Nasrallah’s blood-soaked road to Jerusalem

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In early March of this year, about 6,000 smuggled photographs of torture victims in Syrian regime jails were leaked on the internet and published on various web sites.

The eyes of parents, siblings, partners and relatives of Syrian detainees became transfixed on their screens. Sorting through pictures of hardly-recognizable corpses, they wondered if they might find a trace of their loved ones.

Known as the “Caesar” photographs, in reference to the pseudonym of the defected Syrian sergeant and forensic photographer who smuggled the images out of Syria, the photographs inevitably lead us to question the morality and ethics of disseminating graphic portrayals of dead bodies on the internet.

Important as it is, however, any normative debate in this case would sound almost preposterous and a form of intellectual temerity once we realize that what those pictures revealed was the tragic fate of at least tens of prisoners whose destination had been unknown for months or even years.

It is, without a doubt, unspeakably painful to first learn about the fate of a son, husband, or sister through a leaked photograph on the internet. Yet for those who spent months and perhaps years begging prison guards and intelligence officers for a scrub of information about their detainees; for those who were repeatedly blackmailed by informants throughout the search; for those who waited in vain and oscillated between hope and despair: for them, these images, harrowing as they were, represented a rescue from endless nights of waiting, releasing them from the indefinite confinement of the shackles called hope.

More “fortunate” Syrians learn about their family members’ death under torture through a phone call made by security services, one in which they are told to come and pick up the identification and any personal possessions the deceased has left behind. Victims’ bodies are not delivered back to the family for proper burial; the official cause of the death remains “unknown;” and people are deprived even of the right to mourn their dead or clutch at a physical evidence of their loss.

But with hundreds of thousands of imprisoned and forcibly disappeared Syrians, many do not have the “privilege” of learning about the death of their loved ones first-hand.

They are either forced to wait and hope, or be left to the mercy of serendipity and, as happened with the Caesar photographs, find out about their death through a leaked image of the corpse.

Since the publication of the leaked torture photos in early March, tens of victims were identified by their families. Those included at least 65 photos of Palestinian refugee victims recognized either by their families or by activists. The names of these victims were documented by the Action Group for Palestinians in Syria in April. The London-based monitoring group, tasked with documenting human rights violations inflicted upon Syria’s Palestinians, had published a report earlier in March entitled Photos Massacre that listed the names of 39 Palestinian victims of torture and forced disappearance. Their corpses were identified through the leaked images.

One of the most widely circulated photos was that of a corpse, apparently belonging to a Palestinian refugee, with a tattoo of the map of Palestine emblazoned with the colors of the Palestinian flag.

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Attached to the corpse, a scrap of paper displaying the torture victim’s number—the coup de grâce toward the obliteration of personhood in Syria’s myriad dungeons.

Being confronted by such a wildly symbolic image, it becomes impossible to not wonder: What if that image belonged to a Palestinian prisoner in Israeli occupation jails? Would Palestinians and pro-Palestinians who currently support the Syrian regime react otherwise if the caption on that picture were altered and if it stated that he was killed in an Israeli prison rather than in a Syrian one? One could be forgiven for assuming that, had this man died in an Israeli jail, his picture would become iconic among Palestinians and supporters of their cause, and would be pointed to over and over again as yet more proof of Israel’s brutality and Palestinian defiance in the face of it.

Yet as it stands, neither the photo of the slain Palestinian prisoner whose arm bore the Palestinian map tattoo, nor the photos of tens of Palestinians killed under torture in Syrian regime jails have caused outrage or defiance in Palestine or among Palestinian solidarity activists. They were not killed by ISIS or the Israeli occupation, but by the Syrian regime that still enjoys the support of large segments of Palestinian political factions, public opinion, and many left-wing circles associated with the Palestinian cause. And therefore, Palestinian victims of the Syrian regime had the misfortune of falling to the “wrong perpetrator.”

It is precisely the identity of the perpetrator that deems the images of Palestinian torture victims in Syria invisible, changes their status from revered martyrs and heroes to contested numbers, and renders their plight unworthy of our solidarity.

Since the eruption of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, more than 400 Palestinian-Syrians have been killed under torture in Syrian regime jails. When this fact is presented to Palestinians who support the Syrian regime, some of them dispute it, some have the audacity to dispute it and even claim that those mostly innocent civilians and peaceful activists had been actually killed by ISIS or Nusra front. Others simply say that, “Now is not the time; there are more important things to talk about.” For them, those thousands of Palestinians who have been either killed, imprisoned, or displaced by the Syrian regime are a superfluous group that needs to be dislodged, overlooked and sacrificed for a “greater cause”—that is, the liberation of Palestine—as if the liberation of Palestine means anything when Palestinians in a neighboring country die in their thousands while we look away.

Thus, when we affirm that our freedom and dignity as Palestinians cannot come at the expense of others, including our fellow Palestinians, we are described as naïve. They ask that we regard the deaths of fellow Palestinians at the hands of the Syrian regime and the siege, destruction and shelling of their camps little more than irrelevant minutiae that must be shrugged off for far more significant geo-political considerations.

Hassan Nasrallah says that the road to Jerusalem goes through Syria. The revered resistance leader must know what he’s talking about.

Little does it matter that this road is paved by the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrians; little does it matter that taking this road means treading upon the dignity and rights of a people who have historically supported our cause like no other—and not thanks to the regime but in spite of it. It doesn’t even matter that Hassan Nasrallah’s road is filled with the corpses of Palestinians killed by the regime or that his compass is directed towards perpetuating oppression and monopolizing resistance.

One has to be pragmatic, they tell us, and we do not have the luxury of choosing our allies according to our ideological convictions. This is used to justify siding with and cheering on the Syrian and Iranian regimes and Hezbollah, just as it was previously used in the 1980s to support Saddam Hussein. “He scared the hell out of Israel!” they told us. This was supposed to be sufficient to make us overlook the fact that he gassed thousands of Kurds to death or that he committed unspeakable atrocities in Kuwait.

Just as we are today being asked to overlook the suffering of Syrians and Palestinians at the hands of the Syrian regime for the purported “greater cause,” we were being encouraged to chant for Saddam and hang his pictures on the wall. He too, they said, was an enemy to Israel.

One of the many problems with this approach is that we only apply it to ourselves. We express our indignation if another oppressed people strikes an alliance with the US or Israel; we delegitimize an entire people’s uprising base on the fact that they received funding from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (Incidentally, this was the very same Qatar that the “resistance” showered with gratitude not so long ago.)

We hypocritically deny them the very same pragmatism that we adopt to rationalize our support of oppressive regimes. We fail to understand that for Zabadani’s Syrians, Iran and Hezbollah are occupying forces trying to uproot and ethnically cleanse them, precisely the way Israel has been doing to us. We fail to understand that the Syrian regime and its allies have become to them what Israel and the United States have been to us. And so we do not take a minute to put ourselves in the shoes of Syrian resistance fighters in Zabadani who, for two months, have somehow thwarted a far more superior military force, backed by non-stop aerial bombardment.

If we continue to believe that Hassan Nasrallah’s road to Palestine is the only one open to us, we do not have the moral ground to condemn those who falsely or misleadingly claim that their road to salvation is through peace with Israel.

Combatting all the no-longer-ulterior agenda to normalize the relations between Syrians and Israel cannot be achieved by supporting Assad and Nasrallah. It starts with explicitly and vehemently refusing that our cause be used to condone the killing, humiliation and subjugation of Syrians; it starts by re-affirming our commitment to Syria’s liberation of all forms of oppression. It starts by realizing that our liberation struggle cannot and will not treat Syrians as pawns.

Unfortunately, Palestinians will continue to be killed in Syrian regime jails and so will Syrians; Palestinian camps will continue to suffer under Syrian regime siege and so will Syrian towns and cities. True solidarity with the Syrian people and with Syria’s Palestinians requires us to stand firm in the face of the regime that carries prime responsibility for this.

And for one, our solidarity must be principled rather than selective; it has to be based on the universal values that the Palestinian liberation struggle and the Syrian revolution are based on. It cannot be modeled on the identity of the oppressor, or dictated by the tone of Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches.

Israel plans to force-feed Palestinian detainee in wake of new law

Published in Middle East Eye

Palestinians hold posters with slogans and portraits of detainees during a demonstration on 10 June, 2014 outside the Red Cross building in Jerusalem in support of Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike for six weeks (AFP)

In what would be the first case since last month’s adoption of a controversial law, Israeli authorities have declared their intention to force feed a hunger-striking Palestinian, his lawyer said Saturday.

Mohammed Allan, 33, who is a lawyer, has been held in Israeli custody without charge under a policy known as administrative detention since last November. More than 50 days ago, he began a hunger strike in protest.

Despite his deteriorating conditions and his move to a heavily guarded intensive care unit at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, Allan is adamant to continue his strike, a decision supported by both of his parents.

But Jamil al-Khatib, his attorney, told MEE that Israeli judicial officials say they plan to force feed his client, using him as a test case for the new force feeding law passed last month.

In a statement published by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the group said “force-feeding violates medical ethics as it administers forceful treatment to a patient against his will, and is considered a form of torture.”

The law has been criticised by international human rights and medical organisations including Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights and the World Medical Association which expressed its denunciation of the bill when it was still discussed in the Knesset, describing it as “violent, very painful and absolutely in opposition to the principle of individual autonomy”.

Israeli officials are expected to file their request with an Israeli district court on Saturday night. At the same time, Allan’s supporters have planned a solidarity protest at the hospital where Allan’s mother launched her own hunger strike when officials initially prevented her from seeing her son.

“Even if the request of the Israeli Prison services and the prosecution is accepted by the District Court, we will issue a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice against the constitutionality of this law,” Jamil Khatib, Muhammad Allan’s lawyer, told Middle East Eye.

“Of course, since this is an issue of life and death, we will demand an injunction against force-feeding from the court. But this is not Allan’s problem alone, this is an issue that faces all Palestinian prisoners, especially administrative detainees.”

Hunger striking is the only nonviolent weapon at the disposal of Palestinian prisoners, particularly administrative detainees who are held without charges or trial and do not know what evidence has been used to incarcerate them.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the number of Palestinian held under administrative detention in Israeli occupation jails had reached 370 by the of June 2015.

In an attempt to highlight the inhumanity and danger of force feeding, artist Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey, simulated the procedure in a widely circulated video published by the Guardian.

The video targeted an American audience amidst the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners that was taking place in Guantanamo Bay, but Palestinian prisoner and a repeat hunger striker, Khader Adnan, told MEE that he believes there is no difference between Israel’s practices and the US.

“Israel uses the US administration’s practice in Guantanamo to put a stamp of legitimacy on its law, but this is a desperate attempt,” Adnan told MEE.

“The fact that Israel is resorting to this practice shows failure to deal with the resistance of prisoners and further exposes its injustice,” he said.

‘Tear me to shreds’

Allan was previously imprisoned by Israel in 2006 and was sentenced to three years in jail.

Soon after his release, he finished his training as a lawyer and became a member of the Palestinian Bar Association. Allan, the youngest of four sons, is supported by his parents with his hunger strike.

On Friday, Allan’s mother, Maazouza Odeh, arrived from her Nablus village of Ein Bos at Soroka Hospital, hoping to see her son, but doctors and other hospital staff initially refused her request.

“Even if you tear me to shreds, I’m not going to leave the hospital unless my son is with me,” she shouted.

In response, Odeh started her own hunger-strike and staged a sit-in outside the hospital despite the scorching desert heat amid a heat wave rocking the country.

After being threatened with arrest several times and sleeping outside the hospital, Odeh was finally allowed to see her youngest son on Saturday afternoon. Despite his critical conditions, seeing her son had given her a measure of relief.

“It was the first time I’ve seen him since June. He broke my heart but I support his strike until all his rights are guaranteed and I will never ask him to end it until he achieves his freedom,” an emotional Odeh told MEE.

Allan’s father, Nasreddine Allan, told MEE that he is frustrated by the lack of tangible actions made to help his son, despite the media attention his case has garnered.

“Unfortunately, the media attention given to my son’s case complemented by a sufficient popular support. Much of the reaction we have seen has been largely symbolic but no actual pressure happening on the ground,” he said by phone, on his way to the funeral for Saad Dawabsha, the father of Ali Dawabsha, the toddler who was killed in an arson attack last week.

His frustration was echoed by Odeh.

“We don’t just want phone calls from journalists and people asking about my son; we are waiting for people to join us, to put pressure on the Israelis to release my son. I will not forgive anyone who has remained silent about my son’s plight,” she said.

Not all cases the same

Beyond stripping prisoners of their autonomy, Khatib, Allan’s lawyer, pointed out that force-feeding could pose a serious health risk to prisoners.

Force-feeding employed against Allan, he said, could become the norm against other prisoners. He is concerned, however, of the lack of sufficient action by Palestinian politicians and the public.

“The problem with the way we deal with prisoners is that we treat them only as individual cases. All the action is based on sporadic reactions that die down few days later. Unless our whole handling of the prisoners’ issue change, things are not going to get any better.”

He also insists that one should be wary of comparing Allan’s case to that of Khader Adnan, a repeat hunger striker who became the face of Palestinian resistance to administrative detention after achieving his freedom through lengthy strikes.

“The cases are entirely different as Allan’s case is much more difficult,” he says. “Allan is suspected of holding organisational role at the Islamic Jihad, of planning military action, and of adopting the “International’/Jihadi ideology.”

Yet Khatib said he believes that Allan’s case will be vital both in the struggle against administrative detention and force-feeding as a whole.

After baby’s murder, Israeli sniper kills another Palestinian child

A photo of Laith al-Khalidi posted on his Facebook page in December 2014.

A photo of Laith al-Khalidi posted on his Facebook page in December 2014.

Published in Electronic Intifada

Israel responded to the widespread revulsion over the murder of 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabsha by fatally shooting a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank.

Laith al-Khalidi was “killed in cold blood,” according to Fadel, his father.

Fifteen-year-old Laith was in the vicinity of the Atara military checkpoint near Ramallah when a sniper in an Israeli watchtower shot him in the back on Friday last week. Laith was accompanied by four friends at the time he was shot.

“Perhaps he went to express his outrage at the killing of Ali Dawabsha, but when soldiers shot him from the checkpoint tower, he wasn’t throwing any stones whatsoever,” said Fadel.

The details obtained by Fadel of the incident sharply contradict Israel’s spin.

Israel has exploited the fact that Palestinian youth were involved in confrontations with its soldiers in its attempts to “justify” the killing.

An unnamed military spokesperson claimed that Israeli soldiers had opened fire on Laith as a “response to immediate danger.” Those comments were reported by The New York Times, which called Laith “an assailant who had thrown a firebomb.”

However, evidence in many other cases has shown that such routine claims by the army should be treated with the utmost skepticism. Last month, video evidence showed that an Israeli colonel had shot dead Palestinian teenager Muhammad al-Kasbeh, in the back, as he ran away, debunking the army’s claims that occupation soldiers were in imminent danger from the youth. Video also caught Israeli soldiers shooting dead two Palestinian youths in cold blood in Beitunia in May 2014.

Just this year, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says that it “has documented dozens of cases in the Ramallah area of the West Bank in which Palestinians were injured, some severely, by live ammunition fired by Israeli security forces.”

The group says that “the large number of persons injured and the types of injury, indicates that live ammunition was used against demonstrators even when security forces were not in mortal danger.”

The army’s depiction, moreover, does not tally with how Laith’s parents, who live in Jalazone refugee camp, remember him.

Ominous

As soon as they heard of baby Ali’s murder by Israeli settlers, Laith’s parents had an ominous feeling. Could something happen to their own children in the clashes with Israeli soldiers that would more than likely ensue?

It was not Laith, but his elder brother, Yazan, that they were really worried about.

Despite being two years his junior, Laith — who hoped to become a lawyer — was considered the more mature and reliable sibling. For that reason, their father asked Laith to make sure that Yazan stayed away from any clashes that day.

Laith had repeatedly urged his brother to stay safe.

“My son Laith wasn’t one of the kids who’d go to protests week in, week out and throw stones,” said Samar, his mother.

Even before Laith’s murder, the family had suffered heavily at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Fadel, now an assistant dean at Birzeit University, was involved in popular resistance during the first intifada. He was imprisoned for six years.

For three of those six years, he was held in administrative detention, under which Israel locks up Palestinians without charge or trial.

His mother, meanwhile, had been injured in her leg after Israel attacked a protest in 1994. The protest was held in response to that year’s massacre in Hebron, during which the US-born settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Although both his parents have been politically active, they were eager that no harm should come to their children. Their children were therefore discouraged from battling Israel’s forces of occupation.

“I wish they were different from us,” said Samar. She reacted with disbelief when she received a phone call at 5:30pm on Friday, telling her that Laith was injured.

“I initially asked, ‘Laith who?’” she said. “I couldn’t even contemplate the idea that they were referring to Laith, my son.”

Laith had told her that he had gone to Ramallah to play billiards.

“Hoping against hope”

After he was shot, Laith was taken to Ramallah’s hospital, where he underwent surgery that lasted six hours.

“We had hoped that he would somehow come through this alive,” said Fadel. “I was sitting next to the room where the surgery was taking place, hoping against hope that my son would survive. Around midnight doctors took him to intensive care and five minutes later he was gone.”

Samar is a nurse. As soon as she saw Laith, she could tell that his situation was critical.

“I cannot describe what I went through during those six hours,” she said.

There was a moment in their ordeal that Samar described as “ridiculous.” A doctor told Laith’s parents that if he survived the night, he would be transferred to Hadassah, an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem.

“How can those who kill our sons then go on to treat them?” Samar asked. “How can we agree to this? But I was ready to do anything to save my child’s life, even if that meant sending him to an Israeli hospital. I would have done anything.”

Mourners say farewell to Laith al-Khalidi during his funeral near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 1 August. The teenager died in hospital hours after being shot by Israeli occupation forces near the Atara military checkpoint on 31 July. Shadi HatemAPA images

Yazan, Laith’s brother, had tried to persuade him that he should join Fatah. But Laith told him that his allegiance was to Palestine, not to any political party.

“Laith was everything to me,” said Yazan. “We did everything together, we shared the same room, used the same computer, played cards together, watched sports together. We fought, we laughed, we both liked Real Madrid. But Laith was better than me. If anyone had to die, it should have been me, not him.”

Crying, Yazan raised his voice to an almost piercing level. “Laith, why did you go away?” he asked.

Laith’s 7-year-old sister Lor will only stop crying when she is told that Laith would hate to see her so upset.

“They have taken our happiness”

After a moment’s calm, she broke down again when little things remind her of Laith — like the beautiful mirror and the toys he gave her on the first day of Eid.

“They [the Israelis] have snatched the smile from this girl’s face; they have taken our happiness away,” said Samar. “With Laith’s passing, I feel that a piece of me is gone.”

According to his father, Laith’s biggest dream was that the family could return to the village of Annaba. They were expelled from Annaba — located near Ramle, a city in present-day Israel — during the Nakba, the 1948ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

“Laith visited his village when he was a kid and since then he always asked me, ‘when will we return home?’” said Fadel.

It is instructive that Laith’s killing was only mentioned towards the end of the aforementioned report in The New York Times.

Another Palestinian teenager was also killed that day. Muhammad al-Masri was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in a watchtower on Israel’s boundary with Gaza.

Their deaths received just a fraction of the attention devoted to the condemnations issued by Israeli establishment figures following the murder of baby Ali.

Not for the first time, Western media have been extremely accommodating to Israeli propagandists. The crocodile tears of Israeli politicians over one child’s death are treated as if they are genuine. Yet European and American journalists have not stopped to ask why the same politicians failed to condemn the killing of other young Palestinians on the same day.

If those journalists did some serious analysis or research, they would realize that the killing of baby Ali was not an aberration. Palestinian children and teenagers are regularly killed by Israelis.

Occasionally, the killers are settlers, inculcated with the extremist ideology on which Israel was founded. More often, they are soldiers carrying out the orders of a racist state.

Newly engaged 19-year-old shot dead by Israel

Relatives mourn during the funeral of Muhammad Abu Latifa, 27 July, in Qalandiya refugee camp, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian youth was killed as he ran from Israeli occupation forces who raided his family home. Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Relatives mourn during the funeral of Muhammad Abu Latifa, 27 July, in Qalandiya refugee camp, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian youth was killed as he ran from Israeli occupation forces who raided his family home. Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Muhammad Atta Abu Latifa had only been engaged to his fiancée Nour Taha for little more than a month. But they had been in love for years.

The couple — aged 19 and 18 respectively — had encountered opposition to their relationship from family members. They nonetheless decided to persist and succeeded in overcoming that opposition. They were looking forward to moving into their new home, which was under construction.

Israel has destroyed their plans. Ten days before they were scheduled to hold a party celebrating their engagement, Muhammad was shot dead by Israeli troops at Qalandiya refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

Nour visited Muhammad’s grave this week, so that she could place flowers on it.

“Just a few days before we were supposed to celebrate his engagement, we had to walk in his funeral procession,” said Maryam, Muhammad’s mother. “And instead of congratulating me, people are coming to pay their condolences.”

Muhammad’s family hails from Saraa, a village near Jerusalem. They were forced to leave their homes by Zionist forces during the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Muhammad is the second of three children. Like his elder brother Lafi, he was born while his father was imprisoned by Israel.

Muhammad himself served six months in Israeli detention during 2013. He was charged with firing a gun in the air during a funeral.

Firing a volley of shots as a tribute to locals killed by Israeli forces is a common practice in Palestinian refugee camps.

Muhammad was a supporter of Fatah. Yet, according to his father, Muhammad was not involved in the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia linked to that party, or any other armed group.

He had, however, taken part in confrontations between Palestinian youths and the Israeli military. He was especially eager to defend locals during Israel’s frequent raids on the camp.

“Rather than dissuading my sons from actively resisting the Israeli occupation, I instilled resistance in their minds,” Atta, Muhammad’s father, told The Electronic Intifada.

Dawn raid

Known in Qalandiya for being highly energetic, Muhammad was a gifted swimmer. He had earned several medals and represented the camp’s swimming club in West Bank competitions.


An image of Muhammad Abu Latifa circulated on social networks.

Muhammad was asleep when Israeli soldiers conducted a dawn raid in Qalandiya on Monday. The soldiers “stormed our home after breaking the gate and the door,” said his father Atta. “His brother Lafi warned him that soldiers are coming for him so he quickly got up jumped from our home’s rooftop’s to his uncle’s and then to his neighbor’s.”

The Israeli authorities have claimed that Muhammad died because he fell off a roof. But his father insisted that he was shot by the Israeli forces. The first bullet hit Muhammad while he was on his uncle’s roof, according to Atta.

The family is convinced that Muhammad bled to death after being struck by a number of bullets.

Maryam, Muhammad’s mother, said: “When I saw stains of blood on the roof, I knew that my son was injured. Neighbors also told me that after finally seizing him, Israeli soldiers cuffed his hands and bound his legs. His body was bruised because they also kicked him.”

Jamal Abu Latifa, Muhammad’s uncle, told The Electronic Intifada that after detaining Muhammad, the Israeli forces covered him with a blue blanket and carried him to Ofer, a military prison. Eventually, the Israeli forces allowed the Palestine Red Crescent Society to take Muhammad to hospital in Ramallah, where he was officially pronounced dead.

The soldiers who broke into the Abu Latifa house turned Muhammad’s room upside down. They were accompanied by police dogs.

“Executioner can never be trusted”

“They said they were searching for guns, but they obviously found nothing,” said Atta, Muhammad’s father. “I’m convinced that they did not come to arrest Muhammad but rather to assassinate him.”

Atta does not believe that his son’s killers will be brought to justice by the Israeli system. It would be futile, he feels, to litigate in Israel’s courts.

“The executioner can never be trusted to judge himself,” Atta said.

Recent events suggest that his reservations are well-founded.

The Israeli military has not taken any disciplinary action against Yisrael Shomer, a colonel who shot dead the teenager Muhammad al-Kasbeh near Israel’s military checkpoint at Qalandiya. Avideo of the killing proves that al-Kasbeh was running away at the time.

The video debunks Shomer’s claim that his life was in immediate danger because of al-Kasbeh’s stone-throwing.

Muhammad al-Kasbeh’s mother was among those who expressed sympathy to the Abu Latifa family this week. So, too, did the mother of Muhammad al-Araj. Then 17, he was killed by Israeli forces during a July 2014 march at Qalandiya checkpoint.

“Resistance is an obligation”

Muhammad Abu Latifa was the third Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank during a seven-day period.

The raid that preceded his killing was by no means a novel experience for the residents of Qalandiya camp. They are accustomed to being harassed and terrorized by the Israeli occupation.

Local youth displayed their anger at Israel by throwing stones at the Israeli forces following Muhammad’s funeral.

The Israeli army responded by firing tear gas and skunk water, a chemical weapon that leaves a foul odor wherever it is used.

“Clashes inevitably happen after each raid,” said one of Muhammad’s cousins, who asked not to be identified. “Most youth in the camp do not hesitate to clash with Israeli occupation even if the gun is pointed to their chest.”

“This is because we feel that we have nothing to lose. Life in the camp is intolerable. It cannot be even called life. We feel choked: no jobs, no hope, no breathing space.”

Maryam, Muhammad’s mother, expressed a similar view. “Muhammad is in a much better place right now,” she said.

“Everyone in the refugee camp — even those who are not politically active — is forced to resist the Israeli soldiers. How can they not clash with the army that regularly raids the camp and makes their lives unbearable? Here, resistance is not a choice but an obligation.”

 

African-Palestinian community’s deep roots in liberation struggle

Ali Jiddah speaks with a tour group in the Old City of Jerusalem in March 2014.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler

 

In early June the African Community Club in Jerusalem’s Old City was crammed with mourners. They had come to pay their respects to the late Subhiyeh Sharaf, an amiable woman and community elder.

The club serves as the headquarters of the African Community Society. It is a gathering place for the African community and a social and cultural center for Palestinians, screening films and hosting debates and other activities.

Outside the club, young men were running to bring tea to every incoming guest and maintain order. The necessary funds for Sharaf’s funeral ceremony were raised through donations as is typically the case during occasions of mourning and celebrations that take place in the African community here.

This is known as hatita, a longstanding tradition among Jerusalem’s African-Palestinians, in which community members contribute a certain sum of money according to their ability.

The tradition mirrors the strong ties and communal solidarity that distinguish the African community in Jerusalem. Most of this community, of approximately 350 people, live in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Interviews with members of the community and the society’s Arabic website reveal a rich history. African migration to Jerusalem dates back to 634 when Omar Bin al-Khattab, the second Muslim caliph, conquered Jerusalem. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that Africans started settling in Jerusalem in significant numbers.

Coming mainly from Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal, Africans flocked to Jerusalem for two main reasons. The first was religious: some considered Jerusalem the final destination of their pilgrimage. The second reason was their willingness to fight along with Palestinians against British and Zionist colonialism.

Guardians of mosque

The Africans who came to Jerusalem were initially scattered across the city but were in the early 1930s concentrated in two buildings facing each other, a few meters away from one of the main gates to al-Aqsa mosque. The gate is known as Bab al-Nazir or Bab al-Majlis.

The neighborhood itself was built in the 13th century and is characterized by its Mamluk-era architecture. It primarily served as a resting place for pilgrims and as a shelter for the poor and the homeless.

During the final years of Ottoman rule, the buildings were turned into a notorious prison compound where rebels against the Ottomans were held, including African dissidents. Following the end of Ottoman rule, the buildings — referred to as al-Ribat al-Mansouri (or al-Ribat al-Kurdi) and al-Ribat Aladdin al-Bassir — became part of the Islamic Waqf, a religious trust.

In the early 1930s, Palestinian political and religious leader Sheikh Amin al-Husseini leased them to Jerusalem’s Africans.

While taking pride in their African roots and trying to preserve their ancestral traditions, Africans in Jerusalem have largely integrated with other Palestinians and were woven into the Palestinian Jerusalemite fabric. This integration was facilitated by shared religious ties, the sense of belonging that Africans immediately formed with Jerusalem and the fact that African migrants could easily interact in Arabic.

The two most powerful manifestations of this integration are social and political. On the social level, intermarriages between Africans and other Palestinians in Jerusalem are common, occasional complications notwithstanding.

Active in struggle

This is not to say that racism against African-Palestinians doesn’t exist. Some Palestinians who are not from Jerusalem pejoratively refer to the African community as the “neighborhood of slaves,” for instance.

Mahmoud Jiddah, an African community member and alternative tour guide, told The Electronic Intifada that “we occasionally face racism by other Palestinians due to our darker skins, but by no means can you say that this is a trend. Far from it.”

He added that the main perpetrator of racism is the Israeli police. “We face a twofold oppression by the Israeli occupation: first because we are Palestinian; and second because we are black,” he said.

On the political level, Africans have been strongly involved in the Palestinian struggle.

Jiddah, whose father migrated to Jerusalem from Chad at the beginning of the 20th century, said that Africans were particularly active in the Arab Salvation Army and played a key role in the Jerusalem battles during the 1948 Nakba, Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, the commander of the battalion that prevented the fall of Jabal al-Mukabber — an East Jerusalem neighborhood — in 1948 was the Nigerian-born Muhammad Tariq al-Afriqi.

Africans also suffered their fair share of displacement during the Nakba with almost one-quarter of the original African population in Jerusalem becoming refugees in neighboring countries.

The role of Africans in the Palestinian liberation struggle became even more notable following the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem.

The very first female Palestinian political prisoner was Fatima Barnawi, a Palestinian of Nigerian descent, who served 10 years in Israeli occupation jails after a foiled bombing attack in Jerusalem. She was released in a 1977 prisoner exchange and deported.

During the height of the first intifada, a high percentage of the African population — both male and female — was imprisoned.

The first Palestinian killed during the second intifada was Osama Jiddah. A member of the African community, he was shot dead by Israeli forces on 29 September 2000 while on his way to donate blood in al-Maqased hospital on the Mount of Olives.

These are just a few examples of the active participation of the African community in the Palestinian struggle for liberation that belies their relatively small numbers. For the African community, resistance is not a choice, but an obligation made unavoidable by living in the Old City.

Passport racism

For some people coming from other places in Palestine to pray in Jerusalem for the first time, it is not obvious that there is a community that lives a few meters away from one of the holiest Muslim sites. Their initial reaction when they learn about it is to say that these people are so lucky and blessed.

For African-Palestinians, however, this can occasionally be a blessing in disguise.

Living in the heart of the Old City means being a target of Israel’s constant attempts to drive Palestinians out of this place and erase Palestinian identity and existence. In this context, Israel systematically denies building permits to African-Palestinians living in the Old City.

Even minor restorations or the building of an additional room are banned, forcing people to smuggle basic construction materials into the neighborhood. Newly-built Israeli settlements in the city are quickly restored and expanded, while Palestinians are threatened with demolitions if they build one additional room or restore their houses.

Restrictions on building — combined with high levels of poverty and unemployment — have forced some members of the African community, particularly the younger generation, to look for residence outside the Old City. Many have moved to areas like Beit Hanina or Shuafat because it is extremely difficult to accommodate a growing family in the Old City.

This problem is faced by all Palestinians in the Old City. But one problem unique to African-Palestinians is that — unlike most Palestinians in Jerusalem — many of them do not have a Jordanian passport.

“My father carried a French passport which he gave up following Chad’s independence in 1960,” said Mahmoud Jiddah. “When he applied for a Jordanian passport — since Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule then — it took him more than four years to receive it … But even the fact that my father carried a Jordanian passport doesn’t mean that I could automatically attain one. I’ve only received a temporary passport a couple of years ago and it’s about to expire.”

Jiddah added that he has a list of 50 African-Palestinians from Jerusalem who are banned from receiving a Jordanian passport. He explained that this Jordanian policy of refusing to give passports to African-Palestinians has to do with considering them “strangers.”

He said: “Imagine — we’ve been living here for our entire lives and we’ve sacrificed everything for Jerusalem and the Jordanian authorities consider us strangers. But when they ruled over Jerusalem in 1948, they suddenly became the kings.”

African-Palestinians are forced to travel using a laissez-passer, which means they are not allowed to visit Arab countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. Alternatively they are left with the option of applying for a Palestinian Authority or international passport which could jeopardize their residency status in Jerusalem. The other option left is to apply for an Israeli passport, which the community strongly rejects.

Microcosm

In a sense, the African community in Jerusalem is a microcosm of the challenges Palestinians in Jerusalem face, and of the resilience they maintain.

Jiddah was arrested by Israeli occupation forces on 5 September 1968, along with his brother Abdullah and their cousin and comrade in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ali Jiddah.

Mahmoud was sentenced to 25 years in jail, while Ali was sentenced to 20 for planting bombs. Both of them were released in 20 May 1985 in a prisoner exchange between Israel and the splinter group PFLP-GC.

A self-proclaimed Palestinian, African and socialist, Mahmoud, like his cousin, refused all pressure to deport him from Jerusalem. The men preferred to spend most of their lives in jail over leaving Jerusalem.

Mahmoud’s brother Abdullah, though, was deported in 1970, and was separated from his family and city.

“The first time I saw my brother was in Switzerland in 1993 when I got an invitation to a human rights conference in Geneva. I will never forget that moment,” Jiddah said. “The second time we met after that was in Jordan in 2012, which only makes me wonder: do I still have 20 years left in my life to see my brother again?”

Mahmoud Jiddah is as old as the Nakba. His community embodies the Palestinian narrative of uprooting, defiance and survival in all of its details.