USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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Archive for March, 2013

Guerrilla research exposes sponsors of Israeli apartheid

Posted by uscsjp on March 21, 2013

For the last three and a half years the UK-based research cooperative Corporate Watch has been running a project tracking corporate complicity in the occupation of Palestine.

After a research visit to Palestine in 2010, we wrote a handbook for activists who want to take action in line with the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In January and February this year, we returned to Palestine to find out what was new on the ground.

Much of Corporate Watch’s research has focused on entering Israeli settlements, seeing how they are financially sustaining themselves, what companies are operating or providing services there and how they are facilitating apartheid and colonization.

Surprisingly easy

A lot of people have asked us how we accomplish this. Although we do have a few simple tricks up our sleeves which have helped us in our research, basically it just requires a cover story and a lot of luck. We have explained our presence in the settlements by pretending to be confused tourists, curious students or enthusiastic Zionists, but, more often than not, our investigations have proved surprisingly easy and all of them could be replicated by other BDS activists.

For example we successfully established that one company, EDOM UK, was working with the settlements by turning up at export packing houses posing as travelers in search of organic fruit and vegetables to buy. We have often had to travel for hours to remote places, not knowing if we will find anything useful when we get there and have accepted the relatively small risk of running into problems with the authorities or encountering violence from settlers.

We have been detained a few times and have had a few threats from angry settlers. However, the net results of our research — a wealth of new information for the BDS movement — has definitely outweighed any difficulties we have faced.

We have also concentrated on providing contextual information for BDS campaigns on the effects of corporate activities on Palestinian communities living under occupation. By documenting settlement expansion and by interviewing people in communities threatened with ethnic cleansing, we endeavor to provide the context needed for BDS campaigners to win the arguments which inevitably arise when targeting the profits of complicit firms.

During the last five or so years, a huge amount of work has been done by Who Profits? (a project run by Palestinian and Israeli women), Corporate Watch and local BDS groups to document and catalogue as many of the companies profiteering from the occupation as possible. As a result, the movement now has a lot of resources to build campaigns from.

Although most major international corporations working in the area may be known by now, there is still a lot of work to be done around less obvious organizations, and often these are only found by going out there and looking for them.

Criminal “charity”

One example is Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, a relatively small “charity” with offices in Israel, the US, Germany and the Netherlands. Set up in opposition to the Oslo accords in 1995, Christian Friends is ideologically motivated and supports the settlements though fundraising for projects in the West Bank and encouraging Christian tourists to visit the settlements.

The first time we came across this charity was in 2010 when we spotted a “planted with the assistance of CFOIC” sign by a new olive grove in the Jordan Valley settlement of Maskiot. Maskiot is home to many of the Gush Katif settlers, who used to live in Gaza, and was recognized by the Israeli government as the first new settlement in the Jordan Valley for a decade in 2009.

Al-Maleh, the Bedouin community next to Maskiot, faces increased settler harassment and frequent house demolitions as its existence on the land is threatened by settlement expansion.

Christian Friends currently has 13 projects planned in settlements in the Jordan Valley, as well as in settlements such as Kfar Adumim and Susiya, which are strategically close to the vulnerable Palestinian communities Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya. On our most recent trip we came across a Christian Friends-sponsored playground in the Maale Efrayim settlement.

There is no doubt that any group supporting illegal settlements is complicit in the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land. In the UK, Christian Friends has recently been dropped by World Action Ministries, a charity which used to handle its UK donations, after it had received calls from the public about Christian Friends’ support for the settlements.

World Action Ministries told Corporate Watch that “this made us immediately feel very uncomfortable bearing in mind the advice being given by the United Nations and other bodies at the time [about involvement in the settlements].” Christian Friends has confirmed that donations to it from the UK are now handled by a Christian group called Stewardship Services (UKET).

If BDS activists in Israel, the US, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK collectively challenged Christian Friends’ “charitable” donations to settlements we might be surprisingly effective, and educate the public on the way.

“Occupation is everywhere”

Of course, Christian friends represent only one kind of involvement in the occupation. The fact is that the occupation is everywhere in Palestine and any situation you find yourself in can present an opportunity for information gathering of some description. We often discover companies to add to the boycott list by pure chance.

On our recent research trip we attended a demonstration against Israel’s wall in the West Bank and were arrested. As the police entered our details into a database, we were taking mental notes of the Sagem finger-print scanners, Canon camera system and Garrett metal detectors installed in the police station in the settlement of Shah Binyamin.

Finding new BDS targets and updated information on company activity are not the only reasons why research on the ground is important. It is also essential that existing international campaigns work closely with, and listen to, the people in Palestine who are directly affected by the companies targeted by BDS campaigns.

There is a growing BDS campaign against the British-Danish company G4S targeting its provision of equipment and services to the apartheid wall, the Israeli Prison Service and the settlements. As well as conducting research into G4S’ activities in the settlements, we carried out a series of interviews with Palestinians who had been in the jails where G4S provides equipment and services. Many of them gave us messages to send to the international BDS movement. Corporate Watch will be publishing these interviews in the coming weeks.

Soft drink spin

Companies which are at the receiving end of boycott campaigns are becoming increasingly public relations-savvy, and are putting a lot of effort into spreading disinformation regarding their activities. The most obvious example of this is SodaStream, a maker of fizzy drink machines, which has gone so far as to release a short video, Building Bridges – Not Walls, to show how “beneficial” its business in the West Bank is for the region.

On this visit we wanted to get the story from the communities around Mishor Adumim, the Israeli-controlled industrial zone where SodaStream is located. SodaStream’s main argument in favor of its investment in Mishor Adumim is that it provides essential employment for Palestinians in the area. However, you only have to take the example of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community next to Mishor Adumim, to debunk this myth.

Khan al-Ahmar is located in Area C, a zone covering more than 60 percent of the West Bank, where Palestinians are not allowed to build anything. The community is fighting a plan by the Israeli government to forcibly relocate it. If the plan is implemented, the Bedouins would be removed from the area where they have lived since the 1950s.

Far from providing jobs for the people there, the factories in Mishor Adumim are the reason their livelihood has been taken from them, built as they are on land previously used as grazing areas.

According to five interviewees in the wider Khan al-Ahmar area (Abu al-Helweh, Abu al-Mihtawish, Abu Fellah and Kurshan), people from these communities no longer get permission to work in Mishor Adumim at all. This rule was introduced as a collective punishment by the “regional council” for the settlement after the communities started building a school for their children in Khan al-Ahmar in defiance of the building restrictions imposed by Israel in Area C.

By complying with this order denying work permits to Palestinians from the area most affected by the expansion of the settlements Maale Adumim and Kafr Adumim, SodaStream and the other factories operating from within the industrial zone are directly encouraging the ethnic cleansing of the area.

“They destroyed our lives”

As one man who now lives near the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis after being displaced from the area in 1998 put it: “We are not allowed to go near them [the factories]. They took our livelihood to build them and we got evacuated for them to build their factories. After they built them there were no resources to live from for us. The gains are nothing compared to what was lost. They destroyed our lives and then gave a few people a job. It is nothing.”

SodaStream’s PR strategy relies on putting across an impression of openness. The company has paid for journalists to visit its Mishor Adumim factory and is planning to fly over Member of Parliament and the UK Conservative Party’s Mike Weatherley, whose constituency is close to the Sodastream shop in Brighton. We decided to call the firm’s bluff and offered to visit the factory on our own expense. SodaStream, clearly not keen to answer difficult questions, replied saying that, regrettably, it did not have capacity to facilitate our visit.

Excuses

Many companies take a very different approach to SodaStream and attempt to minimize or hide their role in working with the settlements. When corporate complicity in the occupation is exposed, PR executives respond by giving the same excuses — either that the companies were not aware that this was going on or that it was a temporary arrangement which came about through some novel circumstance that will not happen again.

When we were leaked evidence that the own-brand agricultural produce stocked by the British supermarket chain Morrisons was being packaged in an illegal settlement, we were told that this was a short-term arrangement necessitated by the lack of a suitable packing house inside Israel.

The lesson to be learned from this is that companies are very unlikely to consider justice and freedom for Palestinians of their own accord and that it is up to all of us to continue to find ways of obtaining and exposing this information. If we don’t, companies will continue to take advantage of the captive workforce provided by the occupation to make a fast buck.

The power of BDS is that everyone can contribute. If you are traveling to Palestine, consider spending time investigating those making money out of the occupation. If campaigning at home, use evidence gained by others and your own research to challenge companies locally. Remember: the fact that so many corporations now go out of their way to try to disassociate themselves from what we find means that we have come a long way already.

Therezia Cooper and Tom Anderson are pen names for two boycott, divestment and sanctions activists and researchers. They have volunteered with various solidarity groups in Palestine and are the authors of Targeting Israeli Apartheid: A Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Handbook published by Corporate Watch. Corporate Watch’s Palestine project can be followed at corporateoccupation.org or via twitter @corpoccupation

 

–The Electronic Intifada, 20 March, 2013

 

http://electronicintifada.net/content/guerrilla-research-exposes-sponsors-israeli-apartheid/12291

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“United by Loss, Israeli & Palestinian Dads Call for a Joint Nonviolent Intifada Against Occupation”

Posted by uscsjp on March 6, 2013

AARON MATÉ: The death of a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody has sparked new protests in the occupied West Bank and even talk of a third intifada. The Israeli government claims the prisoner, Arafat Jaradat, died of a heart attack, but Palestinians say he succumbed to wounds sustained during a brutal torture. At a news conference in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority minister for prisoner affairs said Israel is responsible for Jaradat’s death.

ISSA QARAQEA: [translated] There were visible marks in the autopsy that made it clear that the detainee Arafat Jaradat was badly tortured, which caused his immediate death. Israel bears responsibility for killing him during the interrogation.

AARON MATÉ: Arafat Jaradat had been arrested for throwing rocks at Israeli settlers.

Well, on Monday, thousands turned out as he was laid to rest in his home village of Sair. More than a dozen Palestinians were reportedly wounded in the ensuing clashes with Israeli soldiers across the West Bank.

Jaradat’s death comes amidst a sustained campaign over the plight of more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Around 3,000 Palestinian prisoners recently refused to eat meals in solidarity with five hunger-striking detainees. Protests in support of the prisoners have led to several clashes with Israeli troops over the past week. In the face of the growing outrage and with President Obama set to visit the region next month, Israel has asked the Palestinian Authority to contain the protests.

The conditions on the ground recall those that sparked the First Intifada in 1987, reviving speculation that we are potentially witnessing the dawn of a third uprising against Israeli occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to turn now to a new documentary about a Palestinian and an Israeli who were once dedicated fighters for their respective causes but have since renounced violence and become leading voices for peace. Both of the men, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, came face-to-face with the price of war when their young daughters were killed, one by Israeli border police and the other by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The film is called Within the Eye of the Storm. It chronicles these two men’s personal stories and their unlikely friendship. This is a clip from the film.

RAMI ELHANAN: [translated] On the 4th of September, 1997, two Palestinian terrorists blew themselves up. They killed five people that day. One of them was my daughter, Smadar.

BASSAM ARAMIN: [translated] I got a call from my eldest daughter, Arin. She was yelling, “Abir, Abir, Daddy! She was shot in the head by soldiers, and she is wounded.” I was in an Israeli prison for seven years when I was 17. I believed in eliminating the other side, which I didn’t even know.

RAMI ELHANAN: [translated] I never gave a thought to the other side. I didn’t consider that another side existed. I went through a process.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from the trailer of the new documentary, Within the Eye of the Storm.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan. Bassam, a former Fatah fighter, now a peace activist with Combatants for Peace, spent seven years in an Israeli prison. His 10-year-old daughter Abir was killed January 16, 2007, when an Israeli border police chief fired rubber bullets in a school zone. And Rami is a former Israeli reserve soldier turned peace activist, leading member of Parents Circle-Families Forum, an organization for those who lost children in conflict but nevertheless want peace. His 14-year-old daughter Smadar was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in September of ’97.

Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, welcome to Democracy Now! You come at a very difficult time, if there is any time that isn’t difficult in the Occupied Territories. Bassam, what message do you have for President Obama as he is about to leave for Israel?

BASSAM ARAMIN: Yes, we have actually a hope that Mr. Obama will make a difference this time, not to wait for another four years. I ask him to stop the unconditional support for one side against the other, because it doesn’t help us. We will continue fight each other because of this policy, so please be objective, and be pro-Palestine-and-Israel, and be pro-peace.

AARON MATÉ: Bassam, we said at the top that there’s talk of this starting a third intifada. Do you think that’s accurate?

BASSAM ARAMIN: You know, actually, since like many months, the situation in Palestine is very bad. The behavior of the Israeli occupation became more aggressive. The killing of Arafat Jaradat, who is from my village, it’s too much. It’s too much, actually. The Palestinian people have no hope. They cannot continue living under this brutal occupation, by this way, without any hope. And we always actually call for the third intifada, which must be a different one. We call for a Palestinian-Israeli intifada against our common enemy: the Israeli occupation. We must join forces, Israelis and Palestinians, to end this occupation by nonviolent intifada, which must be started.

AMY GOODMAN: Rami Elhanan, you lost your daughter, as did Bassam. Do you share Bassam’s view on this? What would an Israeli-Palestinian intifada look like?

RAMI ELHANAN: Well, certainly I do, with all my heart. I think we both paid the highest price as an outcome of this outrageous occupation, the last occupation that exists on earth. And I think we need to do everything in our power to prevent more losses from more innocent people. And the only way to do it is by joint forces, Israeli and Palestinians, peace seekers, who will fight this horrible occupation with nonviolent resistance.

AARON MATÉ: Rami, if you could tell us your story, what you’ve done in Israel since your daughter was killed?

RAMI ELHANAN: Well, for the last 15 years, I devoted my life to go everywhere possible, to talk to anyone possible, to convey the message that we are not doomed. This is not our destiny to keep on killing each other forever, and we can change this endless cycle of violence and revenge and retaliation. The only way to do it is simply by talking to each other.

AMY GOODMAN: How did your daughter die? You, yourself, are a former Israeli soldier. Talk about what happened. It was 1997?

RAMI ELHANAN: It was the 4th of September, 1997, Thursday afternoon. Two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up in Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, killing five people, including three little girls. One of them was my 14-years-old Smadar. It was the first day of school. And it changed my life and blew up the bubble that I was living in.

AARON MATÉ: And talk about what you’ve done. You’ve gone and you’ve spoken to many people. And actually, in this film there’s clips of people confronting you with hostility about your activism.

RAMI ELHANAN: Well, that’s part of the game. I mean, this is the price you have to pay if you are willing to talk to your society, which turns you a cold soldier and try to ignore their reality. And your role in this equation is to put cracks in the wall of hatred and fear that divide our two nations, and sometimes it can be very difficult. I’m doing it for the last 14 years, and it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Bassam Aramin, tell us about your daughter. When was she killed, and how did she die?

BASSAM ARAMIN: She was killed in the 16th of January, 2007, in front of her school 9:30 in the morning by an Israeli border police in Israel who shot and killed her in her head from the back from a distance of 15 to 20 meters, without anything. Just it was one bullet, and Abir fell down and died. She was only 10 years old. She wasn’t Fatah member or Hamas member. There were no demonstrations or violence or intifada. And she passed away after two days in Hadassah Hospital.

Again, this was like easy to go to the easy way, but we decide not to revenge, because we need to break this circle of violence and blood. And I have another five kids, and I have Israeli friends who have kids. We need to protect them. And I always said that they are all our kids, and they are all our children. I didn’t find the answer to kill an Israeli daughter or even to kill the Israeli killer, because he’s a teenager, and I consider him a victim to the past or to the memory or to the education or to the situation. We are normal people living in unnormal situations, so unfortunately sometimes our behavior became very brutal.

AARON MATÉ: Bassam, you won a judgment from an Israeli court over the killing of your daughter, which is quite rare. Can you talk about the case? And are you satisfied with how it was resolved?

BASSAM ARAMIN: Yeah, actually, after four years after they denied that the Israeli soldiers was there at all in the town, then after four-and-a-half years I need to prove that my daughter had been killed with a rubber bullet. And it was the first time that I win the case, the civil case. But my goal was to bring this hero, victim or whatever, this soldier, to the trial, and the Supreme Court decided that after four-and-a-half years, which is a long time, there’s no evidence, so they closed the file for the fourth time. Unfortunately, they have not—I have nothing to do in Israel, but I always said I have the world, and I believe in justice. And all the justice lovers around the world must support me, including many, many hundreds of my Israeli brothers and Jewish brothers around the world. And all the human beings around the world must support me because I ask to bring this man to justice, because he killing a daughter, a 10-years-old daughter, not because he’s an Israeli and I’m a Palestinian, because my child wasn’t a fighter, and she had nothing to do with this conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there, and I want to thank you both for being with us, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan—Bassam, a former Fatah fighter; Rami, a former Israeli soldier. Both lost their daughters. This is Democracy Now! We will link to your website. Within the Eye of the Storm is their new film.

 

–Democracy Now!, 26 February, 2013

 

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/26/united_by_loss_israeli_palestinian_dads
 

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