Day: February 16, 2007

World Watch I – It’s the little things that make an occupation

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During 2006, according to B’tselem, an Israeli human-rights group, Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians, almost half of them innocent bystanders, among them 141 children. In the same period, Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians and six soldiers. It is such figures, as well as events like shellings, house demolitions, arrest raids and land expropriations, that make the headlines in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What rarely get into the media but make up the staple of Palestinian daily conversation are the countless little restrictions that slow down most people’s lives, strangle the economy and provide constant fuel for extremists.

Arbitrariness is one of the most crippling features of these rules. No one can predict how a trip will go. Many of the main West Bank roads, for the sake of the security of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, are off-limits to Palestinian vehicles—only one road connecting the north and south West Bank, for instance, is open to them—and these restrictions change frequently. So do the rules on who can pass the checkpoints that in effect divide the West Bank into a number of semi-connected regions (see map).

A new order due to come into force this week would have banned most West Bankers from riding in cars with Israeli licence plates, and thus from getting lifts from friends and relatives among the 1.6m Palestinians who live as citizens in Israel, as well as from aid workers, journalists and other foreigners. The army decided to suspend the order after protests from human-rights groups that it would give soldiers enormous arbitrary powers—but it has not revoked it.

Large parts of the population of the northern West Bank, and of individual cities like Nablus and Jericho, simply cannot leave their home areas without special permits, which are not always forthcoming. If they can travel, how long they spend waiting at checkpoints, from minutes to hours, depends on the time of day and the humour of the soldiers. Several checkpoints may punctuate a journey between cities that would otherwise be less than an hour’s drive apart. These checkpoints move and shift every day, and army jeeps add to the unpredictability and annoyance by stopping and creating ad hoc mobile checkpoints at various spots.

According to the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of such obstacles had increased to 534 by mid-December from 376 in August 2005, when OCHA and the Israeli army completed a joint count. When Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, agreed last month to ease restrictions at a few of these checkpoints as a concession to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, human-rights people reported that not only did many of the checkpoints go on working as before; near the ones that had eased up, mobile ones were now operating instead, causing worse disruption and pain.

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It is sometimes hard to fathom the logic of the checkpoint regime. One route from Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative capital, to Jerusalem, involves a careful inspection of documents, while on another the soldiers—if they are at their posts—just glance at cars’ occupants to see if they look Arab. Israeli law strictly forbids Israeli citizens from visiting the main Palestinian cities, but they can drive straight into Ramallah and Hebron without being challenged, while other cities, such as Jericho and Nablus, remain impermeable. In many places the barrier that Israel is building through the West Bank for security purposes (though in Palestinian eyes to grab more land) is monitored with all the care of an international border, while around Jerusalem the army turns a blind eye to hundreds of people who slip through cracks in the wall as part of their daily commute.

Because of the internal travel restrictions, people who want to move from one Palestinian city to another for work or study must register a change of address to make sure they can stay there. But they cannot. Israel’s population registry, which issues Palestinian identity cards as well as Israeli ones, has issued almost no new Palestinian cards since the start of the second intifada in 2000. And that means no address changes either. This also makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians from abroad to get residency in the occupied territories, which are supposed to be their future state, never mind in Israel.

No-through-roads galore
On top of that, in the past year several thousand Palestinians who had applied for residency in the West Bank and were living there on renewable six-month visitor permits have become illegal residents too, liable to be stopped and deported at any checkpoint, not because of anything they have done but because Israel has stopped renewing permits since Hamas, the Islamist movement, took control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) a year ago. (Israel says it is because the PA isn’t handing over the requests.)

Like Israelis, Palestinians who commit a traffic offence on the West Bank’s highways have to pay the fine at an Israeli post office or a police station. But in the West Bank the only post offices and police stations are on Israeli settlements that most West Bank Palestinians cannot visit without a rare permit. If they do not pay, however, they lose their driving licences the next time the police stop them. They also get a criminal record—which then makes an Israeli entry permit quite impossible.

Some of the regulations stray into the realm of the absurd. A year ago a military order, for no obvious reason, expanded the list of protected wild plants in the West Bank to include za’atar (hyssop), an abundant herb and Palestinian staple. For a while, soldiers at checkpoints confiscated bunches of it from bewildered Palestinians who had merely wanted something to liven up their salads. Lately there have been no reports of za’atar confiscation, but, says Michael Sfard, the legal adviser for Yesh Din, another Israeli human-rights body, the order is still in force. As he tells the story, he cannot help laughing. There is not much else to do.

in: The Economist

Jerusalem court extends restraining order barring Salah from Old City

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The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended the restraining order barring Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, from entering the Old City of Jerusalem, at the state’s request.

Salah has been the leading critic against the repair work on the earthen ramp leading to the Temple Mount.

Soon after protests broke out at the site last week, police issued a 10-day restraining order preventing Salah from entering the Old City. Police also charged him with attacking police officers during a demonstration.

At a hearing on Wednesday, the police submitted footage from Channel 2 News allegedly showing Salah spitting at police officers. The state said the officers involved testified that Salah had spit at them. Salah is heard calling the police officers “murderers,” “occupiers” and “cowards.” Another photograph, from a security camera above Dung Gate, shows Salah directing demonstrators last week.

Salah appeared at the hearing without counsel, by choice. He refused to recognize the authority of the court and its rulings. “An Israeli court has no authority to rule on issues connected to Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Salah said. “Thus any decision made by this court over keeping me away from Al-Aqsa is null and void.”

The northern branch of the Islamic Movement is planning a large demonstration in East Jerusalem. Salah is barred by a restraining order from entering the Old City and plans to deliver his Friday sermon in his protest tent in Wadi Joz.

Jordanian MPs: Jerusalem dig violates peace pact with Israel
At least 25 Jordanian lawmakers have signed a petition urging the government to officially declare that Israel has “violated” the peace treaty concluded between the two countries in 1994 by going ahead with excavations near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, parliamentary sources said Thursday.

Accordingly, the deputies said, the government should summon the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv and “dismiss” the Israeli ambassador from Amman.

“We hereby urge the government to officially declare that Israel has violated the article 9 of the peace treaty by conducting excavations at al-Aqsa Mosque,” the lawmakers said in their memorandum.

Article 9 commits Israel to respect Jordan’s role in looking after the Islamic and Christian holy shrines in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967.

The parliamentary memorandum coincides with Jordanian contacts with Arab and Islamic countries as well as with world powers to put pressure on Israel to halt its construction work at the Temple Mount road leading to al-Aqsa Mosque’s Mugrabi Gate.

Jerusalem police prepared for violence around Temple Mount
Jerusalem police are prepared for more violence on and around the Temple Mount to protest the nearby construction work.

On Thursday afternoon, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court will rule on the state’s request to extend Salah’s restraining order by 60 days. At Wednesday’s hearing, the police submitted footage from Channel 2 News allegedly showing Salah spitting at police officers. The state said the officers involved testified that Salah had spit at them. Salah is heard calling the police officers “murderers,” “occupiers” and “cowards.” Another photograph, from a security camera above Dung Gate, shows Salah directing demonstrators last week.

Salah appeared at the hearing without counsel, by choice. He refused to recognize the authority of the court and its rulings. “An Israeli court has no authority to rule on issues connected to Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Salah said. “Thus any decision made by this court over keeping me away from Al-Aqsa is null and void.”

in: Haaretz

Turkish team to inspect Jerusalem Temple Mount

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 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday agreed to allow a Turkish team to inspect the construction site at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem.

Muslims fear excavation at the site will harm the face of the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The announcement was made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he met Olmert in Ankara.

Erdogan said his Israeli counterpart had shown him photographs of the construction work, but had failed to convince him that it would not harm the holy sites there.

Olmert then agreed to a Turkish suggestion for a technical team from Turkey to inspect the site, Erdogan said.

Olmert said he agreed to the inspection because “Israel has nothing to hide.”

He added that the matter of the construction on the site had been misconstrued and presented in a tendentious way in the international media.

“The construction of this bridge next to the Western Wall has been taken out of context, but we will cooperate with everyone and will be happy to host the delegation in order to show that the Israeli story is correct and exact,” he said.

In an interview published earlier on Thursday, Erdogan harshly criticised the construction work conducted by Israel at the Mugrabi Gate at the Temple Mount.

A Turkish newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying, “Turkey is disturbed and angered by Israel’s actions, which raise tensions in the entire region.”

Demonstrations in Istanbul against Israeli prime minister’s visit

A demonstration was staged in the city of Istanbul, the largest Turkish city, on Thursday in protest of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s current visit to Turkey.

The Turkish, “NTV” network, said a group of the “Oppressed House” association organized a major demonstration in Istanbul, condemning the visit at a time where Holy places in Jerusalem were subject to Israeli sabotage.

Turkish police were deployed in large forces to guard against any rioting and chaos, the network said.

The demonstration was staged while the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart held talks in Ankara tackling the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Excavation at Aqsa Mosque part of scheme to demolish it

The head of the Palestinian delegation and member of the legislative assembly, Jamal Ayesh, said on Thursday Israel’s “arbitrary measures” against the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque was a main topic in the currently-held Ninth session of the Council of Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (PUOIC).

Ayesh, said in a statement on sidelines of the conference recent excavation work under the mosque “constituted an explicit proof of the Israeli arrogance against the Muslims.”

These measures are ultimately intended to demolish the mosque and establish in its place Solomon Temple, in line with some Hardline Jewish religious beliefs, he said.

He called on Muslim nations to close ranks and warned against intervention by foreign states in the domestic affairs of the Muslim nations.