Monthly Archives: November 2013

My provocative question to the panel at “Israel tortures Palestinian children” event.

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Mohammed Abu al Reesh, Bernard Regan at SOAS last night.

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Mohammed Abu al Reesh, Bernard Regan at SOAS last night.

Last night I asked a provocative question. At SOAS Palestine Society’s Palestinian Child Prisoners: How the Israeli military criminalises a generation I asked Mohammed Abu al Reesh and Ayed Abu Eqtaish what they would like to say to the family of Asher Palmer and his son, one year old Yonatan, both killed when a rock thrown by a Palestinian smashed through the windscreen of the car in which Asher was driving his little boy.

I know it was a “provocative question” because Bernard Regan, who was chairing the meeting, prefaced my question by instructing his audience not to respond to questioners “even if the question seems provocative” but to leave it to the panel to respond.

My “provocative question” was in response to Abu al Reesh, an ex-rock-thrower-turned-journalist, who is on a UK wide tour speaking about his time in Israeli prisons, and Abu Eqtaish, who works for Defence For Children International Palestine Section.

Mohammed Abu al Reesh now works for Al Quds newspaper, but when he was 15 years old he was approached by an Israeli army jeep during a curfew. He claims he was beaten up and so threw stones at the jeep in response. He said he was then arrested at 3am in the night, handcuffed, placed in a military vehicle under the feet of Israeli soldiers and taken away.

He alleged that during his first interrogation he was punched, slapped and threatened with sexual harassment by means of using a stick. During transfers between detention centres he was tied by his arms to the roof of the vehicle.

On reaching Atzion detention centre near Hebron, he continued, he was pushed down the stairs and was put in a small cell with 12 people in it. The cell, he said, had a bad smell and dirty mattresses and inmates were only allowed to go to the toilet once a day and had to use plastic bottles to pee in for the remainder of the day. Food, he said, was little and of poor quality consisting mainly of food left uneaten by Israeli soldiers.

Eventually he reached a plea bargain and spent 28 months in Damon prison near Haifa and by the end of his prison term he said he had skin problems and was weak physically. The good news, he said, was that he could sit his High School exams while in prison and scored a mark of 72. Two weeks after his release he enrolled at Al Quds University where he studied journalism for four years.

Within a year of leaving university he was working for Al Quds newspaper where he covers the arrest of children. And now he’s here on a UK wide speaking tour.

Next, Ayed Abu Eqtaish claimed that Israeli interrogators use psychological torture techniques on children in order to try to extract proper confessions. These include lengthy spells of solitary confinement after which a child will become “eager for human contact” and, therefore, more likely to confess. They also include, he said, threats of sexual abuse, threats to throw the child out of a window and threats made against members of the child’s family.

Abu Eqtaish said there is no point complaining because the Israeli authorities always close any case they open on the basis that there is “no cooperation from the child or the family”. He said that 60% of prosecutions are for stone throwing and there is a 99.74% conviction rate overall.

I was barracked from the moment I entered the lecture theatre to the moment I left it, with one woman screaming “Why is he here?”

I wasn’t barracked by students though. You see, despite it being a student society event there were hardly any students in the 70 strong audience, which seemed to consist mainly of teachers who were members of the NUT.

Bernard Regan, who chaired the event, is Trade Union Officer for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a leading figure in the Socialist Teachers Alliance.

Kirri Tunks, who also spoke, belongs to the East London Teachers Association. She was there last night to urge people to sign a pledge ensuring “the rights of Palestinian children”. I was there, yes, but at least I’m a SOAS alumnus, and a proud one.

A father had even brought his young son, who could not have been more than 10 years old. The young boy heard a woman in the audience make the allegation that when she had recently visited Hebron stones had been thrown at her by Israeli “settlers” while some of her friends had “faeces and urine thrown at them”.

With a room full of teachers, Abu Eqtaish who works for an organisation dedicated to child welfare and Abu al Reesh who has been able to make something positive out of his teenage rock-throwing and imprisonment I was hoping, although not expecting, that someone might have at least a word of sympathy for the family of one year old Yonatan Palmer, who now lies in his tiny grave because of another Palestinian rock-thrower.

And so I asked Abu al Reesh  and Abu Eqtaish my “provocative question”. This was Abu Eqtaish’s whole and sole response:

“This question should be directed to the Israeli government who broke international law by bringing 500,000 illegal settlers into occupied Palestinian territories. Their existence in the occupied territories is illegal, so the family of the child should sue the Israeli government for what was done against them.”

As for Mohammed Abu al Reesh, ex-rock-thrower-turned-journalist, he remained silent and just gave a long, chilling stare.

I’m still trying to work out which of these two responses is more despicable.

American Professor tells British audience “Israel is heading into an abyss.”

I only made it to the last 25 minutes of Joel Beinin’s talk at SOAS last night but, sadly, I still have enough material to write a blog about it.

Beinin’s talk, The New Internationalism, High-Risk Activism, and Popular Struggle against the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank, was chaired by Gilbert Achcar, who once publicly accused me of leaving insulting messages on his answering machine.

Meanwhile, Beinin is Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of him but Wikipedia has a surprisingly large page about him. According to the description he was “raised as a Zionist” and at one stage intended to make aliyah but having encountered some racist attitudes on a Kibbutz he returned to America instead.

Beinin has published a lot also. I only read one article of his when I got back last night but if I say that the article trashes Peter Beinart’s call for Israeli Jews living on the West Bank to be boycotted because this doesn’t go far enough you get the gist of Beinin’s politics.

In this article Beinin also denounces those who condone “indecent trivialisation of the Holocaust” when they compare levels of anti-Semitism today to those of the late 1930s. (That said, if anyone can explain the difference between boycotting Jewish-owned shops in the late 1930s and boycotting Jewish-owned shops, like Covent Garden’s Ahava and Brighton’s Ecostream, today then please let me know.)

But, hey, guess who is the real master of “indecent trivialisation of the Holocaust”? None other than Joel Beinin himself!

You see, last night, Beinin started discussing Israel’s Prawer Commission Plan to move the Negev’s Bedouin population into far better equipped towns in return for compensation. Beinin described this as “putting them into what would effectively be concentration camps.” (see here from 2 mins. 25 secs.)

Oh, really? So would that be concentration camps like Auschwitz or Treblinka, possibly?

But, of course, Beinin doesn’t indecently trivialise the Holocaust, remember.

Towards the end of the event Beinin said there was a “rightward drift of Israeli society”, “a degradation of whatever there ever was of the democratic process” and “Israel itself, besides the occupation, is heading into an abyss and it’s not clear at all what might stop that.” (see here from 30 secs.)

Abyss means an “An immeasurably deep chasm, depth, or void”. Alternatively, it means “The abode of evil spirits; hell.”

And all this because Beinin once encountered some racists on a Kibbutz?

Jenny Tonge attacks Israel for not obeying the Ten Commandments.

Baroness Tonge and Manuel Hassassian last night.

Baroness Tonge and Manuel Hassassian last night.

Last night in Parliament (ex-Liberal Democrat) Baroness Jenny Tonge said “If they had only obeyed their own Ten Commandments and half the stuff in the Old Testament…Israel could have been a force for good in the world” (see clip here from 8 mins. 35 secs.)

Tonge was speaking at the Palestine Return Centre event Britain, It’s Time To Apologize for the Balfour Declaration.

Also speaking was Bradford East MP David Ward who in January condemned Jews who “could within a few years of liberation from the death camps, be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza”.

In July he tweeted that “the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?”. He was temporarily suspended from the Liberal Democrats.

But, last night, he claimed he had been suspended for something he didn’t say:

“I didn’t say Israel shouldn’t exist but that it should never have been created. I said it was an apartheid state. If Israel isn’t an apartheid state then find me one that is.”

And last night he said “Israel are winning. We are losing hands down”. His main concern was that there is no proper plan to counteract this. But it’s certainly quite a change from his July claim “the Zionists are losing”!

Also speaking was Lord Ahmed Nazir who was jailed in 2009 for dangerous driving where another road user died. Nazir then blamed his imprisonment on a Jewish conspiracy.

Last night he claimed that “we have a great moral responsibility” and “a huge burden on our conscience” in light of the Balfour Declaration.

“East Jerusalem is being evacuated slowly, there is ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people. Whether they are Christian or they are Muslim they are being thrown out of their own country,” he continued. (see clip here)

Jenny Tonge added Israel has the right to exist but “it must start behaving properly and treat people in the Middle East the way they want to be treated”. She said Israel is a “threat to world peace and a threat to itself” and continued:

“We must take on the pro-Israel lobby. We will not be silenced. We are not anti-Semitic, we are anti-injustice. What happened to the Palestinians is the greatest injustice in the last 100 years.

They are clever. They call it the Jewish state of Israel so if you criticise the Jewish state they say you are criticising Jews and that you are anti-Semitic. But it is directed against the Israeli government, not the Jewish people. Many Jews join us.

We must boycott Israeli goods. The Israel lobby puts so much pressure on politicians. We must do the same.”

Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative in the UK, condemned the Balfour Declaration. He said the Palestinians had been denied the right to self-determination and their basic human rights “due to the pledge by Great Britain to the Zionists”.

He said the Palestinian “right of return” was a “sacred right” and that the “non-Judaisation of the state of Israel is our red line”.

Hassassian continued by saying that Israel is acting as a “pariah state” and “let the Israelis go to hell” and that he would only negotiate with the Israelis when they had first drawn Israel’s borders for him.

He finished by saying “together we can march to Jerusalem” where there should be “no monopoly of one religion at the expense of others. Israel’s Jerusalem is a slap in the face of humanity.”

Meanwhile, if I was living in the Bradford East parliamentary constituency I would be flummoxed to see my MP David Ward spending a disproportionate amount of his time attacking Israel. Have the people of Bradford East had all their problems solved?

The 2015 general election is not too far away and Ward has a tiny majority. Maybe it’s time for the people of Bradford East to elect someone who focuses more on them.