Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Israeli Military Order = Pass Laws and Ethnic Cleansing

by Middle East Children's Alliance Associate Director Ziad Abbas

Last week, Israel began implementing new military orders designed to reduce the number of Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Claiming to “prevent infiltration” into the West Bank, Military Order 1650 legally categorizes tens of thousands of Palestinians as criminals simply for living in their homeland. The order affects all Palestinians and their children who have been denied residency status since 1967, any Palestinians from Gaza living or staying in the West Bank, and any foreign nationals living or visiting the area. People who fall under these categories can now be deported, fined 7,500 NIS, or jailed for up to 7 years for living in the West Bank without a special permit issued by the Israeli state. In addition, according to Military Order 1649, judgment of deportation orders resides with committees appointed by local military commanders, effectively making appeals impossible. Unless we stop it, the effect will likely be as devastating as it is intended. Order 1650 divides Palestinians from each other, permanently separating those living in the West Bank from those in Gaza. It also makes the hundreds of internationals who are monitoring the human rights situation illegal and subject to prison terms and deportation. It makes it difficult if not impossible for the new generation born outside of Palestine to return to visit family and their homeland. Most of all, it makes the tens of thousands of residents of the West Bank who currently hold expired permits criminals on their own land. The land that was stolen from their forefathers is now being stolen from the next generation through a military order.

This policy is just the latest assault on the Palestinian people; we have been living behind walls, barriers, and fences since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. Israeli occupation policies such as military checkpoints, curfews, Israeli settlements, military orders, jails, borders, and the colors of ID cards have all acted as walls that deprive Palestinians the right to control their own lives and land. For the Palestinians, the new Military Order 1650 is just another measure among many taken by the Israeli occupation to maintain control of the Palestinian people and their land. Unfortunately, many of the walls we as Palestinians live behind are unseen by others around the world whom are unaware of the details of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. At times, however, the Israeli state enacts policies that show its true nature to the rest of the world. For example, the overpowering apartheid wall is a concrete visible fact built in front of the entire world exposing Israel’s apartheid regime. It is a 500,000 mile long fact, constructed out of concrete, that you can see, feel, take a picture near, and draw on, however you cannot easily go through it. This wall exposes to the people of the world the struggles Palestinians have continued to go through since Israel’s establishment in 1948, presenting clear visible evidence of Israel’s apartheid policies which can no longer be ignored. I personally believe that the apartheid wall will eventually fall and become a part of history, a piece of evidence of the Israeli Apartheid system in Palestine. I am sure that apartheid policies such as Military Order 1650 will fall in the same way. Some day, the people of the world will look at this order with the same sense of shock and shame as we now do at the inhuman racist “pass laws” of the former South African Apartheid regime.

Palestinians such as myself have begun to realize and reflect upon the personal ramifications that will result from Military Order 1650. The impacts will negatively affect not just our lives, but the lives of our families. For instance, my brother-in-law, who was born in the Gaza Strip but moved to the West Bank after 1967 when he married my sister, will no doubt be impacted, as well as others who are married to people living in East Jerusalem, Palestine '48 or the West Bank. Additionally, others who have been granted permits from the military occupation to visit or to live with their relatives in the West Bank and have decided to stay longer will be affected. Moreover, certain human rights organizations have estimated that 200,000 Palestinians will be immediately affected by this new military order, and thus will be living in fear of being uprooted, deported, or arrested at any moment. No doubt, the Israeli state is counting on some people to become afraid enough so that they will take initiative and leave voluntarily as a result of the lack of security that this military order has created.

This new military order does not only target Palestinians, but also the international activists who remain in the West Bank in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thus, in addition to reducing the Palestinian population this order aims to suppress significant international support for the Palestinian cause. We have heard about hundreds of people who have been barred entrance across the borders of Israel and Palestine, including those Palestinians born in the Diaspora. Miltary Order 1650 unlawfully justifies and allows policies such as these continue denying certain individuals entrance into Palestine. One example among many of this denial of entry took place in December 2009 when a young Palestinian born in America named Nadine Al-Shrofa attempted to enter Palestine from the Jordanian border to visit her family. Following five hours of integration, Israeli immigration stamped her passport denying her entrance to the West Bank, despite the fact that her relatives live there as well as in the Gaza Strip. Another friend of mine succeeded to visit Palestine for the first time last year to connect with her family and roots. After withstanding hours of interrogation and threats, she fortunately succeeded in entering and visiting her family. She had planned to return to Palestine this year, however this new military order will unfortunately make this trip an impossibility. After she heard what happened to Nadine, she fears returning and being barred entrance into her homeland. She has come to realize that despite the good relations which exist between Israel and the United States her American passport will no longer offer her privileges to be able to enter into Palestine.

The military order will have its intended effect, an intention that is not difficult to see, and one that many others have written about. Many Zionist leaders continue to believe that the growth of the Palestinian population, including Muslim and Christian Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Israel will continue to threaten the Israeli Jewish majority. Palestinian population growth is perceived by many Zionist leaders as a ticking time bomb that will interfere with their ultimate goal of maintaining a purely Jewish state. Clearly, by enabling the expulsion and detention of large numbers of people in the West Bank, this military order serves the Zionist goal of reducing the Palestinian population in order to create a pure Jewish state. The reality, of course, is that an ethnically “pure” Jewish state is impossible.

Moreover, the Palestinian population is increasing rapidly. This has left the Israeli state to desperately attempt more and more strategies of ethnic cleansing which are increasingly hard to justify under international scrutiny. As we saw in Gaza in 2009, the wellspring of violence seemed bottomless. In fact, several Israeli politicians, including the current Prime Minister Netanyahu, have vowed to take any measures necessary in order to reduce this threat against an all Jewish Israeli state. Historian Pappe describes how, in December 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu brought back to life Ben-Gurion’s ‘alarming’ statistics that proclaimed a need to keep the Palestinian population under 20%. Netanyahu stated that “if the Arabs in Israel form 40 percent of the population, this is the end of the Jewish state.” He added, “but 20 per cent is also a problem … if the relationship with these 20 percent becomes problematic, the state is entitled to employ extreme measures.” (Pappe, 2006, p. 250) Their measures not only include overt violence, but also legislative enactments such as Military Order 1650 that manipulatively attempts to justify Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians while upholding Israel’s democratic mask. After taking the land and forcibly expelling millions of Palestinians in 1948, Israel labels those who return “infiltrators” in their own land. By criminalizing the indigenous population and those who come to support them, Israel justifies the detention and expulsion of entire families as well as those who stand in solidarity with them. Through the manipulative and ambiguous military order, Israel falsely conveys to the world that all they are doing is enforcing a law on people who have violated certain rules set by the state.

This is an old, vicious game. In fact, Military Order 1650 is a part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing policies that have been applied in Palestine since before 1948. Due to similar policies that legislate building permits, residency requirements and land ownership which have been enacted over decades, tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their right to reside in Jerusalem, causing the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem to become the majority and the Palestinians to become the minority. While these policies have effectively seized the land, it has been at a large cost in public opinion and has not solved the problem; Palestinians are still in Palestine. Current desperate measures such as the Apartheid Wall and Military Order 1650 indicate that Israel is in a state of urgency to eliminate the demographic threat as quickly as possible. Israel finds it necessary to cause large numbers of Palestinians to leave every day as it desires a mass exodus of the Palestinian population in order to speed up their goal of achieving a strictly Jewish state.

The numbers explain why. As of December 2008, the Israeli population was at 5,542,400 and the Palestinian Arab population within Israel was at 1,476,500. If we add the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip we see that 5,500,000 Palestinians are living in historic Palestine. In addition, the annual growth rate of the Jewish population is at 1.6%, while the Arab population is growing at 2.6%. If these trends continue, in time the Arabs will once again become the majority of historic Palestine. The threat is not just in historic Palestine, but also within Israel’s own borders. By 2030, Palestinians within Israel are projected to be 24% of the population and Jews 72% . This threatens Ben Gurion’s insistence to maintain the Palestinian population below 20%. Despite the fact that the Zionist leadership around world works very hard to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel, the Israelis will nevertheless face the problem that they are unable to demographically catch up with the Palestinian population.

Um Mohamed, one of the well known midwives in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem has delivered thousands of Palestinian children in the camp and surrounding areas. Before and after the first intifada, the Israeli occupation soldiers became aware of her status as the main midwife in the camp. They would aggressively ask her if any “hablanim” (terrorists in Hebrew) were about to be born. She would smile and confidently say “yes, a new Palestinian child is coming.” This would irritate the Israelis. At one point, she mentioned to me that many more children than usual were being born. As she counted nine months back, she realized that the people of the camp were under long curfews at that time and were not allowed to leave their homes. This was why so many more babies than usual were born nine months later. She laughed, as she realized that the Israelis who would get angry at the birth of Palestinians, have actually created an environment where Palestinians have not much else to do but make more babies. The use of curfews as part of the collective punishment of Palestinians aims at making the lives of Palestinians impossible so that they leave, thus, reducing their population. However, according to Um Mohamed’s anecdote, the curfews are actually helping to strengthen the Palestinian demographic as the population is encouraged to increase. It becomes evident that the same policies that oppress the people have become the policies that fuel liberation.

Like the Apartheid pass laws in South Africa, Military Order 1650 will not last. When the people of South Africa were dispossessed of their land, forced into Bantustan homelands and forced to carry passes, the laws were only effective for a time. Many were rounded up and arrested. However, as a result many more rose up in protests that could not be silenced by the bloodshed of military bullets. In the same way, Palestinians will never be defeated by this new military order, nor by future orders that attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestine. Prior to and following “al nakba” (the catastrophe of 1948), Israel has used many different kinds of military orders to ethnically cleanse Palestine in order to achieve the Zionist dream of having a Jewish state. However, what the Israelis may not realize is that the Palestinian cause is actually strengthened by the escalation of military orders. As the escalations on the ground make life more difficult for Palestinians, they at the same time create a stronger sense of desire and hope among Palestinians to make their dream of being free in their homeland a reality. We can expect this next period to be very brutal as Israel attempts these expulsions.

Before the international community realized what the South African pass laws actually meant, students marched against the pass laws in 1960. During the protest, Apartheid officials opened fire killing 69 people in cold blood marking the famous Sharpville massacre. Let us not wait for more deaths before we understand and act against the pass law Israeli military order 1960. Let us hope the international community does not wait for another massacre like the one that took place in Gaza last year before they speak out. Please act now – join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign ( to stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Divestment Could Save Lives

There has been an intense debate at UC Berkley over a student senate bill calling for divestment from two companies. This bill and this vote is about withdrawing financial support from companies that concretely contribute to the deaths of children. It is a very human response to a very terrible reality. General Electric and United Technologies supply engines, propulsion systems, and engineering support for the Israeli military's Apache Helicopters, F-15, and F-16 planes that, without a doubt, kill children.

The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) has been working with communities in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq for 22 years. Our staff and beneficiaries have witnessed the devastating effects of these two companies time and time again. During "Operation Cast Lead" in January 2009, we called Adham, a young man in Gaza, to check on him and his family. He told us, "It is very horrible here. Today was the worst. There were lots of F-16s above us and white phosphorous falling from the sky. I didn't sleep last night. The sound of shelling in the north and east kept us all awake." We spoke to him and other young people who grew up in programs MECA supports daily as they recounted tales of death and destruction for three long weeks. In 2006, we took photos of a building destroyed by an F-16 in the residential neighborhood where our project director lives. This time, no one was killed. But it was the exception, not the rule. 22 Palestinian children were killed in a two week period that summer. How many more will we stand by and watch die?

Some individuals and groups are trying to paint this bill as one-sided or political but when it comes to children's lives, there are no sides. On Wednesday, the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley (ASUC) will have the opportunity to override President Smelko's veto of this bill and we hope the fact that this bill specifically addresses Israeli war crimes will not sidetrack the debate and stand in the way of our individual and collective responsibility to children in the Middle East and beyond.

Whatever happens on Wednesday, we know this bill is just the beginning of an important effort to end brutal attacks on the children we serve in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. We thank the students who put this bill forward and the student senators who had the courage to support it despite the campaign of threats and intimidation waged against them.