Sylvie Leber is an artist, an activist with Jews for Refugees, the Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, a single mother herself, and a long time social activist on countless other fronts. She became an activist when she was 15, attending her first protest in 1965 against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Last year Sylvie was published on Right Now, an independent not-for-profit media organisation focused on human rights issues in Australia.
Read Sylvie’s speech from the Anti-Netanyahu Rally in Melbourne, February 2017.
In April 2017, Sylvie visited Palestine as part of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network’s organised tour of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Photos were uploaded straight to social media during her visit, capturing the place as only a first-time visitor with a keen eye could. With thanks to Sylvie, we share with you some of those photos:
As we reach the 50 year milestone of Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the AJDS is devastated by the realities of the ongoing military occupation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It is both painful and tragic because we believe it can end. In presenting the historical background and detailing the ongoing devastation we acknowledge the Palestinian dispossession and hope to shift the narrative, one that has not shifted enough in 50 years. In the context of our own history it is incumbent on us to shout ENOUGH. We refuse to stay silent or participate , not in our name, we are witnesses who choose not to be bystanders.
Whilst the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands did not begin with the results of the 6 Day War – which is called the Naksa in Arabic, the Setback – the war played a significant role in emboldening messianic expansionist elements in Israeli society and amongst Zionists throughout the world, which has strongly impacted settlement expansion throughout the occupied territories, and ensured that years of “negotiations” have resulted in neither justice nor peace for Palestinians, or Israelis. While what is commonly termed ‘the Occupation’ began fifty years ago, we recognise that the history of violence against Palestinians in Israel and Palestine has its roots long before 1967. What is known in a Zionist narrative as the War of Independence of the State of Israel, is known to Palestinians and others as the Nakba, or Catastrophe in Arabic. It saw the mass dislocation of Palestinians from their land, with up to 800,000 Palestinians being forced to flee their homes and land and refused the right to return.
As a result of the occupation, every aspect of Palestinian life is controlled by Israeli administration: through checkpoints, refusal to grant development permits, home demolitions, arbitrary military arrests, curfews, collective punishment, tightened control of economic and development opportunities, and innumerable other practices. In Gaza, which has been described as an open air prison, Israel controls the entry and exit of all goods. A 2015 UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that at current trends Gaza may become unlivable by 2020. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, life is controlled at a minute level, and everyday extreme violence is enacted in order to remove Palestinians from their land. The Occupation, and those who enforce it, is incredibly creative and resilient, always able to find and invent new ways to hinder Palestinian life and work against Palestinian resistance (even as that resistance resolutely continues). The Israeli military industry and its global arms sales, relies on the Occupation. The Israeli economy is completely bound up in the Occupation.
Sadly, Israel’s policies have made it a pariah state in world opinion, with increasing international pressure to pursue action to end the occupation, including from a growing number of Jews and Jewish organisations outside Israel, who can no longer align their identities with a state for the Jewish people which repeatedly and systematically acts against their ethics and values.
The occupation which has occurred since 1967 is a continuation of a systemic dislocation of one people for the sake of another. It is an occupation which has always been, and continues to be, carried out by all levels of Israeli society. It is an occupation which has been widely condemned by the international community. It is an occupation involving the construction of Jewish Israeli settlements which are deemed illegal according to International law and have created a clear obstacle to peace and justice. It is an occupation which relies on a conscription army and a national population who refuse to see, or interact with, Palestinians as fellow humans.
As hopelessness intensifies in the face of what seems like an intractable situation, and as the international community repeatedly fails to bring about a just resolution, we encourage people to take action in their communities and within global movements, in coalition with, and led by Palestinians, to understand, educate and oppose the actions of the occupation and the broader dispossession of Palestinian people. As a Jewish organisation we stand resolutely against the policies of occupation, dispossession and oppression. Instead we highlight the Jewish and universal values which call us to stand against such injustice, and foster Jewish identities that contribute to a world in which such violence ceases to exist. We call on the Israeli government, and Israeli society, to show that there is a partner for peace who can meet with Palestinians in order to bring about a just peace in the region. We call on our Australian Jewish communities to join us in refusing to support the ongoing occupation, in order to be part of a global movement which will ensure that there is not another 50 years of such violence.
Last week Palestinian writer, cook and activist Laila El-Haddad appeared in Melbourne, hosted on her Australian tour by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS). El-Haddad delivered a talk at the Wheeler Centre, a cooking demonstration at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF), and a talk about Culinary Resistance at the Moroccan Deli-cacy. Her cooking demonstration for the MFWF, held at the Raw Ingredient in Footscray, melded insightful and nuanced reflections on the place of food in Gaza with ancient traditions and techniques that bring out the best in the region’s produce.
All footage was filmed as part of the 2017 @eatdrinkwestside program. #eatdrinkwestside #mwfw.
Laila gave a final talk at the Side Door Social Justice Hub, at 567 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick, on Saturday, 15 April 2017. Her books The Gaza Kitchen and Gaza Unsilenced (co-edited), was available for sale. Watch the talk along with Q&A.
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.
The Israeli Prime Minister is due to arrive in Australia on Wednesday 22nd at the invitation of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Despite the strong support that the Australian government has given the current Israeli government, there is growing concern and condemnation of Israel’s actions under Netanyahu.
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) endorsed and spoke at a protest, ‘Melbourne says no to Netanyahu,’ organised by a Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and held in Melbourne on Sunday February 19th. The AJDS is particularly concerned with the rising shift in right wing, anti-democratic policies, and recurrent human rights violations committed by Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership.
Most recently, there has been a record-breaking increase in the demolition of Palestinian and Bedouin houses and villages, as well as the passing of the Expropriation Bill which retroactively claimed some 4,000 Palestinian houses and permitted increased settlement building, despite international condemnation of the settlements as a clear barrier to peace.
Netanyahu has declared that there will be no Palestinian State and refused to engage in negotiations for peace, while enacting policies that further dispossess Palestinians of their land and basic freedoms.
Dr Jordy Silverstein, AJDS executive member, says:
“The Israel that Netanyahu has furthered is not one that represents Jewish or democratic values: it moves Palestinians and Israelis further away from achieving justice and peace. As a result, increasing numbers of Jewish people worldwide are standing up in opposition to the policies and practices of Netanyahu and his governmental coalition.”
In one example, a petition titled ‘Jewish Australians say no to Netanyahu’, initiated by a diverse group of Australian Jews, has been signed by over 600 Australian Jews and their supporters, with many commenting on their disappointment, as Jews, in the actions of the State of Israel under Netanyahu. The petition draws attention to increased demolitions, the two wars in Gaza, the corruption charges that Netanyahu is currently under criminal investigation for, and Netanyahu’s blind support for President Trump despite the climate of antisemitism that he is invoking.
Since we are proudly hosting acclaimed Gazan chef, Laila el-Haddad, for her Australian tour in April 2017, it is timely to consider Palestinian food traditions and their plight since the Nakba. This is of course the catastrophe of 1948, brought on primarily by Zionist colonisation of Palestine. With continuing military occupation, ensuing separation and atomisation of communities, and the difficulties experienced by Palestinians in every aspect of their lives, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Gaza, or within Israel, cooking and eating Palestinian foods have remained essential to maintaining the collective and individual identities of Palestinians worldwide.
Yet around the world the origin of such cuisine is often blurred: Palestinian food is just called Middle Eastern, or is even labelled ‘Israeli’ on popular cooking shows and magazines, reflecting the cultural appropriation that has come with colonialism – such was the case of maftoul (‘Israeli couscous’). Hummus and falafel too are touted by many as iconic Israeli foods, and are used to promote tourism to Israel. As Middle Eastern food continues to rise in popularity around the world, the ways we talk about this food can misinform newcomers to the cuisine as to the Palestinian origins of many Middle Eastern dishes. And while Israeli chefs serve and promote the region’s cuisine in the world’s capitals, Palestinian history and current reality continue to be misrepresented.
Whether called Palestinian, Arab, Middle Eastern or Israeli food, this varied cuisine is undoubtedly rising in popularity not only around the world, but also in Jewish Israel. And yet, “most Israelis continue to see Palestinian cuisine as simple street food”, says Osama Dalal, a chef from Acre (quoted in In Israel, a New Passion for Palestinian Cuisine). When he opened his modern Palestinian restaurant in his home town, he found that most patrons were Jewish Israelis hailing from Tel Aviv. It is difficult for Palestinian chefs to find commercial success while asserting their politics and speaking out about the conditions that underlie life for Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and so, many, like Dalal, choose to avoid mixing food and politics.
This is not so for Palestinian chefs such as Laila el-Haddad, Joudie Kalla and Dima al Sharif, as well as countless others, who have chosen to unequivocally combine food and politics, reaffirming the origins of Palestinian cuisine and using their commercial popularity to raise awareness as to the history and ongoing human rights abuses that take place every day under Israeli occupation. They are supported by other international food celebrities, such as Anthony Bourdain, whose visit to Palestine in Parts Unknown revealed what a fearless visit to Palestine can yield (read Maysoon Zayid’s account of Watching Anthony Bourdain in Palestine).
Laila el-Haddad’s The Gaza Kitchen (2013), co-authored with Maggie Schmitt, is a masterpiece of Palestinian food writing, combining stories of life in the besieged Gaza strip with traditional knowledge of cultivating and preparing the basics and the more elaborate of this regional, age old cuisine. It was not until reading this book that many readers, including myself, became aware of the significant regional variance, demonstrating the complex and often misunderstood history of Palestinian life. The differences result from lifestyle: some communities were nomadic, others urbane and sophisticated. Those who migrated into urban centres such as Jaffa, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, brought with them global culinary influences and in turn affected local traditions. Such is the wonderful and unmitigated symbiosis of food culture. But there is no attempt in The Gaza Kitchen to avoid the unbearable cost of living under military siege. El-Haddad and Schmitt quote Um Ibraim, an 86 year old woman who is one of few who still remember life before 1948:
“I am telling you about how we would cook and eat in the past, but here everything is unwholesome. It is bad food. In the past, we ate very heartily and were very healthy.” Her eyes gleam as she describes the wild greens and handsome squashes of Beit Tima, her home village, where her father had been mayor before they were driven out in 1948. (from Gaza’s Food Heritage).
Palestinian food is all about sharing, says Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate (2016), describing the style of preparation, service and presentation of foods in Palestinian communities around the world:
It means a lot to me to write this book, as I am Palestinian, and if I can help give a voice to a beautiful country and its food and people, then that is what I would like to do. The fact that it has Palestine on the front cover is so important for me and many people, because we are embracing where we come from and what our land has to offer. It is an ode to our history. (From An ode to the cuisine of Palestine, Al Jazeera)
Further educating the world about Palestinian foodways are non professional cooks such as the entrepreneurs of Noor Women’s Empowerment Group, which runs regular cooking classes in the Aida refugee camp. There you can learn about more than the cuisine’s main staples: olives and olive oil, yogurt and clarified butter, legumes, grains, lamb and vegetables, particularly eggplant, tomatoes, cauliflower and zucchini. Now let us read more about, cook, and eat the inspiring dishes prepared with these regional ingredients.
Why sahlab (and hummus) still aren’t Israeli by Ali Abunimah
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On September 4, 2016, the AJDS held the Decolonisation Forum: From Australia to Israel-Palestine. The event took place at the Multicultural Hub and was well attended, drawing together an eclectic crowd that had gathered to hear our esteemed panelists: Dr. Gary Foley, Dr. Clare Land, and Dr. Sary Zananiri. An additional presentation was delivered electronically by Nina Grunzwieg from Zochrot. The event was chaired by Dr. Jordy Silverstein, who acknowledged our presence on Wurundjeri land and encouraged people to think about what that means. All proceeds from the nights were donated to Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and we managed to raise $800 to help support Indigenous rights.
Dr. Gary Foley is a Gumbainggir man who has been at the centre of political organising for Aboriginal rights since the 1970s as a writer, educator, researcher, museum curator and actor, and currently a History Professor at Victoria University. With a PhD in History, Foley has helped set up Sydney’s Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Medical Service, as well as the Aboriginal medical service in Melbourne. In 1971 he was a key organiser of demonstrations against the Springbok tour. He also co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. Since then Gary Foley has led Aboriginal protests, including at the Commonwealth games and Australia’s bicentenary, been a consultant to the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and been instrumental in educating non-Indigenous people about colonisation and Aboriginal rights.
Foley began by asking the audience to imagine what a decolonised Australia might look like. It would be a place in which self-determination for Indigenous Australians was possible and encouraged. He talked at length about the influence that Colin Tatz’ work has had on him in understanding the relationship between Jewish Australians and the Indigenous solidarity movement. Apologizing for his ill health, Foley was unable to stay for Q&A time.
Dr. Clare Land is a non-Aboriginal activist and researcher who has been involved in supporting Aboriginal land rights struggles in southeast Australia since 1998. Completing her PhD at Melbourne Uni and receiving the 2013 Isi Leibler Prize, Land continued to publish her research in the book Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and directions for supporters of Indigenous struggles (2015). In it she examines the spaces between Aboriginal aspirations and non-Aboriginal supporters, outlining the ways in which non-Indigenous allies can adopt a more critical political framework which places their lives in relation to ongoing colonisation.
In her talk, Land discussed her book’s structure and the different approaches to the concept of solidarity explored therein. It was fitting to have this contrasting perspective on race relations, privilege and recognition as they play out within the activist movement, especially since Jewish activists fall into a somewhat awkward position in relation to Aboriginal Australians. Aussie Jews represent on one hand the colonisers, but also occupy a minority space in Australian national culture. As Jews, when we come to support Aboriginal Australians in their struggle for decolonisation, we must acknowledge our role in this matrix of power, benefiting as we do from our ostensible Whiteness.
This awkward subjectivity was immediately acknowledged by Dr. Sary Zananiri, an Australian-Palestinian artist and academic, who delivered a visual presentation about picturing Palestine, the biblicalising of its landscape and projected nationalities. Having completed his PhD in Fine Arts at Monash University looking at the evolving representations of the Palestinian landscape, Sary has continued to examine the colonial processes embedded in the imaging of Palestine. He has exhibited his work both in Australia and internationally. In 2013 he exhibited Pines, Panoramas and Palestine: three proposals for reading the past as his PhD examination at MADA Gallery. More recently he showed Unpicking Jerusalem: a re-examination of the archives at Little Woods Gallery (read more about it here) and was shortlisted for the National Emerging Art Glass Prize at the Wagga Wagga Glass Museum in 2016. He is currently a co-director of the Palestinian Film Festival in Australia and lectures in the Glass Studio at Monash University.
Zananiri began his presentation by emphasising the curious discomfort of being a Palestinian Australian – borne to a legacy of the Nakba and its exile, and yet embodying the colonising power here, in Australia, as a non Aboriginal person. He presented a series of images from Palestine around the turn of the 20th century, and discussed the subtle manipulations of the artists and the ways in which these created and disseminated ideas about Palestinian life prior and during colonisation. By critically examining the different images, Zananiri demonstrated what a de-colonising gaze might achieve in terms of looking ahead into our joint futures as Australian activists – Jewish, Palestinian, Indigenous, or otherwise.
Zochrot‘s Nina Grunzwieg delivered her presentation electronically, covering in detail the work of her organisation. This Israeli NGO has been active since 2002 in raising awareness and promoting justice for the victims of the Nakba, the occupation of Palestine and ensuing devastation culminating in 1948.
There were some challenging questions from the audience, regarding the validity of Palestinian return and of the use of the term Nakba. Other questions addressed to Gary Foley (in his absence) shed light on the deep fissures within the Indigenous community and the contentious issue of intervention. It was evident that more discussion could and should be had, and the audience was engaged by the themes raised by the panelists. The main value of the night was indeed in offering the opportunity to consider and compare various aspects of decolonisation: re-examining ideas of nationhood, of return, reparation, critical action and more. Importantly, there is great benefit in considering the ways in which these notions carry over from one locale and culture to another, in our globalised and localised struggles.
We did record the event but the sound quality in the auditorium was not great. The AJDS is a non-profit organisation that operates solely through donations. If you would like to donate money towards recording equipment, visit this page or write to firstname.lastname@example.org to support our work.
On October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported. We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.
While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned. Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur). Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking. The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.
The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib. Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”
We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination. We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel. There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.
This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016
‘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.
By Timetraveller (pseud.)
As populations of the Middle East become more urbanised and adopt Western-style living standards, the demands on the area’s water resources will become more immediate and desperate. Of 33 countries worldwide predicted to suffer severe water shortages by 2040 due to changing populations and life-styles, as well as the effects of climate change, the Water Resources Institute lists 14 in the Middle East – among them Israel . These countries are already heavily dependent on water extraction from ground sources, aquifers and desalination, and deteriorating factors will most likely result in unprecedented demands on the water infrastructures of those countries. An immediate example can be seen in Syria, where the civil war has been partly blamed on a prolonged drought, resulting in people who previously lived on the land losing their livelihoods and moving into urban centres, thus destabilising that country.
Israel is a special case in this area, since, due to its large urbanised Western immigration, it is amongst the most economically developed countries in the region; add to that the immeasurable benefits it enjoys through the benevolence of the United States. With the foundation of the modern state of Israel, the earliest Zionists immediately realised the importance of the water economy and efforts were made at the outset to conserve water and educate the population about this priceless resource.
That has led, over the years, to Israel becoming an international leader in water conservation and recyling. Seth M. Siegel, author of ‘Let There Be Water’ (2015), in his highly commended investigation of the subject, proposes that not only is Israel a world leader in exporting water saving and rescuing technologies, but that the export of this expertise and promotion of the technology will also serve as a force for international peace. In so doing, he states that Israel could help rescue the populations of the world from an increasingly water-starved future.
How has Israel achieved this unique situation? Without getting too technical, it has been done by recycling all water – sewage, industrial and agricultural – as well as the construction of massive water desalination plants. Stormwater is also pumped back into aquifers for storage. Israeli agronomists and engineers have developed such innovative practices as drip-irrigation and drought-tolerant plants. (It may come as a surprise, but Tel Aviv receives a similar annual amount of rain as London – 524 mm compared to 594 mm; however the annual rainfall patterns are vastly different, resulting in vastly different landscapes). So the image of a desert – at least on the coastal plain of Israel – is somewhat erroneous – if one only considers total annual rainfall. Certainly the Negev and the Beka’a Valley are arid zones with very little intermittent rainfall.
Having said all this, it seems somewhat inconsistent that such a large part of its economy (3.6%) is based on the export of high quality agricultural produce where the relatively warm winter climate enables the growth of lush out-of-season produce for export to wintry Europe. However, this export comes at cost because there is a large water investment in the produce, as well as the water in the product itself. Thus Israel is, in fact, exporting water. This resulted, recently, in the somewhat mythic Jaffa orange orchards of Israeli being uprooted due to the excessive amounts of water required to grow the trees and produce the crops.
So how does all this tally up. On the one hand climatologists have predicted severe water shortages in the region versus a country which not only exports water in the form of agricultural produce, but will benevolently export its knowhow to escape those countries’ predicament. For a foretaste of the future, perhaps we should look at the current situation as it applies to Israel’s closest neighbour – the Palestinians. A recent Al Jazeera publication raised the question of peace and water by accusing Israel of using water to dominate the Palestinian population. Chuck Spinney, writing in Consortium News corroborated this saying:
Access to water is one of the most fundamental and least discussed issues underpinning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict (as well as the recurring pattern of Israel’s conflicts with Syria and Lebanon). Control of the West Bank’s water resources is intimately tied into the growing pattern of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, if left unchecked, Israel’s inevitable annexation of Area C (60 percent) of the West Bank (thereby formalizing the Gazification of Areas A & B). Water resources are also intimately woven into pattern of destruction in Israel’s siege of the Gaza ghetto.
Historically, the Oslo Interim Agreement in 1995 set the stage enabling Israeli authorities to secure 71 percent of the water resources of the Jordan River and the Alpine Aquifer (an aquifer located beneath both Israel and the West Bank) compared to the total Palestinians allocation of 17 percent. (This was accounted for by the Palestinian population being much smaller than the Israeli population at the time of the Accord’s signature). Today the figures for sharing these water resources are 87 and 13 percent respectively, in spite of changes in population figures. In addition, Mekorot, the Israeli water authority, restricts water flows to Palestinians on the West Bank, creating a hegemonic imbalance. Over the years of occupation, Israeli authorities have disrupted the up-keep and development of water resources in the West Bank, thus wells which have been over-used and run dry are not able to be deepened for access to water. Furthermore, Palestinians are prohibited from drawing water from the Jordan River.
A joint body – the Joint Water Committee (where Israel has “de-facto veto power”) has successfully handicapped Palestinian efforts to rejuvenate and expand their water infrastructure. Al Jazeera reports,
As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the ICA has refused between 2010 and 2014 98.5 percent of the Palestinian building permit applications for Area C projects.
It also reports that since 2016 alone, over 50 water and sanitation projects have been demolished on the grounds that they lacked the relevant Israeli permits. To put this in clear focus, Al Jazeera notes that the average Israeli has access to around 240 litres of water per day, with settlers having 300 litres; “…while Palestinians in the West Bank are left with 73 litres – well below the World Health Organisation’s minimum standard of 100”.
The coercive nature of the Israeli authorities in the field of water resources has resulted in Palestinians initially becoming dependent on Israel, but eventually has resulted in their giving up and leaving – thus enabling the growing Israeli footprint into previously Palestinian-held West Bank land.
The imbalance between the water usage of Israelis on the West Bank and their Palestinian neighbours is even more extreme when one considers the plight of the Bedouin who have lived in the Negev Desert from time immemorial. Take the case of a Bedouin family living in Umm al-Hieran, 9km from the nearest source of clean water. The Israeli authorities have prohibited the upgrading of this pipeline which is leaking and dilapidated because they do not recognise the village itself. These Bedouin were evicted from their pre-1956 home in Wadi Zuballa, then in 2004 as the authorities planned a Jewish development in the area, their homes in Umm Al-Hieran were declared illegal. Today some 80-90,000 Bedouin are living in unrecognised villages where they have no rights to hold the land they stand on. Given this, they are forced to truck in water at prohibitive rates for a people who are subsisting in an environment where they can be moved on and their houses destroyed at the whim of the authorities.
Moving on to Gaza, Hagai Amit of Ha’Aretz points out that the situation in Gaza is of immediate major concern. While the burgeoning population requires the basic necessity of life, namely water, excessive pumping of the coastal aquifer has resulted in its infiltration with salt and sewage contamination. The Gazans’ inability to develop adequate sewage and water infrastructure systems have compounded the problem. Furthermore, since electricity is available only part of the day, water cannot be secured through constant (extremely expensive) desalination. In the meantime, Israel currently supplies between 5-10 million metres of water per annum to Gaza. This, however, is no long-term solution to the dire situation emerging, and today hydrologists agree that by 2020 the water catastrophe in Gaza due to over pumping and contamination will be irreversible and Gazans will be left waterless.
Where to now? The inequalities I have described above need to be considered in light of projected climate changes due to global warming. Aytzim (Environmental Judaism) describes projected changes such as reductions in precipitation by as much as 4-8 percent, increased transpiration by up to 10 percent, increased severity of rainfall and changed rainfall patterns. These changes will most likely result in loss of arable land, mass migration in search of resources, etc. What does this mean for Israel and its closest neighbours? How will the imbalances already being witnessed in water allocations play out when there is even less of that life-sustaining substance to share around?
Again, quoting from the World Resources Institute,
Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel. Saudi Arabia’s government said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by 2016, a change from decades of growing all they need, due to fear of water-resource depletion. The U.S. National Intelligence Council wrote that water problems will put key North African and Middle Eastern countries at greater risk of instability and state failure and distract them from foreign policy engagements with the U.S.
No-one knows what the future holds, but given the glaring imbalances between Israel and her neighbours, we can probably say that there will be “interesting times” to come.
This post is part of Just Voices #11 – Climate Change.