Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2007, pages 51-53

Southern California Chronicle

Activist Claims Israel Condones Apartheid But Objects to World’s Criticism

By Pat and Samir Twair

The late Prof. Tanya Reinhart at Princeton (Staff photo J. Adas).

“THE ISRAELI POINT of view is it’s okay to practice apartheid, but it’s not okay for the world to know they’re doing it.” So said Daphne Banai, Tel Aviv coordinator of Machsom (“checkpoint”) Watch, who was in Los Angeles on a speaking tour with Palestinian human rights attorney Taghrid Shbita.

More than 70 people heard the two activists speak Feb. 24 at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Banai explained that more than 400 Jewish women volunteers alternate twice daily to monitor Israeli troops’ conduct toward Palestinians at 70 checkpoints in the West Bank.

Shbita, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, explained that in 1948 her husband’s family lived in the village of Miske, which once covered about 12 acres. Warned to flee the Israeli militias, they took refuge in Tira, where they live today.

“The people wanted to return to their homes in Miske and they applied often to the authorities for permission to go back,” Shbita said. “So in 1952, in an effort to finish these aspirations once and for all, the government destroyed all structures in Miske. All that remains is two walls of a mosque and two rooms of a school.”

Nonetheless, Shbita said, villagers return to the deserted site and point out to their grandchildren where their homes and shops stood. Now her son and daughters are reaching the age to marry, and there is no place for them to live. “Why not return to Miske?” her son asks.

“This question is what Israelis refer to as ”˜demographic danger,”’ Shbita explained. “Jews have the right of return, but they are disturbed when Palestinians want to exercise this right.”

Banai grew up in a right-wing family, she said, which told her never to trust an Arab. Nonetheless she was curious, and attended a Bridge to Peace meeting.

“That meeting changed my life,” she recalled. “My whole outlook moved 180 degrees.”

Soon after, Banai made her first visit to Tira, where she met Shbita. They’ve been best friends for 25 years.

Banai told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, that for the past six years she has gone to major Israeli military checkpoints once or twice a week for a half-day shift, and all day when she goes to the Jordan Valley.

“I’ve been beaten and shot at by settlers, they even tried to set fire to my car, but once you’ve witnessed what’s going on, you can’t excuse it,” she said. “Of course I don’t need to do it, but I want to look at myself in the mirror and know I’m doing my best to end the occupation.

“You must keep in mind that most of the Machsom volunteers are not activists,” she added. “They come from the mainstream. Often when they come for the first time, they say they can’t volunteer on a regular basis, but when they witness the abuse, they become obsessed with stopping the injustice.”

Banai said her work isn’t limited to her physical presence at checkpoints. Palestinians know her and have her phone number. When they experience unreasonable situations at checkpoints, they call her. “We go into action and call checkpoint commanders,” she explained. “We also notify reporters, who call these same commanders and ask for explanations.”

During a Feb. 25 talk in a Santa Monica synagogue, Banai was asked if checkpoints didn’t prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel.

“It takes much longer, but those checkpoints can be circumvented by taking unpaved back roads,” she replied. “I’m sure a determined terrorist would not try to pass through a checkpoint.”

She proceeded to tell a story about a taxi driver who had driven her and other Machsom Watch women to a remote checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers were disturbed to see the Jewish monitors.

“They couldn’t apprehend us for just being there,” she noted, “so they took it out on the cab driver and arrested him. We objected and asked on what grounds they were taking him in. The soldier replied, ”˜I don’t need a reason to arrest a Palestinian.’”

For more information, visit <www.machsomwatch.org> or <www.stoptorture.org.il/heb/>.

Teacher, Farmer Resist Hebron Settlers

Retired Hebron schoolmistress Feryal Abu Haikal (l) and Mohammed Khatib (Staff photos S. Twair).

Feryal Abu Haikal, a teacher from Hebron, and Mohammed Khatib, a farmer from Bil’in, toured the U.S. to discuss “Grassroots, Nonviolent Resistance to Israeli Apartheid in Palestine.” The two appeared March 1 in Los Angeles at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Without a doubt, Hebron is the epicenter of violence by radical Jewish settlers. Abu Haikal’s al-Qurtuba School, in the heart of the Old City, is a prime target of settler children.

“The settlers turn their children on our pupils because no [Jewish] child under age 12 can be arrested,” explained the retired schoolmistress. “The children attack our students on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, so we close al-Qurtuba on those days and end our classes before the settler schools dismiss their pupils.”

There are six small settlements within the Old City which house about 400 settlers, Abu Haikal said. A contingent of 1,500 Israeli troops protect the settlers, who curse and attack the 150,000 Palestinian Hebronites.

A video was shown of settler children screaming “No Palestine” and “Kill Arabs” as they pelted Palestinian elementary students with stones. During the melee, the camera captures the schoolmistress as she pleads to an Israeli soldier: “Why don’t you stop this?”

He replies: “We’re here to protect settlers only.”

Scholar Nada Elia (l) and Craig Corrie (Staff photo J. Adas).

Abu Haikal’s home in adjacent Tell Rumeida is under constant assault by settlers who live in six trailers installed atop Roman ruins. Remarkably, neither UNESCO nor any other antiquities preservation agency objected to the desecration of the site. The 60-year-old mother of 11 showed a video of the settlers trying to enter her home at gunpoint.

“When we called the police, they said the settlers were just ”˜visitors,’” she recalled, “then they arrested my husband and two sons for 96 hours and fined them 3,000 shekles.”

While Abu Haikal and her students offer the world an example of nonviolent resistance, Khatib is the embodiment of samed (sticking to the land). Every Friday for the past two years, he has led creative political theater resistance to the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall and the Modi’in Illit settlement, which will house 150,000 settlers.

“Imagine what will happen when they move in,” Khatib stated. “There will be no water for us.” Bil’in is 16 kilometers from Ramallah, he explained, but the wall will cut off most of its 14,000 acres and olive groves from the farmers.

The media are aware of Khatib’s creative Friday demonstrations. On one occasion, the protestors dressed in white and covered their mouths with gags. Another time they carried an 8-meter-long paper snake representing the occupation.

“We see that in Iraq the American soldiers are using the same tactics as the Israeli occupation forces,” Khatib concluded. He urged the audience to be on the lookout for the Australian documentary “Bil’in Habibi.” For more information, visit <www.bilin-village.org>.

PAWA Hosts Women’s Day Banquet

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena (Staff photo S. Twair).

“Empowerment Through Generations” was the theme of the Palestinian American Women’s Association (PAWA) 21st annual International Women’s Day banquet March 10 at the Holiday Inn Select in La Mirada.

A special tribute was paid to Craig Corrie, father of Rachel Corrie, the young American who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer on March 16, 2003 as she tried to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip’s Rafah refugee camp.

Noting that his wife, Cindy, was appearing at a simultaneous event honoring Rachel, Corrie said that he and his wife spoke at 40 different venues in 2006. All the women in his family are strong, Corrie said, and his sister-in-law, Cheryl, has talked about the Palestinian issue and Rachel’s murder in every Senate and congressional office. Rachel’s older sister, Sarah, has led the campaign to get the Justice and State Departments to launch an investigation into Rachel’s murder.

Keynote speaker Dr. Nada Elia of Antioch University in Seattle discussed the means of empowerment for women to escape the cycle of violence they face in war zones. Historically, she noted, women were the spoils of war, and 90 percent of the casualties were soldiers. Today, however, 95 percent of the casualties are civilians. And with the battlefront more often being on the home front, Elia emphasized, an increasing number of the victims are women.

Another gender dimension of war is that men are more abusive of their spouses once they have been trained in violence and torture. This is true for Israelis, Elia noted: “After they perpetrate acts of violence, they can’t just leave this mentality on the doorstep like a pair of muddy boots.”

Violence, which can’t be avoided in Palestine, she stated, is impacted by curfews that imprison entire families.

“Some 70 percent of Palestinian men subjected to violence, duplicate it in the home on their wives and then they take it out on the children,” Elia explained. “Women speak of this abuse the same way they talk about the occupation. They’re not in denial because they don’t have the luxury to be in denial.”

According to Dr. Elia, resistance must start at home with a refusal to perpetuate violence. Women can’t wait for the occupation to end before they call a halt to domestic violence. Instead, she said, they must denounce the problem and recognize that its cause is an increasingly violent occupation. They must name the problem, she concluded, and make the home the site of resistance.

Italian Journalist Recalls Attack

“The Iraq war was based on a lie,” said Giuliana Sgrena. “The only weapons of mass destruction are the ones the U.S. fires on the Iraqis.” The Italian journalist spoke during a March 19 signing of her book, Friendly Fire (available from the AET Book Club), at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

Sgrena was an unembedded Il Manifesto reporter when she was kidnapped in Baghdad on Feb. 4, 2005. She became a cause célèbre in Italy, where a soccer star had her photo on his shirt and huge crowds clamored for her release.

She was freed March 4, 2005. Maj. Gen. Nicola Calispari, Italy’s second-ranking intelligence officer, had traveled to Iraq, where he secured her release. He found Sgrena blindfolded in an abandoned car and moved her into his vehicle, which sped to the Baghdad airport.

Even though the Americans were notified of the rescue mission, a U.S. tank fired 58 bullets at the car. Eleven struck the side and rear of the vehicle, killing Calispari and severely wounding Sgrena, whose lung was punctured by a four-inch bullet.

There was no love lost between the U.S. military and Sgrena, who wrote about the treatment of women prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and reported that napalm was used at “Fallujah II” on Nov. 26, 2004.

Ironically, it was an Italian American, Spc. Mario Lozano, who fired the fatal shots. Sgrena publicly asked to speak to the New York City National Guardsman on June 26, but he declined.

Lozano will be tried in absentia April 17 in Italy. “I don’t want him to be a scapegoat,” she told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. “It is important for him to say what happened. It was no accident. The Americans knew who was in our car—there was a helicopter directly above us. Was he following a command?”

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.