Monday, October 30, 2006

If it were your city...

Palestinians in Nablus lament their "dying" city

Yahoo News - By Dean Yates - October 25, 2006

Dying. Dead. A corpse. Isolated from the world.

That is how Palestinians describe the once thriving city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

Surrounded by sand-colored rocky mountains, Nablus is also encircled by Israeli army checkpoints and military bases. For Palestinians, leaving means queuing for hours, unless you are a male aged 16 to 35. Then, exit is prohibited without a permit.

Palestinians brand the Israeli restrictions collective punishment. Israel calls the militant stronghold a "hotbed of terror activity."

A center for trading olives, soap and other goods for thousands of years, Nablus should be the business hub of the West Bank. Instead, many entrepreneurs have left. Other residents say they want to leave. Depression is common.

At night, gunfire echoes from the ancient Old City: Israeli troops on a raid or rival militant factions settling scores.

"This is a story that should be written with tears," said Hasan Abu Libdeh, head of the Palestinian stock market, which was set up here a decade ago amid optimism about peace.

"Nablus, a magnificent city, is a corpse. It just breaks my heart."

Israel clamped tight restrictions on Nablus, north of Jerusalem, during a Palestinian uprising that erupted six years ago after peace talks collapsed.

The army said there were six checkpoints around Nablus and its 200,000 people, noting that curbs were also in place on young men leaving.

"In many cases, the presence of checkpoints in the area of Nablus has prevented terrorists from entering Israel and killing civilians," the army said in response to questions from Reuters.

The army referred to three recent instances where soldiers at checkpoints had arrested militants carrying explosives.

Inside Nablus, militants are not hard to find.

Standing in a shop in a narrow alleyway of the Old City, a young member of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an M-16 assault rifle slung over his shoulder, watches people passing by. He is reluctant to answer questions.

Outside, posters of gunmen killed in clashes with Israeli troops line the stone walls.

One shows Fadi Qafeesheh, 33, shot dead by Israeli soldiers on August 31. In the picture, Qafeesheh strikes various poses, holding a pump-action shotgun, an assault rifle and a pistol. Some residents said he made vests for suicide bombers.


Nablus has a long biblical history and is important to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Herbalist Abdulrahman Arafat, 49, says his family's store in the Old City dates back to 1773.

He points to a sketch on the wall of his great grandfather wearing a felt hat called a fez, which was popular under the Ottomans, among the many rulers of Nablus.

Employing a mix of science and tradition, Arafat patiently dispenses herbs, seeds, oils, chamomile lotion and ginger to customers seeking help for their ailments.

His ready smile disappears when he speaks about his city.

"Nablus is a dying city. It is a city in a jail," he said.

Conditions have worsened since Hamas Islamists, sworn to destroying Israel, took over the Palestinian government last March, prompting a U.S.-led aid embargo and a power struggle with moderate President Mahmoud Abbas.

Although there are no statistics available, residents and officials say many businessmen have left to live in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Others to go have included intellectuals and skilled workers. The poor, and young men, remain.

Unemployment is high, investment stagnant.

"Who would dare invest in Nablus? You need two hours just to get out," said Shaher Saed, secretary general of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, speaking on the sidelines of a recent meeting in the city.

Maher Abu Zant, a psychologist and head of the sociology and social work department at the city's An-Najah University, said he was concerned by the number of students suffering depression.

Students often came to him wanting to drop out because they were unhappy and saw no point continuing their studies, he said.

"People in Nablus feel they are isolated from the world," Abu Zant said. "Nablus should be the economic capital of Palestine. But it's a dead city. It's very sad."

The Israeli army says it tries to ease passage through checkpoints for Palestinians, especially during busy periods.

"The (army) makes great efforts to ease the daily lives of the Palestinian population but will take the necessary measures to maintain the safety and security of the citizens of Israel," the army statement said.


From a distance, Nablus looks alluring.

Cream-coloured apartment buildings, eight to 10 storeys high, carpet the sides of the two steep mountains that create a valley where the Old City lies.

At night, the peaks provide a vantage point to soak up the atmosphere. Shimmering green lights in minarets show where each of the city's 41 mosques are located.

Up close, Nablus looks less appealing. Vacant lots are strewn with garbage. Many traffic lights don't work. Drivers usually ignore those that do.

"There is no life here. No money, everybody is depressed. I would like to leave," said Nashaat Humidan, 21, an economics student at An-Najah University.

Community leaders said the Israeli restrictions were having a counterproductive effect, playing into the hands of militant groups and fostering hardened attitudes toward the Jewish state.

"I meet Israelis all the time. I say you have to take the risk. By suffocating this city you are creating more fundamentalists, more terrorists," said

"We know!"

TO: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
FAX 011-972-2-670 5475

Dear Prime Minister Olmert,

We strongly endorse the petition below. Many persons in our community, both Jews and Gentiles, are appalled at the cruel actions of Israel in the Gaza Strip. We implore you to grant respite to the suffering populace at once.

We know: In recent months the IDF has killed in the Gaza strip alone 245 human beings, 62 of whom were children, and another 25 were women;

We know: Palestinian physicians complain of "Flachette" arrow wounds and other effects of banned ammunition;

We know: That the Gaza Strip is under strict siege;

We know: The sick and wounded are dying in hospitals due to lack of medicines and expert physicians, caused by the closing of the passages to Israel, Egypt and Jordan;

We know: The entire population, children, women, men, elderly and infants, suffer from malnutrition;

We know: Day by day, bombs and bulldozers destroy houses whose dwellers are rendered roofless;

We know: The Gaza Strip is in throes of a humanitarian crisis;

We know: War Crimes are perpetrated at this moment in the Gaza Strip;

We know: The IDF actions in the Gaza-strip risk the life of Gilad Shalit;

We Know!

We protest and demand
From the Israeli government and the IDF:

Stop the carnage! Stop the destruction!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reporting Disparities

October 6, 2006

Gunning Down Itemad Ismail Abu Mo'ammar


Almost no one bothered to report it. A search of the nation's largest newspapers turned up nothing in USA Today, the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, Tampa Tribune, etc.

There was nothing on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, Fox News. Nothing.

The LA Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Associated Press each had one sentence, at most, telling about her. All three left out the details, the LA Times had her age significantly off, and the Washington Post reported that she had been killed by an Israeli tank shell.

It hadn't been a tank shell that had killer her, according to witnesses. It had been bullets, multiple ones, fired up close.

Neighbors report that Israeli soldiers had been beating her husband because he wasn't answering their questions. Foolishly or valiantly, how is one to say, the 35-year-old woman had interfered. She tried to explain that her husband was deaf, screamed at the soldiers that her husband couldn't hear them and attempted to stop them from hitting him. So they shot her. Several times.

Her name was Itemad Ismail Abu Mo'ammar.

She didn't die, though. That took longer. It required her life to flow out of her in the form of blood for several hours, as Israeli soldiers refused to allow an ambulance to transport her to help. Her husband and children could do nothing to save her.

Finally, after approximately five hours, an ambulance was allowed to take her to a hospital, where physicians were able to render one service: pronounce her dead, a few days before the commencement of Ramadan, a season of family gatherings much like the Christmas season for Americans. She left 11 children. None of this was in the Washington Post story, which had reported her death in one half of one sentence.

Her husband's brother, who lived in the same house, was also killed. He was a 28-year-old farmer.

Why did this all happen? The family lived behind a resistance fighter wanted by Israel. They were simply "collateral damage" in a failed Israeli assassination/kidnapping operation.

All together, five Palestinians were killed that day. The other three were young shepherds killed in another area, two 15 years old and one 14, who seem to have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gaza.

None of this was reported in most of America's news media, and so the American public never learned about a mother bleeding to death in front of her children, or young shepherds being blown to pieces. Apparently, it just wasn't newsworthy.

A Case Study of "Good" News Coverage

The Washington Post at least mentioned these deaths, so perhaps those who care about journalistic standards should laud the Post for its coverage.

And yet, the Post in its short report got so much so wrong.

In addition to misreporting Itemad's cause of death and omitting critical facts, the Post's story portrayed the entire context incorrectly, telling readers that these five deaths had broken a period of "relative calm."

The fact is that while it was true that in the previous six months not a single Israeli child had been killed by Palestinians, during this period Israelis had killed 75 Palestinian young people, including an 8-month-old and several three-year-olds.

I phoned the Post and spoke to a foreign editor about the need to run a correction, providing information on Itemad's murder. The editor said that she would pass this on to their correspondent (who is based in Israel), but explained that it was "impossible for him to go to Gaza." When I disagreed, she amended the "impossible" to "very difficult." She neglected to mention that the Post has access to stringers in Gaza available to check out any incident the editors deem important.

Next, I wrote a letter to the paper containing the above information. Happily, the Post letters department apparently checked it out and decided it was a good letter. They sent an email informing me that they were considering my letter for publication and needed to confirm that I was the one who had written it, and that I had not sent the information elsewhere.

I replied in the affirmative, we exchanged a few more messages, and everything appeared on target. Normally, when publications contact you in this way, your letter is published shortly thereafter. I waited in anticipation. And waited.

It is now almost two weeks after their report, and I have just been informed that the paper has decided not to print my letter. The Post has apparently determined that there is no need to run a correction.

I think I understand.

Although the Washington Post's statement of principles proclaims, "This newspaper is pledged to minimize the number of errors we make and to correct those that occur... Accuracy is our goal; candor is our defense," the American Society of Newspaper Editors clarifies these ethical requirements: corrections need only be printed when the error of commission or omission is "significant."

And, after all, these were only Palestinians, and it was just another mother dead.

Alison Weir is Executive Editor of If Americans Knew, which has produced in-depth studies and illustrative videos on American news coverage of Israel-Palestine

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Roots of Violence in Gaza

From Kathy Bergen
Program Coordinator
Friends International Center in Ramallah tel & fax: (02) 297-1314

Lately we have been hearing a lot about intra-communal and inter-factional violence in Palestinian society, especially in Gaza. I hear comments such as "now they are fighting among themselves" or "Palestinians are killing each other". Yes, the violence is horrific, and as far as statements go, these declarations are correct. However, let us look at the roots of the violence before we judge. Below is an article from Ha'aretz by the never-tiring Israeli journalist, Amira
Hass. She tries to put into perspective some of what is happening, especially in the Gaza Strip.

We must continue to remind ourselves that understanding where violence is coming from does not mean that we condone it. We must understand the roots of violence before we can work to change a situation.


Not an internal Palestinian matter
by Amira Hass
October 4, 2006

The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other. They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called "what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens."

These are the steps in the experiment: Imprison (since 1991); remove the
prisoners' usual means of livelihood; seal off all outlets to the outside world, nearly hermetically; destroy existing means of livelihood by preventing the entry of raw materials and the marketing of goods and produce; prevent the regular entry of medicines and hospital supplies; do not bring in fresh food for weeks on end; prevent, for years, the entry of relatives, professionals, friends and others, and allow thousands of people - the sick, heads of families, professionals, children - to be stuck for weeks at the locked gates of the Gaza Strip's only entry/exit.

Steal hundreds of millions of dollars (customs and tax revenues collected by Israel that belong to the Palestinian treasury), so as to force the nonpayment of the already low salaries of most government employees for months; present the firing of homemade Qassam rockets as a strategic threat that can only be stopped by harming women, children and the old; fire on crowded residential neighborhoods from the air and the ground; destroy orchards, groves and fields.

Dispatch planes to frighten the population with sonic booms; destroy the new power plant and force the residents of the closed-off Strip to live without electricity for most of the day for a period of four months, which will most likely turn into a full year - in other words, a year without refrigeration, electric fans, television, lights to study and read by; force them to get by without a regular supply of water, which is dependent on the electricity supply.

It is the good old Israeli experiment called "put them into a pressure cooker and see what happens," and this is one of the reasons why this is not an internal Palestinian matter.

The success of the experiment can be seen in the miasma of desperation that hangs over the Gaza Strip, and in the clan feuding that erupts almost daily there, even more than in the battles between Fatah and Hamas militants. One can only wonder that the feuding is not more frequent, and that some bonds of internal solidarity have been maintained, which saves people from hunger.

In contrast to the feuding between clans, Sunday's battles in Gaza and campaigns of destruction and intimidation, mainly in West Bank cities, were not the result of a momentary loss of control. They are generally viewed as battles between two militias, each of which represents one half of the population, but they were initiated by groups within Fatah to put a few more nails into the coffin of the elected leadership.

The security forces of the Palestinian Authority - in other words, of Fatah, or in still other words, the ones that Mahmoud Abbas is in charge of - are hiding behind the genuine distress and protests of public employees who have not been receiving regular salaries. And they are doing so despite the fact that everyone knows that the failure to pay salaries is not a managerial failure, but is above all due to Israeli policy. These forces were dispatched in order to sow organized anarchy,
as taught in the school of Yasser Arafat.

And why is this, too, an Israeli matter? Because those who dispatched these militants have a shared interest with Israel in regressing to a situation in which the Palestinian leadership collaborates with the appearance of holding peace talks, while Israel continues its occupation and the international community sends hush money in the form of salaries for the Palestinian public sector.

And there is another reason why this is also an internal Israeli issue: Whatever the outcome, the Palestinian feuding and the risk of civil war directly affect about 20 percent of Israeli citizens, the Arabs. They affect the Arabs, and also those segments of the Israeli public that have not forgotten that Israel will remain the occupying and ruling force over the Palestinians as long as the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in all of the territories occupied in 1967 is not realized.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Economic Sanctions for an Occupied People: A First

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights--Report on violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, submitted by John Dugard, Special Rapporteur, pursuant to Human Rights Council decisiĆ³n-- 05/09/2006

70. "In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time an occupied people have been so treated. This is difficult to understand. Israel is in violation of major Security Council and General Assembly resolutions dealing with unlawful territorial change and the violation of human rights and has failed to implement the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, yet it escapes the imposition of sanctions. Instead the Palestinian people, rather than the Palestinian Authority, have been subjected to possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times. It is interesting to recall that the Western States refused to impose meaningful economic sanctions on South Africa to compel it to abandon apartheid on the grounds that this would harm the black people of South Africa. No such sympathy is extended to the Palestinian people or their human rights."

Two links to the report: