Well-known Beit Jala restaurant destroyed by Israel, again

Originally published 12/6/2012

The following article was written by Ryan Brownell, HRA Intern in 2012. It discusses the demolition of the Al Makhrour restaurant by the Israeli government, and the larger Israeli policy of destroying Palestinian property. It was published by Electronic Intifada, and can be found here: http://electronicintifada.net/content/well-known-beit-jala-restaurant-destroyed-israel-again/11309

In the early morning of Thursday, 3 May, representatives from several human rights organizations were scheduled to have breakfast in the popular al-Makhrour restaurant near Bethlehem.

The purpose for the scheduled workshop was to discuss house demolitions and property confiscation by Israeli forces in Area C, a zone comprising 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control.

As people arrived for the meeting, though, the first thing they saw was a bulldozer leaving the site, alongside some Israeli officials. The restaurant — which is located beside the village of Beit Jala — had been demolished two hours earlier.

“It was bizarre,” said Mohammad Zeidan, director of the Arab Association for Human Rights. “The timing … we couldn’t really believe what we were seeing.”

Just before dawn on that day, Israeli soldiers surrounded and sealed off the area, and proceeded to destroy the restaurant and an adjacent building owned by the Qesieh family. The demolition was carried out under the pretext of a demolition order issued in 2005.

“The restaurant was already gone,” said Odna Copty of the Association for the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel. “It is always sad to hear about these things, and to read about them. But when you expect it to be there, and it’s gone, that’s always something different.”

For the Qesieh family, the destruction of their restaurant was a violent reminder of the complete Israeli control over their basic rights and only source of income.

“I’m still paying debt from when they destroyed it in 2000,” said Ramzi Qesieh, owner of al-Makhrour. “How am I to rebuild when I can’t make any money? When they can destroy it again at any time?”

No explanation given

Qesieh explained that a number of men in plain clothes came to him before dawn. Speaking in Arabic, they told him that his restaurant would be destroyed. No explanation was given.

“We see this really often,” said Copty, who campaigns for Palestinians whose property was confiscated during the Nakba, the systematic ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. “The State [of Israel] wants them to feel like it’s their own people who are doing this to them. It adds to the despair.”

Beit Jala is bordered by the Jewish-only settlements of Gush Etzion and Har Gilo.

Al-Makhrour lies within Area C. Under the Oslo accords, Israel was only supposed to have control of Area C on a temporary basis. Yet 19 years after the accords were signed, Palestinian residents of Area C are still subject to the arbitrary persecution by Israeli forces in everyday life.

After two weeks, the rubble of the old restaurant remains where it fell. The family explained that there is no one to aid them in rebuilding or affording the costs of construction. “Even as Christians, there is no one to turn to,” said Ramzi Qesieh. “The people of Jesus have left the Holy Land. How can we live here, how can my children, when life is like this?”

Divide-and-conquer mentality

The Qesiehs’ experiences provide a stark contrast to recent comments by the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Appearing on a recent episode of the CBS program 60 Minutes, Oren blamed Christian flight from historical Palestine on inter-Arab tribalism and infighting.

According to the Arab Association for Human Rights’ Zeidan, Oren’s claims reflect a larger divide-and-conquer mentality, utilized by Israel to weaken Palestinian identity.

“Israel views any solidarity between Palestinian communities as a threat,” he said. Zeidan emphasized that Israel behaves aggressively towards Palestinian organizations based within present-day Israel who coordinate with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. “By fracturing the Palestinians into Muslim, and Christian and Bedouin, and Israeli, the state tries to control these smaller groups and turn them against one another.

“It is a reality that Palestinian organizations are automatically viewed with suspicion, whether in Israel or the [occupied] territories. For us to cooperate with [Israeli and Jewish] organizations that support this cause, not only will we gain a different perspective, but stories like this will be received with more credibility, from a wider audience. That’s the way it is,” Zeidan added.

The Qesieh family also emphasized that they cannot rebuild without protection, in terms of both legal aid and also an immediate human presence.

“There was definitely a feeling of helplessness,” Copty told The Electronic Intifada. “And we were only the observers. It’s difficult to feel like you’re doing enough.”

According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 2011 was a record year of displacement as a total of 622 Palestinian structures were demolished by Israeli authorities. Of these, 222 — or 36 percent — were family homes, while the remainder were livelihood-related (including water storage and agricultural facilities), resulting in the displacement of 1,094 people, almost double the number for 2010. Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 26,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza (“The Judaization of Palestine: 2011 displacement trends,” 12 January 2012).

An everyday occurrence

“It [the demolition] was a shock, and it was very sad. And the timing was just weird. But when it’s over, then you remember that this is happening every day,” said Copty.

For Ramzi Qesieh, with debts piling up and his livelihood in a dusty heap beside him, the options are few and the future more unclear than ever. “I love this place, and I love my land. Before, you could not take me from this place,” he said. “But my children have already seen too much suffering. What father wants to give this debt to their child?”

The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its latest report on Israel in March, and in refreshing contrast to its characteristically tepid language, stated that it “urges the State party to take immediate measures to prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices … of racial segregation and apartheid.”

Specifically, UN-CERD was “appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of two groups,” [Palestinians and Jewish settlers], and “increasingly concerned at the State party’s discriminatory planning policy, whereby construction permits are rarely if ever granted to Palestinian and Bedouin communities and demolitions principally target property owned by Palestinians and Bedouins.”

Trauma

This policy of forced displacement has “emotional and socio-economic effects on the displaced families especially considering a large proportion of the community have the added vulnerability of a history of displacement, being made refugees in 1948,” stressed ICAHD’s 2012 report to UN-CERD. “Symptoms range from dependency on humanitarian aid to a deep psychological trauma especially in children, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder” (“Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territory parallel report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,” February 2012 [PDF]).

The Qesieh family explained that no building permits have been granted to Palestinians living in the area since 1967. The owners of these lands, which are both residential and agricultural, have no choice but to develop and build on it “illegally” under the constant risk of demolition.

About 70 percent of Area C is off-limits to Palestinian construction, as it is allocated either to Israeli settlements or has been closed on military orders (“Humanitarian factsheet on Area C of the West Bank,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 2011 [PDF]).

“I have one daughter in university, and another in school,” said Qesieh. “No one wants to build an illegal building. But it’s impossible to get a building permit. So you have to risk it. I don’t know what to tell my daughters.”

“For people everywhere, but especially for Palestinians under occupation, a home is the connection for a family to the land,” Zeidan explained. “The Israeli policy of house demolition, and particularly of businesses like this, is [Israel’s] strategy to cut this link to the land, destroy self-sufficiency and remove hope from the Palestinian people.”

For Ramzi Qeiseh’s son, Jihad, watching his father try to repair what may be destroyed at any time, it is difficult to imagine building a life, or anything else, in the place where he grew up.

“They destroyed the restaurant in one hour,” Jihad said. “We can never know if they will also destroy our home. Maybe tomorrow, it’ll be gone. The stress, it’s too much to live with. If I find a way to leave, I will leave.”

Several Palestinian and Israeli organizations are working to mobilize legal aid, financial support and physical security for the family. For now, the Qeiseh family search for the support to rebuild and start again.

“After some time, we had leave to find another location for the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to meet. There was work we had to get done,” said Odna Copty. “But the family just wanted to cook for us. Their restaurant was destroyed, and they wanted us to stay and eat. They told us, ‘come, let them see the smoke of our barbecue in the sky. Let them see that we are still here.’”

The Reality of Racial Inequality

Originally posted 6/12/2012

The following article was written by Ryan Brownell, HRA intern in 2012. It discusses the overt racism in Israeli policy towards its Palestinian citizens. It was published by Al Akhbar English, and can be found here: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/israeli-practices-perpetuate-palestinian-inequality

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its annual report on Israel last month, praising the strength of the Israeli economy while condemning a rate of inequality that has risen steadily over the last 20 years. The report designated Israel as one of the three IMF members with the worst inequality, and warned of the risk to Israel’s economic integrity posed by the growing disparity between the country’s rich and poor. In a widely publicized interview with Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that, “if you deduct the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox from inequality indexes, we’re in great shape.”

The Prime Minister’s candor comes at a time when growth and prosperity in the State of Israel are split clearly along racial and religious lines, and sheds light in particular on recent sweeping legislation that explicitly excludes the 1.3 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from Israeli society. While the native Palestinian population inside the Green Line has proven persistently difficult to “deduct” from either their land or Israeli demographics, the Palestinian minority trails the Jewish majority in all significant measures of participation, achievement, and quality of life.

According to the 2011 Statistical Abstract of Israel, the unemployment rate of Arab citizens in Israel is 25 percent higher than that of Jews, while the infant mortality rate for non-Jewish citizens (7.1 per 1000 births) is more than double the rate of Jewish citizens (2.9 per 1000 births.) Disturbingly, the rate of Arabs registered with state social services was 150 percent that of Jewish citizens.

In a media environment where it is thought of as encouraging to see coverage of the relentless violence against Palestinians by illegal settlers in Hebron, or the dehumanizing powerlessness of Palestinians watching their homes being demolished in the Occupied Territories, it is easy and common to consider these data through a spectrum of relative Palestinian suffering. After all, only so much attention and resources can realistically be devoted to the Palestinian cause. What is lost in this perspective is the shared identity that unites these Palestinians, on both sides of the Green Line, in the eyes of the Jewish State.

In the Concluding Observations of its 2012 annual report on Israel, the UN Committee on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD) “notes with increasing concern that Israeli society maintains Jewish and non-Jewish sectors,” and “urges the State party to give full effect to article 3 and to make every effort to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”

The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which is treated as a kind of bill of rights by Israeli legal scholars, does not enumerate a right to equality; on the contrary, this Basic Law emphasizes the character of the State as a Jewish State. Section 1(a) of The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states that, “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In specific reference to the lack of judicial and legislative protections against this ethnic and religious discrimination, the CERD called on the State to “ensure that the prohibition of racial discrimination and the principle of equality are included in the Basic Law and that a definition of racial discrimination is duly incorporated into the Law.”

While these standards form the foundation for so much of the public discrimination that exists today, this legal jargon fails to convey the impact of this inequality on human lives in the Israeli system. In State-run polls, relative to Jews the Arab minority reported less satisfaction with not only their financial security but also their lives. Arrestingly, Arabs reported that they “have no one to turn to in times of crisis” at more than twice the rate of Jewish citizens.

It is into this environment of widespread and visible racial inequality that the Israeli government under Netanyahu has passed, renewed, and legalized an impressive shock of legislation that widens the divide between Jews and Palestinians under Israeli rule. The methods and purpose of these laws directly target Palestinian quality of life and expose the application of racial subordination in a multi-ethnic society.

In March of last year, the Knesset passed the Admissions Committees Law, which authorizes communities “to bar residents who do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community.” The law gives full discretion to small panels, or “admissions committees” of citizens to screen potential residents of communities using vague and arbitrary standards, legalizing racial exclusion in more than 45 percent of cities and towns in Israel.

Importantly, these committees must include a representative from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization, which are quasi‐governmental Zionist bodies whose presence encourages the rejection of Arab applicants and other marginalized groups. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel condemned the law, stating that it “discriminates against and humiliates people whose only crime is a desire to exercise their right to choose where to live.”

When deeply entrenched inequality is an everyday reality for the Palestinian minority, this law serves to concentrate Palestinian families to areas of poor infrastructure, inadequate services in healthcare and education, and limited access to employment options. In its inequality report, the IMF stressed some specific challenges placed in the path of Palestinians by State policy and budget priorities. “The quality of infrastructure in Israel is below the OECD average…Poor transport infrastructure is one of the obstacles to regional Arab communities’ participation in the labor market.”

Also in March of 2011, the Knesset authorized Amendment 3 of the Israel Lands Law, which defines anyone who is not entitled to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return (1950), i.e. non-Jewish persons, as “foreigners”. The law prohibits any entity (public or private) from selling or renting out property for a period of over five years, or from bequeathing or bestowing rights to private property registered in Israel to these “foreigners”.

In explaining the amendment’s motivations for denying fundamental land rights along racial lines, one Israeli MP told the Knesset floor, “There may be heavy (Arab) waves of purchasing, which would pose a real threat to the fact that this (State) is the State of the Jewish people first and foremost. Land is allotted for that purpose. All the conflict between us here is all over land. It is the essence of the conflict.”

In its Israel country report, CERD “notes with concern the enactment of a number of discriminatory laws on land issues which disproportionately affect non-Jewish communities…the Committee strongly recommends that the State party ensure equal access to land and property and to that end abrogate or rescind any legislation that does not comply with the principle of non-discrimination.”

In refreshing contrast to the impotent language typically used by CERD and other observing parties, Article 24 of this country report called on the State to “take immediate measures to prohibit and eradicate…all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid” in the Occupied Territories.

When the UN summons the political will to recognize the vivid reality of apartheid, particularly in the face of ongoing American hamstringing, there is no more appropriate a time to name and reject the ideology in whose name Jewish life is valued above Palestinian life in all of historical Palestine.

The ideology is Zionism. An arrogant quip by the Prime Minister about excluding and “deducting” minorities does not convey the realities of dehumanizing Israeli policies in Palestinian daily life. And the very real differences between Nablus and Nazareth will not be addressed by denying Palestinians’ shared identity as the focus of the ultra-nationalist racism of the Jewish state.

Education in Israel- The Palestinian Perspective

Originally posted 6/12/2012

The following article was written by Ryan Brownell, HRA intern in 2012. It discusses discrimination in Israel’s education system. It was published by Al Akhbar Engish (Lebanon) here: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/israel%E2%80%99s-zionist-push-harming-palestinian-education

The historical exploitation of the Israeli education system to institutionalize Jewish and Zionist dominance has intensified in recent years. Perhaps the most alarming and telling of these efforts is the amendment passed in March of last year to the Budget Principles Law, popularly known by Palestinians as the “Nakba Law.” The law authorizes the Minister of Finance to cut public funding from any entity that “marks Israel Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning.”

The Nakba (catastrophe) is commemorated to honor the more than 700,000 Palestinians that were displaced and driven from their land during the founding of the Israeli state in 1948. In codifying this amendment the state is criminalizing the most basic of civil liberties.

Through vague language and transparently discriminatory motivations, this provision creates an atmosphere of fear and persecution that fundamentally censors teaching about the creation of the Israeli state. Forced to choose between essential funding and the conscientious teaching of history, teachers and educators are placed in an impossible bind in which all Israeli students suffer. “It’s fascist chutzpah and a new low point in the slippery racist slope on which the Israeli government, Knesset and Israeli society are descending,” the Arab Education Monitoring Committee said.

Under Gideon Saar the education ministry has swiftly mandated changes to the national education curriculum, demanding a focus on “Jewish and Zionist values” without highlighting democracy, or Jewish/Arab coexistence. Zvi Zameret, who Saar appointed to head the pedagogical secretariat of the ministry, criticized the nation’s previous civics textbook as focusing “too much on criticism of the state.” Furthermore, he explained to Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the aims of instruction were unacceptable. “The way in which civics is taught is critical and analytical.”

For the 20 percent of students that are Palestinian, the personal implications of state criticism and analytical thought are apparent in the classroom even if they are being erased from the textbooks. University of Haifa Professor and Israel Education Prize winner Gavriel Solomon said inHaaretz that the shift in curriculum has transparent motivations. “This is education for Zionism and Judaism without education for democracy and peace, and it promotes ultra-nationalism.”

And these changes don’t end in the classroom. In February more than 260 Israeli teachers signed a letter in opposition to a recently expanded education ministry program taking students on “heritage tours” to Jewish settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron. The settlements have been condemned as a breach of international law and an obstacle to the peace process by the international community and Palestinian officials.

The teachers’ letter stressed that this is the first instance of public, organized teacher opposition to ministry policy in Israel’s history. In justification of the program the education minister stated: “It’s good to come to the settlements. It’s good that the settlements flourish. One should not allow the Arabs to harbor the illusion that one day there won’t be Jews here.”

These comments by Saar represent a typical and dangerous denial of the Palestinians’ status as the native people of Palestine. The ongoing Israeli appropriation of this land is consistently distorted by government officials, as a strategic silencing very much parallel to current education policy.

The impressive sweep of these efforts to control the education of students in Israel illuminates the Netanyahu administration’s assault on civil rights in what it touts as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Jerusalem literature teacher Udi Gur explained to Haaretz the intentions of the teachers’ letter: “The educational system is under attack by extremist political forces aiming to trade education for indoctrination. We won’t allow that to happen.”

Separate and Unequal

The historical and ongoing disparity between Jewish and Palestinian education in Israel illustrates the unacceptable implications of these efforts to prioritize Zionism in public education. Since the founding of the Jewish state Palestinians in Israel have been educated separately from the Jewish majority, while the curriculum and distribution of federal resources are dictated by the state. Palestinian academic achievement has always trailed that of the Jewish majority, and this gap is reinforced by the consistent, historical subordination of Palestinian education in both resources and attention.

In 2001, the Israeli government reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that “in 1991, the total investment in education per pupil in Arab municipalities was approximately one-third of the investment per pupil in Jewish municipalities. Government investment per Arab pupil was approximately 60 percent of the investment per Jewish pupil.”

This discrimination continues. Supplementary funding plans throughout the 1990s and the new millennium failed to either equalize these two systems or account for past discrimination against 1948 Palestinians. Furthermore, even these insufficient plans were not fully implemented.

In 2008, 31.9 percent of Palestinian students earned a matriculation certificate after high school, nearly half of the Jewish student rate of 59.7 percent. Among Palestinians aged 18-39, 1.8 percent were studying for their first degree in university, half of the Jewish student rate of 3.6 percent.

These data must be understood in the context of their very real consequences in quality of life, economic mobility, and sociopolitical awareness of the Palestinians in Israel. Pointedly, even as the government has been forced to acknowledge disparities in funding, the education ministry claims that it is impossible to monitor and report the resources allocated to Palestinian education.

“Government-run Arab schools are a world apart from government-run Jewish schools,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel to the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch in its report Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s Schools. “In virtually every respect, Palestinian children get an education inferior to that of Jewish children, and their relatively poor performance in school reflects this.”

In light of these disquieting realities, Palestinians in Israel are working to be included in the policy discussion over the content and delivery of education for Palestinian students. In July 2011, the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education in Israel realized, if only partially, the formation of an Arab Pedagogic Council. The council, which is composed of 30 Arab academics and professionals, strives to exert greater oversight over an education system that “suffers from serious and multifaceted discrimination including inequalities in resource allocation, lack of recognition of the Arab minority’s national and cultural narrative and the exclusion of Arab leadership from a role in decision-making and the establishment of policy.”

The Israeli education ministry has refused to officially recognize the council, declining to consider or implement the recommendations it put forward last October in a document entitled “The Aims of Education and Teaching of the Palestinian Minority in Israel.” The document states that its purpose: “on the one hand [is] to combat the discrimination on the part of the state and its obstructive effects on Palestinian society in Israel, and on the other hand it is also a struggle against the violence of certain patterns of thinking and behavior, and against some of the ills in Arab society.”

The strategies highlighted in the document include strengthening the identity of the Palestinian people in Israel, the teaching of collective Arab and Islamic roots, and affirming the national and political rights of the Palestinian people.

Importantly, it recommends that Palestinian education “instill the values of dialogue with the Jewish Israeli other and the search for a horizon of a joint life in a single homeland, without the control or supremacy of any side.”

The comprehensive, heavily-resourced Israeli campaign to control and silence Arab culture through the education system is currently operating in the open. The overtly discriminatory implications of these policies are being justified and excused through pretenses of religion, fear, and ultra-nationalism.

Palestinian demands to meaningfully participate in the decision making process for education reflect the persistent failure of the “Jewish and democratic” state to respect the rights of its minority students. In a land where so much meaning is derived from history and narrative, the exclusive ideology of Zionism is harmful to not only Palestinians in Israel, but all children who pass through the evolving classrooms of Israel’s schools.