electronic intifada

Israeli army shuts down prominent Palestinian rights groups
Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, Aug 18 2022

The PA PM pays a solidarity visit to Al-Haq. Photo: Shadi Hatem/APA

IOF raided, sealed and imposed closure orders on the offices of several prominent Palestinian human rights, feminist and social services organizations in the West Bank early Thursday. Hours earlier, soldiers shot in the chest and killed Wasim Nasser Khalifa, 18. The teen was fatally injured during confrontations that erupted when Jewish worshippers, escorted by the Israeli military, infiltrated the northern West Bank city of Nablus to pray at Joseph’s Tomb. Thirty Palestinians were injured, two of them severely, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The Israeli military frequently raids Nablus late at night to allow settlers to access the archaeological site that is considered sacred by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Israeli soldiers sometimes shoot at Palestinians during those raids, injuring them with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. The army also imposes curfews and strict military closures on the city, disrupting people’s lives.

Palestinians confronted Israeli soldiers that raided the offices of several human rights, feminist and social services organizations in the Ramallah area in the central West Bank early Thursday. According to Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, the Israeli military entered the Ramallah area at 3 am and raided its offices as well as those of Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. Israel designated the six organizations “terrorist groups” late last year. A seventh organization, the Union of Health Work Committees, was also reportedly raided on Thursday. The designations have been denounced by UN experts and were rejected by nine EU states that fund the targeted groups for lack of evidence substantiating Israel’s claims. More than 20 members of US Congress have demanded that the Biden administration publicly reject the designations and pressure Israel to rescind the measures. Instead, during his visit to Jerusalem last month, Biden pledged to shield Israel from accountability, including at the UN and ICC.

And instead of pressuring Israel to rescind the designations, the EU’s 27 foreign ministers decided to resume meetings of the EU-Israel Association Council, a high-level forum. And while nine EU members have rejected the Israeli allegations, the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels has pointedly refused to do so, despite Israel’s failure to back up its charges with evidence.

With no meaningful consequences imposed on Israel over the designations, and instead only rewards, Tel Aviv was seemingly emboldened to escalate its crackdown on the Palestinian groups. Israeli forces “forcibly blasted through the locked security door of Al-Haq’s offices, bursting the door from its hinges and raiding the premises, setting off the alarms,” the rights group said on Thursday. The military also broke the front door of St Andrew’s Anglican Church, located below Al-Haq’s offices, “leaving long shards of exposed broken glass, sponge-grenades, and several teargas canisters, rubber-coated and live bullets around the property.” The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem said that soldiers occupied its entire complex, including “the church sanctuary, parish hall, church offices, rectory and the Arab Episcopal Medical Center.” The diocese, which condemned the “flagrant attack,” added:

The sound of gunshots, stun grenades and the smashing of doors caused terror among the families living inside the compound.

Al-Haq said that the Israeli army raided each room in its offices and rummaged through files and trashed its premises. The army “welded a new reinforced iron door to the outside of Al-Haq’s office,” preventing entry. Soldiers also posted a military order commanding the closure of the office “for the safety and security of the area.”

Defense for Children International-Palestine said that soldiers took “client files related to Palestinian child detainees” that it represents in Israeli military courts. Security camera footage shows that they also removed other equipment, though because occupation forces welded the door shut, “it is unclear exactly what items were confiscated,” DCIP said. Israeli forces raided the child rights group’s offices in July last year and seized files and equipment.

Bisan, a Palestinian research group, said that the Israeli military had sealed its doors and posted “a military order declaring the organization unlawful.”

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees posted security camera footage of Israeli soldiers confiscating materials from their office on Thursday morning:

Addameer, a prisoners rights group, posted photos of the closure orders posted by the military on its doors:

Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, said that her organization and the other targeted groups “will continue in our work in supporting the Palestinian people and defending Palestinian rights in the international arena, especially in front of the ICC and in the UN.”

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees noted that Thursday morning was “not the first time that the occupation forces stormed our office.”

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said that the raids and closures of the Palestinian groups is “another clear attempt to repress those documenting and pursuing accountability for rights violations.” Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing some of the designated groups, said that the attacks on the Palestinian organizations was motivated out of “desire to frustrate the ICC investigations.” Three of the groups raided on Thursday (Al-Haq, Addameer and Defense for Children International-Palestine) have provided evidence to The Hague’s investigation of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Fatou Bensouda, the previous ICC chief prosecutor, authorized an investigation in Palestine during March last year. Her successor, Karim Khan, has so far not commented publicly on Israel’s persecution of Palestinian groups cooperating with the court. Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister who imposed the “terror” designations, is a likely person of interest in the ICC’s probe over his role in Israel’s targeting of civilians during its bombing campaigns in Gaza. Al-Haq warned on Thursday that there is risk of Israel seizing the targeted groups’ finances and assets, as well as the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of their staff members. The group called for “concrete measures, such as trade restrictions and arms embargoes,” to hold Israel to account for its “systematic inhumane acts of apartheid, including the persecution of Palestinian human rights defenders.” The PA foreign ministry condemned the raids and said that lack of international accountability has enabled Israel’s “continued war against international human rights movement.” Following Thursday’s raids, the EU tweeted that it would “continue to stand by international law” and support organizations upholding “international law, human rights and democratic values.” But the EU pointedly failed to condemn Israel’s actions or call for them to be rescinded. The foreign affairs spox for the EU did not respond to a request for comment. The EU’s tweet attracted skepticism and scorn from observers who pointed towards the EU’s “willful complicity” in Israel’s rights abuses.

Likewise, the US State Dept spox Ned Price said that Washington was “concerned” about the raids but did not condemn them. AP reported:

He said Israeli officials have pledged to provide further information, without detailing what has been received so far or what conclusions US officials have drawn from it.

During a press conference on Thursday, the targeted Palestinian organizations pledged to keep working, saying:

We don’t take our legitimacy from an Israeli military commander, but from our people and Palestinian law.

How Israel erases Palestinian cultural memory
Rona Sela, Electronic Intifada, Aug 17 2022

A frame from footage recorded by Palestinian revolutionary filmmakers
and included in ‘A Reel War: Shalal.’

Israel’s looting of Palestinian cultural and historical archives since the first half of the 20th century has been exposed and discussed for only around the past two decades. In 2017, I directed a film essay titled Looted and Hidden: Palestinian Archives in Israel that deals with the Palestinian cultural archives confiscated by Israel during its invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. In this film, as well as in articles and books I have published on this topic since 2000, I discuss how Jewish and Israeli military forces, as well as individuals, off-duty soldiers and civilians, have taken possession of Palestinian cultural materials throughout the 20th century and to this day. As far as I discovered in my research, these materials include photographs, films, exhibitions, books, manuscripts, embroidered garments, graphic arts, music and more. The seized Palestinian archives, collections and materials, cultural and otherwise, were typically surveyed and studied by Israeli intelligence and transferred to the pre-state and state’s colonial archives, both military and civilian. In many cases, Palestinian cultural property looted by individuals was also put in Israel’s official archives. An archive serving to preserve historical memory would catalog the context, origin, purpose and authors of the materials, all of which would be easy to glean in the case of these materials seized by Israel. Israel’s purpose, however, is not to preserve Palestinian historical memory but to erase it from the public sphere. Therefore, Palestinian materials are not catalogued and treated according to archival standards and conventions, but are instead subjected to colonial ones.

The seizure of Palestinian cultural materials does not stop with the physical act of confiscation. Israel hides the materials in its archives, limiting access and preventing their exposure. Israel meanwhile classifies materials in an inaccurate and biased manner that suits the Zionist narrative. For example, the materials looted from Beirut are listed in Israel’s military archives as the “PLO archive,” a body that never existed. My studies of the archive’s bureaucracy reveal the destructive colonial means by which Israel exerts control over Palestinian narrative and history. My goal has been to give this issue the exposure it deserves so that seized and looted cultural and archival materials are returned to their Palestinian owners and restored to the public sphere. I am aware of the problems inherent to my work. Because the Israeli archive holds Palestinian materials by force, Palestinians face limitations to access. It is true that I have fought to open the archives and have partly succeeded in doing so. But I can do this only because I am Israeli. Some individual Israelis are directly responsible for the looting of Palestinian materials in wartime and during military operations. But Israeli society as a whole is implicated.

Erasure is central to Israeli apartheid and citizens including artists, creators and film directors (not just the military, politicians and archivists) play a role in the colonial process of elimination of the Palestinian past. The 2018 exhibition Stolen Arab Art at Tel Aviv’s Center for Art and Politics included screenings of video works by famous Arab artists without their consent, knowing permission would be denied due to the cultural boycott of Israel. The exhibition was thus widely condemned within the Israeli art world. This is hardly the only case of Israelis using Palestinian cultural materials without their authors’ permission, thereby replicating colonial methods of erasure and control. While Stolen Arab Art forthrightly indicated that the display violated the creators’ rights, the 2021 documentary ‘A Reel War: Shalal’ by Karnit Mandel misleadingly implies that footage by Palestinian revolutionary filmmakers was included with the permission of its owners.

In ‘A Reel War’ Mandel “discovers” where the films were taken from, but does not bother to interview their creators or their families. Much of the relevant information is in the credits of the films, so the supposed discovery is relatively minor. Mandel’s film emerges as another colonial act in the ongoing destructive movement against Palestinian culture and history. Mandel sought permission to use material from Sabri Jiryis, the last director of the Palestine Research Center, established in 1965 while it was still based in Beirut. Academic in nature, it was founded to document and research Palestinian history, and to publish books and articles devoted to the subject. Whether Jiryis has authority to grant such permission is not addressed in the film. The principal doubt, how does one ask permission from someone that does not have the authority to give such permission, does not come up. I recently contacted Israeli state archivist Ruti Abramovitz to ask her how materials were used in ‘Reel War’ without the permission of their owners and when the films and other seized materials will be returned to their rightful owners. Her official reply?

I am not going to respond.

In January, I lodged a formal complaint with Israel’s state comptroller. I contended that state archivists violate the rights of the owners of seized Palestinian cultural materials. I also asked for an investigation into why Israel holds the materials and when the seized cultural property will be repatriated. I was told in a phone call two months later that the state comptroller is not obliged to reply to the complaint. There is at least one precedent of Israel returning an archive to its Palestinian owner: that of the Jerusalemite photographer Ali Za’rur. Although this archive was not looted or seized but given as a gift to the mayor of Jerusalem by a member of the family, I hope this will serve as a precedent to repatriate archives captured and held in sin.

Dr Rona Sela is a researcher of visual history, a curator and film director and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. An earlier version of this article was published in Hebrew in Siha Mekomit.

Brutal police assault on Palestinian-American teen in Chicago
Reema Rustom, Muhammad Sankari, Electronic Intifada, Aug 18 2022

Protesters outside the Oak Lawn PD, Jul 28 2022. Photo: Reema Rustom

On Jul 28, the Arab community of Chicagoland awoke to a viral video on Facebook showing a young Arab male being brutally beaten by three Oak Lawn police officers. Oak Lawn is a southwest suburb of Chicago that has a large Palestinian population. The video, filmed the day before by a Black woman from her car, shows two officers on top of the teen, repeatedly beating him in the head and body. A third officer runs up and appears very briefly to place his knee on the child’s head or neck before the three grown men finish handcuffing their target. The boy in the video, Hadi Abuatelah, is a 17-year-old Palestinian-American and a rising high school senior from Bridgeview, Illinois, another of the Palestinian-heavy southwest suburbs of Chicago. As a result of the attack, Hadi sustained multiple injuries, including fractures to his pelvis and face, and internal bleeding in his brain. He was transferred to a local hospital in critical condition, and it took almost six days for his health to stabilize enough for him to be released from the hospital and into police custody.

The southwest suburbs of Chicago are home to one of the largest Palestinian communities in the US. Most of the suburbs’ residents are from West Bank towns, having emigrated after the 1967 Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but some have been in Chicagoland since even before the Nakba. The Oak Lawn PD alleges that Hadi had a gun on his person and that is why they used such force. The video shows that a gun was found after the beating, but it is not at all clear where it came from. Yet the gun has nothing to do with the criminal act committed by these three officers. In the end, it was an act rooted in racism in a community that is no stranger to systemic, structural, and institutional racism and targeting by law enforcement, other government agencies, and ultra-right and white nationalist groups. The video, while horrifying, was not surprising to Arabs in the southwest suburbs; nearly everyone has a story about law enforcement repression or harassment. The responses of the Oak Lawn police chief and the suburb’s Board of Trustees were disturbing. In a press conference following the surfacing of the video, Chief Daniel Vittorio insisted the officers acted within the norms of standard operating procedure, going so far as to say they would have been justified even if they had used deadly force.

As soon as the video went viral, the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) and a number of partner organizations immediately called for a community mobilization. Over 300 Arabs and allies, in a multiracial show of unity, descended on the Oak Lawn PD, chanting against racist policing and calling for #Justice4Hadi. The Oak Lawn police responded to the protest by putting armed officers on rooftops and surrounding protesters with additional officers equipped with military-grade weapons and full SWAT gear. Undeterred by this attempt to intimidate, Hadi’s family and community supporters mobilized just four days later, on Aug 1, after Hadi was discharged from the hospital into Oak Lawn police custody. The AAAN called upon the community to converge again on the Oak Lawn PD and also to flood the department with calls to release Hadi into the custody of his parents. Instead, Oak Lawn police further punished Hadi by transferring him to the Cook County juvenile detention center, forcing him to spend the night in lock-up under medical supervision until he was granted a hearing in front of a judge the following day.

As soon as the AAAN was notified that Hadi had been transferred, it called for a vigil and rally the next morning at the detention center. On Aug 2, while community members were rallying and speaking to the press outside the detention center, hundreds of additional activists flooded the phone lines of the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for the second day in a row, demanding that charges against Hadi be dropped and that she immediately file charges against the three officers involved in the savage assault. Hadi appeared in front of a judge shortly after 1 pm as more and more community members gathered outside. The judge agreed to release Hadi into the custody of his parents, and the prosecution asked for a three-week continuance to determine how to proceed with the case. A few minutes later, Hadi walked out of the detention center alongside his family and attorneys and was greeted by massive cheers from supporters. It was the first organizing victory in the #Justice4Hadi campaign, as the political pressure placed on the state’s attorney assisted Hadi’s legal team in securing his release.

On Aug 5, the AAAN, the Black-led Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Latinx-led Organized Communities Against Deportations, Southsiders for Peace and others doubled down on the demand that the officers who assaulted Hadi be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office and fired by the Oak Lawn PD, as another 100-plus community members protested at the police station. The chief once again stationed armed officers on the rooftops and, this time, shut down the streets surrounding the station to intimidate the protesters and obstruct access to the gathering. The #Justice4Hadi campaign has struck a nerve with the Arab community of Chicagoland because it speaks to a reality that so many know: one of targeting, harassment and racial profiling by southwest suburban police departments.

In Jul 2022, the AAAN published a report exposing a surveillance and data-gathering program used by Illinois law enforcement agencies. The program, named Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), collects massive amounts of data on Arab, Muslim and other communities of color, pulling them into the US counter-terrorism nexus. The report found that police departments like Oak Lawn’s participate in the SARs program, targeting and criminalizing Arabs and Muslims for everyday activities and stereotyping us as the local face of the “enemy” abroad. Hadi’s court date is set for Aug 25, yet AAAN is still waiting for a response from the State’s Attorney’s Office on whether the three officers will be charged. Securing the indictments, prosecution and firing of the officers who beat Hadi is of paramount importance to our communities. If the police can get away with assaulting a child, then none of the communities of color in Chicagoland are safe.

Reema Rustom lives in Chicago, is a former leader of Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul University, and is currently a youth organizer at the Arab American Action Network. Muhammad Sankari lives in Chicago and has been with the Arab American Action Network since 2010. He is its lead organizer and a primary writer of the network’s groundbreaking report, “Suspicious Activity Reports and the Surveillance State: The Suppression of Dissent and the Criminalization of Arabs and Muslims in Illinois.”

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