Ramallah Municipality Censors Artist Billboards

Ramallah Municipality Censors Artist Billboards

RAMALLAH, July 13 – The Ramallah Municipality has physically removed two billboards created by artists Emily Jacir and Yazid Anani claiming that the works were "problematic".The municipality gave neither advance warning nor specific reasons for why the billboards were removed. The Mayor of Ramallah and the Director of the Municipality have refused requests to cease censorship and to put the billboards back up for public viewing.

The works stem from Jacir and Anani's series of public interventions entitled “Al Riyadh”. The works are critical of the recent proliferation of gated communities and were an attempt to raise awareness and spark dialogue regarding the destruction of Ramallah's architectural heritage, the decline of the Palestinian collective political project in Ramallah and the emergence of a city entrapped by neo-liberal politics and neo-capitalist structures under occupation. The billboards featured the creation of a new gated community in place of the old architecture in the heart of Ramallah Taht as well as a new business tower replacing Ramallah's fruit and vegetable market.

The works which were organized in collaboration with the Municipality were put up on Saturday morning July 10th at 9 a.m. After 24 hours the Municipality removed them and took them to their storage space in Beitunia.

In a related incident an unknown party has also censored the work of Inass Yassin by intentionally removing hundreds of posters she put up in less then 24 hours after she hung them. They were re-prints of a poster for a screening which took place in Ramallah in 1971 at Cinema Al-Waleed of the famous Abdul Halim Hafez film "Ebi foq il Shajara". It featured the lead actors about to kiss. No reason has been given as to why her posters were removed.

Both works were produced for the exhibition "Ramallah- the fairest of them all?" which was the second in a series of exhibitions on Palestinian cities produced by the Ethnographic and Art Museum at Birzeit University. An understanding had been reached with the Municipality prior to the exhibition in which it was agreed that the billboards and posters would be displayed in public spaces for one month.

“Al Riyadh” is sponsored by Qattan Foundation, Bank of Palestine and the Belgian Technical Cooperation, and produced by the Ethnographic Museum and Art at Birzeit University.

Coming through immigration and customs at O'Hare...

All the way home on the flight from London to Chicago, I braced myself for whether I was going to sent to "secondary inspection" on arrival at Immigration as on my last return to the country. On principle, I had decided I was going to challenge it, having read carefully the Customs and Border Protection Inspector's Field Manual, released under FOIA in 2008. I think racial profiling needs to be challenged, quietly, confidently and with knowledge of one's rights. As it happens there was no problem and I was admitted without incident (arbitrariness, inconsistency and capriciousness are part of the system apparently).

But then there was still customs. I joined the queue to exit the baggage claim area, where you hand your customs declaration to an officer and are either waved straight through or sent to customs/agriculture inspection. I was sent to customs/agriculture for further inspection.

The officer at customs who then took your declaration shouted ahead to her colleagues further down the line, "PAKISTAN," (as she did for several people in front of me) or wherever it was the passenger had arrived from. When she took my card she shouted "JORDAN" and the following dialogue ensued:

Me: Excuse me, but I have just arrived from the United Kingdom, not from Jordan.

Officer: But you did write on your declaration that you were in Jordan.

Me: Yes, I did, but I was in Jordan more than a week ago, and my flight came from London, and I also wrote "United Kingdom," where I spent a week.

Officer: Well, it's a random inspection and we are looking for food and everyone eats.

Me: That means they also eat in the United Kingdom, but you didn't shout "United Kingdom," you only shouted "Jordan." That doesn't seem random to me, that seems like profiling, especially when everyone else here seems to be from Pakistan.

The officer gave me what I can only describe as a dirty look, but I put my bag through the x-ray machine and there was no further search. Between Jordan and the United Kingdom, the UK clearly represents a much greater threat to the agriculture of the United States (Foot and Mouth Disease anyone?). But that didn't interest Customs. I suspect these inspections have little to do with the search for contraband food and everything to do with profiling people from "dangerous" countries.

Tell me whatever you want, but please don't tell me its "random."

Is Israel right to complain that Hamas has denied Red Cross visits to Gilad Shalit?

The latest Israeli hasbara tactic to combat growing international opposition to Israel's criminal blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip is to complain that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been prevented from visiting the Israeli soldier captured by the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas in 2006 while he was enforcing the military occupation and siege of the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, a representative of the ICRC stated last week with respect to the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit's case, that the organization has been working hard to secure two things: (a) a visit to Shalit by ICRC representatives, and (b) direct contact between Shalit and his family.

 The representative said:

Our efforts have lost none of their intensity, despite the fact that Hamas has so far firmly rejected all of our pleas. It is unacceptable to hold a soldier captive without allowing him contact with his family, as required under international humanitarian law. We particularly regret that political considerations so far appear to have carried more weight than humanitarian concerns.
She adds:
We have stepped up our contacts with the Hamas authorities, for example at high-level meetings held recently in Gaza and Damascus. We have requested access to Mr Shalit and tried to obtain information about his condition. We have also requested that Hamas hand over to Gilad Shalit thousands of letters and greeting cards sent to him by various organizations as well as by schoolchildren and other individuals. We deeply regret that all these requests have been rejected. We have also been constantly reminding his captors of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect his life, to treat him humanely and to let him have regular and unconditional contact with his family.
The ICRC representative always maintains a clear distinction between (a) ICRC visiting him and; (b) contact between Shalit and his family:
Whatever the reasons behind its decision to deny Gilad Shalit regular contact with his family, Hamas has an obligation under international humanitarian law to allow such contact. Hamas said publicly that security considerations prevented it from allowing the ICRC to visit Shalit. Security considerations cannot, however, justify a refusal to permit the exchange of news between Gilad Shalit and his family for almost four years.
It would appear – at the very least from the way the ICRC is treating his case – as well as from other relevant facts, that Shalit can be considered a prisoner of war (POW). If so, his status would fall under the Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949
Under this Convention, the right of the ICRC to visit prisoners of war is not unconditional – and note that the ICRC never claims such an unconditional right. Under Article 125 of the Third Geneva Convention, such visits are "Subject to the measures which the Detaining Powers may consider essential to ensure their security or to meet any other reasonable need... ."
Security, according to the ICRC, is precisely the justification Hamas has given for denying visitation. The risk of allowing such visits is obvious: revealing the location of the Israeli POW would run the risk of an Israeli military attack either to attempt to rescue him, or for any other purpose. 
Israel has a history of such military adventurism, such as its failed attempt to rescue another Israeli soldier in 1994, which ended up killing the prisoner and several others.
So there is nothing illegal about Hamas denying ICRC direct access to Shalit given the high risk of Israeli military attack – which would include from past experience – mortal danger to the POW himself. Indeed, as the Detaining Power, Hamas would be in violation of its obligations under the Convention if it knowingly and irresponsibly exposed Shalit to the danger of Israeli military attack.
Furthermore, under the Third Geneva Convention, Hamas not obliged to release any Israeli POW until the "end of hostilities" or unless the POW is severely injured or mortally ill. As Israel has affirmed from its side, a "state of hostilities" exists between Israel and Gaza (what Israel has termed an "enemy entity"), it cannot demand the release of a uniformed soldier who was a combatant in the armed conflict at the time of his capture until Israel agrees that hostilities have ended.
So unless Israel gives a firm public assurance that it would never attempt a military rescue of the POW, it has no grounds whatsoever to complain that ICRC has not been allowed to visit.
As regards denying Shalit family contact, in the form of letters and parcels, there Israel appears to be on slightly stronger ground. But Israel is being disingenuous here. Part of the "rules of the game" it has established in previous German-brokered prisoner deals with the Lebanese resistance, all information is itself a tradeable commodity. If Israel repudiates these rules, and also agrees to abide by international law with respect to Palestinian prisoners, then we would be able to take more seriously its complaints about the denial of family contact as well.
But as we know, Israel violates its own obligations to the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Gaza that it is holding.
In response to the question, "Is Israel entitled to ban family visits to detainees from Gaza held in Israel, given that Hamas is not allowing access to Gilad Shalit?" the ICRC representative states:

Both Israel and the Palestinian factions have obligations towards those they detain, and they cannot relieve themselves of these obligations on grounds of lack of reciprocity. This principle is at the very heart of humanitarian law.
Under international humanitarian law and human rights law, everyone is entitled to respect for their family rights. People held captive must therefore be given the opportunity to have regular contact with their loved ones. An ICRC programme enabling Palestinian families to regularly travel to see close relatives detained in Israeli prisons has been accepted for decades, and the ICRC has always accepted the security controls that were imposed. But the programme has been suspended for families from Gaza. The ICRC has repeatedly called for the resumption of family visits to Gaza detainees and will continue to do so.
While Shalit, as a uniformed combatant of an occupying army captured during hostilities, is almost certainly a prisoner of war, it needs to be emphasized that not all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are POWs. The vast majority would be civilians subject to the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War – which Israel also constantly violates – while those captured as part of resistance organizations described in the Third Geneva Convention may be POWs.

Israeli PM Netanyahu admits Gaza Freedom Flotilla was fully justified!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered unexpected support to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and others who plan to challenge his country's naval blockade of the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. Haaretz reports his comments today:

"I call on all human rights activists in the world - go to Tehran, that's where there is a human rights violation," said Netanyahu during his meeting with the Austrian Chancellor, Werner Faymann, in which he discussed Israel's ease of the Gaza blockade and flotillas planning on breaching Israel's Gaza blockade. "Today, after we lifted the civilian blockade of Gaza there is no reason or justification for further flotillas," he said.

So what Netanyahu appears to be conceding is that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which Israel attacked in international waters, killing 9 passengers and injuring dozens of others on 31 May, was in fact fully justified as long as Israel maintained the blockade which he claims now to have lifted.

But of course Israel has not really lifted the illegal blockade. Netanyahu's comments demonstrate that Israel's main purpose is to relieve international pressure and avoid further embarrassing flotillas challenging it.

The reality remains that 1.5 million people in Gaza are locked into what amounts to a giant prison camp for surplus humans of the wrong sort. Israel controls land, sea and aerial access to them. Their crime is simply that they are not Jews, because if they were Jews, Israel -- as a Zionist "Jewish state" -- would welcome them back to the now largely vacant lands in what is now Israel from which they were ethnically cleansed from 1948-1950.

The economy, agriculture and healthcare system in Gaza remain devastated due to the ongoing blockade. Even under the Israeli ruse of "easing" the siege -- which we have yet to see produce any substantive change -- all but a tiny amount of building supplies and all plumbing supplies, fertilizers, cleaning supplies and countless other essential goods and raw materials will still be completely banned by the Israeli occupiers and ethnic cleansers.

If you're in any doubt that Gaza is a maximum security prison for a population eighty percent of whom are refugees and half of whom are children, consider the fact that Israel banned German Development Minister Dirk Niebel from visiting the inmates last week. Even Germany, one of Israel's most complicit and subservient appeasers, was shocked enough to protest. What is Israel trying to hide from the eyes of the world?

Israel claims this is all about stopping weapons smuggling. But Israel can never explain what preventing people freely leaving or entering Gaza, for say, medical treatment, study, family reunification, work, or just because it is their human right to enter and leave their country, has to do with weapons smuggling. The siege is by Israel's own admission collective punishment and as long as it continues I agree fully with Netanyahu: flotillas are justified.

h/t GBurris

US vetoed Shalit release deal and other things I learned from "diplomatic sources"

I had some interesting conversations with what I can refer to as diplomatic sources familiar with these matters and thought the following points worth sharing:

  • Despite all the talk of ending/easing the blockade of Gaza, there is no way in the foreseeable future of a shift in Quartet policy toward Hamas. Rather, the EU and other peace process stakeholders are waiting for US envoy George Mitchell to pull a white rabbit out of his hat (i.e by restarting "peace talks" leading to a two-state solution). At the same time, no one really believes that is going to happen. So essentially, nothing serious is happening on the diplomatic front.
  • World Bank figures due to be published in coming weeks are likely to show that economic growth in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2010 has exceeded that in the West Bank. While virtually all economic growth in the West Bank is a result of foreign aid, much of the growth in Gaza is attributable to a "parallel economy" that has emerged thanks to the tunnels. This has even created a small new class of nouveaux riches in Gaza.
  • Many Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip are having their salaries paid by the EU in order NOT to go to work. If they go to work (and therefore legitimize the Hamas government) their salaries are cut off.
  • Palestinians have already succeeded in breaching the US-financed underground steel wall being built along the Gaza-Egypt border.
  • Press reports that US envoy George Mitchell once again put severe pressure on Egypt and other parties not to allow a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal to proceed are accurate. The logic is that the US wants to avoid any legitimization of Hamas and focus on the "proximity talks" leading to "direct talks" (leading to nowhere?).
  • Press reports from last December that Mitchell vetoed a prisoner swap deal between the Netanyahu government and Hamas mediated by the Germans are accurate. (So if Israelis want to whine about the fact that Gilad Shalit is still a prisoner of war in Gaza they can direct their ire at their "best friend" the United States which nixed the German-brokered deal). Same warped logic - to avoid giving Hamas a victory.
  • Salam Fayyad's "state building" initiative is a hollow shell. All he is is a pass through for foreign funds and a ceremonial ribbon-cutter and has not developed any independent or credible institutions and none are in the offing.

Some of this information was already known or obvious, but useful to have it further confirmed by people with direct knowledge.

The last moments of Cevdet Kılıçlar, a working journalist murdered on the Mavi Marmara

Cevdet Kılıçlar, 38, did his job up to the last moments of his life. The raw footage taken during the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara in the early hours of 31 May, and smuggled past Israeli authorities by Cultures of Resistance (CoR), shows the Turkish journalist shortly before his death -- and then afterwards. He was one of the nine people shot dead by Israeli hijackers when they commandeered the Mavi Marmara along with the five other boats in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and kidnapped their passengers and crews to Israel. The Flotilla had been on a mission to bring aid to Gaza in spite of Israel's illegal blockade of the territory.

At about 39 min into the footage, the CoR camera operator is on the deck of the Mavi Marmara. There is the sound and downdraft of a helicopter. At exactly 40 min, Cevdet Kılıçlar appears walking up a staircase from a lower deck while in the foreground Norwegian activist Espen Goffen speaks directly to camera. Kılıçlar is wearing a dark t-shirt and a trim beard and cradles his camera in his left hand. He wears no life jacket. He joins others on the deck and starts to work -- taking photos to document the Israeli attack. The menacing red dot of a laser gunsight moves across the deck. Soon the Israeli Blackhawk helicopter comes into view and begins to drop commandos onto an upper deck. Israeli attack boats flank the Mavi Marmara in the sea.

The last image of Kılıçlar alive is at 43 min 28 seconds. We see him from the back as he watches other passengers carry an injured person from another part of the ship indoors:

The CoR camera operator follows the these passengers indoors to film harrowing scenes of desperate attempts to help injured and dead people who have been taken down into the ship. Some minutes later, the camera operator is filming outdoors again on the main deck toward the rear of the ship. It is dawn and passengers are standing around dazed as announcements blare from the ship's PA system. At 56 minutes, some men carry a stretcher down a staircase from an upper level. On it, unmistakably, is Cevdet Kılıçlar, a blood-stained white cloth wrapped around his abdomen and blood pouring from his head.

Cevdet Kılıçlar was an accomplished journalist and photographer. Born in Kayseri in 1972 and a father of two, he graduated from Marmara University and worked for several national newspapers. At the time of his death he worked as a reporter and webmaster for İHH, the humanitarian organization that was one of the key organizers of the Flotilla.

We know from his Flickr photostream that Kılıçlar made many striking photographs in his life. We do not know what the last images are that he captured with his camera – perhaps he photographed his own killer – because Israel seized and has refused to return the cameras, images and video of all the people it kidnapped except for a small number who managed to smuggle such evidence out.

In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova condemned the killing, stating, "I trust that an inquiry that meets international requirements will shed light on the events that led to Cevdet Kılıçlar’s death and to the injuring of Indonesian cameraman Sura Fachrizaz."

Such an inquiry looks increasingly doubtful as Israel announced its own sham inquiry (whose conclusions have been determined in advance according to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and the so-called international community –particularly the United States, the European Union and the UN Secretary-General – maintain their usual complicit inaction.


See also:


Footage proves indiscriminate Israeli live fire at Mavi Marmara passengers in Gaza Flotilla

The one hour long raw footage released by Cultures of Resistance (CoR) of the 31 May Israeli attack aboard the Mavi Marmara shows clear evidence of indiscriminate Israeli fire aboard the ship. Nine people were killed and dozens injured when Israeli forces boarded and seized what was the largest passenger vessel in the six-ship Gaza Freedom Flotilla in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea about 80 miles west of the coast of Israel.

Starting at about 43 min 29 sec into the footage we begin to see injured people being carried by other passengers. This continues throughout the rest of the footage -- some of the people have gunshot wounds in the neck, shoulders, stomach, legs, or are so covered in blood it is difficult to tell where they have been hit. At 46 min 58 sec, for example, we see a white-haired man with blood pouring from his legs being carried down a main staircase into a lower deck of the ship to an area where other injured people are being treated:

The injured man in the picture above appears to be Çetin Topçuoglu, 54, who coached Turkey's national Taekwondo team, and who subsequently died of his injuries. As he is brought downstairs a woman, who appears from many other published photographs to be his wife Çigdem Topçuoglu, watches:

There are several other disturbing scenes of severely injured and dead people. Israel claims that its soldiers, who invaded and hijacked the Mavi Marmara along with the other five ships and then kidnapped all their passengers and forced them to the Israeli port of Ashdod, fired live ammunition only in self-defense -- when they faced imminent risk of harm. But at least one sequence in the CoR footage disproves this claim.

Starting at about 50 minutes the camera operator walks up the staircase from the area where the injured are being treated on blood covered floors. There are many people on the landing and up the next flight of stairs. Some are holding sticks, others cameras. There is blood on the wall:

At the top of the stairs one man is standing against the wall trying to peer out of a porthole through the door leading to the outside deck. On the wall is a sign that says "5 Bridge Deck." At about 51 min 5 sec there is the sound of a gunshot and the man dives. There is commotion as people apparently prepare to defend the lower deck area in case of an Israeli invasion. Someone shouts "la ilaha illa allah" (There is no God but God) -- a common exclamation in the face of danger. It is apparent that Israelis are shooting through the porthole. At 50 min 52 sec, the red dot from a laser gunsight comes through the porthole and illuminates the internal wall of the ship:

At about 52 min 25 sec one of the passengers pushes open the door with a pole but recoils as there is a loud popping sound and flash, possibly another gunshot. After this the camera operator pans away and goes back down the stairs to the area where injured people are being treated.

Careful analysis of the frames shows that the Israelis had been using live fire. This can be seen by the damage done to the door jamb in the following stills, the first taken at 50 min 31 sec and the second about a minute later at 51 min 47 sec:

This single sequence proves that Israeli hijackers fired live ammunition into crowded spaces when they were not threatened from inside the space and could not have had a clear view of whom they might hit. The cameras and recordings that Israel seized and confiscated may contain many other such sequences. No wonder Israel is so adamant about hiding the evidence and rejecting a truly independent investigation.

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Video reveals European, American weapons used in Israeli attack on Gaza Flotilla

On Friday 11 June, Cultures of Resistance (CoR) released a full hour of video taken aboard the Mavi Marmara before and during the Israeli assault on the ship in the early hours of 31 May in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea about 80 miles west of the coast of Israel. At least nine people were killed and dozens injured in the Israeli attack.

CoR director Iara Lee and camera operators from her organization were aboard the ship and managed to smuggle the raw footage out of Israel despite Israel's confiscation of all other recordings and images from journalists and passengers when they were taken against their will to Israel and later expelled from the country.

This video reveals information about some of the weapons used by Israel. In using these weapons to enforce an illegal blockade on Gaza and to carry out an illegal attack on civilian ships in international waters, Israel may have acted in violation of the US Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports or other international law or human rights laws of the exporting countries.

Sa'ar class corvette warship

In this still taken from the CoR video at 1hr 26sec, an Israeli warship appears:

By comparison with this publicly available image from Wikipedia, (below) it is clear that the ship in the CoR video is a Sa'ar 5-class corvette built by US company Northrop-Grumman. According to Wikipedia, the Israel navy owns three of these ships which are the most advanced in its fleet.


AS 565 "Panther" Eurocopter

Note that a helicopter is clearly visible on the stern of the ship seen in the CoR image. This is an AS 565 "Panther" combat attack helicopter manufactured by Eurocopter, a subsidiary of the European weapons and aeronautics company, EADS. Below is a publicly available image of an Israel Air Force Eurocopter, which is described by Wikipedia as a "multi-purpose twin-engine helicopter" that "is used for a wide range of military roles, including combat assault, fire support, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, search & rescue, and MEDEVAC."

Beyond being present and available on a warship that was participating in the attack on the Flotilla, it is unclear what additional role if any the EU-built helicopter played in the Israeli assault.


Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk

Israel used Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to drop armed commandos onto the top of the Mavi Marmara, as can be seen in these stills taken respectively at 40 min 32 sec and 41 min 10 sec in the CoR video:

By comparing with this publicly available image of an Israeli UH-60 and other images on the internet, it's easy to identify the helicopters used in the attack on the Mavi Marmara by the characteristic landing gear, the shape of the inlet ducts for the engines, the shape of the windows on the sliding side door among other features.

According to Wikipedia, Israel operated 49 military UH-60s as of November 2008.

Morena Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB)

By comparison with images on the Internet, it is possible to identify the speed boats which Israeli commandos used to try to board the Mavi Marmara from the sea as Morena Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats. These boats can be seen from these stills taken from the CoR video at 36 min 20 sec and 38 min 07 sec:

I have been able to find little information about where these boats are manufactured. If you can find out more, please email me and I'll update this post.

Paintball guns

In addition to the live ammunition which killed 9 passengers and injured dozens of others (as clearly visible in the CoR) video, Israeli forces also used paintball guns. In this image at 36 min 42 sec in the CoR video, an Israeli soldier can be seen firing what appears to be a paintball gun up toward the Mavi Marmara from a Morena RHIB alongside it.

It is impossible to identify exactly what make and model the Israelis are using, but as can be seen from this image taken from Amazon, the Israeli weapon has the characteristic shape of a paintball gun with the large loader on top which drops the paintballs into the barrel for firing.

Israeli propaganda made much of the fact that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla hijackers "only" used paintball guns (that is until they started shooting people with live ammunition), as if this was somehow a "safe" or even a nonviolent thing to do! Paintball is considered by many people a sport where opposing teams hunt each other down and fire projectiles which explode against a target marking them with paint. Everywhere that this activity is legal, it is strictly regulated for safety, because firing paintballs at a person who is not wearing protective gear, especially a face mask, can result in serious injury including loss of eyesight and possibly even death. Firing paintball guns indiscriminately against unprotected civilians is an incredibly reckless and inherently violent and dangerous thing to do.

If anyone went into a public place in any country and started shooting at people with paintball guns, he or she would be subjected to very serious criminal charges. It is unclear where the weapons used by the Israelis originate, but these dangerous weapons should be investigated along with the others in the hijackers' arsenal.

Note: All the stills taken from the CoR video are unaltered and have not been enhanced in any way.

See also: