EI exclusive: Leaked documents show PA undermined Turkey’s push for UN flotilla probe

Originally published on Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 22 June 2010

A document sent to Ibrahim Khraishi, Palestinian Authority representative at the UN in Geneva, proves that the PA attempted to undermine Turkey’s push for a UN Human Rights Council investigation in to Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla (Patrick Bertschmann/UN Photo)


The Palestinian Authority attempted to neutralize a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel’s deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, leaked UN and Palestinian Authority documents obtained by The Electronic Intifada show. Israel’s 31 May attack killed nine Turkish citizens, including a dual US-Turkish citizen, and injured dozens of others aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters.

Download the document leaked to EI [PDF]

The Electronic Intifada (EI) today publishes one of the documents it obtained, containing proposed amendments to a draft Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution. Annotations to the resolution indicate the Palestinian Authority (PA) stood with European Union (EU) countries against Turkey’s calls for robust action to hold Israel accountable.

The PA’s apparent collusion to shield Israel will recall for many its efforts to undermine UN action on the Goldstone report last October.

Apparently written by a European delegate, the document’s amendments would have seriously diluted Turkey’s original wording. The most damaging change would have removed the call for an independent UN investigation under HRC auspices. The document was provided to EI by a source who described how it was obtained inside the UN Office at Geneva, and asked to remain anonymous.

Turkey rejected the EU-PA amendments, and the final resolution on 2 June declared that the council “Decides to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law resulting from the Israeli attacks” (“The Grave Attacks by Israeli Forces against the Humanitarian Boat Convoy,” United Nations Human Rights Council, Fourteenth session, A/HRC/14/L.1, Adopted on 2 June 2010).

The language in the final resolution was very similar to the January 2009 HRC resolution which led to the Goldstone report, the independent investigation that detailed war crimes committed during Israel’s 2008-09 invasion of Gaza.

Yet annotations apparently made by a European diplomat on the draft resolution obtained by EI make it clear that the PA consented to removal of this wording. A PA-backed alternative paragraph instead proposed that the HRC: “Requests the UN Secretary-General to ensure a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to the [sic] international standards.”

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Boycotting Israel – It’s Working

Originally published at the New Left Project

By Asa Winstanley

The global boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine has achieved many victories since it was launched by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society in 2005. BDS victories seem to have flowed thick and fast in recent times, particularly since Israel’s vicious 2008-2009 assault on the civilian population of Gaza. A small sample: in September 2009 Norway’s pension fund divested from Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms systems company. In May of this year, hip-hop pioneer Gil Scott-Heron cancelled a prospective Tel Aviv gig after pressure to boycott from fans in London who also happened to be pro-Palestine BDS activists.

In what may yet turn out to be the biggest long-term BDS victory in Britain, the TUC voted in September to pass a motion calling for a boycott of goods from Israeli colonies in the West Bank. Although the initial motion put forward by the Fire Brigades Union called for a general boycott of Israeli goods, a General Council statement also passed at the September congress altered this to restrict the TUC campaign to settlement goods.

Despite this dilution, the motion was a clear sign of historical sea change in the British trade union movement – large parts of which tended to support Israel before 1967 because of their illusions about Zionist “socialism” (a “socialism” that happened to exclude Arabs). By now it is clear that the union grassroots overwhelmingly supports the BDS movement.

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Sailing into trouble: “To Gaza with Love” reviewed

Originally published on Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 4 January 2010

A scene from To Gaza with Love.

To Gaza with Love is a documentary by Aki Nawaz for Iran’s English-language channel Press TV. It is an account of the first boats that successfully broke the siege of Gaza in August 2008. The filmmakers traveled to the Gaza Strip with the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the trip. The subjective format of the film works well — presenter Yvonne Ridley speaks to the camera in an amiable video diary style, while Nawaz narrates to add context.

The Free Gaza Movement is a group of activists from around the world who decided to sail to Gaza from Cyprus to break the Israeli-enforced siege. The idea came about in response to Israel’s claim that, since the 2005 “disengagement,” it no longer occupies the coastal strip. Despite withdrawing its settlers, Israel still remains in control of all the borders, airspace and coast. The Free Gaza Movement is an effort to call Israel’s bluff. If Israel no longer occupies Gaza, it could surely have no objection to civilian boats sailing in — or so the argument went.

Although it is independent of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), many in the Free Gaza Movement are or have been ISM members, including ISM founder Huwaida Arraf. Israel has banned some of the members from entering Palestine/Israel.

The small group purchased two second-hand boats in Cyprus, and the film recounts the trials and tribulations they went through in the course of preparing to embark on the sea journey.

At the time, many in the global Palestine solidarity movement were skeptical of the chances of success — but were happy to be proven wrong when the two small vessels eventually landed in Gaza. After watching this film, it becomes apparent this success was a near miracle.

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Book review: Palestinian views on suicide operations

Originally published on Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 13 October 2009

The Making of a Human Bomb

In his new book The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance, Nasser Abufarha examines the phenomena of Palestinian suicide operations. It is based on extensive fieldwork conducted in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, mostly in and around the northern town of Jenin. A native of the city, Abufarha interviewed families of suicide bombers, observed demonstrations and studied Palestinian cultural products that addressed suicide attacks. He also conducted interviews with activists from three different armed factions to explain suicide bombings, or “martyrdom operations” as they are more commonly known in the Arab world.

Abufarha traces the development of the concept of self-sacrifice in Palestinian society from the 1960s to the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1992). During the 1960s, Palestinian resistance fighters were known as the fedayeen or those who sacrifice for a cause. Contrary to common portrayal in the Western media, anyone fallen in the course of resistance to the Israeli occupation is honored in Palestinian society as a shahid, or a martyr, whether armed guerrilla or unarmed protestor.

Following the signing of the Oslo accords in the mid-1990s, the bombings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad were not supported by the majority of Palestinians, who mostly still hoped the “peace process” would lead to a Palestinian state. The two Islamic groups had to actively recruit for such operations.

By the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the stone-throwing children of the first intifada had grown up. Having watching their friends fall as martyrs to Israeli brutality, volunteers began to offer themselves to the armed factions: if they were to be killed anyway, it was surely better to choose the manner of their death. In the words of one of Abufarha’s interview subjects: “we are all martyrs with execution on hold.” The new concept of istishhad arose: actively seeking martyrdom as an act of resistance.
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Boycott movement takes hold in British unions

Originally published in Electronic Intifada.

By Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 14 August 2009

The international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has won several important victories in recent months. At this summer’s trade union conferences in Britain, BDS activists have made significant progress.

While the campaign has been building momentum in unions globally since the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS, Israel’s winter invasion of Gaza has spurred several trade unions and union federations in Britain and Ireland to pass motions more explicitly in favor of BDS. Several are calling for BDS for the first time.

Tom Hickey, a member of the University and College Union’s (UCU) national executive committee, said, “The question of the moral rightness or wrongness [of BDS against Israel] has effectively already been decided.”

Although the Trade Union Congress (the British union federation) has not yet passed a BDS motion, affiliated unions have begun taking up the Palestinian call themselves. So far this summer, the public sector union PCS, the UCU and the Fire Brigades Union have all passed strong motions explicitly calling for a general policy of boycott of Israeli goods, divestment from Israeli companies and government sanctions against the state.

Unions such as public sector union UNISON, the National Union of Teachers, USDAW and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have this summer passed softer motions calling for elements of BDS. These are usually calls for a boycott of settlement goods, or for the government to suspend arms sales to Israel. The CWU and others have condemned the infamous 13 January 2008 statement of the Israeli trade union federation in support of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which read: “The Histadrut recognizes the urgent need for the State of Israel to operate against the command and control centers of the organizational terror network …”

In addition, a report has been circulating on the Internet that the rail workers’ union, the RMT, has reversed an earlier policy of “solidarity not boycott” and passed a motion in favor of some sort of BDS policy at their July Annual General Meeting. The official AGM report has yet to be released to the general public, but the RMT’s media office confirmed the report was probably accurate. However, they did not return calls for official confirmation in time for publication.

In April, the independent Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) for the first time voted to endorse a report recommending “boycott and disinvest from Israeli companies” and a “call for sanctions against Israel” at their annual delegates’ congress.

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“Security threat”: An attempt to visit family in Ramallah

The front page of Electronic Intifada

Originally published in Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley writing from the United Kingdom, Live from Palestine, 12 June 2009

Taking the first bus of the day, my wife and I arrived on the Israeli side of the King Hussein bridge crossing into the West Bank from Jordan. We explained that we were heading to Ramallah to visit my wife’s mother and brothers for three weeks. We performed the exact same procedure last year without incident. However, this year I was told to wait.

My wife is a Palestinian from Ramallah, where we met a few years ago. We got married there, and her closest family still live in Ramallah. We have moved to live and work in London, but try to return once a year. As Israel still controls all the border crossings into the West Bank, a trip intended as a May holiday to visit family quickly ran afoul of the continuing occupation.

Four hours after my passport was taken away, I had heard absolutely nothing. I started to make a fuss and was told that my passport was “with security.” Several hours later, I was taken in to a back room and questioned by a burly “security” agent. He asked several questions about the purpose of my trip while typing into a computer.

He wanted to know if I belong to any “groups that help the Palestinians,” and asked if, since I am a journalist I was going to work during this visit. I replied that, although I had worked with the Palestine Times in the past, this trip I was just to visit family. It tells you a lot about the nature of the Israeli occupation that they try to make it seem that “helping the Palestinians” is some sort of crime.

After the questions were finished, he told me to wait in the next room “for five minutes.” Two hours later I was still waiting.

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Ramallah posters article

UPDATE, August 14: Apparently, the August issue of NOX magazine finally published my article, so I’m publishing the full original text below, as well as changing the timestamp on this post to bump it up to the top. I have yet to see the finished version (with photos) since it’s not in the online version and my copies seem to have got lost in the mail. Have asked my editor for more. Anyway, enjoy the whole thing.

UPDATE, January 20, 2008: Yazan, my photographic collaborator on this project posted the photos that go with this article a while back. Check them out here.

The struggle to keep the martyrs alive

by Asa Winstanley

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Walk along any street in the occupied Palestinian territories and you will see the walls covered with fly-posters. The type of free advertising that in, say, London would be used to promote the latest indie music CD or to drum-up custom for night clubs is most commonly used here for more political purposes.

During the legislative council elections back in January 2006, the streets were absolutely plastered with a multitude of posters advertising the many different candidates contesting the elections. The different faction’s activists all seemed to respect each other’s right to this form of free speech and mostly refrained from pasting over or tearing down each other’s promos. The streets were so saturated with images of the suited parliamentary candidates that even now, more than a year later, you can still see their faded visages grinning down at you all over town.

However, the most common purpose for this type of fly-poster is to commemorate martyrs in the struggle for Palestinian independence from Israeli occupation.

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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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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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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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Second Aboud Demonstration Attacked by Israeli Military

The demonstration is held up by the Israeli military. People suffer the affects of tear gas

On Friday the 25th of November the village of Aboud held its second demonstration in two weeks against the construction of the wall there. Joined by Israeli and international supporters, the village came out in force to show opposition to the construction of the wall on their agricultural land and the destruction and theft that will result from it. Over 5330 dunams of their land, as well as the whole of the water sources of the village will be confiscated by the Israeli apartheid barrier.

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