morale and national unity, [i.e.: forcefully stifling opposition, R.M.] so they jumped into our midst literally and grabbed six of us on Wednesday into their cars … Worrisome is the silence of the press on all this in a country where there is freedom of the press, i.e. it is self imposed censorship. Many journalists called, were there at the watch, took pictures and interviewed, telephoned later, promised to come to the court, and nada, not a word, no coverage published."

Some of the milder intimidation tactics included strobe lights shown from low-flying police helicopters into a Saturday night protest I attended (January 17 2009), when many thousands marched from southern Tel-Aviv through the heart of Jaffa beating drums and chanting. On the ground, a power cut shut off Jaffa streetlights as police motorcycles bulldozed their way back and forth through the middle of the crowd.

The first item below reports the detention of Mohammed Abu Humucooperation and peace. Unlike Jewish activists, whose arrests are usually short term, Palestinians are regularly incarcerated for years as "Administrative Detainees".s, an activist openly opposing the government's actions in Gaza. "Administrative detention"--essentially unlimited detention with no charges or trial--has been used for decades to silence Palestinian activists including many working for

The second item is an interview with activist Sharon Shalev, who was subjected to a personal attack by Tel Aviv fire fighters in the course of a peaceful demonstration.

The third item summarizes one of many protest events held despite police repression and continued marginalization by the corporate Hebrew media, which barely covered or mentioned the broad array of oppositional actions. Co-organized by the School for Peace at Neveh Shalom/Wahat al-Salam/Oasis of Peace and the "Psychoactive" mental health workers group, this "Gathering to Mourn and to Protest" was scheduled to take place in the Jewish-Arab Community Center in Jaffa. At the last moment, the Tel Aviv municipality denied access to the venue and the organizers relocated the event. The Jewish-Arab gathering, hosted by the Association for Jaffa Arabs, was addressed, among others, by Shulamit Aloni, who said that Israel had "turned Gaza into a giant detention camp with a million and a half inmates, with no way in or out. ... People who are incarcerated in a detention camp have the right to respond."

Rela Mazali


Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:49 PM

Subject: [ActLeft] FW: AIC staff member detained for interrogation

AIC Staff Member Mohammed Abu Humus Detained for 11 Day Interrogation by Israeli Security Services

The Alternative Information Center

Thursday, January 22, 2009

AIC staff member Mohammad Abu Humus was taken from his home at 3am today by masked members of the Israeli security forces, who stormed and searched his home with drawn weapons. Abu Humus was subsequently brought before a judge, who acquiesced to the police request and extended his detention for 11 days.
All of the material and evidence concerning Abu Humus is classified. Abu Humus is accused of involvement in unruly protests against Israeli military actions in Gaza, which he categorically denies, and the classified nature of the evidence for such a minor accusation calls into question the true motives of the Israeli authorities in the detention and interrogation of Abu Humus.

Abu Humus, 43 years old and a resident of the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya, is a long-time political and social activist in East Jerusalem. He is married to Wafa and has four small children, two daughters: Irfat (11) and Shahd (10) and two sons: Anas (8) and Majd (3). He has worked with the AIC since 2006

Attending the court hearing today were Abu Humus' wife Wafa, members of the Alternative Information Center and additional residents of Issawiya, who came in support and solidarity with Abu Humus.
Wafa noted that "our children were terrified by the masked men with drawn weapons. I asked them how they expect us to live with them in love and respect, when they act like this? They don't leave us any room for love," added Wafa sadly.

The detention of Abu Humus is part of Israel's wider campaign to repress the legitimate right of Palestinian residents and citizens of Israel to protest Israeli actions in Gaza and exercise their right to freedom of expression. Since the beginning of Israel's military attacks on Gaza, more than 300 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been detained, arrested and taken for interrogation by the Israeli security services. For the past several days, Israeli forces have entered Issawiya every night, detaining prominent political activists.

The Alternative Information Center requests that you:
1. Contact the Israeli Attorney General, Mani Mazuz, in addition to the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate, and demand that the right of all citizens and residents of Israel to express their opinions and opposition to Israeli policy be respected, including that of Mohammad Abu Humus, in accordance with international human rights law. Attorney General Mazuz: Fax: +972 (0)2 646 7001; find your nearest Israeli embassy or consulate:

2. Send a message of solidarity to Mohammad Abu Humus:
ActLeft, action list in Israel-Palestine.

To visit Actleft on the web, go to:


How Israel drowns dissent
Firefighters turned their hoses on a peaceful anti-war protester last week. Their attitude reflects a worrying shift in public opinion

Seth Freedman, Wednesday 21 January 2009 14.46 GMT

Last week, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, a group of Israeli firemen threw their hats into the political ring, albeit in somewhat undiplomatic and uncivilised fashion. During a peaceful anti-war vigil outside a Tel Aviv air force base, several members of the fire brigade turned on one protester, drenching her relentlessly with water from their hoses, before approaching her and ordering her into the station in order to "give us all head".

Their actions were, while wholly illegal, none the less emblematic of a massive shift in Israeli public opinion over the last few years, according to Sharon Dolev, the woman on the receiving end of the assault. A veteran activist, Dolev has suffered a great deal during her 20 years of campaigning in the Israeli peace camp ("death threats, being shot with rubber bullets, hate mail, beatings"), but said that this incident was "the first time that the establishment felt safe in [taking action such as this]".

"It used to be a big deal if bus drivers criticised protests and vigils in public," she recalls, "since as employees of the state, they were not allowed to express political opinions in uniform." Now, however, the firemen felt so secure of escaping punishment that they even bombarded her with firecrackers during the attack, telling her "now you know what it's like to live in Sderot".

When video evidence emerged on an Israeli news website of her ordeal, readers' comments were predictably scathing of Dolev and her fellow protestors for daring to speak out in the first place against the IDF's operation. "Of the 380 comments, all but 10 were in support of the fire brigade," said Dolev. "Some readers even called openly for our murder, urging the police to shoot us, or saying 'Why use water – use acid instead'."
In her view, the inexorable shift of the Israeli public towards out and out hostility and hyper-defensiveness was inevitable from as far back as 1967, when the West Bank was first conquered. "We used to hold signs at protests reading 'The occupation will corrupt'," she told me. "Now, we can see that it has [come to pass]. As a society, we have lost our ability to see clearly; we have let fear blind us. Once, calling someone a racist was the harshest accusation you could make. Later, you began to hear people say 'I know I'm a racist, but...'; nowadays [during Cast Lead], we heard 'I know I'm talking like a Nazi, but at least the Nazis knew how to deal with their enemies'."

Despite others employing Nazi comparisons to describe Israeli military actions, Dolev isn't comfortable with such terminology herself, not least because it derails the debate about the issues at hand. "It's all too easy for the Israeli authorities to say 'we didn't build an Auschwitz for the Palestinians, so everything's ok', but in reality everything is not ok." She believes that history has come full circle, and that instead of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, "we have become the racists ourselves".

"Isn't Gaza a ghetto?" she continues. "OK, we don't use the Palestinians' hair for cushions, but the [stage is being set for the] same kind of process of dehumanisation here." Working in a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation in Gaza in 1989 gave Dolev her first exposure to "the banality of evil", she says. "It wasn't seeing a soldier get scared and shoot into a crowd, but rather seeing a girl sitting in her house and getting shot by a stray bullet. And then, when she needed to be transferred to a Cairo hospital, the Shabak officers saying only she could cross, and no one else. A 12-year-old girl, in a vegetative state, and they wouldn't even let her mother accompany her. That is the banality of evil."

In her eyes, the Israeli public has allowed its leaders and military to get away with such punitive measures simply because they have allowed fear to override all other emotions: "Fear turns us into beasts," she says flatly. "I remember in my first week at school, aged six, we were taught how to blockade the classroom in case a terrorist got into the playground. While some fear is justified, there is not enough reason to make the public terrified on a daily basis." The media are just as responsible as the government for perpetually scaring ordinary Israelis, she believes. "Fear sells papers," she says cynically.
Such defensiveness allowed the police to get away with imprisoning some 700 activists over the course of Operation Cast Lead, she believes; many on the most spurious of charges. "They arrested some on the charge of disturbing public order, others on even vaguer charges. And some were even detained for 'damaging the nation's morale' – a charge which doesn't even exist [in the statutes]. There is no law in Israel anymore."

As well as her experience at the hands of the fire brigade, Dolev also points to the kind of sloganeering in the election campaign as proof that the bedrock of democracy on which Israel is founded is beginning to look far less solid. "When you have Lieberman declaring 'No loyalty, no citizenship', you start to worry about what point we've come to."

However, she is undeterred in her struggle on behalf of the peace camp, believing that hope is not lost in terms of convincing the Israeli public of an alternative to perpetual war and aggression. A firm promoter of the Arab Peace Initiative, she is convinced that the proposal is the best way to resolve the decades-old conflict.
"It's the biggest carrot ever offered to the Israeli people," she says. "One-state or two-state is a non-issue; whatever the two peoples agree on I would take with both hands. All that matters is that there are borders, and that those living within the borders are given full rights and citizenship. However, I worry about [Israeli Jews] becoming a minority, because after all we've taught them over 60 years of how to treat minorities, it's become dangerous to be a minority ourselves …"

A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest

Shulamit Aloni: Disgraced IDF no longer Israel's "Defense Forces"

Sunday 18 January 2009

January 17, 2009 – Jaffa: A standing-room-only audience of three hundred Israelis overflowed the auditorium at the Association for Jaffa Arabs on downtown Yefet Street yesterday, and loudspeakers were hastily set up for latecomers standing outside in the cold. Billed as "A Gathering to Protest and to Mourn," the event came in response to the massive civilian deaths in the assault on Gaza that began December 27, 2008. The program opened with a brief shared ritual of grieving – poetry read aloud and the music of an oud and a violin.

Displayed in the lobby of Rabita Auditorium was a list – inscribed in white ink against a black background – of the names of the civilians killed in the war, Arabs and Jews, alongside memorial candles lit in their memory. Most of the afternoon was devoted to workshops addressing themes like "From Mourning to Protest" and "The Sacredness of Life as a Shared Value."

Shulamit Aloni, the keynote speaker, minced no words. "Given the terrible actions taken in this war," said the former Member of Israel's Knesset and longtime civil rights champion, "the IDF can no longer be known as the 'Israel Defense Forces.' When I fought in Israel's War of Independence, we thought we were creating an exemplary society, but our army today is no longer an army of defense. It is a brutal and hedonistic army of conquest.

"I've heard people saying that 'we gave them Gaza and look how they behaved.' But we did not give them Gaza, to our disgrace; instead, we turned Gaza into a giant detention camp with a million and a half inmates, with no way in or out. Those leaving at three o'clock in the morning on their way to work were scrutinized as if they were slaves. People who are incarcerated in a detention camp have the right to respond. The IDF… spares no thought for families, old people, women and children. The [Israeli] public unashamedly celebrates the killing and the destruction. They rejoice that we have a large, strong army, but meanwhile Israel has abandoned its values and the values of its Declaration of Independence."

Aloni was also harshly critical of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who withdrew permission to hold the event at the Jewish-Arab Community Center in Jaffa, its planned location. "I thought Huldai believed in freedom of expression. How disgraceful for Tel Aviv's mayor that the city did not provide a venue for this civic gathering of people working for Jewish-Arab partnership and dialogue and peace.

"There is another voice discernible here," Aloni said, "but they silence it. I am sure that people will wake up now, and that this disgrace will be expunged. It will be expunged if Israel opens the gates and helps rehabilitate the terrible destruction it has caused, if it builds hospitals and rebuilds schools and helps rebuild the homes destroyed in this ghastly festival of destruction."

Spiritual numbness
Psychology Professor Ariella Friedman of Tel Aviv University: "I am dumbstruck that such a large percentage of the nation thinks this campaign [in Gaza] is legitimate. I don't think the Jewish people is the worst nation on earth, nor, sadly, is it the best nation on earth. But the circumstances here have turned us into people who perpetrate atrocities – and are then silent. I've heard people say that this was a 'successful war' – what cynicism, what spiritual numbness. There is a model here: they begin a war with a grand display of arrogant posturing but without any idea how they want to end it, and people enthusiastically embrace that decision. And afterwards they say 'there was no choice' – since when did we have no choice?

"In Israel," continued Prof. Friedman, "some people want to hang on to their faith in [their] morality at any price while waging war by any means. The price is an extreme separation between us and them. In Israel, the people weep over every citizen killed and there is a tremendous sense of togetherness. Yet how do people respond to the death of a mother and her five children, as happened one night in Gaza? Supposedly we are an enlightened army seeking only peace, doing what we do because we have no other option, whereas the killing that the other side perpetrates is intentional and evil. These are superficial statements that help people to deal with the intolerable situation and not to face the fact that they are committing atrocities against people under their control. That is the only way they can commit evil acts and still feel moral."

Dr. Ahmad Abu-Tuahina, director of the GCMHP-Gaza Community Mental Health Center, talked with the gathering by telephone: "The children of the Intifadas have undergone dreadful traumas. In the first Intifada, soldiers broke into homes and abused parents in front of their children. These children were traumatized: they discovered that those who are supposed to defend them have no defense, hence they were obliged to take the initiative to defend themselves. Children who felt lost and abandoned sought some figure to identify with, and they identified with the powerful – with members of Hamas who were fighting for their honor. This situation created a wave of extremism among the children and adults of both peoples. The same situation obtains today. In Gaza today there is no safe place – no safety at home nor on the street nor even in UN buildings, and the fact that UN buildings are no longer safe is heavily symbolic. The two children who were trapped for several days under a building
their mother who had been killed – imagine what kind of adults these children will grow up to be, after such an insane experience. With this war, Israel has nurtured its own enemies and obliterated the prospects for coexistence and peace."

Lieutenant Col. (Res.) Yoel Peterburg, among the founders of the Apache helicopter unit in the Israeli Air Force and a conscientious objector: "I helped create the Apache unit in the Air Force which today, with its dreadful missiles, so terrifies Palestinians. I commanded the capture of the ship Karine A. My experience is that the Air Force has undergone a steep moral decline, particularly among combat helicopter [pilots]. Until the second Intifada, we were not permitted during a targeted assassination to carry out the mission if within a radius of 500 meters there were 'uninvolved bystanders.' If we saw a vehicle approaching the village, we aborted the mission. Now they are launching one-ton bombs at houses when the pilot has no idea who is inside. After a bomb of that size hits, there is no way he can know who was there in hindsight, either. Two cornerstones of the IDF code of conduct become irrelevant here – respect for human life and the purity of arms."

Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, a psychologist from the University of Haifa: "You called for a gathering to mourn, but I refuse to mourn, not for the dead among my people and not for the dead of another people. Mourning helps keep the dead person among us after their spirit has departed. I cannot go forward yet; today I am still alive and in pain and protesting. I still have enough life left in me that I can look straight at the murderers of children and women and men, look them in the eye, or as someone once said, see the whites of their eyes, and tell them: Murderers, you have killed hundreds of children, women, and men, you have destroyed Gaza, a wretched place where a million and a half human beings live."

Prof. Suleiman enumerated the guilty: the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Foreign Minister, along with the Chief of Staff, and added: "When the day comes that these people stand before a war crimes tribunal, I would like to see on the defendants' bench not just those who gave the orders and those who fired the weapons. I would also like to see those who 'fired and wept.' The authors and cultural icons who lent sleazy credibility to this terrible crime."

Three scheduled participants were unable to attend: Nir Oren, co-chairman of the Bereaved Families Forum, who is currently under arrest, on grounds of "unauthorized assembly," for participating in a silent protest vigil in Beersheba. The second is his Palestinian co-chairman who could not attend due to the closure enforced on the West Bank. And the last is Dr. Abu-Tuahina, who remains in Gaza with its injured, displaced, exhausted and traumatized residents.
"A Gathering to Mourn and to Protest" was conceived and organized by mental health professionals together with activist organizations that included the School for Peace at Wahat al Salam / Neve Shalom; OSIM-Shalom: Social Workers Make Peace; the Bereaved Families Forum; and PsychoActiv-Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights.
Posters of civilians killed during the offensive were displayed at the event:

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

No comments: