Activism roundup: Bilin commemorates six years of protest

The occupied West Bank village of Bilin marks six years of protests, 18 February 2011. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)


The Electronic Intifada brings you this roundup of recent activism news from across the globe, including disruptions by university students of speeches by an Israeli soldier and a politician in Massachusetts and in Scotland, a move to challenge Seattle’s violations of free speech rights and a Palestinian youth group’s demonstration against a settler-only marathon in the occupied West Bank.

Bilin marks six years of protest

Palestinians and international solidarity activists held a large demonstration in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin today in a “celebration of six years of struggle against the wall and the occupation,” according to the Bilin Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements.

In a press release, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee stated that “the people of Bilin have waited long enough,” citing the inaction by the international community to uphold the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Israel’s wall is illegal (“Bilin marks six years of struggle with mass demonstration,” 17 February 2011).

The people of Bilin have been organizing weekly unarmed demonstrations for six years, since the construction of Israel’s wall and further annexation of village land for illegal settlements. The protests have been regularly attacked by the Israeli military, whose soldiers have used tear gas projectiles, rubber-coated steel bullets, live ammunition and chemical sprays. Several Palestinian residents of Bilin have been killed during these demonstrations — most recently Jawaher Abu Rahmah, who died following excessive tear gas inhalation during a protest in January.

Approximately 500 persons attended today’s demonstration, according to Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Earlier this week, more than a dozen international actions against Israel’s ongoing occupation and violations of human rights took place in honor of Jawaher Abu Rahmah and the struggle in Bilin. The Ramallah-based Stop the Wall Campaign reported that demonstrations, vigils and lectures were organized in Brazil, Turkey, Malta, the Philippines, Lebanon, Argentina, Canada, England, Germany and the United States (“Action around the globe for Jawaher,” 16 February 2011).

United States

Amherst

Students at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, effectively shut down a speech given by an Israeli soldier on 3 February — “a loud and creative disruption” that students say forced the soldier to end his talk early.

Hampshire College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group was a major force behind the college’s historic divestment vote in 2009. SJP stated in an open letter to the Hampshire community that the current campaign by “Zionist campus organizations and Israeli [public relations] groups to send [Israeli] soldiers to institutions of higher learning in the United States and Canada to talk about their ‘experiences as victims of terrorism’ ignores and maligns the experiences of Palestinians under occupation” (A letter to the Hampshire community …,” 17 February 2011).

“From the beginning of the event, a banner was held that read: ‘where is the Palestinian voice in this dialogue?,’ while protesters held up signs with phrases including ‘Never Again for Anyone’ and ‘The Wall Must Fall,’ as well as names of the 352 children killed during Operation Cast Lead,” SJP stated.

“Over the course of the night, members and allies of our group stood up and raised their voices as a form of resistance to Sgt. Anthony’s narrative, and all of them complied with Public Safety when they were asked to leave the room,” the statement continued. “Those expelled from the lecture hall joined a vigil in the lobby, which offered an open space for song, silence, and honor for those who have died as a result of the occupation. The vigil allowed us to remember those who continue to resist, within the occupied Palestinian territories and internationally.”

Hampshire SJP added that this campaign “has been met with massive resistance, by well-coordinated silent walkouts and protests at the University of Michigan, at Arizona State University, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, at the University of Western Ontario, and most recently at Hampshire College.”

The group said that there was an “unprecedented” high level of security present for the soldier’s speech, and that the audience was videotaped by the security detail for the duration of the event.

This disruption of a speech by a representative of the Israeli military follows a series of similar actions, most notably protests of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s US speaking tour in 2009. In Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, and other major US cities, Olmert’s speeches were interrupted by protesters inside the building, while hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets outside the lecture halls.

Additionally, in November 2010, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in New Orleans, where Palestine solidarity activists disrupted his speech and were violently attacked by supporters of Israeli policies inside the venue.

In southern California, eleven students at UC Irvine are currently facing criminal charges following their nonviolent disruption of a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.

Seattle

Following a move by King County officials to cancel advertisements on city buses denouncing Israeli war crimes, activists with the Seattle-based Mideast Awareness Campaign (MAC) along with the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed a lawsuit against the county. The suit alleges that the county flagrantly violated the First Amendment and suppressed the activists’ rights to free speech.

The Seattle Times reported that a lawyer for MAC said county officials “used unfounded fears that bus service would be disrupted as an ‘excuse’ to cancel” the bus ads (“Judge to rule in free-speech debate over canceled Metro bus ads,” 14 February 2011).

US District Court Judge Richard Jones said he would issue a ruling by the end of the week,” The Seattle Times added.

The advertisement, which MAC activists bought for placement on a dozen city buses, showed Palestinian children standing aside a destroyed building in Gaza, with the text “Israeli war crimes — Your tax dollars at work.”

Jeffrey Grant, an attorney with the ACLU, said to the judge: “It is not easy, apparently, to resist the temptation to throw out the fear-mongering when the government wants to suppress speech.”

As The Electronic Intifada previously reported, the ads were scheduled to go up on 27 December, but King County Executive Dow Constantine officially rejected the plan on 23 December after several right-wing Zionist and Islamophobic institutions waged a vociferous campaign against the advertisements. Constantine stated that he had subsequently suspended all noncommercial advertising on Metro Buses.

Jamestown

Following the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah in Bilin in January, activists in New York and Pennsylvania waged protests in January against Combined Systems, Incorporated, the company that provides lethal tear gas to the Israeli military, as The Electronic Intifada reported last month.

The tear gas was also used against unarmed demonstrators by Tunisian forces, as well as by Egyptian police during the first week of the uprising there.

Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel stated that the CSI plant in Jamestown started flying the Israeli flag alongside the American flag (“Update: Tear gas death triggers mobilization against Israel’s lethal tear gas,” 28 January 2011).

In addition to the protests outside of the CSI plant, Adalah-NY says that more than 1,000 letters “have been emailed to executives from CSI, Point Lookout Capital Partners and the Carlyle Group, another major investor in CSI, calling on CSI to stop provision of tear gas to Israel … Finally, evidence has been collected showing that Israel has a long history of inflicting death and injury using tear gas as a lethal weapon.”

Los Angeles

An activist with Jewish Voice for Peace was the target of an attack on 2 February by unknown individuals who placed a “wanted” poster on her front porch. JVP stated in a press release that its Los Angeles chapter leader Estee Chandler discovered the poster, which featured her photograph, workplace and names of her nieces and nephew, “as well as charges about ‘anti-Jewish’ activity” (“Los Angeles Jewish Voice for Peace activist targeted at home,” 4 February 2011).

“Chandler had previously been in the media as part of a national effort to get the retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that profit form the Israeli occupation,” JVP added.

The poster stated that Chandler was “wanted for treason and incitement against Jews.”

JVP said that “this act of intimidation at the home of a peace activist follows similar high-profile campaigns of harassment by settler groups targeting Jewish activists” who have worked in solidarity with Palestinians resisting Israeli policies of occupation and colonization.

Scotland

University students in Edinburgh successfully shut down a lecture by Ishmael Khaldi, an advisor to ultra-nationalist Israeli foreign minister and settler Avigdor Lieberman, on 2 February.

According to a press release drafted by the Edinburgh University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group, and posted on Indymedia UK, the event was immediately interrupted by activists. One SJP member shouted “Where is the freedom of speech for the 1,500 massacred in Gaza? Where is the freedom of speech for the Palestinian students in Israeli dungeons?” (“Edinburgh students shut down lecture by Israeli diplomat,” 3 February 2011).

“The protesters — approximately fifty people — were the majority of the audience and compromised of students activists, members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and members of the local Palestinian community,” the press release stated.

The demonstration “continued unabated” for a further 45 minutes, “until Khaldi finally got the message that he was not welcome and left the lecture theater,” SJP added.

Liam O’Hare, president of the university’s SJP chapter, stated: “We sent a clear message today that those who come to our university to represent an apartheid state and to defend the dropping of white phosphorous on children are absolutely not welcome. Khaldi works for the openly racist Avidgor Lieberman, a man who has called for the execution of Arab members of the Knesset [Israeli Parliament].”

O’Hare added “We will continue to protest events where representatives of a racist state are present and fully support the global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against apartheid Israel until it abides by international law.”

Poland

Kampania Palestyna, a Palestine solidarity group in Poland, published an appeal for activists around the world to join protests against a top-level meeting between Polish and Israeli officials in Jerusalem, scheduled for 24 February.

Kampania Palestyna says that the meeting is an effort to “discuss upgrading economic and defense cooperation” between the two countries. The group added “Most countries meeting for dialogue with Israel do so in Tel Aviv because this is the Israeli capital and not Jerusalem … Few governments have held such meetings in Jerusalem, but every time they do, they endorse and normalize Israel’s human rights violations and degrade international law.”

“We are calling on human rights activists around the world to picket Polish embassies in their countries over the Polish government’s strategic meeting with Israel in Jerusalem — and de facto endorsement of Israel’s land-grab and evictions policy in the occupied city — on the 24th of February,” Kampania Palestyna stated (“Appeal for protests against Polish-Israeli top level government meeting in Jerusalem,” 17 February 2011).

Ewa Jasiewicz, an activist with Kampania Palestyna and a contributor to The Electronic Intifada, said “There can be no negotiations on stolen land, no upgrade of relations while Israel continues its violations. We are calling for respect and justice for an imprisoned people seeking release. We need international pressure to remind Poland of its obligations under international law and to protest every governmental normalization of apartheid and gross human rights violations. Please support human rights and a just peace by standing up to this meeting and with us in Poland who say ‘not in our name.’”

Turkey

A Turkish investigation into Israel’s 31 Mary 2010 lethal attack on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship, the Mavi Marmara has concluded that “at least two activists were killed before commandos boarded the ship and another died ‘execution-style’ as he lay injured,” according to a report by the Associated Press (“Turkish inquiry says Israel used excessive force,” 11 February 2011).

The attack on the Turkish ship, in which eight Turkish civilians and one 19-year-old Turkish American were shot and killed by Israeli commandos, was internationally condemned as Israel launched aggressive public relations campaigns to cover up its violations of international law.

Turkish foreign ministry official and a member of the investigation committee Mithat Rende told AP that “Israel violated laws regarding the safety of navigation in open waters and the freedom to navigate,” and said that Israel is responsible for the compensation of all damages.

AP added that the Turkish report said none of the civilians on board were armed, and Israeli forces continued to fire even after the activists waved white flags.

Occupied West Bank

Hebron

The Palestinian activist group Youth Against Settlements organized a rally on 11 February in Hebron, demonstrating against a planned marathon for Israeli settlers around the occupied West Bank. Ma’an News Agency reported that the protest was shut down by Israeli soldiers, who ordered journalists to leave the area and told demonstrators the marathon route was a “closed military zone” (“Israel army shuts down Hebron rally,” 11 February 2011).

Activists and supporters of Youth Against Settlements held signs demanding access to Shuhadeh street, a main thoroughfare in Hebron that has been closed to Palestinians since 1994, when the Israeli government allowed part of the Old City to be taken over by settler groups.

Jenin

Twenty-two Palestinian labor activists have been on strike for two weeks in the Jenin governorate, demanding that the Palestinian Ministry of Local Governance and the municipality work to guarantee laborers stable employment and better living wages.

Ma’an News Agency reported that four employees of the Jenin municipality were hospitalized on 14 February after elevating their protest by going on hunger strike (“Municipal hunger strikers hospitalized,” 14 February 2011).

The Stop the Wall Campaign in Ramallah stated that the workers called for the solidarity “of all institutions, organizations and popular campaigns with the struggles of the working class, which are embodied today in the strikes of the Jenin municipal employees” (“Solidarity visit to striking municipal employees in Jenin,” 15 February 2011).

Israel moves to criminalize boycott

The Constitution, Law and Justice committee in the Israeli Knesset [parliament) approved a bill on Tuesday that would wage heavy fines against its citizens “who initiate or incite boycotts against Israel,” according to Israeli daily Haaretz (“Knesset committee approves bill allowing Israel boycotters to be fined,” 15 February 2011).

“The Knesset approved an initial reading of the bill over six months ago,” Haaretz added. “The bill will now move on to a first reading in the Knesset for approval. If it becomes a law, the fines would apply to anyone boycotting Israeli individuals, companies, factories and organizations.”

Under the law, if approved, Israeli companies could sue individuals involved in boycott initiatives for damages of up to NIS 30,000 (US $8,300) without having to prove “that damage was indeed caused.” According to Haaretz, “An additional sum could then be demanded once damages were proven.”

Senegal

Activists at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal issued a statement for the People’s Movement Assembly on Palestine, and addressed their global strategies for expanding the activism and boycott movements against Israeli policies of apartheid.

“Today, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is a central tool for social movements working to confront Israeli apartheid policies,” the statement reads (“WSF: People’s Movement Assembly on Palestine Declaration,” 11 February 2011).

The statement announces several global days of action in support of Palestinian popular resistance, the boycott movement and forums of education.

“Activists, meeting in Dakar, building global strategies to support Palestinian liberation, stand in full solidarity with popular protests in Egypt, Tunisia and across the region resisting oppressive state regimes inherently linked to Israeli apartheid, and will participate in the solidarity actions,” the activists’ statement reads.

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