Israel steps up war on Palestinian culture

Cross-posted from Electronic Intifada 

Young man sits in row of empty seats in theater
Israel froze funding to Al-Midan Theater after it staged A Parallel Time by Bashar Murkus last year.Nir EliasReuters

The Palestinian community in Haifa enjoyed a small victory in March when a theater successfully challenged the Israeli government to win reinstatement of official funding cut after controversy over the staging of a play about prisoners last year.

But the reinstatement also threw into focus the constraints on Palestinian artistic expression in present-day Israel and some saw the resumption of official funding as a double-edged sword.

On 29 March, al-Midan Theater reached agreement with the Israeli culture ministry to resume the transfer of public funds to the theater, as well as to unfreeze outstanding funding for last year, ending a stand-off that started in May 2015.

The ministry had frozen al-Midan’s public funding after the theater staged Bashar Murkus’ play A Parallel Time, which revolves around the lives of six Palestinian prisoners and a jailer in an Israeli prison.

Adalah, a Haifa-based legal center, alleged that the ministry’s decision was taken for “political reasons.”

Acting on behalf of al-Midan, Adalah filed a petition against the decision in October 2015.

The legal grounding for the ministry’s decision was dubious from the outset, according to Adalah. The groupargued that the decision was illegal and “did not meet the basic requirements of administrative law.” No hearing was held before the decision was made, no formal reasoning was provided for the decision and it did not have any proper factual basis, the legal center said.

In addition, the play had been approved three times by official bodies, including a committee supported by the culture and education ministries, and Adalah lamented the fact that it took the intervention of Israel’s attorney general for the issue to be resolved.

A necessary compromise

“It is unfortunate that it was only after the intervention of the attorney general that the ministry of culture retracted its illegal freezing of funds and its attack on the theater’s freedom of expression and artistic creativity,” Adalah stated after agreement was reached.

“The most important thing for us is that the agreement made between the theater and the ministry did not impose any prohibition or conditioning of the creative content produced by the theater,” Adalah added.

The agreement did, however, entail a compromise under which al-Midan agreed to a deduction of 75,000 shekels (just under $20,000) from its annual budgets between 2016 and 2019. And Palestinian artists in Haifa remain acutely aware that their artistic expression is curtailed by the Israeli state.

“The tightening of democratic spaces in any state is usually reflected in its control and censorship of art. When a state begins censoring art, we know we’ve reached a dangerous situation,” Khulud Khamis, a Haifa-based author, told The Electronic Intifada.

Some artists feel that the reinstatement of funding to al-Midan was simply an attempt to polish Israel’s democratic credentials in the international arena.

“Personally, I was not impressed by the reinstatement of funding,” said Yazid Sadi, al-Midan’s production director. He was speaking to The Electronic Intifada in a personal capacity and was not stating the theater’s position.

“I expected it, as the culture ministry needs from one side to show how democratic they are, but from the other side they made us pay a penalty of 300,000 shekels … So that we think twice next time before we want to stageA Parallel Time or any other meaningful political theater or art.”

Sadi described the compromise al-Midan made as necessary to maintain its freedom of programming: “If we had given into their pressure and cancelled A Parallel Time, we probably wouldn’t have had to pay the penalty. But we didn’t think twice and decided to pay the penalty gladly. The play became a symbol of freedom of expression, and we were ready to give up all of our funding if they would rob us of this very basic right.”

Shrinking freedoms

“A state that censors art is a state that is well aware of the power of art as a tool for political resistance,” Khamis said. “Art has the power to convey reality in different forms and shed light on socio-political phenomena from perspectives that the state does not want us to see, thus acting as an eye-opener.”

While Israeli law is supposed to provide for freedom of speech, Palestinian citizens, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, often see these rights violated. In 2003, for instance, the Israeli film board banned the commercial viewing of a film about Israel’s 2002 siege of Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. The film, Jenin, Jenin, which comprises a collection of interviews with camp residents a week after the invasion, was directed by Mohammed Bakri, a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

The ban was later overturned, although the judge in the case commented that the accusations of war crimes by Israeli forces made in the film were “lies,” and that the documentary had “not been made in good faith.”

Like A Parallel Time, Jenin, Jenin sheds light on the ugly face of Israel’s occupation.

More recently, in 2015, the Israeli high court upheld key provisions of a law imposing legal consequences for those boycotting or advocating a boycott of Israel.

This law will disproportionately affect Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are already marginalized under Israeli law.

A 2011 measure — that Palestinians call the Nakba Law — prevents commemoration of the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s creation, for example. Such laws severely restrict the ability of Palestinians in Israel to express their opinions and draw attention to Israel’s crimes, historic and contemporary.

“The problem is that everything is linked to loyalty … You only have the space they will allow you,” said Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, a Palestinian youth group in Israel.

A “loyalty in culture” bill proposed by Miri Regev, Israel’s culture minister, is currently making its way through Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. The bill would cut funding to any institution that questions the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” denigrates state symbols like the flag and marks the Nakba. An amended version of the first draft was approved by Avichai Mendelblit, Isarael’s attorney general, in February.

“The aim is to make Palestinian cultural institutions behave,” said Nashif.

Maintaining an ethnocracy

The definition of Israel as a Jewish state results in the repression of Palestinian identity and freedom of expression, Nashif added.

“The whole structure of the state is designed to create and educate generations of ‘good’ Arabs, including in the cultural field — Arabs who don’t question government policy, who do not talk about the Nakba,” Nashif said.

Sadi agreed: “The so-called Jewish democracy is ridiculous as it can’t be a real democracy since it is only for Jews.”

This partly explains why Palestinian artists in Israel are disproportionately targeted for censorship. A new generation is exploring and expressing its Palestinian identity, openly questioning the Israeli institutions which discriminate against its community.

“Palestinian artists are usually not funded, or they are not hired,” said Nashif. “Now the discrimination is more extreme and much more evident. The policies of Miri Regev were there before, but done more quietly. There was a concern about image. This government is arrogant enough to say it out loud. These fights have always been there but now they are more open and brutal.”

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Private asylums in Sweden benefit from refugee crisis

Cross-posted from AJE 

Malmo, Sweden –  Several Swedish private companies have come under fire for making large profits from the country’s struggle to manage the fallout of the refugee crisis.

Companies such as Aleris, Jokarjo and Hoppetgruppen are perceived by many – including some of their own employees – of taking advantage of the lack of asylum accommodation in Sweden.

The presence of a large number of unaccompanied minors is a major factor in the current situation.

Sweden has more unaccompanied minors than any other EU country. The ceiling on state payment to accommodate children is far higher than that for adults, attracting private investment into a potentially lucrative area.

Hoppetgruppen, in particular, has come under fire after it was found to be operating an asylum accommodation for unaccompanied minors, despite not being authorised to do so by the Swedish government. Seven young people were placed in the room before the mistake was discovered.

Klara, the manager of an authorised Hoppetgruppen asylum accommodation who declined to give her last name, feels that much of the criticism is unwarranted.

The home she manages houses teenage boys between 14 and 18 years old, with new rooms contracted in case any new arrivals appear.

Hoppetgruppen has previously worked in housing for Swedish teenagers needing daily support for a wide range of issues, such as psychological difficulties and drug abuse. “We provide the boys with housing and basic medical care, take them to school, provide activities and care for them,” she said.

“Our facility is very good, and there are few problems. The staff are happy, I made sure to hire genuine people. Some of them are refugees themselves. It has been a winning concept.”

‘Tremendous Money’

Refugees sleep outside the entrance of the Swedish Migration Agency’s arrival centre for asylum seekers in Malmo. Property prices have shot up in Sweden  [Stig-Ake Jonsson/TT News/Reuters]

With 162,877 people applying for asylum in Sweden in 2015, and an increasing number of people attempting to reach Europe this year, rights groups say private companies such as Hoppetgruppen are exploiting the situation, and do not have the best interests of refugees at heart.

Companies have been accused of overcharging the state for their services. Aleris, a company owned by Sweden’s Wallenberg family, has reportedly charged as much as Skr 84,000 ($9,434) a month to place a refugee child with a family.

Aleris declined repeated requests for comment to Al Jazeera.


READ MORE: Report on child refugees highlights ‘unacceptable’ risk


Daniel Sestrajcic, chairman of the Malmo branch of Sweden’s Vansterpartiet party and an MP for Malmo, says that the presence of privately run asylum accommodation is a systematic failure of Sweden’s welfare society as a whole.

“It takes money away from where it is needed,” he told Al Jazeera. “It also attracts inexperienced companies, such as Aleris, to make tremendous money. The private asylum homes suffer from understaffing and poor quality of food, and the companies charge the state for this. It’s bad for the refugees and bad for the workers.”

The issue of understaffing in private asylum accommodation gained attention in January after Alexandra Mezher was fatally stabbed by an unaccompanied minor at a Gothenburg facility run by Nordic Living. She had been working alone at the time of her death, despite government regulations that asylum accommodation workers must always work in pairs.

Private companies

Private companies have been actively encouraged by the Swedish state to become involved in the provision of asylum accommodation. The standards and requirements for asylum accommodation have been changed by Migrationsverket (Migration Board) because of the refugee crisis.

WATCH: Refugees in Sweden wait in limbo for political asylum

At the height of the crisis, supply of homes was significantly lower than demand, and as a result the ongoing procurement is being continued indefinitely. Suppliers who have any kind of accommodation that can sleep 15 people may submit a tender. According to theMigrationsverket website, even caravans and dormitories will be considered for tender.

In previous tenders, Migrationsverket always signed a contract with the suppliers who offered the lowest price. Since demand in the current situation exceeds supply, competition has been eliminated; the same fee is paid to all suppliers whose tenders are accepted.

Sestrajcic believes that this is an ideologically motivated move to increase private sector involvement in the welfare system.

“The government could have organised a taskforce to buy buildings if it was really necessary, or made contracts with the existing building owners instead. But, bureaucratic rules stop this from happening. A building has to contain more than 60 beds for the Stad [local council] to buy it.

“We need to think more broadly and differently. There are plenty of underused spaces in Sweden, such as empty schools that could have been used to build up capacity and a lot of money could have been saved…This is just an ideology. It says that making a profit from social services is OK.”

In October 2015, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven criticised company bosses, asking them whether it “feels good when you look in the mirror” to be making huge profits out of the refugee crisis.

Annie Hagman, a nurse for a health centre serving two privately run asylum accommodation facilities, agrees that the homes are run more like a business than a service.

“Although privately run accommodation receives frequent control inspections from Migrationsverket, the owners are just trying to do the bare minimum to pass the inspection,” she said. “Understaffing in particular is a big problem. At the adult accommodation there is no support staff at all.”

“There is a lack of translators. Children coming to the medical centre ask me why they are not going to school. There is a lack of information and support for the refugees. The manager said that a translator is not necessary, that it is not their job to provide that, the refugees just live there.”

Source: Al Jazeera

No access to education for Bedouin children with disabilities

Cross-posted from The Electronic Intifada 

Sami Mgerh worries about his son’s education. Hearing and speech impaired, the 8-year-old needs functional support at school. But none is forthcoming.

“I tried to find a class suitable for him,” said Mgerh, an attorney. “I was told that it did not exist. There is no support. There is no money.”

Mgerh’s is not a special case. The Bedouin town of Shaqib al-Salam, or Segev Shalom, in the southern Naqab region, is — unlike many other such towns in Israel — officially recognized and was government-planned. However, like so many members of their community, the Bedouin residents of Shaqib al-Salam are subjected to institutionalized neglect from the Israeli government.

The town of some 7,700 people is home to 13 children with disabilities, who are missing out on their education due to a lack of resources. For all children in the community, there is a complete lack of educational frameworks for pupils in grades 1-3.

The absence of suitable educational facilities, such as specialized teachers, assistance services and psychological services, for children with disabilities means that many families from the town prefer not to send their children to school at all. Many fear that their children will fail to integrate into the classroom, and that this will be exacerbated by the teachers’ lack of ability to provide them with the necessary support.

Separate and unequal

Educational discrimination in Israel is all too common. The education of Palestinian citizens of Israel is often undermined by policy, like the 2015 Israeli government decision to further cut funding for elementary church-run schools, which led to a school strike.

But more broadly, two education systems operate, with Palestinian schools in Israel historically denied equal funding, disadvantaging a student body that makes up approximately 25 percent of all school students in Israel. Although it is not illegal for Palestinian citizens of Israel to enroll their children in Jewish schools, very few choose to do so.

But while discrimination in schools is a broad and systemic problem, the current situation in Shaqib al-Salam is a direction violation of students’ very right to education. The lack of resources for children with disabilities has a severely detrimental effect on their personal and learning potential, as well as their ability to socially integrate, including at school — should they be able to access one.

The dearth of educational facilities in Shaqib al-Salam is in contravention with Israel’s own Special Education Law 1988, which states that the purpose of such education is to support students with disabilities and to assist them to integrate into society.

Sawsan Zaher, the director of the Social and Economic Rights Unit at Adalah, a legal rights center based in Haifa, described the lack of facilities for children with disabilities in Shaqib al-Salam as an “infringement” of rights.

“The Ministry of Education and local council are obliged according to the law to provide the adequate framework for disabled kids and if they don’t, they violate their legal obligation,” she said.

Ignored

However, efforts to draw attention to the case have so far been ignored. “We spoke to the relevant officials, but they did not reply,” Mgerh said, who, along with other residents, has tried to pressure government and local officials to take action.

Adalah has similarly been scorned. A letter the rights organization sent to the Ministry of Education in early December last year has yet to receive a response.

Such official indifference has only increased residents’ frustration.

“I just want a solution for the children. It is not just my son who is affected by this. If the children can’t go to normal classes, they have no future,” said Mgerh.

Palestinian Bedouin are the most disadvantaged segment of Israeli society and the poorest community in the country. Less than half of children aged 3 to 4 living in government-planned towns, such as Shaqib al-Salam, and the more common unrecognized villages, have access to adequate educational facilities.

Everyday discrimination

“The neglect … is related to the systematic political and institutionalized discrimination against the Bedouin. The character of the state as a Jewish and democratic state naturally cannot protect equal citizenship for Arabs in all fields,” said Zaher.

The case of Shaqib al-Salam is illustrative of the disparities of budget allocations in Israel’s education system. Like the other six Bedouin villages officially recognized by the Israeli state, Shaqib al-Salam is still allocated lessfunding than other towns in Israel.

“The budget allocation to such towns is known to be lower than other towns and all 7 [government] established [Bedouin] towns are in the lowest socio-economic cluster among all local councils in the country,” Adalah’s Zaher said. “It is part of the general institutionalized discrimination against Arabs in all fields.”

This disparity is clear to Mgerh. “Jewish towns have all the resources they need. The schools in Beer Sheva have everything. There is no equality … The resources are there, why not for our village? Let us have proper resources,” he said.

“The situation saddens me,” Mgerh added. “This is not what I want for my son. Israel claims that it is a democracy, but in reality, it is a kind of dictatorship. It is hard to have hope for the future. But I hope for a better one. Where everyone has the freedom to educated.”

Sweden’s border controls: the domino effect

Cross-posted from OpenDemocracy 

On 10 January 2016 the inevitable happened. Europe’s shameful and deliberate mishandling of the refugee crisis led Sweden to impose ID controls at the Sweden-Denmark border. While temporary border controls were first introduced in November 2015, this most recent piece of legislation will be valid for three years.

Rail commuters travelling to Sweden now have to change trains at Copenhagen airport and go through ID checkpoints, where “security personnel” dressed in fluorescent jackets take pictures of their photo-ID on government-issued smartphones. Some commuters even laugh and joke with them; scenes which would not be out of place in Orwell’s ‘1984’.

This is the first time since the 1950s that travellers from Denmark to Sweden have to present a valid photo ID in order to complete their journey. The decision also marks a turning point for the Social Democrat and Green coalition in Sweden, which had previously welcomed asylum seekers into the country. While many commentators say that this may be the beginning of the end for Schengen, a more pressing question arises. What does this mean for Europe as a project and for the people coming here in search of safety?

A safe place for some

Travel operators are tasked with carrying out the ID checks on the border and they face penalties if they fail to do so adequately. The lack of training that these people are given in understanding what constitutes a ‘valid’ photo ID, however, is bound to cause confusion and irritation amongst travellers. More importantly, it is intensely distressing for already anxious and exhausted refugees. According to the Swedish Migration Agency, 80% of those seeking asylum in 2015 lacked passports or equivalent IDs at the time of filing their applications.

The ID checks have made sure that Sweden will become a safe place for only a select few. The requirement of valid photo ID has ramifications across nationality, age, and class lines. For example, very few juvenile Afghans have papers. Unaccompanied minors, in general, are the hardest hit as they often travel without documents. In practice this means that children, many of whom have lost their parents on the journey and are entirely alone, will now be denied refuge in Sweden for the sake of more secure borders.

Even for the people whose asylum claims are being processed, the border controls are an added layer of intimidation and yet another sign of Europe’s hostility towards them. The LMA (Lagen om mottagande av asylsökande or Swedish Reception of Asylum Seekers’ Act) cards, that carry a photo of the holder, are not always considered valid photo ID. Those with passports have to hand them over to the Migration board while their claims are being processed, making the LMA card their only form of ID. The reality is that asylum seekers who are already in Sweden have now had their freedom of movement curtailed.

Domino effect

Sweden’s border controls are already beginning to have a domino effect, with the Danes having stepped up their own controls at the German border. Denmark’s move has been caused by its fears that the Swedish ID checks will leave Danish borders vulnerable to large numbers of refugees claiming asylum there, rather than using it as a transit country to reach Sweden or Norway.

Norway has also announced that it will turn back refugees without visas arriving from elsewhere in the Schengen zone, particularly from Sweden, and is currently attempting to deport a group who cycled from Russia. It appears that Scandinavian countries will now be competing amongst themselves for the title of ‘most hostile to asylum seekers’. It is a gift for Europe’s far right, which must be rubbing its hands with glee.

The hostility to refugees, which has been present since the beginning of the crisis, can be seen in the fact that many media outlets, including the BBC, seem to be more concerned about the effect the new border controls have on commuters than on the people attempting to claim asylum.

The fact that direct journeys will no longer be available to Sweden from Copenhagen’s main airport, adding 40 minutes to a 30 minute commute is, of course, irritating. It is, however, a significant marker of how far refugees and migrants have been dehumanised by some sections of the press when the commute of a European citizen is of more importance than the life and safety of a non-European refugee.

Never mind that freedom of movement in the European Union is now in danger – these border controls will result in the deaths of people who were not lucky enough, in the arbitrary lottery that decides to whom and where we are born, to be European passport holders.

Shifting discourse

Sweden’s shift in discourse has been dramatic. It was only on the 6 September 2015 that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven declared, “My Europe takes in people fleeing from war, my Europe does not build walls.” It seems that, 163,000 asylum applications later, Löfven changed his mind about what kind of Europe he lives in.

When Sweden says its system is strained, that is not a lie. Sweden has taken in the highest number of asylum seekers in Europe proportionate to its population. In the autumn of 2015 asylum applications were running at 10,000 weekly. The government wants to decrease this number to 1000 weekly this year. It is clear to everyone that Sweden’s system is under intense pressure.

The situation in Sweden did not have to be like this, however. Europe could and should have shared the responsibility of resettling asylum seekers across its territory. Europe could and should have had quotas based on population size and GDP. Most importantly, Europe could and should have actively managed the crisis, instead of allowing a few states to deal with it – mostly without support.

It comes as no surprise then that Denmark’s Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, wants the EU to take “collective decisions” with regard to the refugee crisis. However, his comments are aimed at protecting Denmark’s borders, rather than facilitating safe routes to Europe. Increasingly, the discourse around the refugee crisis is shifting from the management of a moral duty to a conversation that revolves around protection: protection for “us” from “them”. How do “we” get rid of “them”? How do “we” stop “them” from coming here, to “our” countries?

It would be foolish to conclude that the border controls will prevent refugees from coming to Sweden. They will, instead, lead to people choosing more dangerous routes, such as taking boats across the Oresund Strait. The opening of “illegal” routes will also create conditions for the smuggling trade to increase within the EU, as well as the business of producing falsified documents to flourish.

Yes, the border controls will make it more dangerous for refugees to reach Sweden but, considering what they are running from, they will keep trying. And now, even more of them will die in the process, because, these days, Europe is only a safe haven for some.

Why won’t Israel allow autopsy on youth killed by police?

Cross-Posted from Electronic Intifada

A refusal by the Israeli police to allow an autopsy on a young Palestinian killed by its officers indicates a cover-up.

On 17 October, Mutaz Uweisat was killed by the police in Armon Hanatziv, an Israeli settlement in occupiedEast Jerusalem.

Israeli police have alleged that the 16-year-old boy tried to stab a border guard.

Palestinian human rights groups are calling for an investigation of the officer implicated in the killing.

In a request submitted earlier this month, the two groups, Adalah and Addameer, also urged that an autopsy be carried out in the presence of a medical officer approved by the Uweisat family.

Five days after submitting the request, Adalah issued a statement saying that the police had refused to perform an autopsy and that an Israeli court in Jerusalem had refused to order one. The police had decided to close its examinations of the incident, the group reported.

The Israeli authorities have still not handed over Mutaz’s body to his family. They have similarly refused to return, or delayed returning, the bodies of many other Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Israel’s refusal to allow an investigation into the incident makes its account impossible to verify. A number of other recent allegations made by the Israeli authorities against young Palestinians shot dead by its forces have turned out to be inaccurate.

Questionable incidents

Amjad Iraqi, an Adalah campaigner, said that the authorities are displaying a similar attitude in this case as they did after Fadi Alloun was shot dead by Israeli police near the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City last month. While the police also accused Alloun of trying to stab Israelis, video evidence proves that he was unarmed at the time he was shot.

“There is little interest on their part to conduct proper investigations into these very questionable incidents,” Iraqi said. “And they are refusing requests for independent autopsies to ensure that the authorities are giving truthful information about the victims.”

Mutaz hailed from Jabal al-Mukabir, an East Jerusalem area that neighbors the Armon Hanatziv settlement.

His killing follows the recent relaxation of the rules under which Israeli forces may open fire with powerful Ruger rifles.

“Targeting teenagers”

Senior police representatives have also publicly stated that officers may shoot to kill.

Moshe Edri, the Jerusalem district commander with the Israeli police, last month praised officers who shot dead a Palestinian. Edri stated that “anyone who stabs Jews or hurts innocents — his due is to be killed.”

Amnesty International has found that Israeli forces have dramatically increased their use of ammunition against Palestinians since 1 October. More than 85 Palestinians have been killed in that period.

Amnesty has documented a number of instances in which Palestinian youths were killed by Israeli forces when they did not present any imminent threat to life, and says the slayings amount to extrajudicial executions.

Israel Jails Teen For “Intifada” Facebook Post

Cross-Posted from Electronic Intifada 

Writing on Facebook can result in being locked up if you are a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

That became clear in mid-October when 19-year-old Anas Khateeb was arrested and charged with incitement over three comments he had posted on the social media website. The comments read: “Jerusalem is Arab,” “long live the intifada” and “I am on the waiting list.”

In the past week, a magistrate’s court in Akka (Acre) — a city in present-day Israel — extended his detention until 26 November.

His treatment is being perceived as an attack on the right to free expression by Palestinians. The charge of incitement is viewed as absurd. None of the three posts explicitly called for violence.

And none of them received more than 70 “likes,” indicating that Khateeb was unlikely to foment unrest on any significant scale. Under Israeli law, incitement only occurs if there is a strong possibility that a speech or text will encourage acts of violence.

Khateeb’s arrest has been part of a wider crackdown on Palestinians living in present-day Israel, where they make up about 20 percent of the population.

Adalah, a human rights group, has calculated that approximately 100 Palestinian activists were arrested in Israel within the space of a week in early October. In most cases, requests by police to extend the detention of these activists were approved by courts.

The courts have ignored evidence that police violently suppress political protests, according to Adalah. The organization also accuses the Israeli forces of abusing their powers and has documented how Palestinian activists have been arrested for organizing an “unlawful gathering,” even though there is no such offense in Israeli law.

Police who overstep their powers are seldom punished.

“This impunity has not only allowed the police to avoid accountability, but has essentially encouraged them to view their brutality as legitimate,” said Amjad Iraqi, an Adalah campaigner.

Strategy of persecution

Monitoring of online activity by Palestinians is undertaken by both the authorities and by employers.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel finds that that Palestinians are being dismissed from jobs because of comments they have made. Employers are checking what Palestinian workers write on Facebook and giving the names of young workers to the police, it has been reported.

“The persecution of Palestinian citizens of Israel has been a strategy of the State of Israel for years,” said Khulud Khamis, a feminist campaigner and writer based in Haifa. “It is only changing form, and spreading to the medium of social media.”

“I think those people who publicly voice their opinions do so knowing the risks entailed,” she added. “Others keep silent for precisely the same reason.”

Nadim Nashif, founder of the grassroots group 7amleh, said that young people are more likely to be arrested for Facebook posts as they are the most politically active group in Palestinian society.

The Israeli authorities are seeking to depict a wide variety of comments relating to protests as incitement, according to Nashif.

“A girl from Haifa was arrested because she wrote ‘take an onion with you’ on Facebook,” he said. “The Israeli authorities said that this meant that she was preparing for tear gas to be used.”

“It is ridiculous, they will try to find anything they can [to persecute people],” he added.

Panic

While a number of Palestinians have been jailed for their online activities in the recent past, Israel appears to be intensifying its surveillance and repression both on the Internet and on the streets in response to mass protests.

A young Nazareth woman was recently placed under administrative detention — detention without charge or trial — after stating in a text message that she wished to become a “martyr.” Although administrative detention has been widely practiced against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, this is the first case in a decade of it being used against a Palestinian citizen of Israel, according to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

“Israel is trying to keep things under control; they always panic at a potential uprising,” Nashif said. “They are taking a harsh attitude with Palestinian citizens in order to keep us quiet while they are busy in the West Bank. Things that are acceptable in normal times are not anymore.”

Nashif noted that different standards are being applied to Israeli Jews than to Palestinians.

In October, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, promised he would never release Yigal Amir, who assassinatedYitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, in 1995. In response, Hagai Amir, Yigal’s brother, wrote on Facebook that Rivlin was a “kiss-up politician” who “must pass from the Earth.”

Hagai Amir was detained for one day, before being released and placed under five days’ house arrest.

By contrast, “Anas Khateeb did not make any specifically violent comments and his detention has been extended,” Nashif said. “It is completely unjustified.”

Racism at the top

Israel’s ruling coalition contains a number of ministers who have made racist and arguably genocidal remarks about Palestinians. The best known example is that of Ayelet Shaked, now Israel’s justice minister.

During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, she claimed that all Palestinians are “enemy combatants” and advocated the killing of Palestinian mothers while calling their offspring “little snakes.”

Unlike Khateeb’s posts, Shaked’s Facebook comments received thousands of “likes.”

Adalah has complained to Israel’s attorney general about the incitement by Israeli public figures. But no action has been taken.

Among the cases raised by Adalah were that of Avigdor Lieberman, then Israel’s foreign minister, who called in March this year for the beheading of “anyone who is against us.”

And during the summer, Adalah complained about how Bentzi Gopstein, director-general of the Israeli far-right group Lehava, had stated publicly that he supported the burning of churches. Adalah contended that his remarks amounted to a call for violence against Palestinian Christians.

“There are lots of racist posts and comments in the Hebrew social media, but they only arrest Arabs,” said Rani Khoury, a Palestinian living in Nazareth.

“Israel does not want Arabs to think politically,” Khoury said. “They want us to be more Israeli. They have been scaring us like this since 1948.”

Israel’s ID card system is crushing Palestinian identity in Palestine and abroad

Cross-posted from Media Diversified 

The past five weeks have seen repeated clashes break out in East Jerusalem. Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians means clashes with Israeli police forces are nothing new in occupied Palestine. This time, Palestinians are out to protest Israel’s recently imposed limitations on access to Al Aqsa Mosque, the mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, whose golden dome is visible even during the most ferocious sandstorms.

Al Aqsa isn’t just any mosque. For Muslims, it represents the world’s third holiest site, and for Palestinians more generally, it symbolises Palestinian presence across the historic city of Jerusalem. Jews, on the other hand, claim that it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. This is why Israel decided in mid-August that it was going to oversee access to the mosque and bar Muslims from entering between between 7am and 11am. And it doesn’t end there. Based on an official statement published by the Israeli state, there is reason to believe that the restrictions will gradually extend and force Muslim worshippers to hand in their identity identification cards before entering the mosque.

As Palestinians, we know, as long as we are subject to Israel’s systematic laws of control, regulation, and punishment, we will remain dependent on the Israeli state. This is why the current protests in East Jerusalem are not only about Al Aqsa, but about resisting the restrictions we face with our Palestinian ID cards when we want to access our very land and heritage.

The same applies for those of us in diaspora. Take my family, and the city of Akka. Akka is my favourite city in the world. It’s an ancient city surrounded by walls that barred Napoleon from entering, and now serve as makeshift diving boards for boys who gleefully throw their bodies into the waves beneath them. Walking in the winding streets of the Old City I find myself in awe of the city’s beauty and longevity. It is as though I can’t open my eyes wide enough to take in a much of it as I want. I love Akka.

Like every other city in historic Palestine (present-day Israel), Akka is inaccessible to most members of my family. Unlike them, I was born outside of Palestine and hold a British passport. Being without a Palestinian ID card and with a foreign Passport has been a mixed blessing. It has allowed me to live a relatively sheltered life abroad, a life many Palestinians can only dream of. But this privilege gives me the feeling that I am somehow betraying my beloved Palestine and those in diaspora who are denied access to their homeland.

Palestinians in diaspora make up the majority of Palestinians. Since Israel’s creation in 1948, there have been several waves of migration into exile. Besides the over 700,000 Palestinians displaced in the Nakba, in 1948, thousands more were uprooted during the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and many others left in between and after the war. They escaped the Israeli occupation and the threat of persecution in the hope of finding better work and education abroad. In the decade following the ‘67 War, an average of 21,000 Palestinians were pushed out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories per year. We hold all kinds of passports: Kuwaiti, Canadian, Chilean, Israeli, amongst others. And some of us hold no ID at all.

In fact, individual family members often hold different passports, and, therefore, have different rights within Palestine. Add to that Israel’s apartheid ID system, and you quickly lose track of who is granted what rights. My grandmother, for instance, was born in the town of Beir Saba (now Beersheva) and originally held a Palestinian ID. When she passed away, she was older than the State of Israel. If she had stayed in Beir Saba and survived the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, she would have received Israeli citizenship. But instead, my grandmother moved to Gaza, where her father took up a job with the British Mandate Government. When Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967, they handed my grandparents green Palestinian ID cards, which prevented them from voting and travelling into their hometown without permission. These green ID cards were passed down to my father and all of his siblings. Most of them were able to leave Gaza, but two of them remain, and their children are also cursed with the limitations of the green ID card and the Israeli siege. Some of my cousins haved lived their whole lives within 360 square kilometres and have never left the Gaza strip. I have cousins who will never see where our grandmother was born.

The Israeli ID system is based on the Ottoman system; children inherit their parents’ status automatically. For Palestinians, this happens at the age of 16. Therefore, I should have a Palestinian ID, too. However, when I was three years old my father lost his Palestinian ID. At the time, we lived in Dubai. When our Palestinian IDs were about to expire, the Gulf War broke out and airports were closed. This meant, my father could not return to Palestine to renew his ID, and so he lost his Palestinian citizenship. And, since Palestinians can only obtain ID cards after the age of sixteen, neither my brother nor me hold one today.

Not holding any form of Palestinian ID has meant that I have been able to access all areas of historic Palestine, including the city of Akka. But it also means that I have no right to reside in any part of Palestine, and I can be prohibited from entering at any point in the future. In this sense, Palestinian ID cards remind us that our movements and lives depend on the carefully drawn racism  of the Israeli state. Its penetration of and invasion into our family histories serves to control our movement in and outside of Palestine. Wherever we were born, we will always be viewed as a demographic threat to the Israeli state. But moreover, the creation of diaspora populations with different passports, a condition so typical of any diaspora populations, has had deeply divisive effects on us. Scattered around like shattered glass, people have radically different opportunities and access to resources. These differences can produce resentment. We envy each other’s opportunities: some are able to leave, others are able to stay in our homeland, Palestine. For that reason, our hopes are always connected to what is denied to us.

Israel’s denial of mobility to Palestinians based on birthplace is to subjugate us to its internal logic and decision-making. It attempts to divide and cut Palestinian identity into fragments so tiny, it can never be put together or imagined as a whole again. In reality though, as Palestinians we are one people. And we deserve free mobility and equal rights to our homeland and heritage, regardless of what form of ID we hold.