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“They Want To Legalize The Nakba:” Inside The Plan Against E. Jerusalem Civil Society

Muhammad Totah is one of three Palestinian legislators staging a sit-in to protest their ordered expulsion from East Jerusalem

Muhammad Totah is one of three Palestinian legislators staging a sit-in to protest their ordered expulsion from East Jerusalem

This piece originally appeared at Electronic Intifada.

On 9 July, as Israeli Border Police officers brutalized demonstrators at the weekly protest in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, forcing them away from a street where several homes had been seized by radical right-wing Jewish settlers, I visited the Jerusalem International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headquarters just a few hundred meters away.

Though the din of protest chants and police megaphones could not be heard from the ICRC center, the three Palestinian legislators who had staged a sit-in there for more than a week to protest their forced expulsion from Jerusalem insisted that their plight was the same as the families forced from their homes down the street.

“All the Israeli steps in East Jerusalem are designed to evacuate Jerusalem of its Palestinian heritage,” remarked Muhammad Totah, an elected Palestinian Legislative Council member who has been ordered to permanently leave Jerusalem by the Israeli government. “Whether it’s through home demolition, taking homes or deporting us, the goal is the same.”

According to the Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, the three legislators are guilty of a vaguely defined “breach of trust,” ostensibly for their membership in a foreign government. The charge leveled against them recalls nothing more than the campaign platform of the far-right Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which demanded the mass expulsion of “disloyal” Palestinian citizens of Israel. For this reason, the Israel-based legal advocacy group Adalah described the Israeli government’s actions as “characteristic of dark and totalitarian regimes” (“Motion for Injunction filed to Israeli Supreme Court to Stop Imminent Deportation Process of Palestinian Legislative Council Members from Jerusalem,” 15 June 2010).

The lawmakers’ problems began in 2006 when they ran for the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank as members of the Change and Reform list, an offshoot of Hamas. Though the Israeli government allowed the men to campaign for office and vote for the Chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as soon as they were elected, Israel warned them to resign from office or face the cancellation of their status as residents of Jerusalem.

When they failed to heed the Israeli government’s demand, in June 2006, the men were arrested and sentenced to two to four years in prison. Two days after they were released, the Israeli police confiscated their identification cards and ordered them to leave Jerusalem for another part of the West Bank.

As a result of the expulsion orders, the first of their kind since 1967, the three lawmakers are virtual hostages in the city their families have lived in for generations — if they leave the Red Cross center they will be immediately arrested. Their colleague, Muhammad Abu Tir, is already in an Israeli jail cell. Despite having been separated from their families for years, they remain steadfast in their rejection of the government’s orders, fearing that their expulsion will open the door for mass deportations of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, along with the rest of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula, which was returned to Egypt in a peace deal a decade later. No country recognizes Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and the UN Security Council has declared repeatedly that Israel’s occupation of all the territories it seized in 1967 is governed by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, a treaty Israel was compelled to sign which specifically forbids an occupying power from expelling civilians from the territory it occupies. Thus the legislators’ expulsion has been issued in explicit violation of binding international law.

Totah told me that the Israeli interior ministry has a list of 315 members of Palestinian civil society in East Jerusalem — academics, lawmakers, activists — whom it plans to expel in the near future on charges of disloyalty to the Jewish state. “They are trying to legalize the Nakba,” Totah remarked, using the Arabic word Palestinians use to describe their mass expulsion from their homeland in 1948.

I talked with the 42-year-old Totah for a half hour in the leafy courtyard of the ICRC headquarters. He was visibly tired, having spent the past two days in meetings with British parliamentarians, the head of Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Church and left-wing Israeli groups ranging from Anarchists Against The Wall to Gush Shalom. While a wiry young boy rushed around the yard, serving us a seemingly endless stream of Turkish coffee shots, Totah described to me his experience as a prisoner in his hometown:

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Palestinian Family Allegedly Beaten By Jerusalem Cops For Cheering For Germany

A member of the Barakat family displays the shirt he was wearing when a Jerusalem cop allegedly maced and beat him

A member of the Barakat family displays the shirt he was wearing when a Jerusalem cop allegedly maced and beat him

Why did the Jerusalem police react with such brute force to a non-violent protest last Friday in Sheikh Jarrah? According to Moshe Strol, a retired Israeli cop, the cops received politically motivated orders. In a response to former government attorney Michael Ben-Yair’s letter protesting police behavior in Sheikh Jarrah and activist Haggai Matar’s accusation of police discrimination against leftists and Arabs, Strol wrote (translation by Noam Sheizaf at Promised Land):

As a policeman, I was in thousands of demonstrations. I want to tell you, not in a politically correct way: in demonstrations of Arabs the finger on the trigger is very easy. Demonstrations of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) are treated with kid gloves. Demonstrations of left-wing activists on Friday also means trigger-happy cops. Rightwing activists in the settlements which break olive trees and beat the Border Police are also treated with kid gloves.

These are orders from above. Don’t believe what police officers and the Police Minister say.

While I was filming the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, I met Sari Nashashibi, a young reporter for the Arabic East Jerusalem news outlet, Panet. Nusheishibi alerted me to a story he had recently filed about an outrageous instance of police violence against a family of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Because the story was published in Arabic, it never registered outside of the region it occurred in. If true, the story adds more weight to the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators’ charge of police discrimination against Arabs and leftists. I had Nashashibi’s article translated [original here], so here it is in its entirety:

A family from Beit Safafa: The police assaulted us for no reason

Khaled Barakat from Beit Safafa told the correspondent of Panet and Panorama magazine that, “On Saturday evening, on the day of the Germany-Argentine match, while driving back from Bethlehem with my two sons, Ra’fat and Firas and my nephew Na’im, a police officer stopped us. He noticed that Na’im was not wearing his safety belt so he asked him for his ID. Na’im gave it to him and asked him to speed up fining him because we are in a hurry to go and attend the Germany-Argentine game.”

At that moment those in the car cheered with joy when Germany, the team they support, scored an early goal. When the police officer found out that they support Germany he quickly snatched a cigarette from the mouth of one of the four passengers as well as his pack of cigarettes and crushed both with his foot. Then, he quickly sprayed all those in the car with tear gas.

“When I asked, as a father, about the reason for spraying us with gas he said, “Because you support Germany.” He then started verbally assaulting us using very obscene words while beating us with a baton. He then called for back up and asked that it come quickly and we were taken to the police station.” Barakat said, adding, “They released me at night while the three young men were released the next day without a trial or bail.”

“ Of the physical and moral side-effects to being sprayed with gas, sworn at and arbitrarily arrested, is that we now suffer from constant anxiety and eye infections.” Barakat continued, “I suffer from different illnesses and I am incapable of sleeping because I saw my two sons and my nephew get beaten up while I was paralyzed due to that burning gas. We all, also, have burns in the face and the hair and feel emotionally drained due to the verbal assault on us.

The Panet and Panorama magazine correspondent contacted the office of the Jerusalem police spokesperson and this is the response we received:

“The driver was stopped to get a traffic ticket following which his sons got out of the car and began verbally assaulting and trying to attack the police personnel. This necessitated that they be restrained. They were arrested and the father was released the same night while the sons were released the following morning.

So it’s the Barakat family’s word against the word of the cops. There were no other witnesses. However, if any Palestinian tried to “attack” a police officer in Jerusalem, as the cops allege the Barakat family did, it’s highly doubtful that they would spend just a night in prison. In a more likely scenario, they would face more than ten years in prison. The police department’s version of events is simply not credible.