Nabka bill is racist and immoral
- Published: 10 June 2011
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The decision to sanction those who are involved in acknowledging the Nakba (an annual day of commemoration for the Palestinian people of the displacement that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948) because it undermines Israel’s Independence Day is a clear indicator of the extent to which Palestinians living within Israel are afforded second class citizenship, writes Lynda Renham Cook.
11 June 2011
In 1995 I was in Israel. It was May and me and my friends were celebrating ??? ???????? (Yom ha’atzmaut) the holiday that celebrates Israel‘s declaration of independence.? It was an exciting and passionate time. I was young, fiercely Jewish, scandalously apolitical and embarrassingly naïve.
I understood something of Zionism but not enough to form an opinion or state one. Israel was home to the Jewish people, therefore it was my home. Fast forward 15 years and I am still fiercely Jewish, highly political and with eyes frighteningly wide open.
I am passionate about Palestine and openly critical of Israel and any Zionist movement. Occupation is indefensible and I never forget that. This year I did not celebrate Yom ha’atzmaut for to do so would mean I condone the occupation of Palestine and the illegal settlements. I do not. I am not a Zionist.
On 15 May I listened to the news and was both appalled and saddened at the violence made upon the Palestinian people who attempted to peacefully commemorate Nakba- (meaning day of the catastrophe) an annual day of commemoration for the Palestinian people of the displacement that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948.
Commemorated on 15 May the day after the official declaration of Israel, it is an important day for all of Palestine. I thought of my Palestinian friends, of homes stolen, land seized, and freedom denied. However, I knew that hope could never be extinguished.
Ben Gurion famously said that :the old will die and the young will forget”. The young will never forget, of that Ben Gurion was very wrong. The youth of Palestine are the most determined I know.
This particular year the commemoration of Nakba was highly emotional. It came two months after the Knesset passed the ‘Nakba bill,’ which enables the state to withdraw government funding from various local councils and organisations that undermine the State of Israel's core values as a Jewish and democratic state by marking Independence Day as a day of mourning.
Along with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and around the world, Israeli Arabs mark the yearly Nakba anniversary on 15 May with mourning and commemoration events. Under the proposed legislation, people who are caught marking the Nakba could be jailed for up to three years.
Avigdor Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, says the bill is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel. Many see it as racist, immoral and an insult on democratic rights. The decision to sanction those who are involved in acknowledging the Nakba because it undermines Israel’s Independence Day is a clear indicator of the extent to which Palestinians living within Israel are afforded second class citizenship.
It would not be seen as acceptable to deny Jews the right to acknowledge the pain and loss afforded by the Holocaust, but perfectly acceptable for them to deny the pain and loss felt by Palestinian people.
Ibrahim Ameriah, one of the leaders of the Ni’lin Popular Committee against the Wall stated the importance of Nakba to the Palestinian people:
On the 15th of May of every year, the Palestinians commemorate the day of the Nakba. The day of their catastrophe in 1948 accompanied with the declaration of the state of Israel. It is called a day of remembrance for the Palestinian remembers the genocidal (sic) ethnic cleansing, the systematic expulsion and displacement from their home land.
This of course, was followed by massacring innocent victims, committing rapes and other atrocities, burning, bulldozing homes and orchards, blowing up and stealing property and culminated in preventing expelled Palestinians from returning.
To us, this day means upheaval day, violence and cataclysmic loss, it describes the terror which drove almost one million people out of their homeland, stripping them of identity, dignity, honour and the most basic of human rights leaving them in perpetual suffering in exile and crumbling under the ugliest and worst occupation the history has ever known.’
The Israeli army, this year in particular, was ruthlessly brutal in their dealings with the protestors. Disgracefully using disguised policeman, a practice that really should be condemned, they ingratiated themselves with the Palestinians only to violently suppress them.
What follows are accounts given by Mazin Qumsiyeh and Ahmad Al Bazz. Ahmad is an 18-year-old photographer living in Nablus, Palestine. His photos can be found on Facebook under Ahmad Al Bazz photographer. He attended the protests in Qalandia, where the check point security is infamous for its nightmarish security, long lines and metal detectors but worst of all its heavy blanket of humiliation.
Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh is the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine and his experiences and writings can be found at Qumsiyeh: A Human Rights Web and can also be read on his blog Popular resistance. He was arrested while protesting at Al-Walaja.
Ahmad Al Bazz
Emotions were high this year especially during the preparations for the Nakba day. Things were very different this year and all the Palestinians all over the world took part.
At the same time that Palestinians in occupied Palestine were preparing people were travelling from the Lebanese and Syrian borders , no one was afraid as we are all used to the occupation army brutality.
Men and women were very brave on that day. We were all peaceful but the occupation army just knows oppression we didn't do anything but every time we came near the wall they just starting shooting. They fired tear gas at us which is really horrific as they don't fire one or two but dozens at the same time so the whole area turns white from the smoke and people start fainting.
If someone is hit directly by one they either get seriously hurt or die as happened with Jawaher Abu Rahma who died from gas inhalation in April 2010 in Bilin as well as Bassem Abu Rahmah. I was really lucky on the day as one fell next to me but thankfully I was saved.
We would hear lot of shots but could never be sure where it was coming from. The occupation army was everywhere as though they were in a war. They were stationed above the building as well. Lots of children participate in the commemoration and there were many from Qalandia. They were holding banners saying ‘I dream of going back to Yafa.’ They soon had to retreat as they couldn’t breathe with the gas everywhere.
The disguised soldiers are known to us as Mustaribeen. They dress and act like Arabs, one even dressed as a woman. Most of them speak fluent Arabic. People get very angry that the soldiers do this. They are a separate unit in the occupation army who mingle with us. It is not easy to discover them and once they get the sign, they start arresting certain people.
They arrested six amongst us and one of those got injured. Around 200 were injured on the day, some old, some young and also children. Many were in a state of shock and some fainted from the gas inhalation. Some people were hit by rubber and live bullets. Luckily, I saw no one killed in Qalandia but there were some dead elsewhere. Those who got arrested could spend at least 2 years in prison.
Our day started in the beautiful village of Al-Walaja at 11 AM as the villagers symbolically burned a refugee tent and decided to walk to their lands, much of it lies beyond the 1948 “Green line” ( itself dissolved by the Israeli occupation 1967 ).
I was video documenting this historic event on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of 500 Palestinian villages and towns). Some 800 people from Al-Walaja, other Palestinians, and internationals walked down the hills to the valley that delineates the 1948 green line. Army jeeps gathered on the road between us and the old land of Al-Walaja.
Shireen and Basil approached the officers in an attempt to talk and explain that it is a peaceful march and that we just wanted to visit our lands. The answer was an empathic “get back” and an immediate attack by soldiers on the peaceful demonstrators.
I noticed Ahmed down on the ground, pepper sprayed in his eyes and mouth and obviously in severe pain. I tried to help him while trying to film at the same time, within 3-5 minutes I was led away with 4 others including Ahmed.
As they roughly and sadistically hit and pushed us into their military vehicle, Ahmed's condition was worsening and he was refused medical care. The four youths were handcuffed in the back and I was handcuffed in front (perhaps due to my age). As we drove off, we started to hear the sounds of tear gas canisters and stun grenades.
I and the others pleaded with the soldiers and officers to provide medical care to Ahmed, but they would not even give us a paper-towel or a cloth to wipe his face (fluids running down his nose, mouth and ears). I finally used my T-shirt (which says “Got human rights? Palestinians don´t “!) to wipe the pepper spray off his face.
Time passes slowly when you are in pain physically and psychologically. But while all of us had bruises (the pharmacist Basil Al-Araj even suspected he has fracture in his rib) we all focused on encouraging and helping Ahmed.
Two hours later we did get paper towels but I was the only one capable of helping Ahmed because my hands were in front of me. We were first transferred to border police vehicle (with a particularly nasty woman soldier). We arrived at the military camp near Rachel’s tomb area. We are then all taken to the military compound called Atarot. I have been there in my last arrest, the soldiers and the interrogation rooms are elevated and a holding container is about two meters “depression” with metal roof.
There we are to wait without using our phones (but we do in a clandestine way). Soon five more people from Al-Walaja were brought in including two children (twins ages 12). The children and two of the adults were taken from their houses (one in his slippers).
For the rest of my life I will not forget the terrorized look and tears of the children (we tried to encourage and joke with them). Soon 15-20 more people are brought in (arrested at Shufat refugee camp).
I noted at least four masked undercover plain-cloth thugs accompanying them (these are the notorious "Mustaribeen", Israeli undercover agents who infiltrate demonstrations, sometimes throwing rocks to incite others and give excuse for the uniformed officers to shoot.) We are told that hundreds of Palestinians were injured and hundreds arrested from around the Jerusalem area (Shufat, Qalandia, Eisawiyya).
Two youths from the Shufat group are badly injured; one had his head bandaged by a Palestinian paramedic earlier. The other whom I examined had contusions on his face including what appeared to me a broken bone and a huge swelling around his left eye. He is shaking, dizzy, and in pain.
I asked the officers to get him urgent medical care. One officer finally says: wait here. Then he goes and gets another officer who has the form that we all had refused to sign (the one that says “we did not get hurt during our arrest").
The message was clear: sign and we will get you medical care. The guy can´t even see to sign and he refuses. After much fuss and later (to quiet us down) they came back and took the two injured away, we hope they are cared for properly.
After much nagging on our part, one interrogator comes and asks if the two young children have celebrated their 12th birthday yet. The answer was no and he had no choice but decide to "question" them (more through scaring and screaming at them) then tell a fellow officer in Hebrew to call their parents to get them. (This takes another 1.5 hours).
Israeli law allows charging and jailing Palestinians above age 12. As I would find out when they took me to prison, the prisons are full of 12-18 year-old kids. Prison life is regimented and orderly.
When roll call came, we stand up in our rooms next to our beds and the room metal doors are unlocked and several officers are standing there and they look at us as vultures while they call either our first or last name and we supply the rest of our name information. Time out is till six PM and during time out of rooms, the room doors are opened every half hour for three or so minutes in case you want to get something or return to your room.
I am told the Palestinian authority pays Israel 17 dollars a day to keep each prisoner. Israel wants to maintain prisoner number (now in the thousands) as bargaining chips. I am impressed by how organized and clean the prisoners kept their crammed quarters.
We agree that if I end up staying, I will learn Hebrew and teach English. In their weekly gathering I was also asked to give them a seminar on my book on history of Popular Resistance in Palestine. They bring me a book about Hebrew and I start to jot down notes about English and give the first two pages about alphabet and pronunciation to Mohammed. We discussed many things.
Around 10:30 PM and as I was beginning to doze off, I heard loud knock on the locked metal door and my name is called. I am told I am going and to get my things. I quickly change back to the prison uniform, stick my hands out the opening of our room door to be re-shackled.
The door is open and I find Ahmed (the other Ahmed, not the one injured) sitting and waiting. Then they bring Basil. By that time all the block is up at the doors and small windows checking out what is happening wishing us good wishes.
Tears well up in my eyes as we are slowly led away leaving those good people behind. After some processing, change of clothes, re-shackling (our feet also shackled), we are loaded onto a prison transport vehicle.
We are told our lawyer must retrieve our identity cards and valuable belongings (wallet, phone). We are dumped with no money and no phone in the middle of the night outside of the prison.
The mistreatment upon release is intended to send a message not come back (actually that was the last thing the officer told me). We manage to find a way home.
The full account of Mazin’s arrest can be found here and this excerpt is reprinted here courtesy of Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh.
Many thanks also to Ahmad Al Bazz for his contribution to this article and Assem Elsabeeny for Arabic translation.
Lynda Renham Cook is associate editor at The Scavenger.
Images from top: Nabka Day, photo by Ahmad Al Bazz; One of the Palestinian youth trying to help kids stuck in the house as they were affected by the tear gas, photo by Ahmad Mesleh; Palestinians attending the event for Nakba Day in Qalandia Checkpoint near Ramallah, photo by Ahmad Mesleh; An old man holding a big key which symbolises the keys of the houses that Palestinians left in the occupation of 1948, photo by Ahmad Mesleh.