Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Israeli Reporter Amira Hass Forced Out of Gaza by Hamas, Detained by Israeli Police For Entering Gaza Without Permit

December 02, 2008

Israeli Reporter Amira Hass Forced Out of Gaza by Hamas, Detained by Israeli Police For Entering Gaza Without Permit

Israel has imposed a tightened blockade over its million and a half residents for nearly a month. Last month, award-winning Israeli journalist Amira Hass defied the blockade and entered Gaza on a boat with international peace activists. But on Sunday, Hamas officials told Hass they could no longer guarantee her security and forced her to leave. Hass was briefly detained by Israeli security officials upon re-entering Israel Monday because she did not have a permit for Gaza. Amira Hass joins us on the phone from Ramallah [includes rush transcript].


Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and one of Israel’s leading journalists. She has spent much of the last decade living in Palestinian communities of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hamas recently told her to leave Gaza. She joins us on the phone from Ramallah.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Middle East, to the Gaza strip where Israel has imposed a tightened blockade over its million and a half residents for nearly a month. The Israeli navy blocked a Libyan ship carrying 3,000 tons of food and medical aid from entering Gaza on Monday. It was the first attempt by a foreign government to break the siege of Gaza. Last month award-winning Israeli journalist Amira Hass defied the blockade and entered Gaza on a boat with international peace activists. She reported for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz from Gaza while being accompanied by Hamas. But on Sunday Hamas officials told Amira Hass they would no longer guarantee her security and asked her to leave. Hass was briefly detained by Israeli security officials upon re-entering Israel Monday because she did not have a permit for Gaza. The Israeli army officially barred its journalists from entering Gaza after the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Amira Hass is a correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz. She’s the author of “Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege” .She joins me now on the telephone from Ramallah, the West Bank, where she lives. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened to you in Gaza. Why were you kicked out by Hamas.

AMIRA HASS: I don’t know, they just got tired of me, I guess. They insisted from the start to follow me, to escort me 24 hours a day, which of course, did not make my work very easy, but I took it ok. They said there the wanted to avoid any slightest chance that someone might hurt you. All of the sudden Sunday, they told me circumstances has changed—all of the seven on Sunday, the circumstances have changed, there is more tension in the region. And there is also some information that my life might be in danger. As a principle, I do not take such threats or what any security apparatus tell me, whether it is Israeli, whether it is Arafat or Hamas. But they left no option, they were very strict about it. I have some friends in Hamas they tried very hard to put sense into some people, but it was in vain. The only thing we managed was to postpone the decision by- less than one day so I could see friends of mine because the main sense that I have is that Gaza is going to be isolated for so many years and that people won’t be able to leave anywhere, not to the West Bank, not abroad, not for a vacation, for so many years. Who knows when I would see friends again? This was also – apart from the frustration, the professional frustration, that I felt. You know, I had planned to stay three months now in Gaza, there was a much more to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, describe life in Gaza right now. It is very hard to get information out. In the last few weeks, executives from Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters, CNN, BBC and other news organizations sent a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, saying, well criticizing the government’s decision to bar journalists from entering Gaza with Israel virtually sealing it off. Its very hard to get a picture of what is going on inside.

AMIRA HASS: It is even very hard to describe it in 10 minutes or 30 minutes. It is complete isolation, I feel its like a black hole., Everybody, this isolation, this blockade reduces people’s lives in to basic concern. Will there be electricity? Will there be water? Will we find candles in the shop? Is there gas for cooking? People are still offended by the very needs to be preoccupied all the time by those needs. At the same time, there is a lot as always, there is the spirit of defiance that you find among Gazans. And the ability to make humor. So this has has not been lost at all. I actually was upset with some of the reports that only focused on how Palestinians are miserable, Gazans are miserable, completely overlooked the ability to maneuver, and to, the creative abilities of Gazans. So you have, then you have the blockade imposed on Gaza on the part of the Palestinian Authority. They still hope to make a Hamas government collapse by obstructing the regular work of main ministries in Gaza: Education and Health. This is very, this is really nasty. It is a chance for Hamas to employ its own people, but its own people especially in Health, are very much less experienced. There has always been a problem with the health system, there has always been but it is deteriorating very fast.

The same is true of the education system it is really heartbreaking to see how it is not only the blockade and the siege, which as you remember started in 1991 and not just four months ago, it is an ongoing process from Israeli policy. But the Ramallah authorities and Palestinian authorities add to it, add to it pressure. This is very, people are- it doesn’t weaken Hamas, the contrary, people say, ok, so Hamas is one of us. We are all targeted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

And the third point is that Hamas is not unhappy with the isolation right now because it enables it to establish its own regime in this small part of the world. It is a kind of independence from Israeli—a strange as it may sound—far away from Israeli control. There are attacks, there are military attacks, but inside, it is much more free from Israeli interference than the West Bank. So they can experiment their Islamic rule there, even though they say all the time this is not their goal. In practice, this is what is happening. So what is happening is that you have this miserable enclave with people who are imprisoned in it for so long and who are yearning for the world to open for them. For studies, for [unintelligible], for books, you know, it is difficult to send books to Gaza. It is almost impossible. Olmert has placed some few thousands of books at Erez waiting to bring into one of its libraries. And it cannot because of Israeli restrictions. So, but somehow, the three parties, the three powers concerned, unequal as they are, participate in this growing isolation of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Amira Hass, let me ask you, in the protests of the news organizations to being banned from Gaza, an Israeli defense ministry spokesperson said that there were displeased with international media coverage because it “inflated Palestinian suffering and did not make clear that Israel’s measures are in response to Palestinian violence”.

AMIRA HASS: Yes. Should I comment?


AMIRA HASS: Israeli officials have the talent always to reverse everything. I mean, it is to occupation that starts. That is the first thing. Israeli policies of occupation, which are the beginning. And then everything is the response, the Palestinian response. Whether it is clever or not is a different question. It is really amazing—I mean, this has ever been given as a reason to prevent journalists from entering Gaza. I mean, it seems there really passing their own borders or red lines. They used to say there was a danger to your life, but now they’re even there to intervene in the content of your report. And besides, it is not true. I think the world knows much more about the Israeli city which suffers from attacks of Palestinian rockets then they know the names like Sderot, Beni Suhayla, Abbasan al Sagheera, where people, localities in Gaza which have almost daily incursions’. So, these names are not known in the world. So its not even true what he claims.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the statement of the lame-duck Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, recently said to the surprise of many that he felt that Israel should withdraw from the territories. I wanted to get to you his exact quote. He said that “We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access in the Gaza for the international media." he also talked about—


AMY GOODMAN: He said, that Israel should withdraw from nearly all territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war in return for peace with the Palestinians and Syria, I am saying what no previous Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights. Well he still is Prime Minister.

AMIRA HASS: Well, I mean, this is ridiculous- if you are why don’t you do it, now? Where were you five months ago, or a year ago. It’s probably not new thinking. So you could say great, he’s been influenced a bit and got sense. It is useless. I do not know what made him say that, but it is totally useless if you don’t—if it is not your policy, if its only words.

AMY GOODMAN: Why can’t he? Even as a lame-duck Prime Minister, why can’t he enforce it, why can’t he move in that direction since he’s already said this?

AMIRA HASS: He created this monster of the settlements, settlers who oppose any such idea and they created this tradition that you do not touch the settlers when the object to any legal action against them. Of course he could not even start it in the few months the he has or the one month he has til he has to leave. This is not realistic right now. The question is, where did he start to change his mind? Where did he think that return to 67 is the only solution. So does he want to gain some popularity, since he has lost so much because of all the scandals, popularity among certain echelons—I do not know. It is a riddle. But of course he cannot do it, not only that because right now Israeli society is profiting directly from the occupation, more than ever before.

This one of the achievements of the Oslo agreements, and the Oslo process, that the settlements could extend direct economical company—economical companies that are directly connected to the settlements and to the occupied territories, has grown. More Israelis see the settlements as an natural phenomenon. And also, in, in the popular mind, Palestinians have a state. It does not matter it has no sovereignty, no land or water or borders. But in the mind of the Israelis, Palestinians have the state because they’re in control of the administrative affairs. So..

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass—

AMIRA HASS: If he wanted now, he could not. The general sentiment in Israel is very since the whole occupation is something normal.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us. Are you going to court on Thursday, in an Israeli court?

AMIRA HASS: Its only procedural, because I was released on bail. I was arrested and Ha’aretz worked hard so I would not be sent to jail for one night. So now, we have to discuss the terms of my release. And then they say they might charge me with breaking the military commanders order.

AMY GOODMAN: We will keep people posted. Amira Hass, correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, she’s talking to us from Ramallah, from her home in the West Bank. She was kicked out of Gaza. This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. The quote before, “We’re gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza strip for the international media” was from the news executives complaining to the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. This is Democracy Now! back in a minute..

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Action Alert: Oppose Hate Crimes at UC Berkeley

Statement from the Arab-American and Muslim Community of the San Francisco Bay Area on Hate Crimes at UC Berkeley

On Thursday November 13th, 2008, three Palestinian students were attacked near a Zionist supremacist concert labeled "Israeli Liberation Week" at the University of California , Berkeley . Two young Palestinian-American women and one man, all students, entered a building near the event, and unfurled two Palestinian flags off of a balcony overlooking the concert. Shortly after they displayed the flags, members of the right-wing supremacist groups Tikvah and the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA) entered the building, climbed the stairs to the second floor, isolated the Palestinian students on the balcony, and then proceeded to assault them. Witnesses identified the assailants as three members of the Zionist Freedom Alliance, including one current student, one alumnus, and one performer for the ZFA event.

During the attacks, anti-Arab racial epithets were used repeatedly. Despite numerous accounts indicating that the students were attacked by outside members, the police and administration treated the assaulted students as suspects. The incompetence of the UC Berkeley administration and severe mishandling of the situation by the police department further exacerbated the hate crime, which took place on the heels of the 60th anniversary of Zionism's displacement of the Palestinian people. Though it was the responsibility of the university to protect its students from hate crimes, protect the freedom of speech of its members, and to work diligently against an atmosphere of hate and supremacy, the university failed these tasks, and did not take precautions to protect the attacked students. Instead, in a statement to the campus community, it drew parity between the segregator and the segregated, the attackers and the attacked.

Rather than counteract rising anti-Arab sentiment in the United States and on UC campuses, the administration has either exacerbated those sentiments or stood idly by, its role proving to be an abomination in this matter. It has taken no significant steps to protect the rest of the Arab and Palestinian student population, or to apprehend or restrain the attackers. Moreover, Palestinian students have been questioned as if they were suspects in the matter, and members of the administration have told them that they "should have known better" than to exercise their free speech rights by holding a flag. Worse, the Chancellor's letter to the campus community took five days to reach the student body, and it barely addressed the incidents, providing no support for the attacked students' rights to freely challenge hate speech, or to attend campus without fear of being victimized by hate crime, let alone their rights to be safe from physical attack on campus. The administration's failure to learn from decades of racist history is astounding, and yet these are the educators of the next generation.

The Palestinian people have just commemorated 60 years of forceful displacement. In 1948 two-thirds of the indigenous population was forced out at gunpoint during the military occupation of Palestine and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. Palestinians were denied reentry and labeled as an indigenous and demographic threat to the colonial and ethnic supremacist nature of the State of Israel. Over 500 villages and towns were erased and many massacres were committed by the then Zionist militias of the Haganah and the Irgun and later the Israeli army. In a speech given June 15, 1969 former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Maier said, "There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed." Menahim Begin, another former prime minister said, "[The Palestinians are] beasts walking on two legs." Israeli prime minister in 1988 Yitzhak Shamir said, "The Palestinians would be crushed like grasshoppers ... heads smashed against the boulders and walls." Unfortunately, as this incident shows, Zionist hatred and violence has followed Palestinians to wherever they live in the world.

Universities are supposed to be places of intellectual engagement; places where opposing opinions, views, rationalizations and justifications may be voiced without fear of censorship, intimidation, or threat of violence. Cal 's most important marketing gimmick is its history of the free speech movement; it is the "free speech campus," after all. It is the place where Mario Savio stood up and rallied students to empower themselves and one another by raising their voices in declaration of their right to express their views. But let us remember that these events during Savio's time were the result of censorship by the administration, not a spontaneous enlightenment that drove students to begin suddenly expressing their opinions. Today, it is the university's implicit support of war policies and tacit nod and wink to hate speech that is resulting in a climate of fear and intimidation. The educational administrators of our youth seem to have internalized little from the free speech, anti-war and civil rights movements. They think that appointing a token person of color for a clerk's position can hide racist policies that have led to a decline in the admission of students of color to the University, just as naming some stairs after Mario Savio succeeds in placating the oppressed into silence, allowing hate-based violence to be viewed as commonplace.

We ask every responsible person in our community not to allow the defenders of apartheid in Israel , advocates for genocide and displacement, to drive fear into the hearts of our youth. On behalf of the communities and organizations signing this letter, we commend the Palestinian students for their courage and call for:

The campus community to rise to this historical moment, at a time when the US elects an African-American president, racial attacks against Arabs and Palestinians should not continue or go unchallenged. We urge all students to unite behind the statement:


The Berkeley DA to act on witness reports and prosecute the attackers for hate crimes.

The campus and Berkeley police to immediately apprehend the attackers and execute its responsibility to protect women, Arab and Palestinian students from hate attacks.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande to issue an apology to the Arab community for not recognizing the attack as a hate crime rather than a dispute caused by differing opinions.

The UC administration to execute immediate and swift corrective actions so that the university security forces handle advocacy for supremacist speech and defense of racial segregation by exile or other violent means as a potential threat to the community at large.

Please FAX the chancellor or write per the address below to voice our collective demands. Faxing is more effective than email.

Please call the Berkeley District Attorney and ask for the office to investigate the racial attacks and press hate crime charges against the ZFA and Tikvah assailants.

Office of the Chancellor
200 California Hall # 1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Phone (510) 642-7464
Fax (510) 643-5499

Berkeley District Attorney
2120 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 644-6683


SJP-Students for Justice in Palestine , UC Berkeley

Al-Awda, Palestine Right to Return Coalition
American Muslims for Palestine
ANSWER-Act Now to Stop War and End Racism-Coalition
Arab American Legal Services
Arab American Union Members Council
Arab Cultural and Community Center of San Francisco
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
Break the Silence Mural Project
General Union of Palestine Students, San Francisco
NCA-National Council of Arab Americans
Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG)-Chicago
Palestine Youth Network
Palestinian American Women's Association (PAWA)
SJP-Students for Justice in Palestine-University of Illinois at Chicago
Taller Tupac Amaru
The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
Xinaxtli , La Mexa de UCB