Sylvie Leber, having just returned from a study tour of the Middle East, spoke at the protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia this month. Here is the full transcript, republished with her permission:
The reason I’m here speaking to you today is to let you know that as an Australian Jew, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not speak for me or in any way represent me. There are many Jews in Melbourne and elsewhere around the world who feel the same way.
I am an Ashkenazi Jew, born in France of French parents and East European grandparents, three of whom were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
I’ve never felt or believed that as a Jew I should feel connected to Israel or need to visit it, live there or donate money to it. For me Judaism is not a nationality: it’s my ethnicity and culture. From what I’ve seen and learnt in life, nationalism has been a precursor to war and conflict. A favourite slogan of mine is:
“Nationalism teaches you to take pride in shit you haven’t done and hate people you you’ve never met” (excuse the language).
But recently I decided I must finally see for myself what is happening in a part of the world that has had one of the longest standing conflicts, and so this year I went on a study tour of Israel/Palestine, organised by the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN).
We visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, then travelled to East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth, Nablus and Jordan Valley. We couldn’t get permits to visit Gaza (surprise, surprise).
It was an interesting, powerful and at times a quite disturbing experience. We met many Palestinians. They were refugees, activists, business people, community workers, lawyers, teachers and of course tourism and hospitality workers. If I spent any length of time in conversation with a Palestinian I was eventually open about being Jewish. I was blown away that NOT ONCE did I ever feel a hint of hatred or racism towards myself or other Jews.
Other people we met included Australian consular staff, a young former Israeli army conscript turned anti-demolition activist, Bedouin activists and an acclaimed local British journalist.
We met a Christian Arabic family: they were shopkeepers that had previously run a guest house next door. They told of how they were frequently raided in the early hours of the morning during the time the Wall was being built just across the street from their home. The Wall immediately separated members of this family from each other. Common stories we heard were about army raids while people slept, and families and spouses separated by the Wall.
I saw countless destroyed Palestinian villages with piles of rubble left behind. It is said if you see cactus growing where there is nothing, it was probably the former location of Palestinian villages. We saw lots of tough cacti growing amid the rubble. Bulletholes were to be seen often. I saw empty tear gas canisters and other used weaponry near the Wall. I often felt I was in a war zone and finally understood why all my friends and family said “stay safe” before I left Australia.
Palestinian villages were distinguished from Jewish settlements by the black water tanks on the roof of their houses as there was constant uncertainty of water being cut off. Jewish settlements were well serviced and often had ‘Jewish people only’ roads leading to them not only for ‘security’ reasons but so that they could escape the traffic jams.
We were regularly stopped by soldiers and police while driving to different locations and then there were the checkpoints everywhere. Traffic was regularly held up. One day there were dozens of military buses and police vans with sirens and flashing lights which I later found out were heading towards a Palestinian village which was being demolished illegally by the authorities and where the residents were protesting and resisting.
Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw was in the most peaceful of places, Old Jerusalem, where a young Jewish couple (he was wearing a skull-cap or yarmulke) were wheeling their baby in a pram. The man, a civilian, was wearing a machine gun over his shoulder. I later found out Jewish settlers were easily able to get permits to carry weapons.
The very complicated political history and current administrative regime, walls and borders (with the A, B and C sections), demolitions programs, illegal settlements and permit systems of the region is complex, weird to the point of resembling futuristic science fiction beyond my grasp. I won’t attempt to analyse or comment on it except to say that it seems to be intentionally humiliating, oppressive and racist against Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Bedouins, and is spiralling out of control. This intensification and escalation is being orchestrated by Netanyahu’s regime.
On a positive note, I was struck by the beauty and richness of the Palestinian culture, their dance, music, art and crafts, poetry and the strong focus on education. This was particularly highlighted in the refugee camps where people lived in the toughest of circumstances, severe overcrowding, electricity regularly cut off, no jobs and the lack of enough medical and education services which we take for granted here.
I was struck by how resilient most Palestinians were under the circumstances. The major problem for Palestinians though, from what I saw and heard, is that their political organisations are dis-organised and not united.
One Palestinian activist when asked if she held out any hope for a peaceful solution said that her hope was there, but that it was frozen for now.
My frozen hope melted a little this week when for the first time for the Australian Jewish community, the official body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) criticised Netanyahu for the illegal demolitions and destruction of Palestinian-owned homes and agricultural land and the building of 4000 new settler homes. Saying it was ‘troubling’ and ‘counterproductive’ and hopefully that the legislation will be overturned in Israel’s supreme court to show that it’s democracy is still alive. This was reported in the Australian Jewish News, a pro-Zionist newspaper that rarely approves of any criticism of the Israeli government.
I think the only thing that will work eventually is a Binational Democracy where Israel is no longer a Jewish state but a multi-cultural one and which must include the displaced Palestinian refugees right of return to their former homes. You may say I’m idealistic but I think it’s the only way Justice and Peace will prevail.
While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens has gone largely unnoticed. The Bedouin communities of the Negev (Naqab in Arabic) desert have been subject to Israeli policies of forced relocation and home demolitions, which has heightened in recent weeks. These moves have been pushed by the Israeli government to serve the interests of Jewish Israeli citizens, and have been undertaken with the support of the Jewish National Fund.
Before 1948 the Negev was home to some 65,000-100,000 Bedouins owning and cultivating 8-12 million acres of land. After the 1948 War only about 10% of the Bedouin population remained, with many Bedouins being expelled from the Western Negev, many being relocated to Gaza, and others herded into a triangle of land between Beersheva, Arad and Yeroham. In the 1960s-80s Israel created seven Bedouin townships. Today there are some 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev, with approximately 120,000 living in these townships and the rest divided among 11 recognised villages and 35 unrecognised villages. Most of these “unrecognised” villages existed prior to the formation of the State of Israel, and the rest were created by the State. For the most part they have no water, electricity or schools, and are subject to Israeli planning laws forbidding them from building structures. Over 1000 homes are demolished every year and crops destroyed . In 2011 the government released the Prawer Report, proposing the transfer of 40,000 Bedouins from unrecognised villages into the seven recognised ones, without consultation of the Bedouin communities involved. Whilst mass protests prevented the plans from being executed, forced relocation of Bedouins has remained a fact on the ground and a government policy, continuing the historical legacy of dispossession and dislocation.
Umm Al Hiran
Umm Al Hiran is one of the so-called “unrecognized villages,” home to approximately 1000 Bedouin citizens of Israel. Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area called Khirbet Zubaleh. In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to Umm Al Hiran.
A new Jewish settlement, known has Hiran, has established itself at Umm Al Hiran, while the Israeli government has advanced plans to evict the village of Umm Al Hiran, in order to expand the Jewish-only settlement of Hiran. According to Adalah, an organisation providing legal counsel for the town’s residents, no suitable offer of alternative housing has been made by the government, which rejected Umm Al Hiran’s resident’s offer to live in a shared village with future Jewish residents.
Recent deadly demolition
In the first week of this year, Israel demolished the homes of 151 Palestinians, almost four times last year’s average . In such a climate of increased demolitions, the village of Umm Al Hiran was next on the agenda. On Wednesday, the 18th January, a heavy police presence entered the village to begin demolitions, resulting in the tragic deaths of two people, as well as other injuries. Among the injured was MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, who was shot in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet, while attempting to retreat. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.
Villager Yaqub Musa Abu Qi’an was shot and died on the scene, whilst driving a vehicle. Footage, though contested, shows Yaqub driving his car at a group of police officers, resulting in the death of officer Erez Levi. According to official Israeli reports, police opened fire on Yaqub to prevent him from driving the vehicle into the group of officers. However, residents and activists maintain that the driver was shot first and subsequently lost control of the vehicle, which ran into the group of officers .
Fourteen structures were destroyed, and more homes and structures are slated for demolition, including the town mosque .
The JNF: A Key Player
While the JNF claims to work to “benefit all Israelis” , its execution of Blueprint Negev, a project aimed at revitalising, developing and preserving the Negev desert, clearly supports developments that benefit only Jewish citizens of Israel whilst dispossessing Bedouin Palestinians of their land. JNF forests have been planted on top of Palestinian villages and sites of significance, erasing their history from the land. JNF machinery has become increasingly used in home demolitions and construction work in Jewish settlements.
In 1963 the Israeli government reduced the amount of farmable land at Umm Al Hiran by transferring land to the JNF. Since August 2015, JNF bulldozers have been working to create the Jewish outpost of Hiran on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. JNF also supplied funding for mobile homes in Hiran.
The JNF, whilst presenting itself as a nonpartisan environmental organisation, whose main objective is the ecological improvement of the land of Israel, yields a lot of power in land usage and management. In 1960, most of the land held by the JNF (13% of Israeli land) was transferred to the newly formed government agency, the Israel Land Administration (ILA). The ILA became responsible for managing some 93% of the land of Israel. As part of this restructuring, JNF received the right to nominate 10 of the 22 directors of the ILA, allowing for increased powers of land management by the JNF.
The AJDS deplores the ongoing dispossession and dislocation of Bedouins from their lands and the demolitions of their homes and village structures. The fact that this group of Israeli citizens are being forcibly moved to make way for Jewish settlements is an appalling reflection of Israel’s undemocratic policies and evident racism, which goes against international standards of basic human rights.
We further petition JNF-KKL to divest the generous donations from Jewish communities and individuals around the world of Palestinians dispossession, and to cultivate environmental projects and social practices that benefit all of Israel’s citizens, as well as Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. We implore you to actively address the discrimination and marginalisation of Palestinian and Bedouin communities.
 http://www.globalresearch.ca/save-the-bedouins-of-the-negev-from-the-jewish-national-fund-jnf-and-the-israeli-government/5503793  http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.763331)  https://972mag.com/two-killed-in-bedouin-village-slated-to-be-demolished-replaced-with-jewish-town/124514/  http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.767165  http://www.jnf.org/work-we-do/blueprint-negev/?referrer=https://www.google.com.au/  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlgU6oLswv0
‘Illegal Israeli Settlements are obstacles to peace and the Two-State Solution’, heard members of the UN Security Council. In a powerful condemnation of Israel’s Settlement expansion policy, Lara Friedman of Peace Now (US), and B’tselem‘s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, addressed the UN last week in a session organized by The Permanent Missions of Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Angola, and Venezuela.
The session was filmed and transcribed. Friedman starts her talk at about 7 minutes in, and El-Ad follows:
Lara Friedman stated:
We have all also heard Israeli government spokespeople claim that Israel is not establishing new settlements or expanding settlements beyond their current areas. But hidden behind that claim is the fact that just between 2009 and 2015, under Netanyahu, the government of Israel authorized or worked to give legal authorization to at least 26[xi] [xii] settlement sites established by settlers in contravention of Israeli law – often referred to as illegal outposts. These sites are thus being transformed into new official settlements, or into new and often remote “neighborhoods” of existing settlements, dramatically expanding the footprint of those settlements.
Read the full transcript of Lara Friedman’s speech: http://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=20994#.WAMEkXry2T_
Hagai El-Ad’s speech was equally important:
What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.
Read Hagai El-Ad’s full speech: http://www.btselem.org/se…/20161014_security_council_address.
We, activists within SEDQ: A Global Jewish Network for Justice, are inviting people around the globe to participate in “Cultivating Justice: a Global Week of Action and Education challenging the JNF”.
This week aims to encourage a closer look at the historical and current work of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization based in Israel that has played a controversial role in the creation of the state, and contributes towards implementing some of its discriminatory laws and policies. With dozens of charitable branches abroad, the JNF aims to portray itself as an apolitical organization tasked with “developing” the land.
Through film screenings, reading groups, and other educational events, we seek to uncover a part of the story that is hidden from many of us. As an organization that so many of us were raised with, and which claims to operate on behalf of Jewish people everywhere, we feel a moral obligation to examine closely and honestly its legacy and continuing activities.
We are encouraging you to attend a local event in your community to learn more and share your experiences and thoughts with us!
The week will take place between May 22 and May 29, signifying the time in between two historic events that the JNF is closely linked to: Israel’s creation on May 15, 1948, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba (the catastrophe) due to the forced exile of roughly 750,000 inhabitants; and the June 1967 War and subsequent 49 years of military occupation, which Palestinians commemorate as al-Naksa (the setback).
Watch this documentary by Israeli Social TV about Park Canada, one of the JNF’s largest enterprises:
Come along to the AJDS’ film screening of “Enduring Roots: Over a Century of Resistance to the JNF“, 24 May 2016
Visit the facebook page: /cultivatingjustice/
Add your voice to our campaign or just learn more about the JNF at whatsbehindjnf.org
During the week, post something on twitter, facebook and instagram using the hashtag #cultivatejustice
In September 2015 the AJDS wrote a petition to end Palestinian house demolitions in Susiya and the West Bank. Read about and sign our petition here. In response to our request that the Australian government act to stop this injustice, Julie Bishop wrote to the AJDS on November 18:
…Thank you for your letter of October 2015, attaching a petition from concerned Australians regarding developments in East Jerusalem and Susiya.
Australia continues to urge Israel to reconsider demolition orders in relation to the Palestinian structures at Susiya. The Australian Representative Office in Ramallah closely monitors proposed demolitions in the West Bank. The Australian Representative visited Bedouin communities in the Khan Al-Amar area in March this year, and regularly visits Susiya as part of routine monitoring of the Australian aid program to the Palestinian Territories.
The Australian Government remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.
I trust this information is of assistance.
It appears as though the conservative government may hold a slightly more progressive view of Israel/Palestine than most representative Jewish bodies in Australia. Meanwhile, expressions of solidarity continue to assist those left homeless by Israel’s house demolition policy, which you can read about here.
At the end of July the AJDS together with APAN presented a panel of speakers at the triennial ALP National conference to discuss the realities of the failed peace process and how we can move forward. We presented our position that recognition of Palestinian statehood and addressing settlement expansion in the occupied territories is a necessary and urgent step that benefits the self determination of Palestinian and Israeli peoples. You can read our full paper here as well as our letter to ALP MP’s.
The ALP motion voted on at the conference signals a shift in attitudes on Israel and Palestine towards acknowledging Palestinian statehood and opposing Israeli settlements which are illegal under International law. However whilst these changes are slowly occurring in our foreign policy, Israel is acting quickly on settlement expansion, house demolitions and forced removals of Palestinians. In recent days we have seen a groundswell of demolitions on the ground in area C of the West Bank to make way for settlement development.
In 1995 The Oslo II Accord was signed which divided the West Bank into areas designated by varying status of Palestinian autonomy and Israeli control pending final status of Palestinian self- governance. The occupied territory was split into Areas A, B and C; with Area C covering some 60% of the West bank and denoting Israeli military and planning control. Israel to this day retains strict control over these areas and the lives of Palestinians living within them.
A month ago we wrote to you about the decision of the Israeli high court to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and urged you to take action and write letters to the Australian Israeli representative office. There has been a lot of International support for the village of Susiya which has resulted in a freeze on demolition orders pending further negotiations and legal processes.
However there has been a surge in demolitions throughout the West Bank. Just this week the Israeli army demolished at least 63 homes and basic structures across 10 Palestinian communities in Area C.
On May 5 2015 the Israeli High Court ruled that officials could carry out demolition orders on the entire village, forcibly transferring over 250 people from the place in which they have lived since before the occupation of the West Bank began in 1967. Watch the struggle to save Susiya.
This 7:30 report examines the links between Australia and Susiya, which receives Australian Aid money.
International pressure has succeeded in halting these demolitions. There is currently a military freeze until further negotiations. Greens foreign affairs spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam has said: “The proposed destruction of this village is unjustifiable. It has sparked international attention and outrage, and it is time the Australian Government broke its silence,” The ALP has also urged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to take a stance against demolishing Susiya.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to write letters and lobby. We can see that the pressure is succeeding in halting the demolitions and we can continue to have an impact so we urge you to continue writing letters, sign our petitionand supporting in whatever ways you can.
E1 development underway.
The E1 area is an area encompassing 4.6 square miles extending from Jerusalem to the settlement of Maale Adumim, currently with 40,000 residents, located in area C. Maale Adumim was established by a government initiative in 1977 with first residents settling in1982. Development plans for the E1 area were instigated by Yitzchak Rabin in 1994, but have been hindered since then due to Palestinian resistance and international pressure. The area includes the Palestinian towns of Azariya, Abu Dis, Issawiya, Anata and A-Zaim, and the lands of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe.
The E1 development plan includes the forcible transfer of as many as 7,000 Palestinians from 46 communities in the West Bank. This would effectively cut the West Bank in two, furthering the bantustanization of the West Bank and Palestinian territories and drastically diminishing the viability of a Palestinian state. The UN Secretary-General has said that if this plan goes ahead it will be in violation of international law and represent a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Since the beginning of the year Israel has demolished over 300 Palestinian structures. 22 structures have already been demolished in the four Bedouin communities of a-Sa’idi, Wadi Shneisel, Bir al-Maksub and Abu-Falah, in the Khan al-Ahmar in the E1 area, as well as demolitions occurring in the Jordan valley.
According to a UN statement the demolitions in the E1 area belonging to the Jahalin Bedouin community are the largest number of Palestinians displaced in the West Bank in one day in nearly three years, resulting in nearly 50 children losing their homes. The UN statement, released on 18th August calls for an immediate halt to demolitions in the West Bank: This UN report reveals that Israel plans to demolish up to 17,000 structures, most of them on privately owned Palestinian land in Area C.
Palestinian houses and structures in Area C are routinely hit with demolition orders on the grounds that they lack Israeli building permits, despite how rarely these permits are given by Israel. This article here discusses the injustice of Palestinian house demolitions in Susiya.
Please take a moment to sign our petition and spread through your networks!
The lead up to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a most opportune time to be mindful of our responsibilities as global citizens and as Jews. In speaking out at these injustices we place genuine value on the concepts of forgiveness and repentance.
On May 5 2015, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled to allow the army to demolish the entire village of Susiya and expel its residents, numbering around 340 men, women and children. Representatives of the Israeli Military’s “Civil Administration” informed residents of Susiya of their intent to demolish at least part of the village before an appeal of Susiya’s case in the High Court, to be heard on August 3rd. Susiya leaders submitted a plan to the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) but it was rejected with the response that: “the villagers would be better off living somewhere else.”
Israeli officials have said that they are planning to demolish the village soon after Ramadan ends. Which is why we have to act now!
Read more about the demolition of Susiya here.
the plan to evict the entire village of Susiya, in the South Hebron hills, is reflective of the current policy of settlement, expansion and relocation in area C of the West Bank, including the politically sensitive E1 area, East of Jerusalem. Plans to E1 involve the forcible transfer of as many as 7,000 Palestinians from 46 communities in the West Bank in order to expand the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Such a move would destroy any chance of a viable Palestinian state by effectively cutting the West Bank in two. The UN Secretary-General has said that if this plan goes ahead it will be in violation of international law and represent a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Further information can be found here.
Development plans for the E1 area were instigated by Yitzchak Rabin in 1994, but have been hindered since then due to Palestinian resistance and international pressure. International pressure has prevented these demolitions for over 20 years, lets do it again!
Contact the Australian Israeli representative office. details and sample letter below.
You can also sign the Jewish Voice for Peace petition to U.S Secretary of State John Kerry.
Embassy of Israel in Australia:
6 Turrana Street, Yarralumla ACT 2600.
Tel: +61 2 6215 4500
Fax: +61 2 6215 4555
Dear Honorable Mr Shmuel Ben-Shmuel; Ambassador of Israel
I am writing to you concerning the imminent demolition of homes in the Palestinian village of Susiya. Around 340 men, women and children who live on this land are facing this threat just as their holy month of Ramadan comes to an end. Not only do the villagers of Susiya hold undisputed title to their land, the Israeli High Court is meant to hear their petition (filed by Rabbis for Human Rights) on August 3rd. To destroy their homes before this appeal is considered not only sets a dangerous precedent, but is an affront to the justice and fairness that are meant to be the very foundations of law and order.
The village submitted a master plan to the Civil Administration in an attempt to follow the established process in order to participate in the planning of their own community and were denied this right. To then destroy the very structures currently sustaining them and providing them the most basic of needs—shelter, communal space, a place within which to eat and sleep and live—is unjust, unfair and simply cruel.
As a concerned citizen of the world, I am shocked and dismayed that Israel continues to enforce such discriminatory policies. I am asking that you take a moment to consider the repercussions of this destruction, and act to stop it before it’s too late. I ask you to recognize Susiya’s democratic and human right to plan their future and remain standing on the land they own.
I look forward to your reply.
You can also visit B’tselem’s campaign site, here.
In October, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) hosted an informal evening event with Prof. Jeff Halper, Co-ordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a peace and human rights organisation that resists the the Israeli occupation and advocates for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
For those unable to attend the event, you may tune into an audio recording of the discussion that took place via Soundcloud below.