Saturday, December 6, 2014

Walkley Awards: Ruth Pollard - “If this had happened in Europe, the world would not be silent”


Dear friends,

as already mentioned in my previous post, the winners of  this year's annual Walkley Awards for excellence in journalism were announced on Thursday 4 December. The Walkley Awards, which began in 1956, seek to "recognise creative and courageous acts of journalism that seek out the truth and give new insight to an issue".

This year, a number of journalists won awards for their coverage of stories relating to Palestine.  I will be posting up over the course of the week, the articles, news stories and documentaries from these award winning journalists.

   
The awards cover all media, including print (including both newspaper stories and books), television (including news stories and documentaries), radio, photographic, and online media. In 2014, 36 awards were presented for 36 categories, covering various forms of journalism and story telling, from interviews, to scoops, to international reporting, sports journalism, business journalism and investigative journalism and much much more (to view all categories, click here).

Today I am posting up Ruth Pollard's award winning article for her story on the Shifa Hospital Morgue in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

Pollard won the Walkley Award for the best Short Feature (under 4000 words)


According to the Walkley Awards website:
Ruth Pollard spent a day at the morgue in Shifa Hospital in Gaza, capturing both times of noisy high drama and moments of quiet, desperate grief as frightened families, often covered in blood and dust, located and identified their loved ones. She tells the stories of individuals affected by a conflict that is often reported in terms of the daily toll of dead and injured, and shocking footage of whole town blocks razed to the ground.

Through the stories of these people’s deaths, Pollard explores the horrifying choices families must make in the midst of air strikes and shelling – to stay in their house or risk a journey through the bombardment and, agonisingly, to stick together or split up.

The director of the morgue, Hamdi Khalout, allowed Pollard to shadow him for a day, and became a central part of the story, talking about his fears that one day he will walk into the examination room, open a body bag and find one of his own children.
Judges’ comments: “Ruth Pollard’s feature on the grim day she spent with the director of Shifa morgue is unforgettable. Through her careful observation and vivid description we experience the human side of the Gaza conflict. It is a compelling read, and reflective of the courage Pollard demonstrated in securing access to this war zone morgue and the sensitivity she displayed during her time there. From powerful details to the big picture, this is outstanding, sensitive journalism, beautifully written.”

Please find Pollard's award winning story below, which tells the story of the families who lost their loved ones on Day 25 of Israel's murderous assault on Gaza.

In solidarity, Kim


**
“If this had happened in Europe, the world would not be silent”

Grief grips Gaza

The family procession from hospital to morgue is achingly frequent as Operation Protective Edge moves into its fourth week.

Medics wheel a wounded man into the emergency room at Gaza's Shifa Hospital. Medics wheel a wounded man into the emergency room at Gaza's Shifa Hospital. Photo: AP

His lifeless body lies on the cold metal tray, bloodied stumps covered in hastily wrapped bandages mark where his legs once were.

Doctors at Shifa Hospital had worked hard to save Ibrahim Suliman, but in the end the injuries he sustained in the Israeli attack on the United Nations girls school in Jabalia on Wednesday proved too great.

Four days before his death, Suliman had made the agonising decision to separate his extended family of 30, dividing them between the four local schools sheltering Palestinians in a desperate bid to keep them alive.
Shifa morgue director Hamdi Kahlout.   Shifa morgue director Hamdi Kahlout. Photo: Ruth Pollard

The shell attack on the UN school in Beit Hanoun in which 15 people died and 200 were injured early on July 24 had terrified Suliman, his cousin Yassin Suliman said as he waited to collect his body for burial.

“Let’s not die together,” he told his wife and children when the shelling from the Israeli tanks around their home in Beit Lahiya became too much to bear and they were forced to flee. As his family looked on with mounting grief at his body on the table, it was clear he had made the right call.
The 42-year-old strawberry farmer died alongside two of his cousins, but the rest of his family survived.


Exhausted Palestinian medics take a break at the hospital. Exhausted Palestinian medics take a break at the hospital. Photo: AP
 
Thirteen others also died in the school attack and a further 100 were injured.Standing in the small foyer of the morgue at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Yassin speaks with a quiet, eloquent fury about the death of his cousin Ibrahim.

“If this had happened in Europe, the world would not be silent,” he says, as the young men of the family carefully lift Ibrahim’s body onto a stretcher and carry him out of the morgue to be transported to his mosque for prayers.

“We buried his legs this morning and we will bury his body this afternoon,” Yassin says.
Such is the ebb and flow of life at Shifa Morgue – now one of the busiest places in Gaza – that no sooner is one body taken than many more will arrive in its place.

When a hospital becomes home
To get to the morgue at Shifa, you must first walk past the chaos of the hospital’s front entrance, where, after a large-scale attack, the arrival of a cavalcade of speeding ambulances and beaten-up private cars carrying gruesomely injured people brings with it a now familiar horror.

Fathers arrive clutching limp, bloodied children in their arms and rush them through the crowd of onlookers as security men clear a pathway to the emergency department.

There seems little hope they could survive such terrible injuries and I fear I will see those children in the morgue later that day.

Further crowding Gaza’s main hospital are the dozens of families who have set up temporary homes along the small walkways between the hospital buildings.

Told to leave their homes via phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped by the Israel Defence Forces, they make up the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s latest military assault against Gaza.

A young girl sits alone on a mattress on the ground, trying to read a book in the dim light, while parents hang makeshift curtains to shield their families from the constant through traffic of hospital staff, grieving families and those who spend their days at Shifa because they say it is the only safe place to go.

Many had fled the horrific violence of the IDF assault on the town of Shujaiya in which it appears whole city blocks have been flattened.

Despite their challenging living conditions on the grounds of Shifa, they know they are the lucky ones.

“They pulled 150 bodies out of the rubble of our homes,” one man says, “many of them ended up in there", he laments, gesturing to the morgue.

Men line the walls outside the morgue, smoking and talking, as a steady flow of ambulances bring in the bodies, broken only by the quieter arrival of trolleys pushed by staff from the surgical and emergency wards – some, like Ibrahim Suliman, are just beyond saving.

The morgue’s main room has two tables. In the momentary midday lull after the furious morning hours where 15 dead passed through, most from the UN school attack, just one green body bag lies on each.

In one is the body of eight-year-old Mohamed Assaf, who staff say was killed in a mortar attack on the Jabalia market earlier that morning.

His father sits weeping in the tiny room next door until the morgue nurse, Mohamed al-Barbary, is free to hand over his body.

The bag is unzipped to reveal Mohamed’s sweet face, his short-sleeved shirt and blue checked shorts stained with blood and the deep head wound and multiple shrapnel injuries that killed him.

As weeping relatives lean in to kiss him, another body arrives. Mohamed Assaf's father scoops up the body bag into his arms, holding it tight against his chest and walks wordlessly down the small staircase to the car waiting outside.

His wife stands at the passenger door sobbing, her hands clutching her face, as he carefully lays their son’s body on the back seat and closes the door.

'I cannot forget them'
Hamdi Kahlout is the director of Shifa Morgue, a jovial, open man whose demeanour stands in stark contrast to the death and destruction that surrounds him.

The forensic pathologist has run the facility for 13 years and says health services across Gaza are operating at “zero capacity” at the moment.

“We have more than 7000 injured, half of them are disabled now, our hospitals have been shelled, ambulances attacked, doctors are running on empty – everyone is exhausted and drained.”

Trained in Croatia, 50-year-old Kahlout has worked in conflict zones in Bosnia and Iraq and lived through two Gaza wars – in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 and in Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 – but these last three weeks have worn him down.

“It is the first time I have felt that we cannot bear much more of this,” he says. “I am still trying to get the images of the children who died in the strike on Shati Camp out of my mind – one of them was just one month old. I cannot forget them.”

There is no time for a full autopsy in a morgue that can see up to 90 bodies a day, all processed by a small team of exhausted workers.

An external examination is performed, X-rays, tissue, blood and toxicology samples are taken, and the injuries are meticulously photographed by morgue staff to both help determine cause of death and the types of weapons Israeli soldiers are using.

As we talk in Kahlout’s office, there are sounds of a crowd growing in the next room as the family of 25-year-old Mohamed al-Masry come to collect his body.

The dead man’s face is wet with the tears of his loved ones as they cry and bend to kiss him one last time.

A final year geography student at al-Azhar University, Mohamed had hoped to become a teacher when he graduated, his cousin, also Mohamed, said.

He was injured in the Israeli military onslaught on the small neighbourhood of Beit Hanoun on January 25, and died from his wounds on Wednesday.

As the family leaves with Mohamed, three more bodies arrive – one so badly burned and mutilated by the force of an explosion that it defies description. It is still there when I leave four hours later, the only body the morgue has been unable to identify that day.

Recognising the dead
There are seven large silver cold storage units in which the bodies are kept at Shifa Morgue.

Some days – like Wednesday when a UN school housing 3300 displaced people is hit by Israeli-fired artillery – the bodies, particularly if they are children, are piled two or three to a tray.

The families come in waves to find them, sometimes pushing their way through the morgue’s front door and rushing to the fridges, opening one door after another until they find something about a body that is recognisable – a necklace, a T-shirt, the curls of their hair.

They stand and stare for a while, the younger ones stretching onto their tiptoes to peer into the drawer and see the person they cannot believe is gone.

Then another family arrives and the process begins again.Amongst it all, the staff, some paid and some, like nurse Mohamed al-Barbary who has volunteered during every Gaza war, are there providing emotional support for the families, carefully cataloguing the bodies and finding a rare moment for their own quiet grief.

For Kahlout, there is no question of taking the heaviness of his work home to his wife and five precious children.

“I will never tell them what I see every day,” he says. “In 20 years on the job I’ve never spoken about it. Every morning I go to work and I never know if I will see them alive again,” he says.

“They feel the same way about me – every night when I get home it is like a party when they see me … and if they are asleep I wake them up to play with them."

It is not easy working with dead bodies every day, he says, “but when I change my clothes and have a shower at the end of each day, I also change my feelings".

Outside another crowd is building and they are not just grieving, they are angry.

Banging on the metal door, members of the Bakr family – who have already known such grief – were there to collect another of their dead. They had already buried Mohammed Bakr, 9; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11, all killed on July 16 when Israeli gunboats fired on the beach as the four boys tried to run for safety.

This time they are here for Ahmed Bakr, 20, who was badly injured nine days ago and was one of the few patients evacuated to the French Hospital in East Jerusalem for treatment. He died on Tuesday and his body was bought back to Gaza on Wednesday.

“They are not coping,” Kahlout says. “They have lost so much and they are so upset, it is difficult to know what to do.”

The limits of capacity
Many other cases came into the morgue that day.

There were at least five bodies waiting to be collected in the late afternoon before the Israeli attack on the outskirts of Shujaiya in which 17 people died and 160 were wounded.

Throwing already overstretched hospitals further into crisis, badly wounded people, many missing limbs, began arriving at hospitals across the Gaza Strip.

At Shifa, surgeons were operating two-to-a-room on patients, while others were performing surgery on patients lying on the floor in corridors.

Storage rooms – mostly empty of much needed medicines and equipment – have been commandeered as operating theatres, to cope with the demand.

Families say many of the injured are dying because there is simply not enough medical staff, or the capacity in hospitals, to treat people in time.

Already the toll in this 25-day war has surpassed Cast Lead, in which 1400 people were killed in Gaza, according to human rights groups.

In Pillar of Defence, 133 Palestinians were killed.More than 1430 Palestinians have been killed and 8400 wounded since Israel began this operations on July 8.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of those are civilians, including at least 343 children and 186 women, the Gaza-based al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights says.

Despite the high civilian toll and the international condemnation over its attack on the UN school, Israel shows no signs of easing its operations, in which 56 of its own soldiers have died.

Three civilians have also been killed, with more than 2800 rockets fired into Israel the last three weeks, most either falling in empty fields or being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

After Thursday’s cabinet meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IDF was continuing to act with full force across the Gaza Strip.

“As of now, we have neutralised dozens of terrorist tunnels and we are determined to complete this mission, with or without a ceasefire.”

For the people of Gaza, trapped between the rockets of Hamas and the overwhelming show of force from the Israeli military, it is difficult to see an end in sight, let alone a hint of when any recovery could begin.

And in the meantime, the trauma that hangs over Gaza like a thick cloud is only worsening.

For Hamdi Kahlout, the speed with which his children have adapted to a life lived under war is alarming.

His youngest child, Mohamed, is just 2½ years old, and along with “mama” and “papa” he uses the very grown-up word “qasef”, which means air strike.

“No child should ever know that word,” Kahlout says, as he scrolls though the elaborately decorated photographs of his children that he keeps on his phone. “They are beautiful kids, yes, and I am happy they are still alive."

Australian journalists win prestigious Walkley Awards for their coverage of Gaza and Palestine.



Dear friends,
the winners of the annual Walkley Awards for excellence in journalism - the Australian equivalent of the Pultizer Prize - was announced on 4 December.  The Walkley Awards, which began in 1956, seek to "recognise creative and courageous acts of journalism that seek out the truth and give new insight to an issue".

The awards cover all media, including print (including both newspaper stories and books), television (including news stories and documentaries), radio, photographic, and online media. In 2014, 36 awards were presented for 36 categories, covering various forms of journalism and story telling, from interviews, to scoops, to international reporting, sports journalism, business journalism and investigative journalism and much much more (to view all categories, click here).

This year, a number of journalists won awards for their coverage of stories relating to Palestine:

Ruth Pollard won the Walkley Award for the best Short Feature (under 4000 words) for her story on the Shifa Hospital Morgue in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

John Lyons, Janine Cohen, Sylvie Le Clezio and Mary Fallon (from Four Corners/ABC and The Australian) won the Walkley Award for Investigative journalism with their feature documentary, Stone Cold Justice, on Israel's treatment of Palestinian children/child prisoners in the Occupied West Bank.

Matt Brown, Hayden Cooper, Aaron Hollet, Stuart Watt, Michael Carey and the ABC News team won the Walkley Award for "Coverage of A Major News Event or Issue" for their coverage of the "Gaza Conflict" (that is: Israel's 50 day assault on Gaza).

Over the next week, I will be posting up the stories, articles and documentaries on Palestine by these award winning journalists. Some I have posted before, such as John Lyon's Stone Cold Justice but I will post up once again as part of this series of posts. 

in solidarity, Kim

Monday, November 17, 2014

Israel tries to strangle East Jerusalem protests

Dear friends,
please find below my latest article published by Red Flag on the ongoing protests in Occupied East Jerusalem, Israel's extrajudicial execution of two Palestinian men and the recent violence by the  Zionist state, which has left two Palestinian children seriously injured.

In solidarity, Kim


***

Young Palestinians use doors as a shield during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Shuafat refugee camp east Jerusalem PHOTO: AFP

Tension continues to rise in occupied East Jerusalem after Israeli occupation forces severely injured two Palestinian children.

On 14 November, 10-year-old Mayar al-Natsheh’s skull was fractured when troops fired on the car she was in at a checkpoint near Shufat refugee camp.

A day earlier, Israeli police shot 11-year-old Saleh Mahmoud in the face, at close range, with a “sponge” bullet – high density plastic with a sponge tip fired from a grenade launcher. He was blinded in his left eye, and the vision in his right eye has been severely impaired.

At the time of the shooting, residents of al-Issawiya were protesting the closure of three of the four entrances to their village for more than 11 days.

East Jerusalem has been a tinderbox since the brutal torture and murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers on 2 July. Abu Khdeir was forced to drink gasoline before being burnt alive.

Israel’s brutal 50-day bombardment of Gaza only added to the outrage.

The Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem have been staging continuous protests against Israel’s atrocities and the ongoing occupation. Viewed as a fifth column and a “demographic time bomb” – a threat to Jewish dominance in Israel – Palestinians face systemic discrimination on all levels, in both the occupied territories and the Israeli state.

Discontent has been further inflamed as a result of Israel restricting access to the Al-Aqsa mosque and attempts by Israeli settlers to gain control of the Temple Mount, where the mosque is located. The settlers, who have the support of both government officials and Israeli police, have been agitating for the destruction of the mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

The rising tensions resulted in an attempt to assassinate dual US-Israel citizen Yehuda Glick, the illegal settler at the forefront of the campaign to destroy the mosque. Israeli police later assassinated a Palestinian man, Moataz Hejazi, who they claimed was responsible for the shooting of Glick.

A week after the extrajudicial execution of Hejazi, Israeli police executed 22-year-old Kheir al-Dein Hamdan in Kafra Kana. The following day, 8 November, a general strike was widely observed throughout Palestinian communities inside Israel, and Palestinian youth took to the streets.

In statement issued on 9 November, Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights, noted that the killing was captured on a nearby CCTV camera and clearly showed an execution. Hamdan “did not pose any immediate threat to the lives of the police officers when they shot him down”, Adalah said, adding that “the police narrative was false and fabricated”.

The centre also noted a direct connection between the execution of Hamdan and the statements made the previous week by public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, who had said that anyone attacking Israeli Jewish citizens should be killed.

In response to the escalating protests in East Jerusalem, prime minister Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a law change that would increase the maximum penalty for stone throwing to 20 years in prison. According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu told his cabinet: “Israel is acting firmly against terrorists, rock-throwers, against firebomb throwers and against those who use fireworks.”

Israel’s most read Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, on 5 November outlined Netanyahu’s hardline approach to the East Jerusalem protests. The paper quoted Israel Security Agency head Yoram Cohen as saying that Netanyahu is “strongly convinced by the effectiveness of [collective] punishments: the imposition of prison sentences and fines for parents whose children throw stones, the demolition of houses, deportation to the Gaza Strip, the collection of taxes by force”.

All of these measures are breaches of international law.
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Friday, November 14, 2014

West Bank Palestinians breach apartheid wall to march to Jersualem

Dear friends,
an inspiring action on Friday by Palestinian activists, highlighting Israel's ongoing colonial and apartheid regime, in particular the lack of freedom movement imposed on Palestinians.

Please find below a media release issues by the activists about the action and also some photos.


in solidarity, Kim


**  

14 November 2014                   Press Release

Palestinians ‘ On2Jerusalem’

In light of the unprecedented Israeli occupation’s daily attacks and colonial aggression against the Palestinian people, and due to the tightening of the closure around Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, and its people. In addition to the actions of aggression and violations committed by the illegal colonial settlers who are trying to control Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem through targeting, displacing, killing and arresting Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. We, Palestinians, decided to rise in our masses to confront the occupation at the points of closure around the city of Jerusalem, against the siege of the holy city and its people. 

Palestinians in the West bank are banned from reaching Jerusalem by the Israeli occupation’s checkpoints and apartheid wall. Our will, determination and in response to the pleas of our people in Jerusalem we decided to resist. Jerusalem is our motivation, its what moves us and motivates our struggle for our just cause. We have committed ourselves to struggle against the occupation and will not remain silent after this day.

‘On to Jerusalem’ is an action that was initiated to resist the occupation and its measures, against its checkpoints, which violate our right to freedom of movement between our cities within the West Bank and to Gaza. The colonial occupation imposes measures that prohibit us from reaching our holy sites. For tens of years, Palestinians Christians and Muslims have been prohibited from reaching and visiting their churches and mosques in Jerusalem.

Today, we Palestinians, in our hundreds, we participate in this action, marching towards Jerusalem from Qalandia refugee camp. This camp where Palestinians who were forced out of their villages and cities by the colonial occupation in 1948 reside. We march towards Jerusalem in spite of the military checkpoints and the illegal apartheid wall. We will reach Jerusalem chanting for Jerusalem and holding the Palestinians flags high. We will chant long live Palestine, down with the occupation and we will pray in Jerusalem.

Tens of Palestinian popular resistance activists have succeeded in breaking through the Israeli apartheid wall around Qalandia airport on the outskirts of Jerusalem. They used metal ladders and bridges that they have prepared especially for the purpose of breaking through the wall. 


Demonstrations heading towards Jerusalem have started this morning from all around the West Bank. Tens of Palestinians marched through the village of Hizmah to enter Jerusalem. They were stopped by illegal colonial settlers and the Israeli occupation army, they attacked the Palestinian activists violently with gas bombs and live bullets. They also attacked journalists. 

In Bethlehem, tens of Palestinian activists succeeded in reaching the southern checkpoint, blocking them from entering Jerusalem. They were attacked violently by the large numbers of soldiers from the Israeli occupation army using gas bombs.

The groups of ‘On to Jerusalem’ are heading towards Jerusalem and we will reach our city in spite of the occupation. This is only one step, a start of a series of actions against the occupation. We have a vision, a free Palestine. Our struggle against the occupation is open and will continue until the occupation ends. Today our struggle is dedicated to Jerusalem and its people.

Popular resistance against the occupation for liberation













UPDATE: Live from Occupied Palestine blogging

Dear friends,
just a short post to let you know I hope to resume posting to Live from Occupied Palestine more regular basis as soon as possible. Due to other commitments over the past month, including study, I have not been able to blog as regularly as I would like. 

I have, however, been continuing to post relevant news updates and articles about Palestine on the corresponding Facebook page for Live from Occupied Palestine, so you can also keep up to date with news from Palestine by liking that page (please click here)


Thank you once again for continuing to support and follow Live from Occupied Palestine.  Regular blogging will resume very soon! :)

in solidarity, Kim

Sunday, October 19, 2014

AMIRA HASS to speak in Australia next year @ MARXISM 2015


Dear friends,
I can't express how excited I was to hear last week that Amira Hass will be one of the international speakers at Marxism 2015 being held in Melbourne over the Easter long weekend (2-5 April).

Hass is an exceptional journalist and is one of the few Israeli journalists (who is not an illegal setter) who lives in and reports from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (it should be noted that most Israeli and international journalists reporting on Palestine are based inside Israel and rarely enter the Territories).

So don't miss out on hearing her speak at Marxism 2015 at Easter next year!! Mark your calendar now, by your tix to Marxism and book your flights (if your not in Melbourne).

Please find the announcement from the organisers of the Marxism 2015 conference about her attendance. 

I understand from the conference organisers, they are currently liaising with Palestinian speakers to participate in the conference. Once their participation is confirmed, their participation will be announced. 

In solidarity, Kim
**







Marxism 2015 is excited to announce the participation of world renowned journalist Amira Hass. 

Hass lives in Ramallah in the West Bank, where she covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, making her the only Jewish Israeli correspondent on Palestinian affairs to live among the people about whom she reports. 

Hass writes insightful columns about the daily lives and hardships of Palestinians. The child of Holocaust survivors, Hass was born in Jerusalem in 1956 and studied history in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

After working as a teacher, she started her career in journalism in 1989 as a staff editor at Ha’aretz and began writing about the Palestinian Territories in 1991, undaunted by danger and criticism from both Israelis and Palestinians. 

She moved to Gaza in December 1993 after the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements and settled in Ramallah in the West Bank in 1997. 

She is the author of 'Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege and Reporting From Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land.'

To get tickets visit www.marxismconference.org

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Photo Essay: Melbourne protest against Israeli war profiteer, Elbit Systems.


Dear friends,
I am a little late in posting this up, but on Monday October 6, Melbourne activists from Students for Palestine and Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid conducted a small action outside of Israeli war profiteer, Elbit Systems.    

Elbit Systems is the Israeli weapons manufacturer whose drones have been used in Gaza to kill hundreds of unarmed and defenseless Palestinian men, women and children.Israel's Occupation Forces have praised Elbit's drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) "for delivering added operational value in recent combat in Gaza".

According to Bloomberg's financial press, the Israeli based Elbit Systems share price has increase 6.1 percent to $63.01 since Israel began its murderous assault on Gaza, which has resulted in more than 2000 Palestinians killed, the majority (more than 80%) civilians, including almost 470 children. 

In August, activists from the Melbourne Palestine Action Group, which is made up of activists from the Whistleblower, Activist and Citzens Alliance and Renegade Activists also carried out an action against Elbit, successfully locking it down for approximately 5 hours. You can read my earlier post on the August action here.

Please find below details of the October action and some photos below.


in solidarity, Kim

**
Protest Elbit Systems: 6 October, 2014

Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, which saw 1,951 Palestinians killed and 10,193 injured, has rightly prompted worldwide outrage and protest. One of the targets of these protests has been the Israeli arms companies that produce the weapons that have been used to massacre Palestinians.

Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest military company. It provides a wide range of equipment and services to the Israeli military, including surveillance equipment used in Israel’s illegal Wall and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known as drones. Elbit Systems armed drones are widely used by the Israeli military.

According to Palestinian human rights organization Al Mezan Center, armed drones killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza in the period 2000-2010. Elbit Systems markets its drone technology across the world as ‘field tested’.

Australia is an important client for Elbit Systems. In 2010 Elbit Systems announced a “significant breakthrough” in Australia when the Australian Army signed a $331 million contract for a battle management and communication systems.

Last year the Australian Federal Police signed a $35 million contract with Elbit Systems for “an Investigation, Intelligence and Incident Management (IIIM) Solution”. This is part of a pattern of technologies of surveillance and repression developed through the Occupation being profitably exported to police and so called “homeland security” services around the world.




 









 



 




 


 







Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When the Fighting Stop: Standards of living in Gaza during a period of "calm"

Dear friends,
please find below an infographic issued by the IMEU on the situation in Gaza outlining the standard of living during a period of "calm".

In solidarity, 
Kim

***

When the Fighting Stops

by Institute for Middle East Understanding

Although Israel's latest military assault on Gaza has ended, its 47-year military occupation of the Palestinian territories persists, and the Palestinians who remain in Gaza face no relief from the harsh living conditions imposed by Israel's eight-year military blockade of one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This infographic offers a breakdown of how Israel's policies – which predate Operation Protective Edge and have been internationally criticized for their systematic human rights abuses – continue to obstruct Palestinians in Gaza from their most basic needs, making their daily lives a struggle.

(click on image to enlarge)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Israeli Occupation Force Intelligence Officers refuse to serve and expose Israel's control and oppression of Palestinians

Dear friends,
I am a little late in posting this up due to being swamped with other work. In the last week, 43 elite Israeli Occupation Force officers from the IOF Intelligence Unit have issued a letter refusing to serve.  The letter by the soldiers reveal the exact nature of Israel's control over Palestinian lives and the intelligence gathering (ie. spying) is not about ensure the security and safety of Israel or its citizens, it is about controlling and oppressing Palestinians, about turning them into collaborators.  It is about undermining opposition to Israel's human rights abuses and oppression of the Palestinian people.

I have included below an interview published in YNET with some of the IOF Intelligence refuseniks, as well as Gideon Levy's article from Haaretz.


In solidarity, Kim


***

Intel troops: Why we won't serve in occupied territory


In letter sent to PM and chief of staff, 43 officers, soldiers, graduates of the IDF's elite intelligence unit, 8200, say they will no longer report for reserve duty related to the Palestinian arena. 'No one asks himself if the targets we collect for the air force justify ruining the lives of 1.5 million people,' they say.
Elior Levy, YNET, 12 September 2014


For D., it happened after his discharge from the army, when he saw the movie, The Lives of Others, about the Stasi, Communist East Germany's secret police, who listened in on people and thus invaded their private lives. "I was shocked," he says. "On the one hand, I identified with the victims, with the persecuted side, who were denied rights that are so fundamental that I take them for granted. On the other hand, I suddenly realized that during my military service, I was on the side of the persecutors, that we do the exact same thing, only far more efficiently."
The feelings of unease befell N. much earlier, already during the course of her military service, when as a representative of Unit 8200 she witnessed an assassination operation in which the target was mistakenly identified and a child was killed instead.


(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)

"In Dan Halutz's famous speech, with the controversial remark about a light tap on the wing (following the 2002 targeted killing of the head of Hamas' military wing, Salah Shehadeh, that also resulted in the death of 14 civilians, E.L.), he essentially said to the pilots, 'You're ok, you don't see the full intelligence picture and you carry out orders, and so you can sleep well at night,'" N. says.
"So the pilots aren't responsible for the killing because they are simply carrying out orders, and the people at 8200, too, aren't responsible for the killing because they carry out intelligence work only and pass on the information. Everyone shirks responsibility. So who then isn't supposed to sleep well at night? I think we all signed this letter because we realized that we aren't able to sleep well at night."
Read full letter (Hebrew)

D. and N. are two of the 43 officers and soldiers serving as reservists in the elite intelligence unit, 8200, who this week signed a letter in which they declare they refuse to play any part in actions against Palestinians and while therefore no longer report for reserve duty in that arena. "Our consciences won't allow us," they wrote, "to continue to serve this system and violate the rights of millions of people."

This is the first time that reserve members of the unit have drawn up a letter of refusal. "The general perception is that service in the Intelligence Corps is devoid of moral dilemmas and functions only to reduce violence and harm to the innocent," the letter reads. "During the course of our service, however, we learned that intelligence is an integral part of the military control over the territories. The Palestinian population, under military rule, is totally exposed to espionage and surveillance on the part of Israeli intelligence. In light of this, we have come to the conclusion that as individuals who served in Unit 8200, we, too, bear responsibility for the situation and are obliged to take action. We call on current and future Intelligence Corps soldiers, and the citizens of Israel at large, to sound their voices against these wrongs and to work towards bringing them to an end. We believe that the future of the State of Israel, too, depends upon it."
In their first interview, the reservists who signed the letter offer a rare glimpse of the soul-searching they went through in the framework of their service in the Israel Defense Forces' largest intelligence-gathering unit, which has long served as a breeding ground for the Israeli hi-tech industry and sends many of its graduates into high-powered positions in the economy and society. The incidents they speak about, they adamantly stress, have no connection to Operation Protective Edge, in which they didn't take part.

A Pandora's Box of thoughts

Six members of the unit came to the interview, which took place at the apartment of one of them, armed with written testimonies from other signatories. The people behind the initiative note that most of those who signed the letter do reserve duty in Unit 8200 and, from the point of the view of the IDF, are available for call-up at any given time. Some until now have exercised their refusal to do reserve duty under various pretenses, during Operation Protective Edge too.


(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)
"The unit is very much like a family, so the commander calls your directly to see if you can come for reserve duty; there's no mediation by a liaison officer with an official call-up," explains R. "We developed a system of avoiding duty using different excuses every time – an exam or a trip abroad. Thus, in essence, I avoided reporting for reserve duty without declaring that I refuse." 

They are very sure of themselves and the dramatic step they have taken; nevertheless, the stress they are under is plain to see. Some are studying towards advanced degrees; others have already found positions in industry. They are the kind of people that Israeli society is happy to embrace and take pride in when all is well. But now – as is evident to them – they are about to pay the price. 


"And that's the hardest part for me – that people will view what we are doing as treason," confesses S., a reservist officer from the unit and the highest-ranking signatory on the letter. "We all know that such a step places us beyond the boundaries of the Israeli consensus. Very many people support us and identify with us, but they fear the reactions and the personal price they would have to pay, and so they refused to sign," he says. 


"I approached several people, and a good friend of mine from the unit said to me, 'I agree 100 percent with what is said in the letter, but I am afraid it would be detrimental to the career I am planning,'" N. relates. "Even the person who told me about the initiative didn't sign in the end because he got cold feet." 


S. has no second thoughts about his decision, but is agonizing about the potential implications. "We want to reach the Israeli public and not to be shunned by it," he says. Our wish is for the message to be understood, for it to be a statement by people concerned about the situation here and who are doing it because we care and not for the purpose of burning bridges. But I am sure there will be elements who will exploit the letter and call it treason, just like they do these days to anyone who defies the consensus." 


The idea of the letter had been simmering in their minds for a year. It started with a regular chat among members of the unit who remained in touch after their military service. "After my discharge, I felt like I had a Pandora's Box of thoughts," D. relates. "I started talking to a few people and discovered that many feel the same. It was all went ahead very cautiously. We spoke about our thoughts and the questions, and we thought about courses of action that we could choose. We began initially by formulating a declaration that we could stand behind. It took a very long time and went through various versions. 


"It was important for us for the letter to be precise and focused so that it would win as widespread support as possible. Our refusal to serve relates only to the Palestinian arena and not to the other arenas with which the unit deals. Precisely because we think that refusal is a very radical and drastic step, particularly in Israeli society, it was important for us to make it clear in the letter that we are refusing only because from a moral perspective we are unable to be a tool to intensify the military control in the territories." 


After they formulated the letter, they began to share the idea with other people in the unit – friends to friends. Senior members of the unit and its commanders were unaware of the initiative. "The approaches were made in face-to-face encounters, with us beating about the bust until we felt confident enough to speak about the issue directly. It all went ahead discreetly so that it didn't reach those who didn't need to know about it."  

(Photo: Tal Shahar)
(Photo: Tal Shahar)


The quiet after the blast

The testimonies paint a picture that may trouble a portion of the public, but many will surely think that the actions of the unit are legitimate, certainly during periods of armed conflict.

"A change came over me during Operation Cast Lead, in 2008," says N., an Arabic translator at the Unit 8200's base who is responsible for the Palestinian arena. "When the operation started, something didn't seem quite right to me. Instead of attacking rocket and weapons dumps in the Gaza Strip, as defensive preparations for the campaign against Hamas, the air force attacked a police parade. The strike resulted in the death of 89 Palestinian policemen.
"I was just a regular soldier at the time, but I wanted the chain of command to know that I viewed the action as immoral and problematic, and not only because of the police casualties. These were precious hours in which we were supposed to be performing our duty – to prevent rockets from being launched against Israeli civilians – and this action didn't serve that purpose. Israel's home front was left exposed to rocket barrages, without the matter being dealt with as it should have been. The officer in charge agreed to convey my thoughts up the chain, but I didn’t get an answer. 



"During the course of the operation, I worked with various teams that were involved in gathering and translating intelligence information about targets in the Gaza Strip. I remember the quiet that befell the rooms in which we worked in the seconds after the air force bombed the targets, a tense quiet with the hope for a hit. When a hit was confirmed, applause and cries of joy filled the room. The identikits that adorned the walls of the rooms were marked with Xs. I had a very hard time dealing with the fact that no one was interested if anyone else was hurt. No one stopped to ask himself if the targets we collect for the air force planes justify the total destruction of the lives of 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip. 


"During the operation, the air force attacked the home of Nizar Rayyan (a Hamas leader in Gaza, E.L.), and 18 civilians were killed, mostly members of his family. On another occasion, there was an attempted strike against the leaders of Hamas' military wing. When the air force reported human casualties, the room was full of tension and expectation to see if the casualties were the intended targets of the attack. When it emerged that they were others, cries of disappointment echoed in the room – not because people were randomly killed, but because they weren't the ones we were looking for. It's hard for me to imagine what my base looked like during Operation Protective Edge; it probably looked the same as it did back then – but only more pronounced." 


The assassination policy is particularly troubling to the consciences of those who signed the letter due to the fact that mistakes that occur claim the lives of innocent people, children too sometimes. "We provide the intelligence for the operation, incriminate the individual and pass on the information to the air force," N. relates. "The unit always has representatives in the field, in the Judea and Samaria Division and in the Gaza Division. Once, when I was the representative, a suspect was identified nearby a weapons dump in Gaza and we thought he was our objective. I remember the picture on the screen – the suspect in an orchard, an explosion, the smoke settling and his mother running towards him. We could then see that it was a child. The body was small. We realized we had screwed up. It was quiet, unpleasant. And then we had to continue. The mood was harsh, but there were more things to do. 


"My duties there were allegedly technical. You're in an office, looking at a picture from a helicopter and the maps. It's very easy to cut yourself off from it and feel distant. It wasn't my job there to ask questions. They told me what they needed from me and that's what I did. I don't even know if there was an inquiry into what happened." 


Most of the people in the unit do what they are told without asking questions. The signatories explain this by noting that from the outset, already during their course, the trainees are led to understand that when it comes to 8200, there is no such thing as a manifestly unlawful order. Some of the signatories, who served as instructors, conveyed this very message themselves, to their soldiers, despite the fact that doubt had started to creep in. 


"They constantly told us that we are not the ones who are in the field, not the ones who are firing, and that it's not our job at all to make that decision," A. says. "There is something of an alternative mechanism in the unit that is called 'personal duty to report,' which means that you must voice your concerns if something is troubling you; but in some instances, they are clearly simply covering their asses." 


The story of Second Lieutenant A. hovers constantly over the conversation with the signatories. A. was a young officer in Unit 8200 in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, who refused to pass on intelligence in preparation for an airstrike on a structure in the southern Gaza Strip due to concerns that innocent civilians would be harmed in the attack. The airstrike was intended to serve as a response to a terror attack in Tel Aviv's Neve Sha'anan Square in January that same year in which 23 people were killed. The target selected was a structure belonging to Fatah. According to sources inside the intelligence community, the instructions were to check when there were people in the building, no matter who they were, so that the green light for the airstrike could be given. The airstrike was called off due to A's refusal. He was tried, stripped of his position and assigned to administrative duties. 


The incident led to a decision to conduct a lesson in all of the unit's courses that is based on the military inquiry into the affair. At the end of the lesson, the instructors lead the trainees to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a manifestly unlawful order. They discovered in retrospect that the inquiry was grossly deficient and inaccurate: The findings note that A. was instructed to ensure that the building was empty so that the airstrike could then take place. "Now, when I know what really happened in that operation," N. says, "I realize that all the discussion that took place about it with the trainees were ridiculous." 


"In 2003, at least there was the second lieutenant who refused to participate in the operation," says A., one of the signatories on the letter. "There were no such individuals in 2014."

How do say 'homo' in Arabic

The reservists who signed the letter aren't troubled only by the unit's sterile approach to the assassination policy. According to them, the Israeli public believes that intelligence is gathered only against terror activists. They wish to cast light on the fact that a significant portion of the targets they monitor are innocent civilians who have nothing to do with military activity against Israel and are of interest to the intelligence organizations for other reasons. These civilians have no idea at all that they are intelligence targets, yet they are treated, according to the signatories, no differently to the terror elements, and the fact that they are innocent civilians does not constitute a relevant consideration.

"I had a lot of trouble with the fact that various personal details were noted as being of importance, details that could be used to extort people and turn them into collaborators," N. relates. "They told us at the base that if we uncover a 'juicy' detail, it is important to document it – for example, financial stress, sexual orientation, a severe illness on the part of the individual or a family member, or medical treatment that they require. 


"Once, they played me the recording of a conversation between an Israeli security official and a Palestinian he was trying to recruit. There's a part in which he says, 'Your wife's brother, he has cancer,' and the Palestinian responds, 'So what?' And he says, 'You know, we have good hospitals.' He was clearly offering the Palestinian something or threatening him in some way. 


"During my service, I collected, among other things, information about innocent people whose only sin was that they were of interest to the Israeli defense system for various reasons. If you are a homosexual who knows someone who knows a wanted individual, Israel will make your life a misery. If you required urgent medical care in Israel, the West Bank or abroad, we looked for you. The State of Israel will allow you to die before it allows you to leave for medical treatment without you first providing information about your wanted cousin. Any instance that leads to snaring an innocent individual who can be extorted in return for information or in order to recruit him as a collaborator was gold for us and for the entire Israeli intelligence community. In the training course, you actually learn and memorize different words for homo in Arabic." 


The immense power in the hands of the soldiers and officers in the unit, most of them in their early 20s, could also be – the signatories to the letter say – the power to corrupt. "When I began my duties, I was surprised by the scope of the responsibility that rested on my shoulders," N. says. "I felt as if I had a say in important matters. I could initiate things that had implications for the lives of the Palestinians, and we exploit this influence that we have over their lives. 


Sometimes it involves real damage to the life of an individual, to his soul. We're talking about extortion and it can screw up their lives. The overriding approach in the unit is: 'Why not? If it's possible, then go for it.' I thought it was crazy to be able to do things I could. We're the bosses." 

A number of the signatories note, too, that they found themselves having to deal with information of a distinctly political nature, and that this made them feel uncomfortable. "When I joined the unit, I thought I'd be dealing with thwarting terror, with whatever is necessary to preserve the security of the state," one of them says. "I discovered during my service that a large amount of effort in the Palestinian arena is directed towards things that are not related to security. I worked on gathering information on political matters. Some of them were related to objectives that could be seen as serving security needs, such as undermining Hamas institutions, and others were not. There were political intelligence objectives that don't even fall in with the Israeli consensus, such as bolstering the Israeli position versus that of the Palestinians. Such objectives do not serve the security system but rather the politicians and their agendas. 


"It was very hard for me and others in the department to have to deal with some of the things we did. There was a particular project that shocked us when we learned of it. It was clearly something that we as soldiers are not supposed to do. The information was relayed almost directly to political elements and not to other arms of the defense establishment, and this made it very clear to me that it had very little to do with security needs." 


Another problematic issue that arises during service in 8200 is the unit's spirit. Recordings of wiretapped conversations are kept to play to trainees and soldiers, without any consideration given to the fact that this constitutes serious ethical offenses. Sex chats, for example, are a big hit in the unit. 


"I heard about a department that once turned out all the lights on the floor and played a recording of a sex chat at full volume – several dozen people listening to a sex chat and everyone cracking up with laughter," relates one of the signatories. "That's part of the spirit. And I don't mean only conversations that are stumbled upon by chance. Soldiers knew who to listen to and when in order to find them. They would be passed on from one to the other." 


Another graduate of the unit spoke of feeling bad knowing, in precise detail, about the problems of all of the objectives. "It doesn't feel good to freely speak and laugh about this information. We knew who was cheating on his wife, with who and how often. There were conversations about 'funny' medical conditions such as hemorrhoids. It's part of the way of life in the unit and you call one another over to listen. Photographs relating to objectives or other Palestinians are passed around for fun. Family photographs are passed around and jokes are made about how ugly the children are, and also private pictures that couples have taken for one another. 


"At a certain stage, I distanced myself from the whole story. I also told the friends around me that it isn’t the right thing to do, but everyone said that it wasn't hurting anyone. The commanders knew about it – no question about that. I wouldn't even say they turned a blind eye because it was clearly acceptable, that there was no problem with it. The soldiers don't really bother to hide what they are doing."

The consciences of the recruits

Alongside their concerns about the public criticism they expect to come under, the signatories are already dealing with internal criticism among their families, who are struggling to come to terms with the unusual step they have taken. "My family doesn't support my decision to sign the letter," N. says. "They don't think it's the right thing to do. They look at me like I'm some kind of radical who is doing something of no relevance in a democratic country."

R. says his family members are primarily concerned about the personal ramifications of the letter. "They are worried about me and my friends and hope that we don't end up paying too high a personal price," he comments. 



The official letter, which was sent Thursday to the prime minister, the chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence and the commander of Unit 8200, bears the signatories' full names and ranks. Publication of the letter, one can assume, will create much noise, and may also raise questions and doubts in the minds of 12th graders who are candidates for service in 8200. The signatories know this, but they have no intentions of calling on others to refuse to serve in the unit.


"If someone asks me, I'll tell them about the journey I took and my internal debate and how I feel about my service," A. says. "I will give him the tools, but every future recruit has his own conscience and he needs to make his own decisions. These are tough dilemmas, and anyone who refuses to be recruited into the unit will have to pay a very high price. On the other hand, he may be in the very same place I was in at his age – believing that what we do is designed to minimize the killing of innocent civilians. All I can do is present him with a different perspective." 


The signatories stress they have no wish to establish a movement behind them. They view the letter as a mirror held up to society. "All we want to do is to turn on a warning light in the Israeli public – for them to understand that we've been there, we've done it, and we can no longer continue," says S. "We will agree to return to serve in the unit if we know that the purpose for which we are there is self-defense, and not to perpetuate the military regime."



****

Mutiny in the Israeli Stasi: exposing the occupation's worst filth

The elite intel unit veterans took a milestone in announcing they will no longer serve the occupation. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service will also come forward and talk about what they did at work.

Sep. 14, 2014 |





IDF Unit 8200
Graduates of Unit 8200, the IDF's technological spearhead. Photo by Moti Milrod
 



The 43 veterans of the elite intel unit who announced that they will no longer agree to serve the occupation have made a double contribution to Israeli society. 

Like other conscientious objectors, including soldiers and military pilots, these members of Unit 8200 are courageous and moral. But their refusal has an additional dimension, the likes of which have never been seen before in Israel. They etched another scar into the ugly face of the Israeli occupation, deeper than the ones that preceded it, because it involves the darkest and most base sides of the occupation’s malignant routine. In a healthy society, the reservists’ action and their disclosures would have set off real shock waves. But in Israel, all the systems of defense, offense and propaganda, of ridicule and denial, have already been co-opted for the purpose of swiftly burying this important letter by objector-spies. 

They, too, are among the finest of our youth, perhaps the best – almost like the pilots. Unit 8200, the largest unit of the Israel Defense Forces, has the right of second pick, after the air force, in selecting recruits. Their image is sparkling – and their future is assured; tech firms lie in wait for them. Their military service is free of risk and – like the pilots – they don’t see their victims up close. Until now, their service was nearly free of ethical qualms. They do not kill, beat or carry out arrests, they are jobniks, desk jockeys with prestige, the kind of child nearly every parent would want. Their weapon is their intelligence, their computer and other sophisticated instruments; their bunker is their office. A large part of their work, it must be stressed, is vital and legitimate. And still, Unit 8200 is Israel’s Stasi. 

In contrast to the East German intelligence service, its Israeli successor targets not citizens of the state, but rather the Palestinians who are subject to its occupation. Anything may be done to them, using means the Stasi would have envied. Like the Stasi, it involves not only intelligence gathering and espionage, but also mechanisms to control, extort and exploit an entire nation. This is based on erecting an enormous army of collaborators and informers, recruited through the vicious exploitation of their weaknesses, needs, illnesses and sexual orientations. 

Thanks to Unit 8200, an entire nation exists without the right to privacy. The great contribution of the new objectors is that they have told us about this. In their Arabic studies, they were taught all the forms of the Arabic word for “homosexual” – because they need it. They were required to find out about the sexual orientation, health and financial problems of tens of thousands of individuals. Perhaps there’s a nephew on Israel’s list of wanted terrorists, perhaps a cousin who’s wanted for questioning, offering an opportunity for extortion. Perhaps they’ll agree to talk about the next-door neighbor in exchange for a chemotherapy treatment; a report in return for surgery; snitching in exchange for an income boost; a bit of information in return for a night in Tel Aviv. 

This despicable collecting work – there’s no other way to describe it – is done by soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and “every Jewish mother should know” this. They collect important security information, and alongside it also political and personal information, and they mark targets for assassination. A few of them tried to talk about it over the weekend, and the radio and television stations rocked with laughter. The commentators vied with each other for adjectives: “trippy,” “scandalous,” “negligible,” “spoiled brats” and, worst of all, “politicos” and “lefties” – in unison, of course. No one came to the defense of a group of people who, until Thursday, were a source of pride. Not even activists from the LGBT community, who are called in after any inappropriate comment about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. They have been silent about the persecution of their Palestinian counterparts by the state, which brags about its enlightened attitude toward the gay community. 

That’s Israel for you. As long as the members of Unit 8200 were up to their arms in the filth of the occupation, they were considered principled young men and women, and were respected. But as soon as they decided they’d had enough, they became targets for ridicule and ostracism. The step they have taken is a milestone. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service – the other pillar of the Israeli Stasi in the territories – will also come forward and finally talk about what they did at work. Their commanders already did, partially, in “The Gatekeepers.”
 
The military and media establishment will quickly stomp on the 43 objectors, but perhaps they will not be forgotten. From out of the deepest darkness, they broke the silence.