Monday, November 26, 2012

Israeli Veterans Testify

Cover art for OUR HARSH LOGIC
Our Harsh Logic
The authors of Our Harsh Logic, Israeli veterans who protest the treatment of Palestinians via an organization, “Breaking the Silence,” write at

By relying on factual misconceptions, political leaders, deliberately or not, conceal information that is critical to our understanding of events. Among the people best qualified to correct those misconceptions are the individuals who have been charged with executing a state’s policies — in this case, Israeli soldiers themselves, an authoritative source of information about their government’s actions.

I am a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and I know that our first-hand experiences refute the assumption, accepted by many, including President Obama, that Gaza is an independent political entity that exists wholly outside Israel. If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we were stationed there? If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we control it?

The testimonies by Israeli veterans that follow are taken from 145 collected by the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence and published in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010. Those in the book represent every division in the IDF and all locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

House Demolition
Unit: Kfir Brigade
Location: Nablus district
Year: 2009

Palestinian woman protests the demolition of her house
 During your service in the territories, what shook you up the most?
The searches we did in Hares. They said there are sixty houses that have to be searched. I thought there must have been some information from intelligence. I tried to justify it to myself.

You went out as a patrol?
It was a battalion operation. They spread out over the whole village, took over the school, smashed the locks, the classrooms. One was used as the investigation room for the Shin Bet, one room for detainees, one for the soldiers to rest. We went in house by house, banging on the door at two in the morning. The family’s dying of fear, the girls are peeing in their pants with fear. We go into the house and turn everything upside down.

What’s the procedure?
Gather the family in a certain room, put a guard there, tell the guard to aim his gun at them, and then search the rest of the house. We got another order that everyone born after 1980… everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine, doesn’t matter who, bring them in cuffed and blindfolded. They yelled at old people, one of them had an epileptic seizure but they carried on yelling at him. Every house we went into, we brought everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine to the school. They sat tied up in the schoolyard.

Did they tell you the purpose of all this?
To locate weapons. But we didn’t find any weapons. They confiscated kitchen knives. There was also stealing. One guy took twenty shekels. Guys went into the houses and looked for things to steal. This was a very poor village. The guys were saying, “What a bummer, there’s nothing to steal.”

That was said in a conversation among the soldiers?
Yeah. They enjoyed seeing the misery, the guys were happy talking about it. There was a moment someone yelled at the soldiers. They knew he was mentally ill, but one of the soldiers decided that he’d beat him up anyway, so they smashed him. They hit him in the head with the butt of the gun, he was bleeding, then they brought him to the school along with everyone else. There were a pile of arrest orders signed by the battalion commander, ready, with one area left blank. They’d fill in that the person was detained on suspicion of disturbing the peace. They just filled in the name and the reason for arrest. There were people with plastic handcuffs that had been put on really tight. I got to speak with the people there. One of them had been brought into Israel to work for a settler and after two months the guy didn’t pay him and handed him over to the police.

All these people came from that one village?

Anything else you remember from that night?
A small thing, but it bothered me — one house that they just destroyed. They have a dog for weapons searches, but they didn’t bring him; they just wrecked the house. The mother watched from the side and cried. Her kids sat with her and stroked her.

What do you mean, they just destroyed the house?
They smashed the floors, turned over sofas, threw plants and pictures, turned over beds, smashed the closets, the tiles. There were other things — the look on the people’s faces when you go into their house. And after all that, they were left tied up and blindfolded in the school for hours. The order came to free them at four in the afternoon. So that was more than twelve hours. There were investigators from the security services there who interrogated them one by one.

Had there been a terrorist attack in the area?
No. We didn’t even find any weapons. The brigade commander claimed that the Shin Bet did find some intelligence, that there were a lot of guys there who throw stones.

Naval Blockade
Unit: Navy
Location: Gaza Strip
Year: 2008

Israeli soldiers patrolling a Gaza beach
 It’s mostly punishment. I hate that: “They did this to us, so we’ll do that to them.” Do you know what a naval blockade means for the people in Gaza? There’s no food for a few days. For example, suppose there’s an attack in Netanya, so they impose a naval blockade for four days on the entire Strip. No seagoing vessel can leave. A Dabur patrol boat is stationed at the entrance to the port, if they try to go out, within seconds the soldiers shoot at the bow and even deploy attack helicopters to scare them. We did a lot of operations with attack helicopters — they don’t shoot much because they prefer to let us deal with that, but they’re there to scare people, they circle over their heads. All of a sudden there’s a Cobra right over your head, stirring up the wind and throwing everything around.

And how frequent were the blockades?
Very. It could be three times one month, and then three months of nothing. It depends.

The blockade goes on for a day, two days, three days, four, or more than that?
I can’t remember anything longer than four days. If it was longer than that, they’d die there, and I think the IDF knows that. Seventy percent of Gaza lives on fishing — they have no other choice. For them it means not eating. There are whole families who don’t eat for a few days because of the blockade. They eat bread and water.

Shoot to Kill
Unit: Engineering Corps
Location: Rafah
Year: 2006

At a Gaza funeral
During the operations in Gaza, anyone walking around in the street, you shoot at the torso. In one operation in the Philadelphi corridor, anyone walking around at night, you shoot at the torso.

How often were the operations?
Daily. In the Philadelphi corridor, every day.

When you’re searching for tunnels, how do people manage to get around — I mean, they live in the area.
It’s like this: You bring one force up to the third or fourth floor of a building. Another group does the search below. They know that while they’re doing the search there’ll be people trying to attack them. So they put the force up high, so they can shoot at anyone down in the street.

How much shooting was there?

Say I’m there, I’m up on the third floor. I shoot at anyone I see?

But it’s in Gaza, it’s a street, it’s the most crowded place in the world.
No, no, I’m talking about the Philadelphi corridor.
So that’s a rural area?

Not exactly, there’s a road, it’s like the suburbs, not the center. During operations in the other Gaza neighborhoods it’s the same thing. Shooting, during night operations — shooting.

It there any kind of announcement telling people to stay indoors?

They actually shot people?
They shot anyone walking around in the street. It always ended with, “We killed six terrorists today.” Whoever you shot in the street is “a terrorist.”

That’s what they say at the briefings?
The goal is to kill terrorists.

testimony catalog number: 4632
rank: Lieutenant
Something has to happen that really shocks you in order for you to change...The fact is such serious things did occur and so many people would not talk about them. Perhaps, too, they don't think it is so severe or serious -- that it was natural, a part of what we called ongoing warfare.

"It was natural, a part of what we called ongoing warfare."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Memory of Sol Metz, Activist for Peace

Sol Metz was born on May 5, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. He devoted his life to social justice activism, which he approached from a deeply spiritual perspective. A friend remembers: Sol was a man of profound convictions and principle. When he came to a conclusion about something, about making a commitment to something, he did it and stuck with it.

At gatherings of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Sol’s messages were loving and meaningful. He often spoke of his Jewish roots, the compassionate messages of Jesus, and his concerns for justice. Friends remember a t-shirt he often wore that displayed a quote from Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camera: “When I give to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

 Sol first visited Palestine in 2002, where he witnessed the effects of Israel’s occupation first hand. When he returned in 2005 as a volunteer with the Holy Land Trust, he saw two women mourning in the ruins of their house, which Israeli Occupation forces had just demolished. He silently sat down with them in sympathy and solidarity. After about half an hour, he asked if he could take their picture.They agreed, and Sol thanked them. He made CD copies of the resulting photograph and circulated it widely, asking that it be used in flyers and presentations without crediting himself.
Paul Aboud, who later interviewed Sol about his experiences in Palestine, writes, “Mr. Metz’s voice shook while describing a home demolition at the hands of the IDF: ‘These acts were carried out by Jews in the name of Jews everywhere. I saw these acts as a betrayal of the Judaism I had learned about [as a child]. I came to believe that criticism of Israel was my duty as a Jew.’”

Another friend remembers: There was an evident struggle in him: first there was the imperative to act, to do something – anything – to not let these wrongs slip by unhindered no matter how impractical the response (although he would prefer it to be practical) but to speak out, point out, and break free of the cynical pessimism that most of us live and breathe.

Sol’s determination to get in the way of injustice was complicated by his impulse to not force anything, to be gentle and not bully others: Sol kept it up front, in your face, but always with an asterisk that implied, “This is my mission – come along as far as you yourself are led.”

After his first, formative trip to Palestine, Sol joined Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF), holding a weekly vigil outside the Beth Israel Synagogue amidst strong criticism by some members of the Ann Arbor community and disagreement with some at Ann Arbor Friends Meeting as well. But as he did so often, Sol remained serene and undeterred. Sol expected to hold his vigil outside the Beth Israel Synagogue weekly for the rest of his life. He felt so deeply that Jewish support for the Zionist enterprise, the making of a Jewish nation on the Palestinians’ land, was deeply destructive to Judaism, a good and worthy religion. He had decided to speak about that and protest it by putting himself outside the synagogue bodily during their religious services every week – for life. Which he did.

Sol participated in other campaigns and demonstrations for Palestinian rights: petitioning the Ann Arbor Food Coop to stop selling foods from Israel, boycotting Hillers Market for contributing part of its profits to the Israeli Defense Forces, distribution of educational materials, demonstrating with University of Michigan student members of SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), and divestment campaigns against Caterpillar and other corporations supporting the occupation of Palestinian land.

A friend remembers: Despite his outer calm, Sol hid some strong emotions he felt about injustices the Palestinians suffer. He found the reading of Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” so painful that he stopped reading it less than halfway through the book and gave it away to a colleague. Reading Ali Abunimah’s “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End theIsraeli-Palestinian Impasse” Sol became convinced that a one-state solution was the only way to resolve the conflict. When reminded that most Jews reject that option but may support a two-state solution, he would reply firmly that massive settlement expansion has already made a two-state solution impossible.

When Sol died on June 25, 2012, during a short bout with cancer, a friend arranged for two olive trees to be planted in Palestine in his memory. She writes, I hoped that by planting these living, growing symbols of peace, this would be one of the many ways Sol’s work would carry on, bear fruit, and live to witness the peace that we all wish we could live to see. 

Even if I knew the world would
come to an end tomorrow,
I would go into the garden
and plant an olive tree.
Unless we plant now,
There will be no shade for our children,
No oil to heal the wounds,
No olive branches to wave for peace
when it comes.

            - Father Mitri Raheb, Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Was Hamas leader assassinated because he pursued peace?

Did Israel's right-wing government "make a mistake" in targetting Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari just as he was about to offer a permanent truce with Israel? Or was this a deliberate attempt on the part of Israel to keep the violence alive? Either way, what should thinking people say and do now? We suggest speaking out in every possible venue: through social media, with friends and co-workers, in classes, in letters to officials, on blogs and in public places. Surely, Israel "has a right to defend itself," as do the Palestinians. But is it wise to escalate the violence, rather than seek all possible avenues for peace?

Ha'aretz reports:

Israeli peace activist: Hamas leader Jabari killed amid talks on long-term truce
Ha'aretz, November 15, 2012

Hours before Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari was assassinated, he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip. This, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit and has since then maintained a relationship with Hamas leaders.

Baskin told Haaretz on Thursday that senior officials in Israel knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but nevertheless approved the assassination.
“I think that they have made a strategic mistake," Baskin said, an error "which will cost the lives of quite a number of innocent people on both sides."
"This blood could have been spared. Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this,” he added.
Baskin made Jabari’s acquaintance when he served as a mediator between David Meidin, Israel’s representative to the Shalit negotiations, and Jabari. “Jabari was the all-powerful man in charge. He always received the messages via a third party, Razi Hamad of Hamas, who called him Mister J.”
For months, Baskin sent daily messages in advance of the formulation of the deal. He kept the channel of communication with Gaza open even after the Shalit deal was completed.
According to Baskin, during the past two years Jabari internalized the realization that the rounds of hostilities with Israel were beneficial neither to Hamas nor to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and only caused suffering, and several times he acted to prevent firing by Hamas into Israel.
He said that even when Hamas was pulled into participating in the launching of rockets, its rockets would always land in open spaces. “And that was intentional,” clarified Baskin.
In recent months Baskin was continuously in touch with Hamas officials and with Egyptian intelligence as well as with officials in Israel, whose names he refused to divulge. A few months ago Baskin showed Defense Minister Ehud Barak a draft of the agreement and on the basis of that draft an inter-ministry committee on the issue was established. The agreement was to have constituted a basis for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, which would prevent the repeated rounds of shooting.
“In Israel,” Baskin said, “they decided not to decide, and in recent months I took the initiative to push it again.” In recent weeks he renewed contact with Hamas and with Egypt and just this week he was in Egypt and met with top people in the intelligence system and with a Hamas representative. He says he formed the impression that the pressure the Egyptians applied to the Palestinians to stop shooting was serious and sincere.
“He was in line to die, not an angel and not a righteous man of peace,” Baskin said of Jabari and of his feelings in the wake of the killing, “but his assassination also killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function. After the assassination I spoke to the people in Israel angrily and they said to me: We’ve heard you and we are calling to ask if you have heard anything form the Egyptians or from Gaza.”
Since the assassination, Baskin has been in touch with the Egyptians but not with the Palestinians. According to him, the Egyptians are very cool-headed. They said it is necessary to let the fresh blood calm down. "The Egyptian intelligence people are doing what they are doing with the permission and authorization of the regime and apparently they very much believe in this work,” he says.
“I am mainly sad. This is sad for me. I am seeing people getting killed and that is what is making me sad. I tell myself that with every person who is killed we are engendering the next generation of haters and terrorists,” adds Baskin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Neutrality in Conflict

If you are neutral in situations of injustice
you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has its foot on a tail of a mouse
and you are neutral
 the mouse will not appreciate
your neutrality.
                       - Bishop Desmond Tutu

Israel's "New War with Gaza"

An Israeli peace activist writes:
As of 16:15 here in Israel, there is a new war with Gaza.
Israel assassinated Ahmad Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas, and then another Hamas leader, and there is bombing in different places throughout the Gaza Strip. So far at least 5 reported dead there, many more to come I am sure.
Here in Israel all of the schools have been closed in the south and the near center and all community activities cancelled. The news is on all the time and the name of this newest operation has been given - Cloud Column (perhaps due to the mushroom clouds in Gaza). In Israel, since late afternoon, there have been over 20 rocket attacks. We got text messages to stay in secure rooms, and not go outside.

Clouds over Gaza
I do not know how the history texts will deal with this latest/newest war. I know that I am not dealing with it very well.
Keep us in your prayers, and sign our petition to end this violence once and all through negotiations to reach a long-term ceasefire.
Send the text of the petition to world leaders - Obama, Clinton, Cameron, Holland, Putin - as well as to ours - Netanyahu and Barak - and tell them to stop killing us all.

Gaza Is Under Siege

From a Palestinian friend:
Gaza is under heavy attack. Just now, the Israelis launched 10 air raids against Gaza. I just got home from work, We hear bombing all around us, our building shakes, but we are all safe Alhamdolilah.
Mom is soothing my youngest brother; he is freaking out and mom is trying to make him sleep.
We have not gotten a hold of dad who is still outside.

Keep us in your prayers

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Beit Arabiya Demolished for the Sixth Time

By ICAHD-USA      Nov 01, 2012
Israeli authorities demolished Beit Arabiya (“Arabiya’s House”) early this morning (Thursday, November 1 2012) for the sixth consecutive time since 1998, following its recent reconstruction in July this year, in the aftermath of its fifth demolition in January 2012. ICAHD names Israeli duty-bearers as personally responsible for policies and practices that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Beit Arabiya, located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem, is a living symbol of resistance to Occupation and the desire for justice and peace. As its name suggests, Beit Arabiya is a home belonging to Arabiya Shawamreh, her husband Salim and their seven children, a Palestinian family whose home has been demolished five times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by ICAHD’s Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists, before being demolished again this morning.

Arabiya and Salim have dedicated their home as a center for peace in the memories of Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan, two women (an American and a Palestinian) who died resisting home demolitions in Gaza. In the past decade ICAHD has hosted numerous visitors at Beit Arabiya, and based its annual rebuilding camp at the house, rebuilding 186 demolished Palestinian homes.
Beit Arabiya was recently rebuilt during ICAHD’s tenth annual rebuilding camp that attracted more than thirty internationals, that stood side by side with Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to be enemies, demonstrating that there are partners for peace. Within two weeks, the pile of rubble left after the demolition of the house in the middle of night on 23 January earlier this year, was transformed into a fully functioning house with extensive terrace, made possible by nearly one hundred additional volunteers, including international youth, part of summer delegations to Palestine.

Every year hundreds of Palestinians are forced from their homes, homes built on land they own. Since 1967 Israel has demolished more than 26,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. ICAHD has rebuilt a total of 186 Palestinian homes illegally demolished by Israel and is determined to see this illegal policy stop.

In June 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council received the annual report of Prof. Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT. Falk highlighted the disturbing case of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh, and stated it was “illustrative of a common Palestinian complaint that their property rights are indirectly usurped through the denial of formal permits and the subsequent issuance and execution of demolition orders.” The UN expert further highlighted that “while it will be rebuilt once again next month, the family will live under the threat of having its home demolished at any moment. The ever-present threat of Israeli bulldozers perverts the sense of normalcy so essential for raising children.”

Former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Maxwell Gaylard visited demolished Beit Arabiya in January 2012, following its fifth demolition, and was briefed by ICAHD’s Jeff Halper and Itay Epshtain. Following his visit he called for an immediate end to the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel in the occupied West Bank: “Israel as the Occupying Power has a fundamental responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to ensure their dignity and wellbeing. The wholesale destruction of their homes and livelihoods is not consistent with that responsibility and humanitarian ideals. The current policy and practice of demolitions cause extensive human suffering and should end. Palestinians urgently require ready access to a fair and nondiscriminatory planning and zoning system that meets their needs for growth and development.”

The demolition of Palestinian homes and other structures, forced or resulting displacement, land expropriation, and settlement expansion, are politically and ethnically motivated. The goal is to limit development and confine the four million Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza to small enclaves, thus effectively foreclosing any viable, contiguous Palestinian state and ensuring Israeli control, and the “Judaization” of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian population in the OPT, including occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem, continues to endure violence, displacement, dispossession and deprivation as a result of prolonged Israeli occupation, in most cases in violation of their rights under international human rights law (IHRL), and international humanitarian law (IHL). As of October 23 2012, 472 structures have been demolished since the beginning of the year, including 140 family homes. As a result, 682 people were displaced and offered neither alternative housing nor compensation.

As the Occupying Power, Israel is bound by the provisions of IHL, namely the Hague Regulations of 1907, and the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, both of which constitute binding customary international law. However, ICAHD firmly holds that Israel’s occupation can no longer be considered temporary, and that other obligations should be invoked, such as the right to self-determination. It is widely agreed that IHRL must be referenced in order to flesh out the notion of population welfare, and to delineate and set restraints on the occupying power’s actions. In particular experts refer to the rights to health, education, food and housing, codified, inter alia, in the conventions and covenants that comprise the human rights treaty system.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

"Not a Dreamland" - Artists and Alternative Subcultures in Gaza

Take a look at this remarkable video of young artists, dancers, rappers, and musicians creating their art in studios, galleries, beaches, unlit rooms - any spaces they can find amid the exigencies of life in Gaza

Artists and Alternative Subcultures in Gaza