Viewpoint - August 18, 2016
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New Israeli crackdown aims to root out, expel BDS activists
by: Ali Abunimah
Intensifying repression against BDS movement shows Israel is becoming "desperate and irrational," Palestinians say. Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills
Israel is intensifying its efforts to crack down on activists working for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.
On Sunday, interior minister Aryeh Deri and public security minister Gilad Erdan formed a new inter-ministerial task force that will, as the The Times of Israel reported, "target supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement."
The task force aims to prevent the entry of foreign activists allegedly affiliated with organizations that support BDS and expel those who have already entered territories under Israeli control.
"This is a necessary step, given the evil intentions of the delegitimization activists working to spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region," Erdan said.
The ministers reportedly "accused dozens of anti-Israel groups of operating in the country to gather information to be used in 'delegitimizing' Israel, and blamed activists in the West Bank for seeking to stir up protests among the local Palestinian population."
Israeli officials believe that hundreds of foreign BDS activists have entered through Tel Aviv airport or the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge land crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank "under the guise of being tourists," the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.
Travelers, especially Palestinian Americans or those perceived to be of Arab or Muslim ancestry or religion, already face lengthy interrogations at Israeli-controlled crossings and frequent denial of entry.
Last month, a group of five Americans, including a staffer from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, were subjected to incarceration and lengthy interrogations about their backgrounds and political involvement, before being denied entry.
All five Americans were of Arab, South Asian or Muslim backgrounds.
"Espionage and propaganda war"
The ever more draconian political interrogations that the new crackdown is likely to entail, will only make Israel, which has seen a sharp drop in tourism, an even less attractive destination.
"Deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot," Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said in reaction to the Israeli announcement. "If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists' home countries."
"This latest weapon in the intensifying Israeli legal, espionage and propaganda war against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights is a strong indicator of how desperate and irrational Israel's regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has become in its futile attempts to hinder the impressive growth of the BDS movement around the world," Abunahel added.
Targeting human rights defenders
Significantly, a spokesperson for the Israeli police, which will apparently participate in the crackdown on activists, admitted that Israel's current campaign against Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the BDS movement, is politically motivated.
"The minister [Erdan] wants to consider his status. He lives in Ramallah most of the time and part of what determines one's permanent residency is where the center of life is," police spokesperson Luba Samri said. "His BDS activities are also part of this."
Barghouti has lived with his family in Akka, in the north of present-day Israel, since 1994.
In April, Israel refused to renew Barghouti's travel permit, a decision stayed for two months by a Haifa court that has ordered the government to reconsider the case.
The effective travel ban on Barghouti followed threats made against him and other Palestinian human rights defenders by top Israeli government ministers in March, including intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, who called for "targeted civil eliminations" of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence.
The Hebrew term Katz used was similar to the Israeli term for "targeted assassinations."
At the time, Amnesty International strongly condemned these threats, warning that "an escalation of acts of intimidation by the government and attacks and threats by settlers and other non-state actors have created an increasingly dangerous environment" for human rights defenders in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli exports plummet
Many Israel advocates put a brave face on BDS, constantly boasting that all the campaigns have yet to put a significant dent in Israel's economy.
But there is no doubt Israel sees any and every effort to hold it accountable through economic or other forms of pressure as a strategic threat, including the US and EU requirements that products from settlements be labeled accurately.
"The labeling is just one part of the big plan," Ohad Cohen, the head of Israel's foreign trade administration, told NPR this weekend. "It doesn't matter whether it has a minor economic effect, we're not willing to take that."
Israel's fight back against accountability, especially BDS, is all the more urgent amid worse than expected economic performance, particularly a plunge in exports in the first quarter of 2016.
Analysts see long-term problems for Israel's export industries that could make a quick recovery difficult. And while they say the drop in exports is occurring for a number of reasons, BDS and labeling of settlements goods are undoubtedly factors.
David Elhayani, the head of a settler body in the occupied West Bank's Jordan Valley, told NPR that it is now much more difficult to sell settler produce such as dates and herbs grown on land seized from Palestinians and colonized in violation of international law.
"If it was 80 percent goes to Europe seven and six years ago, now it's about 30 percent going to Europe," Elhayani said. "Most of our products are going now to Russia," he added, where prices are much lower.
Last year, Israeli officials warned that a complete boycott of Israeli goods in the EU could cost Israel tens of billions of dollars in exports and tens of thousands of jobs.
But as the latest announcement shows, Israel's leaders prefer to target the messengers than to end the injustices that are at the root of its predicament.
"After failing to counter or even diminish the unmistakable impact of BDS in isolating its brutal regime of oppression, Israel is dropping the mask," the BNC's Abunahel said. "It is revealing its true face to the world as a ruthless, warmongering pariah state, and it is resorting to the same repressive tools deployed by apartheid South Africa in its last chapter, before its eventual collapse."
"We salute every person of conscience around the world who has creatively, passionately and selflessly supported the Palestinian struggle for our rights under international law," Abunahel added. "We are confident that Israel's intensifying repression notwithstanding, this principled solidarity will significantly contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality."
Original Article: New Israeli crackdown aims to root out, expel BDS activists
Video: Israeli soldier assaults child playing on Jews-only road
by: Ali Abunimah
Border Police officer grabs girl's bike, tosses it into bushes, Hebron, July 2016
Eight-year-old Anwar Burqan was playing with her young sister and brothers in al-Ibrahimi Street, near their home in Hebron's al-Salaima neighborhood on 25 July when their games were interrupted by Israel's pervasive military occupation.
The video above, filmed by local resident Raed Abu Ramileh and published by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, shows some of what happened.
According to Anwar's account, she was riding a bicycle belonging to one of her brothers when an Israeli Border Police combatant ran over, stepped on the bicycle and took it away from her.
The child can be seen raising her arm in apparent reflexive self-defense.
As can be heard in the video, the combatant shouts at her to "go home" and the child bursts into tears. The rifle-bearing soldier then throws the bicycle into the bushes.
"Only Jews walk here"
As cruel as this assault - threatening behavior that puts another person in fear of immediate physical harm - is, it is no random act, but rather enforcement of Israel's segregation policy in the occupied West Bank city.
As B'Tselem states, in 2012, Israeli occupation forces erected a chain-link fence along al-Ibrahimi street, a major thoroughfare, "leaving the main road on one side of the fence, and a narrow, unpaved and rough pedestrian path on the other."
Palestinians were prohibited from using the main, paved street and forced to use the narrow unpaved section.
B'Tselem has published videos showing Israeli occupation forces implementing a strict Jews-only policy on the main road.
"This side's for Jews and that's for Arabs," a soldier tells field researchers Musa Abu Hashhash and Manal al-Ja'bri in this 2013 video:
How to Build a Fence in Hebron
In this video from last year, an occupation soldier asks a Palestinian field researcher, "Are you an Arab?"
The soldier then tells him, "Only Jews walk here."
Military renews segregation on main street in Hebron, 2015
B'Tselem notes that Israel lifted the segregation policy after 2013, but has reimposed it with vigor since January 2015.
Taking over the Old City
The segregation causes particular hardship to Anwar's father, Amer Burqan, who uses a wheelchair.
The separate-and-unequal access to al-Ibrahimi Street is part of Israel's broader policy of segregation in Hebron's Old City, imposed for the benefit of Israeli settlers ever since Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 29 Palestinians in the city's Ibrahimi mosque in February 1994.
As part of this policy, Hebron was separated into two zones: "H1" and "H2."
H1 is nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority and is home to more than 120,000 Palestinians.
H2, under full Israeli military rule, includes Hebron's historic Old City as well as the Ibrahimi mosque.
Israeli occupation forces severely restrict the movement of more than 30,000 Palestinians in H2 while Israeli settlers move about freely under army protection.
Thousands of Palestinian households and businesses have been driven out of the area.
Settlers have aggressively seized Palestinian properties in the Old City, leaving much of the city center a ghost town.
As the video at the top of this articles shows, no Palestinian, not even children playing near their homes, are spared the everyday violence of Israel's settler-colonialism and apartheid.
Original Article: Video: Israeli soldier assaults child playing on Jews-only road
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