Declaration of the Arab Association for Human Rights on International Human Rights Day 2012

Nazareth – 24 years ago, the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) was established with the mission to protect and promote the human rights of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  Today, the condition of human rights inequality in Israel is no less dire.  This past year has seen a gross violation of human rights in the form of Israel’s assault on Gaza, it has seen the Haifa District Court reject the appeal for justice on behalf of the family of Rachel Corrie, and it has seen the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the United Nations to non-member observer. On International Human Rights Day this year, the HRA would like to highlight the major developments in the human rights situation for the Palestinian minority in Israel.

In October, the European Union Parliament voted to pass the ACAA protocol. This trade agreement may set a precedent for further advancement of EU-Israel trade and it represents a significant missed opportunity for the EU to exercise its institutionalized conditionality of human rights concerns in all trade deals.

Over the course of the year, a spate of new legislation, proposed policies, and actions of lawmakers affected the condition of the Palestinian Arab minority’s human rights. In January, the Israeli High Court upheld the “Nakba Law”, which denies funding for any organization that recognizes the “Nakba”. Also in January, the “Prawer Plan” for Bedouin relocation was accepted.  It will force the relocation of 70,000 Bedouin from their lands in the Naqab.  On the 11th of January, the Supreme Court denied the petitions of many human rights organizations to revoke the discriminatory “Citizenship Law” which divides families of Palestinians in Israel. Also in July, MK Michael Ben-Ari published a video of himself ripping a Christian Bible in half; a clear polemic against religious minorities in Israel and an extremely troubling indicator of racism among public officials.

These developments, international and local, are each troubling in their own right; however, the effect on the Jewish Israeli public is much more frightening. As a result of institutional discrimination, the Jewish Israeli population has become polarized and racism has become a mainstream political opinion.  This process was the subject of an illustrative poll taken in September of Jewish Israelis in Tel Aviv. It found that 42% of Jewish Israelis do not want an Arab child learning in the same classroom as their own child, 33% favor legally blocking Palestinian citizens from voting in the Knesset, 59% favor preference for Jews in government hiring, and 42% do not want an Arab family as a neighbor.

With the region as politically and socially tumultuous as ever, this should be an occasion to remember the Human Rights inside Israel as well.  There are some disturbing trends that show no sign of stopping. Looking forward to the challenges we face in the future, the support of the international community will be as important as ever.  This International Human Rights Day, the HRA reaffirms its dedication to the principles of freedom and equality. Our organization will continue advocating Israeli adherence to international humanitarian law and we will continue protecting and promoting the human rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

80% of the “Full Israeli Experience”

Friedman

For this past Sunday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote an article entitled “The Full Israeli Experience”. Treating Friedman as an whipping boy has become popular in some circles in recent years, but for the Times to run such an opinion – in the widely read Sunday edition especially – its editors are lending credence to his close-minded and restricted view of the world.  In doing so they promote misunderstanding and provide a buttress of support for national policies that are not in the American people’s interest.

Even without the obvious critique that the “full Israeli experience” cannot be accurately applied to the country’s mainstream national politics when only 80% of its population is represented, this article was hugely disappointing.

Why?

Tom Friedman argues that to be taken seriously in Israeli politics (and by virtue of the special relationship, American politics), you must understand the severity of Israel’s security situation.  He argues that the “bastards for peace” approach of Ehud Barak is superior because it purports a re-trenchment in the ’67 borders and a serious effort to advance the peace process. This is a harmful simplification of the conflict.

The problem is that the conflict does not end with the ’67 borders. This is not a binary conflict in which agreed upon borders will make history go away. The two states are inextricably linked.  This goes beyond the right of Palestinian refugees to return and potential conflicts over religious site.  This is about the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Israel living as second-class citizens.  A re-trenchment would mean that Israel would love the pressure from the international community to make serious change in its politics and become the true bastion of democracy it has always claimed to be.

The flaw in Friedman’s argument is best displayed with an example.  Let’s use Egypt.  In Egypt, Mohammad Morsi recently tried to acquire extra-presidential powers so he could advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of codifying Shari’a law.  This is something the United States, and many international freethinking progressive people oppose.  Why do we oppose it though?  Is it because Morsi would have become a dictator like Mubarak? Yes, partially.  Is it because Shari’a law is what many Americans are actually afraid of and that there are deep seeded prejudices in the Western world against Islam? Probably.  But, the real reason why Americans should have opposed Morsi claiming those extra powers is that at the heart of the American system of government and the root of liberalism is the belief that for all people to be free and equal, there can be no inherent link between a particular religion and the state.  Unchecked state power in the hands of an Islamic party would generate institutional discrimination against any religious minorites.

This brings us back to Israel.  What Morsi was trying to do, the battle he is waging with the Egyptian courts right now is the same one that was fought over the future of Israel in its nascence.  Eventually David Ben Gurion won out and propagated his vision of the Jewish State.  For 64 years, the “Jewish and Democratic” state has thrived in perpetual hypocrisy.  First, the Palestinian minority lived under military rule with a separate legal system, now it is perceived by many as a “nest of terror…that should be exiled” as Nazerat Illit mayor Shimon Gafso recently stated.

This is an oppressed minority that lives with no real hope for change.  Friedman, in his effort to create some weird fear-inducing paranoia on behalf of the Israeli people, has supported a strategy that would ensure the continued discrimination against 20% of Israel citizens.

Yes, there are militant extremists who openly advocate for Israel’s destruction.  They are a small, but vocal minority.  Failing to address these major issues of self-determination and democratic values would only validate their claims and swell their ranks.  There is no righteousness in holding a supposed moral high ground when the human rights of millions are being attacked.

The path ahead may seem treacherous, but there is no better occasion to strive for harmony and justice than in the face of difficult times.

“Your Right”: An International Human Rights Day Celebration

hNmK2Yg=_=_م العالمي لحقوق الانسان-معك حق 13.12.12

 

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day this year, The HRA is honored to co-host an evening of cultural celebration.

Next Thursday, December 13, at the Mahmoud Darwish Cultural Center in Nazareth, this evening of artistic expression will include:

-A musical performance from the HRA-sponsored band

-A short theatric presentation

-A performance from rapper Hassan Akabarih

Tickets will cost 30 shekels and they will be available at the door.  Space is limited.

For more information, call the HRA at 046561923

The Arab Association for Human Rights celebrates the graduation of a new group of human rights facilitators

Nazareth – This week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) is proud to announce that a new group of students has graduated from our human rights training course.  In the name of “Mansur Kardosh”, the HRA’s founder, our “Human Rights Education and Community Outreach” program presents a new group of human rights facilitators.

21 college students participated in the course. With the HRA’s “Haq” Youth Group, they will go on to establish human rights forums, which will increase human rights awareness and facilitate public action through volunteer work and application of their human rights training. The “Haq” Youth Group has already successfully launched 19 of these human rights forums is various Arab cities and villages throughout Israel.

As trainees they were given 96 total hours of training, including special guest lectures, and covering various theoretical concepts and more practical applications. They learned about international human rights groups, minority rights, national rights and the specifics of how to manage and direct groups for the purpose of creating positive change.

The HRA’s general director, Mohammad Zeidan, took the opportunity to congratulate the new facilitators, “This is an opportunity to celebrate the culmination of the work of the HRA over the past 20 years.  We have always tried to promote a cultural respect for human rights in our society, especially among the young audience, so we are proud of our ability to send this new group of able youth leaders back into a society which is suffering human rights discrimination in so many ways.”

The HRA Condemns the Israeli Aggression Against Gaza

Nazareth – The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) would like to affirm that Israel is not above international law and the current escalating Israeli aggression on Gaza, with its continuing indiscriminate attacks on civilians and densely populated residential areas constitutes a war crime. Furthermore, the renewal of a policy of assassination is considered extrajudicial killing and constitutes a gross violation of human rights and international law.

The continuing Israeli attack on Gaza and the threat to further expand its military operation constitute a flagrant challenge to the international community, who have shown their inability to take the necessary practical action to stop the crimes.  It also is in violation of agreed-upon universal values of protection of civilians in time of war.  The inability of the international community, including the United Nations Security Council and international legal bodies, to take firm action to stop Israel are perceived as giving approval of the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. Moreover, their mere silence is an act of compliance.

Mohammad Zeidan, the HRA general director, has condemned these attacks; “this aggression would not have happened if the international community had taken a stronger stance following Israel’s war crimes in 2008 and 2009.  I would also say to the international community that in failing to meet the legal obligation to criminalize Israeli actions, specifically in the case of the Goldstone Report, Israel has been allowed to continue its crimes against the Palestinian people and humanity.”

The HRA condemns all Israeli practices against the Palestinians in Gaza and against Palestinians in general.  Specifically, The HRA:

1)      Confirms the need for the UN and the UNSC to fulfill its obligation to take immediate actions to stop the Israeli aggression and to take punitive measures against Israel to stop the ongoing war crimes.

2)      Calls for international institutions to intervene immediately to provide the necessary protection for the Palestinian civilians and civil infrastructure inGaza.

3)      Calls on the Human Rights Council and the general prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation on all Israeli war crimes committed against Palestinian civilians and to prosecute those responsible in accordance with international law.

4)      Calls on international institutions to provide the necessary humanitarian aid and medical relief to enable local Palestinian institutions so they continue providing the basic needs of the citizens under Israeli bombardment.

Way More Than a Game: Football in Israel

Nazareth – The rivalry between the Israeli football clubs Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem has transcended mere sport.  These two clubs, one from Israel’s self-declared capital and one from an Arab city in the Galilee with a population of 25,000, are bitter rivals, but they have come to represent rival ideologies as well. From the outside their contests are an athletic performance, though, as usual, to the people involved, they represent so much more.

This year the match between Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem will be held on November 10. With a little over half the season left to play, neither team has a winning record. This match in particular has only moderate significance in terms of league standing, yet both are in mild danger of relegation to the second division. However, Doha Stadium in Sakhnin will most assuredly be full when the “Lions from the Capital” come to town this Saturday night.

To understand the fierce rivalry between these two teams, there is one place to start: Land Day 1976.  In the spring of 1976, the Israeli government decided to expropriate 20,000 dunams (1 dunam = ¼ acre) of land in the Galilee for military use and for new Jewish settlements.  Led by Tawfiq Ziad, father of “poetry of protest”, the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel organized massive protests against the decision.  The protests quickly turned into riots when the IDF was called in to quell the unrest.  Six Arab citizens were killed, hundreds were wounded, and hundreds more were imprisoned.  This was the first time the Arab minority organized mass political protests since the foundation of Israel.

The Land Day monument in Sakhnin

In October of 2000, the Al Aqsa Intifada was raging in Gaza and the West Bank.  Palestinians all over the world were frustrated with the failure of the Oslo Accords and they started pushing back against the Israeli occupation.  Following the wide publication of a video showing the death of Mohammad al-Durra, a twelve-year-old boy killed by a barrage of Israeli bullets in Gaza, Palestinians inside Israel took up the call for change.  In the tradition of Ziad and the 1976 riots, protests and demonstrations sprang up in Arab towns and cities in the Galilee, with a particular frequency in Sakhnin.   Several days of clashes between protesters and the police culminated in the shooting of 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel and a Gazan day-laborer.  The circumstances of the deaths have been the cause of much review and a series of counter-accusations from both sides. Local journalist Jonathan Cook concludes his book on the incident, “Blood and Religion”, with the revelation that the police had a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place and that they regarded the Palestinian minority as “an enemy”. No formal investigation has been held to hold the perpetrators responsible.

The graves of three of the 13 martyrs in Sakhnin.

Since 2000, the 13 Palestinians killed in the protests have become martyrs for Palestinian cause inside Israel.  Every October, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel flock to Sakhnin to protest the killing of the 13 martyrs and to call for punishment for those responsible. The yearly protests culminate in a march to the Sakhnin cemetery, where three of the martyrs are buried near a memorial commemorating their sacrifice.  In some ways, Sakhnin has become the epicenter of Palestinian struggle for equal rights inside Israel.

October 2012 – Palestinian Arabs protest on the streets of Sakhnin

In those twelve years since the death of the 13 martyrs Sakhnin has found itself the home of not just political unrest, but also a very good football team.

Bnei Sakhnin F.C. was founded in 1991 as the product of the merger of two lesser, local squads. They competed in lower division play until the 2002-2003 season when they earned promotion to the first division.  Despite low expectations and a stadium unfit for the premier league, Bnei Sakhnin continued to grow in prominence. In other words, they won, a lot.

With the acquisition of several key players and manager Eyal Lahman, and the emergence of captain Abbas Suan, they were able to win the National Cup in 2003-2004.

Abbas Suan warming up for Bnei Sakhnin

The success of Bnei Sakhnin drew international attention.  Captain Abbas Suan played for the Israeli national team and was featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine. Their National Cup victory won them the right to be the first Arab team from Israel to compete in Europe.

With success on the pitch, Bnei Sakhnin F.C. and its players have struggled with their symbolic role representing the Arab Palestinian minority. Abbas Suan, having played on the Israeli national team, has a particularly difficult role in the battle of symbolism and identity being waged in his name.  Suan discussed this conflict of interest with Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I represent most of the Arab problems in Israel, problems of land and discrimination. For all the Israeli people I want to emphasize that we can live together, but [the Jewish majority] has to listen to our problems.” Suan refuses to sing the Israeli national anthem before games when he plays for the national team.

[Click here for a short documentary about Palestinian Arabs living in Israel.  Abbas Suan scores for the Israeli national team at 0:17]

The players weren’t the only ones struggling with their new role, external forces began fighting battles over the spirit of Bnei Sakhnin as well. Investors from Qatar initiated a project to build a new stadium in Sakhnin. The $6 million dollar project became a source of embarrassment for Israel, and there was even a formal petition to change the name from “Doha Stadium” to “HaShalom Stadium”.  Sakhnin’s mayor, Mohammad Bashir, stepped in and protected the stadium’s name with the public’s support.  For the Qataris, Bnei Sakhnin championed Arab nationalism.

In 2010, the rise of Bnei Sakhnin was documented in a critically acclaimed documentary.  With “After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United”, Christopher Browne, an American, sought to “follow the season after Bnei Sakhnin’s historic win, as they face an unprecedented series of challenges and unrealistic expectations while trying to survive in the Premier League.”  Browne tried to use his film to install a western post-colonial narrative of growing togetherness and acceptance between Israel’s coexisting national groups.

Regardless of the trajectory of assimilation trends, the fact is that many, many issues of discrimination and bigotry still face the Arab Palestinian minority and, for the foreseeable future, Bnei Sakhnin and their egalitarian approach to the game will continue to represent some part of their national spirit as it exists in opposition to the more conservative, racist, and bigoted segments of Israeli society.

If Bnei Sakhnin F.C. represents the aspirations of the Palestinian Arab minority, Beitar Jerusalem represents the exclusive, conservative segments of Israeli society.  Beitar’s identity was forged  in the fires of pre-Israel Zionism, having been established by a conservative leader in 1935. Today, fans at Teddy’s Field – Beitar’s home field so-named for former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek – are famous for their hostility.  They nicknamed the pitch “gehinom” (“Hell”) and their most fervent supporters come from the infamous “La Familia” group, which exists to antagonize Arab and minority players. One year before the founding of “La Familia”, in 2004, the New Israel Fund performed a study to track racism in Israeli football.  Even without the most fervent fanatics, the findings concluded that Beitar Jerusalem’s fans were the most racist against Arab players of any club in Israel.

Beitar Jerusalem fans proudly waving their yellow and black scarves

Other clubs let the free market dictate how to field the best team possible, but Beitar, perhaps simply as a function of subservience to its rabid fans, operates with racist priorities. They have never signed an Arab player. Team officials have only poor explanations for the omission.  After suffering a minor penalty from the Israel Football Association (IFA) earlier this year after a particularly violent bout of racist rage in Teddy’s Field, Beitar spokesman, Assaf Shaked said “We are against racism and we suffer for our fans, But we aren’t going to bring an Arab player just to annoy the fans.” This is a pretty clear case of a delusion-induced causation fallacy.

Various incidents through history illustrate the truth behind Beitar Jerusalem’s reputation.  During a 1974 match with Hapoel Petah Tikva, the Beitar fans stormed the pitch to attack the opponent’s players.  In a 2007 match against Bnei Sakhnin in the Toto Cup, La Familia led chants insulting the Prophet Mohammad.  Earlier this year, hundreds of Beitar fans clad in yellow and black flooded Malha Mall in Jerusalem and attacked the Arab cleaning personnel.  A spokesman for Or-Orly cleaning services described the incident as a “mass-lynching attempt”. Despite the existence of incriminating security camera footage, hundreds of witnesses, and the widely documented chanting of slogans like “death to the Arabs”; no charges were filed against the rioting fans.

[Click here for a video of Beitar Jerusalem fans swarming Malha Mall and chanting “Death to the Arabs”]

Though the hooliganism of Beitar Jerusalem fans is most often directed at Arabs, other ethnic minorities are targeted as well.  Last week’s match between Beitar and Hapoel Tel Aviv erupted into a callous display of racism toward Nigerian-born Hapoel player, Toto Tamuz.  The crowd chanted monkey noises and provoked him throughout the game (“Give Toto a banana”).  In a similar incident two years ago, the IFA penalized Beitar for their fans’ discretions.  This time, Toto Tamuz was treated as the offending party.  He scored a go-ahead goal and celebrated by shushing the crowd.  The referee gave him a second yellow card for his poor sportsmanship.  Following his ejection from the game, the referee called him “a shame and a disgrace” and the IFA suspended him for two games.  The racism of Beitar’s fans is one thing, but the misallocation of punishment in this case, and the reprieve from punishment for the attacks in Malha Mall are much more disappointing.  It signals a systematic and institutionalized disregard for ethnic minorities in Israel and human rights equality in general.

That brings us to this Saturday’s game. The political importance of this yearly match between Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem in Israel’s Liga ha-Al is comparable to the importance of South Africa Springboks’ victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. If it proceeds calmly with no unforeseen incidents, it may foreshadow the very inclusive togetherness fostered by the Springboks’ victory, which may decrease the public’s tolerance for such suffocating racism.  However, an undeserved penalty or last second goal could set off riots.  Anything could happen.  Though, the Springboks’ victory came after Mandela was elected president.  This game, however, will be played under Israel’s still very much broken Democracy. Israel’s government and institutions are all built to cater to the inherent inequality and racism that manifests in the actions of the Beitar fans.

So set the date on your calendars, November 10, 2012.  A stew of sectarian division and football fanaticism has been brewing and it is set to boil.

UPDATE:  The results of the game courtesy of the Jerusalem Post:

“Betar Jerusalem’s winning streak was snapped on Saturday with a 1-1 draw at Bnei Sakhnin.

As ever, tensions were running high ahead of the showdown between the two bitter rivals in the wet Doha Stadium.

The Sakhnin fans were flying high when Yero Bello gave the hosts the lead in the 14th minute, but Betar picked up a deserved point and extended its unbeaten streak to five matches thanks to Avi Rikan’s goal in the 48th minute.

Sakhnin ended the match with nine players after Bello was sent off in the 88th minute for making an indecent gesture towards the Betar bench while Khaled Khalaila was shown a second yellow (92) for an impulsive foul.”

The JPost article doesn’t go into it, but there were fights outside Doha Stadium after the game.  A particularly rambunctious group of Beitar Jerusalem fans made the trip up to Sakhnin despite the rain storm, including far-right MK Baruch Marzel, famous for organizing protests in support of the law banning recognition of the Nakba. The ejections at the end of the game and Marzel’s attendance with a police escort incited some violence, though no serious injuries have been reported.

EU Parliament Passes ACAA Protocol

Nazareth – Last Tuesday evening, October 24th, the parliament of the European Union voted on the EU-Israel Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAA) protocol.  Despite an impassioned argument from Belgian Socialist MEP Veronique de Keyser for the ACAA protocol to return to committee stage, the protocol was passed.  The ACAA is an addition to the EU-Israel Association Agreement of 1995 and it stipulates that Israeli pharmaceutical products are held to a high enough standard to be sold in the EU.  The vote, in addition to reducing trade barriers, also sets a precedent for further trade agreements between the two parties.

The vote passed with 379 MEPs in favor, 230 against, and 41 abstentions. Supporters of the assent procedure described their rationale in terms of international trade while detractors saw this as an opportunity to activate the human rights conditionality of the law.

Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) General Director, Mohammad Zeidan, responds to the vote, “The failure of the EU to link human rights with trade agreements makes all the promises of the EU to prioritize human rights empty. The European Parliament’s decision sends two bad signs. One to Israeland all the other governments in the region, it says that they will not be held accountable for their human rights violations.  Second, it says to the victims that the violation of their rights is not taken into account in Israel’s trade agreements.”

In a letter to members of the European Parliament prior to the vote, The HRA, along with international and European human rights organizations, advised that human rights conditionality should be activated in the case of the ACAA protocol.  In terms of setting precedent, this vote not only alleviates trade restrictions, it also signals that the European Union is neglecting its responsibility towards international human rights.

Though the outcome of this vote is a disappointment, our future efforts will not be stymied.  The HRA will continue to advocate in the EU on behalf of the human rights issues facing the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.

Haaretz published poll exposing Jewish discrimination against Arabs in Israel

UPDATE: For a closer look at the results of the poll mentioned in this article, please click here: 2012 Israeli Jewish Public Opinion Info Sheet

 

Nazareth – This past Tuesday, October 24, 2012, the front page story of Ha’aretz ran with the title “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel”.  The article and an accompanying piece of commentary were written by Gideon Levy, a known critic of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.  In the piece, Levy presents the results of a survey conducted by Dr. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University at the Dialog Polling Center.  The purported purpose of the survey was to discover the positions of Israel’s Jewish population on racism and Apartheid. An English summary of the findings concludes that Apartheid in Israel is possible, specifically that “In case of annexation, most Jews will support Apartheid” and that “Israeli Jews want to discriminate against Israeli Arabs.”

Levy reports that the poll was ordered by the Yisrael Goldblum Fund, a frequent collaborator with the New Israel Fund (NIF); however, the NIF has publicly denied participation. Despite the controversy surrounding the poll’s provenance, the results are simultaneously striking and frightening.

I would like to present some of the findings of the poll to you here. It is my fervent and sincere belief that the numbers that follow are trustworthy and that they quantify, in many cases for the first time, the bleak reality facing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel.

The poll was conducted between September 9th and 12th of this year.  503 Jewish Israelis participated.

Though the term in question was not specifically defined on the survey itself, 58% of responders accepted the description of current affairs in Israel as “Apartheid”.

33% of Jewish Israelis polled were in favor of legally denying Arabs the right to vote, if the West Bank were to be annexed.  49% want the government to take more care of its Jewish citizens than its Arab citizens.  42% do not want Arab families as neighbors.  42% do not want Arab children in classrooms with their own. 47% support a population transfer of Arabs to the Palestinian Authority.  Only 38% of responders believe that, in no respects, is there Apartheid in Israel today.

Though there was racism against the Arab Palestinian minority from all sectors polled, the ultra Orthodox held the most severe opinions.  70% of self-identified ultra Orthodox favor barring Arabs from voting in the case of an annexation of the West Bank, 82% would support discrimination against Arabs in hiring for government jobs, and 79% will not accept Arab neighbors.

These figures have provoked a massive response from partisans on all sides of the issue from all over the world.  I think that the additional attention to the issue is a positive development, but I encourage readers to see past the polarizing “Apartheid” label to the reality these numbers describe. There is a clear divide in Israeli society and the majority of Israelis clearly see no benefit in bridging it for the sake of the achievement of equal, democratic rights for every citizen. Additionally, I think that this poll illustrates the increasing challenge the HRA faces in its work raising awareness of Palestinian issues in Israel as well as the importance of the work we do in educating the Palestinian youth on human rights values and ways to struggle against the discriminatory practices in a positive manner.

The poll results from Levy's article in Haaretz

Don’t vote for ACAA!

Nazareth- The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) calls  on the Members of the European Parliament NOT to give their vote to an important trade agreement with Israel,sending a clear message to Israel that the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel won’t stand for ‘business as usual’ given the deterioration of the situation on the ground.

The European Parliament’s plenary session is due to vote on the EU-Israel ACAA protocol on 23 October 2012. At this occasion, the HRA urges MEPs to suspend their vote on the ACAA protocol so as not to create a legal precedent that could further jeopardise a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. These concerns have been echoed in the outcome of the vote in the international trade committee of the European Parliament on September 18th, which gave a consent vote to ACAA with a surprisingly tight margin for a technical agreement (15 in favour, 13 against and two abstentions) and could now be overturned in the Plenary session of the European Parliament.

ACAA, or the Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products, is a protocol attached to the EU-Israel Association Agreement. In practice, this agreement allows industrial products to enter the respective markets of the parties without additional testing and conformity assessment procedures. In practice, this means that both European and Israeli consumers will have quicker access to more and cheaper pharmaceuticals goodsRegardless of potential benefits, this vote represents an opportunity to show thatIsrael’s human rights violations will not stand.

Our organisation argues that:

  • The protocol implies the recognition of an Israeli authority that is competent over the settlements in the OPT and annexed territories;
  • This protocol shows the lack of coherence in EU Foreign Policy;
  • The EU should stick to the principle of ‘positive conditionality’ and ask Israel to commit to its human rights obligations;
  • While not technically an ‘upgrade’, ACAA is still an important strengthening of bilateral relations between the EU and Israel;
  • The agreement does not account for the fact that the Israeli pharmaceutical industry is deeply involved in the occupation, with devastating consequences for Palestinians in need of basic healthcare.

HRA General Director, Mohammad Zeidan, sent a letter to Members of the European Parliament asking them to withhold their consent to this agreement until there is tangible progress in Israel’s respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). ACAA is not just a technical agreement – it has implications for the Parliament’s credibility in ensuring that the EU upholds human rights in its foreign policy, in the Middle East region in particular.

At present, there is only one annex to the ACAA protocol, which covers pharmaceutical products,; however, in the future other annexes could be added like cosmetics and toys.

Negotiation on the ACAA Protocol between the EU and Israel started in early 2009. The ACAA Protocol was signed in May 2010 and has since been waiting for the assent vote of the European Parliament. The final vote on October 24 maybe be remembered as a watershed moment in the advancement of EU/Israel relations, lets not let the EU’s human rights obligations be forgotten.

The HRA letter to the MEPs was a part of a larger campaign organized by the Euromed Human Rights Network, which is a coalition of human rights organization based in Europe and the Middle East.

Frank Sinatra’s legacy in Nazareth

This article originally appeared at +972 Magazine on 8/29/2012.  You can see it at its original domain here.

Frank Sinatra meeting with the youth of Israel

What is the connection between Israel’s labor union, Jesus’ childhood home and Ol’ Blue Eyes?

By Paul Karolyi

When Christian tourists come through Nazareth on the half day their guidebooks recommend, they take the suggested walk around the old city, see the Basilica of the Annunciation, stop for ice cream, maybe even visit the Souq.  What they do not see is any mention of their favorite crooner from the 1960s – Frank Sinatra does not regularly come up in conversation. This may not be surprising to them, but it would be to him.

1962 was a very good year for Frank Sinatra. He gave concerts in Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, France, Greece, England and one other country that had always held a special place in his heart: Israel.  The World Tour for Children, which he funded personally, ended up raising over $1 million for children’s charitable causes worldwide. Over $50,000 of that money found its way to Nazareth, and it was only the beginning.

Sinatra’s love for Israel was lifelong; He was known for wearing a miniature mezuzah around his neck in memory of a childhood neighbor. And since Sinatra was a practicing Roman Catholic, his tour of the holy land included many significant Christian sites. He came to Nazareth for a week to see holy Christian sites like Mary’s Well and Joseph’s Workshop on his way to the Sea of Galilee, but he was struck by the people he met living in Nazareth.

Here, Sinatra saw an opportunity where his considerable wealth could make a difference.

In the tour documentary, he specifically mentions his support for the “Israel Histadrut Campaign” which, according to Sinatra, “opens the gates of opportunity for thousand of boys and girls.” He bought a parcel of land near Mary’s Well and tasked the Histadrut (the national Israeli labor union) with building the Frank Sinatra Brotherhood and Friendship Center for Arab and Israeli Children; presumably it would serve to open the gates of opportunity.  He donated the profits from his concerts in Israel to build the center and to encourage inter-cultural exchange between the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews.

Unfortunately, all Sinatra donated was money.  He did not help develop or organize any specific organization to bring his vision of cultural exchange into reality. After presiding over the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Center, he moved on from Nazareth. From that point the property fell, in operational capacity, to the Histadrut.  Sinatra returned to Nazareth in 1965, he was shooting a film in Israel with Yul Brenner, to dedicate the Center and donate a further $100,000, the total fee for his appearance.

In the 1960s the Histadrut was a politically controversial organization, only admitting Arabs as members in 1959. Additionally, Arabs who joined were seen as opportunists because they were living under military rule.

In 1962, George Sa’ad was the Nazarene leader of the local Histadrut branch, which meant managing Sinatra’s $150,000 donation. Sa’ad used the money to establish a non-profit organization intended to organize youth groups and solicit donations to sustain the center.  Yet despite his best efforts, there is no clear evidence of any inter-ethnic, inter-faith, or inter-cultural youth groups meeting at the Sinatra Center.

1967 saw another $100,000 donation from Sinatra to the Histadrut.  His announcement of a further contribution to the Sinatra Center in Nazareth was the climax of a formal four-day conference in Miami Beach, Florida.

Ten years after Sinatra’s first trip, the local chapter of the Histadrut began using the Sinatra Center as office space. When I was there, a representative from the Histadrut offices in the Sinatra Center couldn’t provide any records of George Sa’ad’s efforts to host youth group meetings or to establish community outreach groups in the Sinatra Center.

Even Suhail Diab, spokesman for the Nazareth Municipality, could not explain what happened to Sinatra’s original donation; it was exclusively a Histadrut-managed affair and no official government records remain.

In 2000, one woman, Safa Dabour, unwittingly began bringing Frank Sinatra’s vision back to Nazareth.  She did not know about Frank Sinatra and his donation;  he was just a name on a building with a great location. She founded El Sana, an association with a mandate to “find exciting ways to celebrate diversity and build a better, peaceful society.”  Supplying all her own start-up costs, she purchased development rights to one wing of the Frank Sinatra Brotherhood and Friendship Center for Arab and Israeli Children.  She funded the construction of Cinematheque, the only Arab-owned performing arts facility of its kind in Israel. It is a fully functioning movie theater and stage with an accompanying restaurant and bar.

El Sana has organized inter-cultural projects, including a film workshop for Arab and Jewish youth.  In 2004, the Cinematheque was chosen as one of two satellite hosts for the International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv.  Students came to Nazareth for conferences and exhibitions that promoted the festival’s cross-cultural aspirations. When explaining El Sana’s programming, Safa says, “I wanted to help make peace for Arab and Jewish youth.”

Shahin Shahin volunteers at El Sana.  He defined his role as a “baytenjan”(eggplant), an Arabic aphorism that references the culinary versatility of the vegetable. He does a little bit of everything at the Cinematheque because Safa is his mother.  He said that, “only the sign remains of Frank Sinatra.  When people talk about the building, it is the Histadrut, never the Sinatra Center.”

Since learning of Frank Sinatra’s donation in 1962, Safa has tried to reconnect her advocacy with the Sinatra foundation.  Safa describes El Sana’s current mission as an unintentional realization of Sinatra’s plan. “The Cinematheque became the fulfillment of Frank Sinatra’s mission because Arabs and Jews come to watch movies.”

Safa and her son have been trying to find out what happened to the original donation, but to no avail.  She began soliciting the Sinatra Foundation as well as the Histadrut office which still occupies part of the Sinatra Center, but has no information regarding the center’s history.  In 2006 she sent a letter asking for information regarding the original donation in 1962 and about the possibility of a new donation in Sinatra’s name to El Sana.  She has sent three letters since and has yet to get a reply.

Frank Sinatra probably ought to have demanded more for his money in the first place. In the meantime, El Sana is actively looking for volunteers to help out with a family festival planned for September.