Médecins Sans Frontières aims to “help Palestinians survive mentally”

Originally published in Palestine Times, April 5, 2007 (Health and Environment page).

by Asa Winstanley

“Our objective is to provide psychological and medical support to the victims of violence. To help people to survive — more psychologically than medically in Palestine — but to be able to survive and continue to have normal socioeconomic activities.”

Laura Brav is Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF — Doctors Without Borders) in Jerusalem. Originally from France, she has been based here for almost two years and has worked with MSF for more than nine years around the world in places like Southern Sudan, Congo, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

Active in more than 80 countries, the MSF movement usually intervenes in countries suffering from conflicts, epidemics or natural disasters. “We have projects focusing on HIV/AIDS, for example, in countries like Kenya and Guatemala where there is no conflict. We consider the AIDS epidemic to be quite serious.”

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At last — Palestine Times site is free!

UPDATE, April 4: The site statistics I’ve seen are very good indeed: over 22,000 unique page hits in April SO FAR! I’m no advertising expert but that sounds pretty good to me — Google AdSense ads will follow on the site soon…

Finally, my boss saw the light and made the Palestine Times website free! This may be just temporary in the hope people will pay in the future, but I hope not. This means my front page story is now available on the site. You can also view my excellent weekly page called Eyewitness Reports, an edited selection of reports on non-violent demonstrations from groups such as ISM, IWPS, CPT, AATW, IMEMC, PNN etc.

The site has room for improvement:

  • No archive for issues older than the date the site went online (so my Bil’in feature is still not there. However, luckily you can read it here on my site).
  • Archive is a bit tricky to navigate. Weird typos still on the site, probably down to the fact that the files they use are the pre-proof-read copy. Doh.
  • Weird formating in some stories (no bold for bylines or placelines etc).
  • Hard to browse by day (a common problem for newspaper sites).
  • No original web content (an issue that would require a whole new staff to solve).

But all in all it’s pleasing to the eye and not that hard to navigate. This paper is too important to lock the website down with paid-for only areas. Please click on the site’s ads to convince management they will make more money that way than through paid subs.

My Palestine Times front page article makes CNN!

UPDATE: The excellent American Hummus video blog reposted this clip. It’s a good job too, since the CNN version seems to no longer be available.

A TV crew from CNN International recently visited our office. Most stuff about this country I’ve seen on seen on CNN international has been unbelievably pro-Israel. But this report is brilliant! Not least because I wrote the headline of the edition that that draw attention to in the paper: Tony Blair: ‘East Jerusalem is occupied territory.’

They visit West Jerusalem and ask Israelis what they think about the paper, newly available in Israel. Although one guy is nice, most of them hurl off-camera insults such as “who would pay to read what Arabs think” and “the Palestinians can take their papers and go to Jordan.”

Lovely.

One says on camera: “I’m not sure if I’m 100% comfortable with this idea of a Palestinian paper in Jerusalem.” Note that none of them express reservations, or even interest, over any of the actual content of the paper, merely the idea of a Palestinian paper.

Israeli newspapers such as Ha’aretz and the right-wing Jerusalem Post have been daily sold in Palestinian cities such as Ramallah for years.

To view the video, either click on this direct link, or go to www.cnn.com/video , click “search video” and search for “Palestine Times.”

I make the front page with Blair leak story

This article originally appeared as the lead headline on the front page of Palestine Times, March 21.

Tony Blair: ‘East Jerusalem is occupied territory’

by Asa Winstanley

RAMALLAH — In a private letter to Morocco’s King Muhammad VI, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his government “considers East Jerusalem to be occupied territory,” the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) said yesterday.

Working as chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s committee on Jerusalem, King Muhammad had sent letters to various heads of state asking them to clarify their position on the status of Jerusalem. In his March 12 reply, Blair stated explicitly that Britain does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of the city.

Leaked to CAABU, and passed on to Palestine Times, the letter represents the Prime Minister’s clearest ever statement on the occupied status of Jerusalem.

Chris Doyle, the Director of CAABU told Palestine Times over the phone, that it has been “a challenge to get any senior government minister to make such an official explicit statement” and that “to get Mr. Blair to say it has been impossible.”

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Helicopters hovering

Ramallah seems quite tense. The Israelis only left Nablus yesterday, after two days of raids and curfews on the city. And I just heard on al-Jazeera they were back in there today. It’s the first time in ages I’ve heard about them enforcing a curfew. I read they killed one, injuring and arresting many others. On way home from work today I wondered if they were gearing up to do something similar in Ramallah. They killed another three in an invasion in Jenin today — they were reportedly fighters. Seems like the new Israeli “defence” minister wants to make an impression already.

Disconcertingly, an Israeli helicopter was hovering over Ramallah today. People I spoke to said it was interfering with their TV reception. And sure enough, when I got home the satellite reception was very dodgy indeed for a few hours. Honestly — they cant even leave us alone to watch TV in peace.

Saw Mustafa Barghouti on al-Arabya news channel up in Nablus helping the PRCS ambulance teams on the scene a couple days ago. Not sure how much actual medical work he was doing (am I’m sure it won’t hurt his poll ratings) but I couldn’t help but be impressed — you’d never see Mahmoud Abbas or any such politicians doing anything on the ground like that.

Working at Palestine Times is weird. It’s great in some ways but frustrating in others. We get some genuinely unique articles that I know for a fact you can see no where else in the world in English. It’s within the reach of the Israeli English-language media to have such articles, but their overwhelmingly Zionist bias precludes that possibility. Yes — we get some great stuff but it’s frustrating that almost no one is seeing it. Our circulation is still low and the website is paid-subscription only. I’m going to push for the website to be free (all the paper’s competitors have free websites) but we’ll see how far I get (probably not very).

Palestine Times Bil’in village feature

This news feature was published in Palestine Times on December 18, 2006. I now work for the paper as head copy editor. Since their website was not operational at the time, I’m publishing it here.


Defiant villagers unified in face of violent occupation

by Asa Winstanley

BIL’IN, West Bank — The demonstration is small, but feisty. Accompanied by around 15 international supporters and a few Israeli stalwarts, the inhabitants of Bil’in, a village in the West Bank near Ramallah, voice their protest against the Israeli Wall and settlements that threaten their village. Chanting Arabic slogans, and demanding in Hebrew the soldiers go home, the demonstrators are prevented from passing through a gate in the Wall by a unit of Israeli soldiers and their jeeps. The soldiers wave their clubs menacingly — not today, they seem to say.

After about 15 minutes, Abdullah Abu Rahme, the co-ordinator of the village’s Popular Committee against the Wall and settlements, calls for the crowd to follow him. They try to find another way through the large coils of razor wire on the near side of the Wall. Some of the demonstrators pull at the wire with thick gloves. These attempts are soon stopped by Israeli soldiers.

The village has been involved in resistance and weekly demonstrations against the Wall for nearly two years beginning in February 2005. The Wall in this area consists of large coils of razor wire, a steep bank, a high fence, a dirt path, another fence and finally a tarmac road, which the soldiers patrol with their jeeps and humvees. Despite the initial claims of the Israeli government that the Wall is only for “security purposes,” in Bil’in, as along some 80 percent of its route, the Wall does not follow the route of the 1967 Green Line. Israeli ministers are now openly saying that the route will determine final borders.

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Gideon Levy: “A Black Flag”

I was thinking of writing something on the re-invasion of Gaza (and I still might) but, really, Gideon Levy says most of what needs to be said in today’s Ha’aretz.

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“A Black Flag”

by Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz 2nd July 2006

A black flag hangs over the “rolling” operation in Gaza. The more the operation “rolls,” the darker the flag becomes. The “summer rains” we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria’s airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.

A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization. The harsher the steps, the more monstrous and stupid they become, the more the moral underpinnings for them are removed and the stronger the impression that the Israeli government has lost its nerve. Now one must hope that the weekend lull, whether initiated by Egypt or the prime minister, and in any case to the dismay of Channel 2’s Roni Daniel and the IDF, will lead to a radical change.

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The Wall as Walls

Hi-res version was lost, sorry

I came across this cartoon on the ISM Canada website. I’m posting it here, because it sums up so well what is incorrect with the image most people have of Israel’s Wall. It is NOT a “separation barrier” built between Israelis and Palestinians. It is an annexation barrier, the vast majority of which is built or is being built within Palestine. The primary aim of this project is to take more land away from Palestinians and add it to the state of Israel. For a long time, the Israeli government denied this, and claimed it was “only for security”, and that the route of the Wall could be moved in the event of a final status agreement. To anyone on the ground suffering from the effects, this was a transpartent lie. It is now conceded by high Israeli officials (including Tzipi Livni) that the Wall is going to be “the border”, within the framework of “convergence”.

Still, the cartoon is not the whole picture. It would be more acurate to show a series of fences being built within the Palestinian house, separating the mother from the father, from the children. Because this is what is being done – Palestinians are being divided into isolated, unliveable ghettos. Consulting some of the various maps available, demonstrates this plainly. Palestinian Reservations, modeled on the North American manifest destiny example are the ultimate aim.

So, what can we do to stop this? From outside, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign (similar to that of the boycott of apartheid era South Africa) is, in my judgement, one of few hopes left for any kind of future for Palestine. This article by a British academic who worked in Beirzeit University (near Ramallah, in the West Bank) during the early 80s, brilliantly argues for the academic boycott, and speaks from first hand experience about the denial of academic freedom that Israel routinely enforces on Palestinians. This article by a friend of mine is a good summary of the current state of the campaign.

Assassinated in Ramallah

Palestinian crowd gathers around an ambulanceAt about 8.30pm tonight, the Israeli army carried out another incursion here in Ramallah, assassinating Ayman Khateb, a member of the Palestinian intelligence. Initial reports in the Israeli media are claiming that he was also a member of the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, which is possible, but unconfirmed right now. He was tracked and identified by Palestinian collaborators and then assassinated by undercover Israeli forces. The Israeli army was then brought in so that the assassins could make good their escape. They injured at least two other people in the process. The soldiers reportedly shot the body again for good measure before they left.

This all happened here in the Old City of Ramallah or “Lower Ramallah”, the same neighbourhood that I live and work in. Only one block away from us in the ISM Media office, we heard loud gunfire close by and could tell that it was not from a celebration or protest. All the shops in the street below quickly closed up. Very soon after this, several Israeli army jeeps sped past our street towards the direction that the gunfire was coming from. We managed to capture this on video.

People came out onto the street in clusters, sharing news and wondering what to do. A group of us from the ISM office went onto the street to talk to people and see if we could be useful in any way. We got into a position from which we could film the jeeps from a distance. They had stopped near a posh local restaurant. We heard they had shot someone, but that he was still alive and no one was being allowed close to him. By the time we got there he was dead and the jeeps had left. We witnessed the dead and injured being taken away in ambulances, as well as the scene of destruction left behind. A falafel shop had been trashed so that the soldiers could use it as cover. It was on a street I regularly walk down. I had stood near that very spot only a few days previously as a friend bought falafel from one of the street vendors.

This comes on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would continue its policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian fighters, because “the lives and the welfare of the residents of the Sderot [an Israeli town bordering Gaza] are more important than those of the residents of Gaza” . At exactly the same time, he was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan and talking to the press about peace. Some peace, when Israel is regularly carrying out so many massacres of civillians in Gaza that it’s hard to keep up. They even try to deny that it was them behind it, when it’s obvious that they were. The idea that there is a “ceasefire” and “restraint” from Israel is a cruel joke.

Meanwhile, on the political front, there are no excuses left since it seems that Hamas has now recognised the state of Israel, using the Prisoner’s Document as a basis.

Ethnic Cleansing in Slow-Motion

Watching the invasion live on al-Jazeera

On the 24th of May the Israeli army invaded the West Bank city of Ramallah, my current home. In the middle of the day, undercover Israeli forces performed an “arrest operation” on a Palestinian militant in the centre of Ramallah. When their cover was blown, a large force of Israeli soldiers were sent in so that they could shoot their way out of the city past the angry crowds of Palestinians that had assembled. The Palestinian fighters were, for the most part, nowhere to be seen during the invasion. It was left to crowds of youths to defend the city from this act of aggression, using whatever came to hand. Stones, tins of paint, scrap metal – all of it was thrown at the soldier’s jeeps from the rooftops of Ramallah. In the course of events, the Israeli army martyred three civilians and one Policeman (who was apparently unarmed at the time) and injured about thirty others, shooting rubber-coated and live ammunition at the crowds of civilians. In this act of war, Israel violated the entirely one-way ceasefire that Hamas and all the other armed Palestinian factions (apart from Islamic Jihad) had been sticking to since February 2005, despite regular Israeli military operations and killings in the Palestinian territories.

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My pick of recent press on Palestine

Hi everyone. Apologies for the recent drying-up of my journal entries. I have several different items in the pipline, so look for something new here soon. Meanwhile, it’s been far too long since my last post so you should check the ISM site for all the latest stuff that I’ve been up to. Since I spend most of my time posting to the ISM site, I thought I would post some of the best stuff I’ve read recently on the site and in the press in general. Although most of the following links are to our site, many are are reposts of articles from the Israeli and international press (the Ha’artez english website for example is not the best and articles on it often disappear after a few days).

This op-ed piece from the International Herald Tribune by Fareed Taamallah, about checkpoints and the repressive nature of the Israeli occupation is simply beautiful. That radical anarchist, anti-semite Jimmy Carter seems have recently started telling something resembling the truth about the situation here, most recently about Israel’s “convergence” plan.

An Israeli involved in the ISM has been translating a lot of articles from the Hebrew press recently – although both Yedioth Ahronoth and Ha’aretz (two of the main Hebrew language Israeli papers) have English editions (both in print and online) not everyting is translated. The choice of what is and is not translated is often a political one. One of the most interesting pieces he has translated is about recent comments by Brigadier General (retired) Ilan Paz, who until recently was the head of the District Coordinating Office (DCO) in the West Bank. It’s called “Mr. Occupation Saw the Light” and is very reveiling. Also from the Israeli press is this op-ed about the recent high court decision that prevents Palestinian citizens of Israeli (the decendents of those who in 1948 choose not to flee and were not directly driven out) from living with their husbands, wives and children if they happen to come from the West Bank or Gaza strip. A law excluding people from the “only democracy in the middle east” based purely on race and nationality – all in the name of “security” (the magic answer). Finally from the Israeli press, Ha’aretz has been getting all hot and bothered recently about the boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions that do not publicly condemn the occupation. Considering that Ha’aretz is so Zionist, this is a good sign!

As you probably know, I go to demonstrations in the village of Bil’in most weeks. If you want to know the background as to why the villagers are demonstrating, read “Wall of Shame” in a recent edition of the excellent SchNEWS. Also check these two photos, which show the truth about the “self defence” Israeli soldiers are “forced” to use in Bil’in every week. Recently, there has been an upsurge in violence used against the demonstrators. Two of my friends were shot at close range with rubber bullets (against even the regulations of the Israeli army) a few weeks ago. If they had used the rubber-coated steel bullets that they use against Palestinians, they would probably have been dead now. Thankfully they are now fine, and getting back to ISM work.

For people who tell you nonsense like “the Palestinians are uniquely violent – other anti-occupation movements have used non-violence”, it is worth noting that the almost instinctive reaction of the Israeli military to mass non-violent demonstrations by the Palestinians is violence. In Ar-Ram recently, just such a large, organised, peacefull protest against the Aparthied Wall that Israel has built right through the main street of their town was simply attacked. The Israeli military later told the press that they had to do this because the demonstrators threw stones as they approched. I was there and I know this was a total lie. We also have video footage that proves this, which we offered to the press. After they were attacked by the army, some of the youth did retaliate with stones, but this was mostly symbolic in that they were too far away to hit anything. This is the standard practice of the Israeli army – attack non-violent demonstrations and then afterwards claim they were “violent riots”, instead of demonstrations demanding basic human rights. They get away with this becase the Israeli and international press regularly reports these claims as fact. They attack tiny demonstrations even more freely. Palestinian demonstrations without media presence or Israeli and international support are met with lethal force. Finally, to illustrate the fundamentally racist nature of the Israeli military and their occupation, check out this account and pictures on how the military reacts to stone throwing by Jewish settlers.

Terror and Occupation in Nablus

Eyewitness accounts from a friend of mine who has been based up Nablus for the past week. Originaly published on Electrontic Intifada, with more pictures.

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Linda Spence writing from Nablus, Occupied Palestine, Live from Palestine, 21 April 2006.

Tanks and soldiers roll into Balata refugee camp during the invasion of April 2006. (Dylan Bergeson)

17 April 2006 — This is just one personal account of a shocking situation I witnessed in in Nablus. In the week I have been here, Nablus and Balata refugee camp have been under regular daily and nightly attack from the IDF. All of the incursions have involved live ammunition, demonstrating little care for the hundreds of civilians in these highly populated areas.

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