Israeli military bulldozers destroyed, Monday, a drinking water pipeline that was funded by The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the Central Plains of the occupied West Bank.
Mo’taz Bisharat, a Palestinian official in charge of Israeli colonies’ file at the Palestinian Authority in central West Bank, said many Israeli army jeeps and bulldozers invaded the area, during early morning hours, and destroyed a drinking water pipeline, providing water to Palestinian communities along the al-Hadeediyya and ar-Ras al-Ahmar areas.
Bisharat added that the pipeline provided clean drinking water to 47 families, and extended on 8.5 kilometers.
He also stated that the pipeline’s installation and equipment costs were 12500 euros, provided by the UNICEF to enable access to clean drinking water, and added that the soldiers confiscated large sections of the pipeline.
It is worth mentioning that this destruction is the second of its kind in one month.
Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens are facing a tidal wave of incitement and hate speech on social media, including from government ministers, community leaders have warned.
They say the increasingly hostile political climate in Israel is stoking violence from the police and street gangs, and has laid the ground for a recent raft of racist legislative proposals.
The alert comes as a group of Palestinian lawyers demand that Israel’s attorney general investigates Gilad Erdan, the internal security minister, for incitement to racism.
Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, highlighted statements from Erdan blaming Palestinian citizens for “arson terrorism” last November after forest fires swept the country, despite their having been no prosecutions.
“Israel has experienced arson terrorism and I won’t let anyone sweep this fact under the rug,” he wrote on Facebook in December. “Why does it seem unrealistic that Arabs would attempt to harm Jews?”
Adalah argued Erdan’s comments were part of a wider government strategy to portray Palestinian citizens, about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, as a “fifth column”.
Although other government ministers had incited, the group said, Erdan’s statements were especially harmful because of his role overseeing the police. Adalah said he was bolstering a police culture that already treated Palestinian citizens as an “enemy within”.
“Incitement from Erdan is dangerous because it reinforces and sanctions existing prejudices in the police,” Nadim Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, told Middle East Eye. “As a result, the police are likely to have an even lighter finger on the trigger.”
Concern about the effects of incitement from leading politicians has been underscored by a survey published this month that found rocketing levels of online abuse from Israeli Jews against Palestinians.
7amleh, an organisation promoting social media rights for Palestinians, identified 675,000 posts in Hebrew last year expressing racism or hatred towards Palestinians – one every 46 seconds, and more than double the previous year’s figure.
“There are terrifying levels of hate speech online from Israeli Jews,” Nadim Nashef, 7amleh’s director, told MEE. “No one in Israel – politicians, the police, the courts and the social media companies – has shown any interest in doing something about it.
“But it’s worse than that. The politicians are fuelling the problem. It has become completely normal in Israel to incite against Palestinians. You find it everywhere. It is entirely mainstream.”
The research identified more than 50,000 Hebrew speakers as persistent offenders on social media, especially Facebook, said Nashef. Spikes in online abuse correlated with incitement from Israeli politicians and the media, he added.
Popular terms of abuse included threats to kill, rape, burn, expel, and assault Palestinians.
Both Adalah and 7amleh said incitement from Israeli Jews was rarely investigated or prosecuted. Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, on the other hand, had their accounts closed or were arrested and jailed over less serious online activity.
7amleh said its research showed that the brunt of online abuse was directed at leading Palestinian politicians in Israel.
The most common targets were Haneen Zoabi, one of only two Palestinian women in the parliament, and Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, 7amleh said. Both Zoabi and Tibi have reported regular death threats.
According to the survey, they received more online abuse than the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas.
“When we are targeted rather than the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories, a clear message is sent to the [Jewish] public that we have no place in the parliament and those we represent have no right to be citizens,” Zoabi told MEE.
The climate of incitement had very concrete effects, said Zoabi: “It gives a green light to police violence. It is converted into shootings and deaths.”
She said dozens of Palestinian citizens had died in unexplained circumstances at the hands of the police in the last 15 years.
Zoabi also pointed to the increasing reports of gangs chanting “Death to the Arabs!” in Israeli cities and Jerusalem, as well as a growing incidence of street assaults.
Polls have shown high levels of racial prejudice among Israeli Jews. A survey last year found 49 per cent would not live in the same building as a Palestinian citizen.
Another showed a similar number of 16 and 17-year-olds would deny Palestinian citizens the right to vote.
Adalah said constant incitement from government politicians had made possible the drafting of ever-more discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation.
Shehadeh noted that recent laws allowed the parliament to expel the minority’s legislators over their views, and hampered the work of human rights groups assisting Palestinians.
Zoabi agreed. “Every week we see bills being introduced, such as a ban on the mosque call to prayer, or moves to step up home demolitions in Palestinian communities. The political culture sanctions ever more violence through legislation.”
Nashef said a turning point in the levels of incitement could be traced to comments by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the last general election, in early 2015. Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook telling the Jewish public it was vital they voted because “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls”.
“When the prime minister talks like this, then everyone else understands that it is okay to do it too,” Nashef said.
7amleh’s survey showed a significant peak of online incitement and hate speech last November, as hundreds of fires broke out across Israel and the occupied territories, triggered by a prolonged drought and high winds.
Despite the exceptional weather conditions, Erdan led government ministers in accusing Palestinians, especially those in Israel, of being behind the fires.
Adalah cited Erdan’s Facebook post from early December. Dozens of Palestinian citizens were arrested by police, but none have been charged with “nationalist crimes” over the fires.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has continued to make similar accusations, stating last month: “That fact that we can’t prove it [that the fires were terrorism] doesn’t mean it’s not what happened.”
Nashef said: “These inciteful statements garner a lot of media attention and our research shows they have a powerful impact in shaping public attitudes. But few notice when they turn out to be based on lies or misinformation.”
Adalah also cited comments by Erdan justifying the fatal shooting of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan by police last month during a demolition operation in Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin community in Israel’s south.
A police video and post-mortem examination report indicated that Abu al-Qiyan lost control of his car after he was shot, and careered into a group of policemen, killing one of them.
According to Israeli media, a justice ministry report – due to published next month – has found no evidence that Abu al-Qiyan carried out an attack or belonged to an extremist organisation.
Nonetheless, said Shehadeh, Erdan and other government ministers repeatedly accused Abu al-Qiyan, without evidence, of being an Islamic State terrorist.
Erdan tweeted hours after the two deaths: “The terrorist sharply turned his wheel and quickly accelerated in order to run over a group of police officers.”
Netanyahu’s office similarly described the incident as a “car-ramming attack”. Implying that Abu al-Qiyan was part of global trend of Islamic terrorism, Netanyahu said Israel and the world were “fighting this murderous phenomenon”.
Adalah’s letter to the attorney general also pointed out that Erdan had repeatedly blamed the deaths in Umm al-Hiran on Palestinian legislators there to protest against the demolitions. Erdan singled out Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, the Palestinian coalition in the parliament.
In comments to the media, he said: “Ayman Odeh and the rest of the MKs from the Arab [sic] List who have come to enflame sentiments this morning: This blood is also on your hands. … You are a disgrace to the State of Israel.”
In Umm al-Hiran, Odeh was himself injured twice, including to the head, by sponge-tipped bullets fired at him by police.
Problem with Facebook
Nashef criticised Facebook, where most of the online hate speech was found, for contributing to the problem.
Last summer Facebook agreed to crack down on what Israel defines as incitement by Palestinians. Paradoxically, Erdan was the minister who met the tech companies.
According to reports, in the first half of 2016, a tenth of all content restrictions imposed by Facebook globally were at the Israeli government’s behest.
But Nashef said nothing was being done to deal with incitement and hate speech from the Jewish public.
“It is not reasonable that large numbers of Palestinians have their accounts shut down or are arrested and jailed for online hate speech, while Israeli Jews can engage in the same or worse activity and there are no consequences,” he said.
Neither the justice or police ministries were available for comment.
7amleh said the biggest peak in online abuse followed the arrest last March of army medic Elor Azaria. He was filmed executing a badly wounded Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. This week he was sentenced to 18 months’ jail for manslaughter.
Several government ministers, including Netanyahu, expressed strong support for Azaria.
The survey showed another outburst of online abuse followed attacks last September by the culture minister, Miri Regev, against two Palestinian cultural icons.
She described the late national poet Mahmoud Darwish as the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies”, and accused a popular rapper, Tamer Nafar, of giving “legitimacy to terrorism”.
Poisonous gases sprayed on Palestinian farms and their effects appearing on the crops. (Mohammed Asad, MEMO, file)
Palestinians in the West Bank are facing serious human rights violations and increasing food insecurity as a result of the use of toxic pesticides in illegal settlements, a fact-finding mission, cited by MEMO, has revealed.
Half of the pesticides used within the areas under the PA’s jurisdiction are illegal, and five tonnes of them have been confiscated since 1995, according to the findings.
Dr. Meriel Watts, who took part in preparing the report, warned that the Israeli policies of control prevent the PA from restricting the trade and use of these pesticides.
“It is unacceptable that the PA, with one of the tightest pesticide registration and compliance systems, including not allowing pesticides that are banned in their country of origin, is thwarted at every turn by the Israeli authorities who knowingly facilitate the entry of banned highly hazardous pesticides into the occupied West Bank.”
The Palestinian residents, particularly children, living in villages and cities near Israeli chemical waste-producing settlements are exposed to contaminated soil and drinking water, and mosquito-borne, respiratory and eye diseases, the report added.
To highlight the issue on a global scale, the organisations launched an online petition entitled “Stop Poisoning Palestine” on World Social Justice Day, 20 February.
Two years ago, I wrote an article exposing how Booking.com was offering hotel rooms in settlements that Israel has built in violation of international law. I also highlighted how the travel website was misleading clients by giving “Israel” as the address for hotels in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
A correction of sorts has been made since then. When I checked Booking.com earlier this month, I learned that it now gives “Israeli settlement” as the address for some of its accommodation listings.
The change was more than likely made in response to European Union guidelines.
Yet that does not alter the fact that Booking.com is still abetting Israel’s settlement activities – activities which constitute war crimes.
Take the Kalia Kibbutz Hotel. In 2015, Booking.com claimed that this hotel was in Israel. Today, the website states that it is “located within an Israeli settlement.”
It would not be clear to anyone unfamiliar with Middle East geography or politics that the hotel is situated on occupied Palestinian land.
Booking.com does not elaborate on what exactly “located within an Israeli settlement” means. It does not specify that the settlement has been built in violation of international law.
Unsuspecting tourists may simply think that the hotel is in an attractive location, a short drive from the Dead Sea.
The photographs of manicured lawns and a spacious swimming pool would not alert prospective visitors that by reserving a room here, they would be entering the scene of a war crime.
A 2013 United Nations report defined settlements as encompassing “all physical and non-physical structures and processes” built or undertaken to install, expand or maintain “Israeli residential communities” outside the “Green Line” – the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hotels located within Israeli colonies would appear to fall within that definition, as they are contributing economically to tourism activities in the settlements.
Other listings by Booking.com are arguably even more deceptive.
The website gives “Israel” as the address for accommodations in occupied East Jerusalem. This is despite the UN Security Council viewing Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.
For example, Booking.com offers its clients the opportunity to book chalets in Ramot, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. The website claims that the chalets are in Israel, without acknowledging that they are located in an illegal settlement.
In November 2015, the EU published guidelines for firms doing business in the Middle East. They state that the Union “does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories” it has occupied since 1967 – the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza and the Golan Heights – and “does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory.”
The guidelines add that information published by firms about the origin of the products they sell “must be correct and not misleading for the consumer.” Labeling a product from an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as being “from Israel” would be misleading, according to the guidelines.
While the guidelines focus on goods, rather than services, there is nothing in them to indicate that hotels should be exempt from their provisions.
Giving “Israel” as the address for East Jerusalem clearly runs counter to what the guidelines stipulate.
Besides offering settlement hotels in the occupied West Bank, Booking.com is continuing to claim that the Rimonim Hermon Holiday Village is in Israel. In fact, the holiday resort is actually situated in the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied part of Syria.
Booking.com has not gone far enough by only partially complying with these guidelines.
All of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into territories that it occupies.
As the construction and expansion of Israel’s settlements involve war crimes, the EU should not simply be telling companies to use appropriate terminology. Rather, it should be banning the sale of goods and services to and from those illegal colonies. The EU should do so, mindful of how the UN has, in effect, defined businesses within those colonies as settlement activities.
Two years ago, Booking.com tried to evade its responsibilities. A spokesperson for the firm told me it was “not up to us” to determine if Israeli settlements were “illegal, disputed [or] unrecognized.”
The corporation did not respond to more recent requests for comment. Danwatch, a Copenhagen-based research center, recently criticized the Priceline Group – the parent company of Booking.com – for refusing to address the “possible negative effects on human rights” from listing hotels in Israeli settlements.
A University of Central Lancashire spokesperson said: “The UK government has formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes antisemitism.”
By Rosa Doherty, Jewish Chronicle
February 22, 2017
The University of Central Lancashire has cancelled an event which was due to take place as part of “Israel Apartheid Week” activity on its campus.
The session was organised by the university’s Friends of Palestine group and was billed as a panel discussion looking at the boycott of Israel.
It was due to feature speakers including anti-Israel activist Ben White and pro-Palestinian academics.
But a spokesperson for the university said “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine” contravened the definition of antisemitism adopted by the government and was “unlawful”.
In a statement on behalf of the university in Preston, Lancashire, the spokesperson said: “The UK government has formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes antisemitism.
“We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests.”
He added: “In this instance our procedures determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.”
The talk was scheduled to take place as part of a week of anti-Israel events expected to be held at universities nationwide.
The North West Friends of Israel group welcomed the move. Co-chair Raphi Bloom said NWFoI had led a campaign to ban the event.
“Universities across the UK have signed up to the government’s definition of antisemitism and have a duty of care to their Jewish students – and staff – to ensure that they do not feel intimidated or abused on campus,” he said.
Prevent guidance says that support for Palestine is among views that ‘may be regarded as extremist but are not illegal’, London March, August 2014. Photo by PSC/Flickr
Prevent training package advises that events involving ‘vocal support for Palestine’ should be ‘risk-assessed and managed’
By Simon Hooper, MEE February 22, 2017
British university staff are being advised to “risk-assess and manage” events on campus relating to “contentious” issues including Palestine and criticism of western foreign policy in the Middle East in order to demonstrate their compliance with the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy.
Critics fear that the guidance, which is contained in an online training presentation, is already stifling free speech and political expression, with one institution, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), on Tuesday cancelling an event organised by a Friends of Palestine society because of concerns that it would not be “balanced”.
Other issues for which higher education institutions are being instructed to put in place measures to ensure that “extremist views” are challenged include opposition to Prevent itself following vigorous campaigning against the strategy by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), which represents more than 100,000 university staff.
“Vocal support for Palestine”, “Opposition to Israeli settlements in Gaza”, “Criticism of wars in the Middle East” and “Opposition to Prevent” are included in a list of “contentious topics” in the presentation on a website, Safe Campus Communities, created for university staff to help them fulfil their Prevent Duty obligations.
Since 2015 the Prevent Duty has required public sector workers by law to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
UK councils link ‘empathy’ for Palestinians to terrorism threat
The creators of Safe Campus Communities, who include the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), told Middle East Eye the list was intended to promote free speech by encouraging universities to ensure that “topics that may be seen as controversial” could be “debated in a safe environment”.
Elsewhere in the training material, the topics are described as a “list of views that may be regarded as extremist but are not illegal”. Accompanying notes state that holding such views “may be legitimate provided they are not expressed or furthered by statements, deeds or actions which result in the harassment, intimidation or threats of violence against individuals or society itself”.
The presentation states: ‘Holding these views may be legitimate provided they are not expressed or furthered by statements, deeds or actions which result in the harassment, intimidation or threats of violence against individuals or society itself’. Screengrab
The presentation advises institutions to take steps for events at which “extremist views are likely to be expressed” to ensure that such views are challenged by “inviting additional speakers with opposing views” and through “independent and effective chairing”.
“Relevant higher education bodies also need to risk assess and manage events where these or similar views may be expressed,” it says.
But critics fear that the guidance could lead to a culture of caution and censorship on campuses in which discussion of topics considered controversial is shut down.
On Tuesday, UCLan said it had cancelled a Friends of Palestine event scheduled to take place on 28 February as part of “Israel Apartheid Week” because of concerns that it would be antisemitic and unlawful.
Ben White testifies at the Russell Tribunal, NY City.
The event, titled “Debunking misconceptions on Palestine and the importance of BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement]”, was due to feature Ben White, an MEE contributor.
In a statement, UCLan said it believed the event would fall foul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government last year.
The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
“We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests,” a spokesperson for the university said.
“In this instance our procedures determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.”
White told MEE: “It is clear from social media posts, as well as an earlier statement issued by the university, that officials caved to pressure from pro-Israel groups, and in so doing, threw their students – and their right to freedom of expression – under a bus.
“Israeli Apartheid Week is marked on campuses across the globe, and its importance is only underlined by the fact that the Israeli government – emboldened by the Trump administration – is so openly opposed to Palestinian self-determination.”
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told MEE it was absurd to single out support for a Palestinian state or opposition to Israeli settlements as controversial or extremist. He said,
“Given that all major political parties in the UK and the overwhelming majority of governments across the world support a Palestinian state and oppose settlements on the basis that they violate international law and are an obstacle to peace it is absurd to define these as extremist views.
“There is an urgent need for the relevant bodies to review these materials and ensure that any training offered to educational establishments truly reflects the stated intention to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
The Safe Campus Communities presentation is the most substantial element in a “package of HE-specific Prevent training materials” produced collaboratively by HEFCE, the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, Universities UK and BIS, according to HEFCE’s website.
Since last year, the implementation of Prevent on campuses has been overseen by HEFCE and its counterparts in Scotland and Wales.
But the training material also acknowledges concerns about the government’s efforts to define extremism.
“It is the difficulty in defining what is and what isn’t extremist that has led people to be concerned that the Prevent duty constitutes a threat to academic freedom/freedom of expression,” it says.
“The government definition of extremism is considered by some to be somewhat vague.”
In a statement to MEE, HEFCE said the material in the presentation was intended to uphold free speech and was currently being evaluated.
Civilians captured during the fall of Lydda and Ramle around the time of July 12, 1948 and taken to labour camps. In the July heat they were thirsty and were given a drop of water carried by a child under soldiers’ guard. (Photo: Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
Much of the grim and murky circumstances of the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the late 1940s have gradually been exposed over time. One aspect – rarely researched or deeply discussed – is the internment of thousands of Palestinian civilians within at least 22 Zionist-run concentration and labor camps that existed from 1948 to 1955. Now more is known about the contours of this historical crime, due to the comprehensive research by renowned Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta and founding member of the Palestinian resource center BADIL Terry Rempel.
The facts are these.
The study – to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies – relies on almost 500 pages of International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) reports written during the 1948 war, that were declassified and made available to the public in 1996, and accidentally discovered by one of the authors in 1999.
Furthermore, testimonies of 22 former Palestinian civilian detainees of these camps were collected by the authors, through interviews they conducted themselves in 2002, or documented by others during different moments of time.
With these sources of information, the authors, as they put it, pieced together a clearer story of how Israel captured and imprisoned “thousands of Palestinian civilians as forced laborers,” and exploited them “to support its war-time economy.”
Digging up the crimes
“I came across this piece of history in the 1990s when I was collecting material and documents about Palestinians,” Abu Sitta told Al-Akhbar English. “The more and more you dig, the more you find there are crimes that have taken place that are not reported and not known.”
At that time, Abu Sitta went to Geneva for a week to check out the newly-opened archives of the ICRC. According to him, the archives were opened to the public after accusations that the ICRC had sided with the Nazis during World War II. It was an opportunity that he could not miss in terms of seeing what the ICRC had recorded of the events that occurred in Palestine in 1948. It was there he stumbled onto records discussing the existence of five concentration camps run by the Israelis.
He then decided to look for witnesses or former detainees, interviewing Palestinians in occupied Palestine, Syria, and Jordan.
“They all described the same story, and their real experience in these camps,” he said.
One question that immediately struck him was why there were barely any references in history about these camps, especially when it became clearer the more he researched that they existed, and were more than just five camps.
“Many former Palestinian detainees saw the concept of Israel as a vicious enemy, so they thought their experience labouring in these concentration camps was nothing in comparison to the other larger tragedy of the Nakba. The Nakba overshadowed everything,” Abu Sitta explained.“However, when I dug into the period of 1948-1955, I found more references like Mohammed Nimr al-Khatib, who was an imam in Haifa, who had written down interviews with someone from al-Yahya family that was in one of the camps. I was able to trace this man all the way to California and spoke with him in 2002,” he added.
More references were eventually and slowly discovered by Abu Sitta that included information from a Jewish woman called Janoud, a single masters thesis in Hebrew University about the topic, and the personal accounts of economist Yusif Sayigh, helped to further flesh out the scale and nature of these camps.
After more than a decade, Abu Sitta, with his co-author Rempel, are finally presenting their findings to the public.
From burden to opportunity: concentration and labor camps
The establishment of concentration and labor camps occurred after the unilateral declaration of Israel’s statehood on May 1948.
Prior to that event, the number of Palestinian captives in Zionist hands were quite low, because, as the study states, “the Zionist leadership concluded early on that forcible expulsion of the civilian population was the only way to establish a Jewish state in Palestine with a large enough Jewish majority to be ‘viable’.” In other words, for the Zionist strategists, prisoners were a burden in the beginning phases of the ethnic cleansing.
Those calculations changed with the declaration of the Israeli state and the involvement of the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Transjordan, after much of the ethnic cleansing had occurred. From that moment, “the Israeli forces began taking prisoners, both regular Arab soldiers (for eventual exchange), and – selectively – able-bodied Palestinian non-combatant civilians.”
The first camp at Ijlil, which was about 13 km northeast of Jaffa, on the site of the destroyed Palestinian village Ijlil al-Qibiliyya, emptied of its inhabitants in early April. Ijlil was predominately made up of tents, housing hundreds and hundreds of prisoners, categorized as POWs by the Israelis, surrounded by barbed wire fences, watchtowers, and a gate with guards.
As the Israeli conquests grew, in turn exceedingly increasing the number of prisoners, three more camps were established. These are the four “official” camps that the Israelis acknowledged and were actively visited by the ICRC.
The study notes:
All four camps were either on or adjacent to military installations set up by the British during the Mandate. These had been used during World War II for the interment of German, Italian, and other POWs. Two of the camps – Atlit, established in July about 20 kms south of Haifa, and Sarafand, established in September near the depopulated village of Sarafand al-Amar in central Palestine—had earlier been used in the 1930s and 1940s to detain illegal Jewish immigrants.
Atlit was the second largest camp after Ijlil, it had the capacity of holding up to 2,900 prisoners, while Sarafand had the maximum capacity of 1,800, and Tel Letwinksy, near Tel Aviv, held more than 1,000.
All four camps were administered by “former British officers who had defected their ranks when British forces withdrew from Palestine in mid-May 1948,” and the camp’s guards and administrative staff were former members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang – both groups designated as terrorist organizations by the British before their departure. In total, the four “official” camps were staffed by 973 soldiers.
A fifth camp, called Umm Khalid, was established at a site of another depopulated village near the Zionist settlement of Netanya, and was even assigned an official number in the records, but never attained “official” status. It had the capacity to hold 1,500 prisoners. Unlike the other four camps, Umm Khalid would be “the fist camp established exclusively as a labor camp” and was “the first of the “recognized” camps to be shut down… by the end of 1948.”
Complementing these five “recognized” camps, were at least 17 other “unrecognized camps” that were not mentioned in official sources, but the authors discovered through multiple prisoner testimonies.
Civilians in a labour camp in Ramleh, July 1948. (Photo: Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
“Many of [these camps],” the authors noted, “[were] apparently improvised or ad hoc, often consisting of no more than a police station, a school, or the house of a village notable,” with holding capacities that ranged from almost 200 prisoners to tens.
Most of the camps, official and unofficial, were situated within the borders of the UN-proposed Jewish state, “although at least four [unofficial camps] – Beersheba, Julis, Bayt Daras, and Bayt Nabala – were in the UN-assigned Arab state and one was inside the Jerusalem “corpus separatum.”
The number of Palestinian non-combatant detainees “far exceeded” those of Arab soldiers in regular armies or bona fide POWs. Citing a July 1948 monthly report made by ICRC mission head Jacques de Reynier, the study states that de Reynier noted, “that the situation of civilian internees was ‘absolutely confused’ with that of POWs, and that the Jewish authorities ‘treated all Arabs between the ages of 16 and 55 as combatants and locked them up as prisoners of war.’” In addition, the ICRC found among the detainees in official camps, that 90 of the prisoners were elderly men, and 77 were boys, aged 15 years or younger. The study highlights the statements by an ICRC delegate Emile Moeri in January 1949 of the camp inmates:
It is painful to see these poor people, especially old, who were snatched from their villages and put without reason in a camp, obliged to pass the winter under wet tents, away from their families; those who could not survive these conditions died. Little children (10-12 years) are equally found under these conditions. Similarly sick people, some with tuberculosis, languish in these camps under conditions which, while fine for healthy individuals, will certainly lead to their death if we do not find a solution to this problem. For a long time we have demanded that the Jewish authorities release those civilians who are sick and need treatment to the care of their families or to an Arab hospital, but we have not received a response.
As the report noted, “there are no precise figures on the total number of Palestinian civilians held by Israel during the 1948-49 war” and estimates tend to not account for “unofficial” camps, in addition to the frequent movement of prisoners between the camps in use. In the four “official” camps, the number of Palestinian prisoners never exceeded 5,000 according to figures in Israeli records.
Taking account of the capacity of Umm Khalid, and estimates of the “unofficial camps,” the final number of Palestinian prisoners could be around the 7,000 range, and perhaps much more when, as the study states, taking into account a November 17, 1948 diary entry by David Ben-Gurion, one of the main Zionist leaders and Israel’s first prime minister, who mentioned “the existence of 9,000 POWs in Israeli-run camps.”
In general, the living conditions in the “official” camps were far below what would be considered appropriate by international law at that time. Moeri, who visited the camps constantly, reported that in Ijlil in November 1948:
“[m]any [of the] tents are torn, that the camp was “not ready for winter,” the latrines not covered, and the canteen not working for two weeks. Referring to an apparently ongoing situation, he stated that “the fruits are still defective, the meat is of poor quality, [and] the vegetables are in short supply.”
Furthermore, Moeri reported that he saw for himself, “the wounds left by the abuse” of the previous week, when the guards had fired on the prisoners, wounding one, and had beaten another.”
As the study shows, the civilian status of the majority of the detainees were clear for the ICRC delegates in the country, who reported that the men captured “had undoubtedly never been in a regular army.” Detainees who were combatants, the study explains, were “routinely shot on the pretense that they had been attempting to escape.”
The Israeli forces seemed to always target able-bodied men, leaving behind women, children, and the elderly – when not massacring them – the policy continued even after there were low levels of military confrontation. All in all, as the Israeli records show and the study cites, “Palestinian civilians comprised the vast majority (82 percent) of the 5,950 listed as internees in the POW camps, while the Palestinians alone (civilian plus military) comprised 85 percent.”
The wide-scale kidnapping and imprisonment of Palestinian civilians tend to correspond with the Israeli military campaigns. For example, one of the first major roundups occurred during Operation Danj, when 60-70,000 Palestinians were expelled from the central towns of Lydda and Ramleh. At the same time, between a fifth and a quarter of the male population from these two towns who were over the age of 15 were sent to the camps.
The largest round-up of civilians came from villages of central Galilee who were captured during Operation Hiram in the fall of 1948.
One Palestinian survivor, Moussa, described to the authors what he witnessed at the time.
“They took us from all villages around us: al-Bi’na, Deir al-Asad, Nahaf, al-Rama, and Eilabun. They took 4 young men and shot them dead… They drove us on foot. It was hot. We were not allowed to drink. They took us to [the Palestinian Druze village] al-Maghar, then [to the Jewish settlement] Nahalal, then to Atlit.”
A November 16, 1948 UN report collaborated Moussa’s account, stating that some 500 Palestinian men “were taken by force march and vehicle to a Jewish concentration camp at Nahlal.”
Maintaining Israel’s economy with “slave labor”
The policy of targeting civilians, particular “able-bodied” men, was not accidental according to the study. It states, “with tens of thousands of Jewish men and women called up for military service, Palestinian civilian internees constituted an important supplement to the Jewish civilian labor employed under emergency legislation in maintaining the Israeli economy,” which even the ICRC delegation had noted in their reports.
The prisoners were forced to do public and military work, such as draining wetlands, working as servants, collecting and transporting looted refugee property, moving stones from demolished Palestinian homes, paving roads, digging military trenches, burying the dead, and much more. As one former Palestinian detainee named Habib Mohammed Ali Jarada described in the study, “At gunpoint, I was made to work all day. At night, we slept in tents. In winter, water was seeping below our bedding, which was dry leaves, cartons and wooden pieces.”
Another prisoner in Umm Khalied, Marwan Iqab al-Yehiya said in an interview with the authors, “We had to cut and carry stones all day [in a quarry]. Our daily food was only one potato in the morning and half dried fish at night. They beat anyone who disobeyed orders.” This labor was interspersed with acts of humiliation by the Israeli guards, with Yehiya speaking of prisoners being “lined up and ordered to strip naked as a punishment for the escape of two prisoners at night.”
“[Jewish] Adults and children came from nearby kibbutz to watch us line up naked and laugh. To us this was most degrading,” he added.
Abuses by the Israeli guards were systematic and rife in the camps, the brunt of which was directed toward villagers, farmers, and lower class Palestinians. This was so, the study said, because educated prisoners “knew their rights and had the confidence to argue with and stand up to their captors.”
What is also interestingly noted by the study is how ideological affiliations between prisoners and their guards, had another effect in terms of the relationship between them. The study, cites the testimony of Kamal Ghattas, who was captured during the Israeli attack in the Galilee, who said:
We had a fight with our jailers. Four hundred of us confronted 100 soldiers. They brought reinforcements. Three of my friends and I were taken to a cell. They threatened to shoot us. All night we sang the Communist Anthem. They took the four of us to Umm Khaled camp. The Israelis were afraid of their image in Europe. Our contact with our Central Committee and Mapam [Socialist Israeli party] saved us .… I met a Russian officer and told him they took us from our homes although we were non-combatants which was against the Geneva Conventions. When he knew I was a Communist he embraced me and said, “Comrade, I have two brothers in the Red Army. Long live Stalin. Long Live Mother Russia”.
Yet, the less fortunate Palestinians faced acts of violence which included arbitrary executions and torture, with no recourse. The executions were always defended as stopping “escape attempts” – real or claimed by the guards.
It became so common that one former Palestinian detainee of Tel Litwinsky, Tewfic Ahmed Jum’a Ghanim recounted, “Anyone who refused to work was shot. They said [the person] tried to escape. Those of us who thought [we] were going to be killed walked backward facing the guards.”
Ultimately, by the end of 1949, Palestinian prisoners were gradually released after heavy lobbying by the ICRC, and other organizations, but was limited in scale and very focused to specific cases. Prisoners of Arab armies were released in prisoner exchanges, but Palestinian prisoners were unilaterally expelled across the armistice line without any food, supplies, or shelter, and told to walk into the distance, never to return.
It would not be until 1955 that most of the Palestinian civilian prisoners would finally be released.
Forced Labour Camps Atlas. (Source: Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)
An enduring crime
The importance of this study is multi-faceted. Not only does it reveal the numerous violations of international law and conventions of the age, such as 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1929 Geneva Conventions, but also shows how the event shaped the ICRC in the long run.
Because the ICRC was faced with an Israeli belligerent actor who was unwilling to listen and conform to international law and conventions, the ICRC itself had to adapt in what it considered were practical ways to help ensure the Palestinian civilian prisoners were protected under the barest of rights.
Citing his final report, the study quotes de Reynier:
[The ICRC] protested on numerous occasions affirming the right of these civilians to enjoy their freedom unless found guilty and judged by a court. But we have tacitly accepted their POW status because in this way they would enjoy the rights conferred upon them by the Convention. Otherwise, if they were not in the camps they would be expelled [to an Arab country] and in one way or another, they would lead, without resources, the miserable life of refugees.
In the end, the ICRC, and other organizations, were simply ineffective as Israel ignored its condemnations with impunity, in addition to the diplomatic cover of major Western powers.
More importantly, the study sheds more light on the extent of the Israeli crimes during its brutal and bloody birth. And “much more remains to be told,” as the final line of the study states.
“It is amazing to me, and many Europeans, who have seen my evidence,” Abu Sitta said, “that a forced labor camp was opened in Palestine three years after they were closed in Germany, and were run by former prisoners – there were German Jewish guards.”
“This is a bad reflection of the human spirit, where the oppressed copies an oppressor against innocent lives,” he added. The study essentially shows the foundations and beginnings of Israeli policy towards Palestinian civilians that comes in the form of kidnapping, arrest, and detainment. This criminality continues till this day. One merely has to read the reports on the hundreds of Palestinians arrested prior, during, and after Israel’s latest war on Gaza mid-summer of this year.
“Gaza today is a concentration camp, no different than the past,” Abu Sitta concluded to Al-Akhbar English.
Yazan is a staff writer for Al-Akhbar English. Follow him on Twitter: @WhySadeye
The Israeli organisation accused Israeli government of using demolition policies to steal the Palestinian lands
Israeli occupation demolished a “record number of Palestinian homes in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2016,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem announced on Tuesday.
Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) said in a report that the Israeli occupation authorities carry out the demolition of Palestinian homes under the pretext that they are “lacking building permits.”
“The scale of demolitions documented by B’Tselem this year is the most extensive since we began systematically documenting demolitions in 2004,” the report pointed out.
It noted that “in East Jerusalem, the authorities demolished 88 residential buildings and 48 other structures. Elsewhere in the West Bank, the authorities demolished 274 residential buildings and 372 non-residential ones.”
The Israeli organisation said that these demolitions are indicative of Israel’s efforts to limit Palestinian presence in the areas it seeks to take over, taking advantage of planning and administrative tools to that end.
“The state is forcing tens of thousands of people to live in inhuman conditions, without basic living conditions and with no hope or possibility of bettering their situation,” B’Tselem concluded.
“This policy, implemented on the ground for years, is unlawful and immoral. It constitutes the forcible transfer of protected Palestinian residents within the occupied territory, whether directly, through the demolition of their homes, or indirectly, through the creation of impossible living conditions.”
B’Tselem added that this policy offers decisive evidence that Israel has long-term plans to continue controlling the area, while oppressing and dispossessing its residents.