Thursday 7th July 2011: NO EMBARGO

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release

ISRAEL’S REACTION TO BETHLEHEM VISIT EXPOSES “WEST BANK BLOCKADE”

The reaction by Israeli officials to a plan by Europeans and other internationals to visit Bethlehem tomorrow has exposed Israel’s “West Bank blockade” according to the UK co-ordinator of the initiative.

Around 700 European and US citizens are due to land in Tel-Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport tomorrow en route to the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Rather than conceal their intention to visit Palestine however - the standard method of passing passport control - the group say they “are not going to hide the fact that we are coming to visit our Palestinian friends”.

According to the Jerusalem Post, “Such a response is likely to ensure… deportation.”

According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netenyahu “has ordered Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to exert all efforts to prevent an infiltration into Israel's borders.” A statement from his office said, "This planned event is a continuation of the attempts to undermine Israel's right to exist and to attempt to breach its borders and sovereignty by sea, land and by air," according to the MAAN news agency.

However, Mick Napier, UK co-ordinator of the “Welcome to Palestine” initiative, said “Israel’s reaction to this visit by British citizens and other internationals shows that its blockade is not restricted to Gaza, but extends to the West Bank as well.”

“About 600 men, women and children will try to get to Bethlehem to visit their hosts in Aida Refugee Camp. Since Israel controls all access points to the Occupied West Bank, we have no choice but to transit Tel Aviv Airport to get to our destination. Normally, we have to conceal our destination, and hide our interest in human rights; this time we will not.

Israel denies Palestinians many human rights, including the right to host visitors. Palestine may be a huge prison, but even prisoners usually have the right to receive visitors.”

ENDS

Notes for editors:

1. “Welcome to Palestine” is a French initiative that now has participation from across Europe and the USA.

The English-language section of the French website can be accessed here: http://bienvenuepalestine.com/?page_id=232

According to the group:

Israel’s standard practice of deporting anyone that they believe supports Palestine means than human rights activists invariably have to lie in order to pass passport control at Tel-Aviv.

However, having nothing to hide, and coming with totally peaceful intentions, we have decided that we are no longer willing to lie in order to do something that no other state would consider illegal.

Government agencies have been informed, and the Israeli authorities have been forwarded all information on our intentions.

Contrary to claims that we aim “to spread chaos at Tel Aviv airport”, our only aim is visit Palestinian families, share their daily life for a week, visit the towns, villages and refugee camps, discover the difficulties encountered by their inhabitants, and experience their culture and expectations.

2. The date of the 'fly-in' was chosen to coincide with the 7th anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2004 that Israel's West Bank wall, which today almost completely encircles the city of Bethlehem, is illegal.
The ICJ ruling can be found here: www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1677.pdf

3a. The UK co-ordinator of the initiative is Mick Napier, who, along with the majority of international participants, is due to arrive in Ben Gurion Airport on Friday July 8th.

Mick Napier is the chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and can be contacted on:
00 44 (0)7931200361

3b. Sofiah Macleod is the UK-based contact for press enquiries.

Sofiah Macleod: + 44 (0)7958002591 or + 44 (0)131 620 0052 or + 44 (0) 7401631658

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

4. Updates will be available on:

www.scottishpsc.org.uk

and Twitter @scottishpsc

5. Jerusalem Post, 4th April 2011:

“700 pro-Palestinian activists plan to land in Ben-Gurion”

http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=227768

6. Netenyahu position from:

Haaretz, Wednesday 6th July 2011:

Israel deports five ahead of anticipated influx of pro-Palestinian activists”

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-deports-five-ahead-of-anticipated-influx-of-pro-palestinian-activists-1.371776

7. Statement from Netenyahu’s office:

Maan News Agency, Tuesday 5th July 2011:

Israel prepares for pro-Palestinian airport protest”

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=402478

 

The real preachers of hate
Jonathan Cook: 4 July 2011

"Israel's legal system, despite its reputation for presuming that Palestinian citizens are habitual security offenders, has found Sheikh Salah guilty neither of anti-Semitism nor of directly helping terrorists.  So why is Britain being even 'more Israeli than the Israelis', as two Arab members of the Israeli parliament caustically observed?"

He is an Islamic "preacher of hate" whose views reflect "virulent anti-Semitism" and who has funded Hamas terror operations, according to much of the British media.

The furore last week over Sheikh Raed Salah, described by the Daily Mail newspaper as a "vile militant extremist", goaded the British government into ordering his late-night arrest, pending a fast-track deportation. The raid on his hotel, from which he was taken handcuffed to a police cell, came shortly before he was due to address a meeting in the British parliament attended by several MPs.

The outcry in Britain against Sheikh Salah has shocked Israel's 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. For them, he is a spiritual leader and head of a respected party, the Islamic Movement. He is also admired by the wider Palestinian public. The secular Fatah movement, including Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, were among those condemning his arrest.

Many Palestinians, like millions of Muslims in the Middle East, revere Sheikh Salah for his campaign to protect Muslim and Christian holy places from Israel's neglectful, and more often abusive, policies. They struggle to recognise the British media's characterisation of him as an Osama Bin Laden-like figure.

Most in Israel's Jewish majority would not have been aware of Sheikh Salah's supposed reputation as a Jew hater either, despite their hyper-vigilance for anything resembling anti-Semitism. True, he is generally loathed by Israeli Jews, but chiefly because they regard his brand of Islamic dogma as incompatible with the state ideology of Jewish supremacism. They fear him as the leader of a local Islam that refuses to be tamed. Those Israelis who conclude that this qualifies him as an anti-Semite do so only because they class all pious Muslims in the same category.

Israeli officials detest Sheikh Salah as well, but again not for any alleged racism. His long-running campaign to prevent what he regards as an attempted Israeli takeover of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound – part of a wider "Judaisation" programme in the occupied areas of the city – has made him a thorn in their side.

In other words, Israeli Jews view Sheikh Salah as an inveterate trouble-maker and provocateur, while the country's Palestinian minority accuse Israel of persecuting him for his political and religious beliefs.

The British media and government, meanwhile, have stumbled cluelessly into this domestic Israeli feud and, in the name of Enlightenment values, revealed their own deep prejudices. The humiliation of Sheikh Salah at the hands of the British legal system – supposedly in the interests of promoting "decency and respect" – will serve only to remind Muslims of the hypocrisy so often evident in Western policy.

The double standards are especially glaring given the British government's recent pledge to Israel to change its universal jurisdiction laws. That move will ensure Israel's growing constituency of suspected war criminals avoid any future threat of prosecution in the UK, receiving a far warmer welcome than Sheikh Salah.

Perhaps not surprisingly, opposition in the UK to the sheikh's presence stems from a campaign of character assassination led by pro-Israel groups.

They have accused him of a "blood libel" against Jews, based on information from dubious sources. When these claims were aired in Israel several years ago, Sheikh Salah was investigated and charged. However, the prosecution was dropped a short time later for lack of credible evidence.

The other allegation – that he funded Hamas terror operations – relies on claims orginally made by the Israeli government in 2003 during one of his many arrests. Although the state had reportedly accumulated 200,000 recordings of Islamic Movement phone calls, they never located in the conversations the smoking gun they expected to find.

Instead Sheikh Salah languished in jail for two years while his trial dragged on, the charges repeatedly reduced because promised evidence could not be produced. Eventually he agreed to a plea bargain in return for his release. He was convicted of funding Islamic charities for widows and orphans – loosely declared "support for terror" under Israel's punitive crackdown on all Islamic networks, including welfare groups, in the occupied territories.

Israel's legal system, despite its reputation for presuming that Palestinian citizens are habitual security offenders, has found Sheikh Salah guilty neither of anti-Semitism nor of directly helping terrorists.

So why is Britain being even "more Israeli rather than the Israelis", as two Arab members of the Israeli parliament caustically observed?

One reason is that Britain appears to be increasingly vulnerable to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. Unfounded claims against Sheikh Salah were first made by the Jewish media in Britain, which has become an uncritical cheerleader for Israel, and by the Board of Deputies, Britain's representative body for Jews.

Another reason is that the pro-Israel lobby finds it all too easy to exploit Islamophobic tropes that have come to dominate the public discourse in many Western countries, including Britain. Fears of a clash of civilisations and of Muslim immigration mean every Islamic scholar and authority is automatically assumed to be another "mad mullah".

This approach threatens the very values it claims to be protecting. It silences those who are best placed to critique Western policies – the victims of them; and it refuses to allow the West's most cherished assumptions to be questioned, rightfully fearing that in some cases they will be exposed as nothing more than bigotry.

It is worth highlighting a point British commentators overlooked in their coverage of Sheikh Salah. He was coming to the parliament, the cradle of British democracy, to talk not about jihad or infidels but about "building peace and justice in Jerusalem".

His message is one Western publics desperately need to hear but one that Israel and its supporters keenly want silenced. Thanks to the British media and government, for a while longer Britons will be shielded from a real discussion.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, and the winner of this year's Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Original article here

CONTACT YOUR MP to protest Israel's blockade of the West Bank. Click here

The Welcome to Palestine initiative 

Supporters of human rights from around the world took up an invitation from Palestine to visit families and farmers in Bethlehem, and to travel via Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. Since Israel destroyed Palestine's airport, and currently controls all entry and exit points to Palestine, there is no other way to travel there than through Israeli passport control.

The July 8th 2011 date of the 'fly-in' was chosen to coincide with the 7th anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2004 that Israel's West Bank wall, which today almost completely encircles the city of Bethlehem, is illegal.

Rather than conceal their intention to travel to the West Bank, as is standard practice for anyone who has travelled there before, the group of around 700 pledged to be open and honest about their intentions. The Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post, reported that "such a response is likely to ensure... deportation".

As is invariably the case, Israel reacted hysterically in the run-up to this non-violent initiative. See SPSC media release: ISRAEL’S REACTION TO BETHLEHEM VISIT EXPOSES “WEST BANK BLOCKADE”

No UK nationals were prevented from boarding their flights to Tel-Aviv, but many French (hundreds) and other nationals were stopped by the airlines at the request of Israel. See Reuters video;  BBC report

As flights landed from around the world, participants were detained, arrested, and most remain in Israeli prisons at this time (1655 Mon 11th July 2011). See SPSC media release: DESMOND TUTU CALLS FOR ARMS EMBARGO AS ISRAEL ARRESTS INTERNATIONALS TRAVELLING TO BETHLEHEM

DETAILS of 13 UK nationals arrested & detained in Israel for simply telling the truth at Israeli passport control here. BBC report here

1700 Mon 11th July: UK Consular staff in Tel Aviv report that 2 UK nationals are due to be deported at 1820 UK time, and should arrive in London Luton at 2355. (Easy Jet flight: EZY 2086)
At 83, the oldest UK participant, John Lyons is due to travel with Mick Napier, the UK co-ordinator of the Welcome to Palestine initiate. More details in media release here

Reports that other britons were on the same flight are erroneous.

12/7/11: Both John Lynes and Mick Napier are now back in the UK. See the Independent and this BBC report that includes video interviews with both men.

Mick Napier has issued a statement saying Israel's hysterical overreaction has backfired, here

1700hrs, Tue 12/7/11: All but four of the 13 UK nationals are being deported tonight. Details here

2350hrs: 6 UK nationals and two US citizens landed at Luton Airport after being deported by Israel earlier. See video. Four UK nationals remain in Israeli prison while they contest their deportation. The four, all  Welsh, include the deputy leader of the Welsh Green Party, Pippa Bartolotti, Joyce Giblin, Fiona Williams, and Dee Murphy. 

1500hrs Thursday 14/7/11: Reports suggest that 3 of the four Welsh women have been secretly deported by Israel, and that the fourth and final UK citizen, Dee Murphy, is expected to arrive back tonight at 8pm. See press releae from Swansea Palestine Action here.


More info on these sites:

Les Lividow's report of the British participation in WtP 2011 is here in EnglishHere in FrenchHere in German.


---------------------------------------------

Call for support pre-July 8th

While governments are working to stop the flotilla, there's currently another initiative to challenge Israel's siege of Occupied Territories, this time the occupied West Bank which Israel illegally refuses to allow many travellers to visit. On July 8th, hundreds of people from all over Europe will fly into Israel's Ben Gurion airport openly seeking free and unhindered passage to Bethlehem in the West Bank.  Bethlehem is officially twinned with Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, but Palestine as a whole is an issue of conscience for all decent people the world over.  Palestine is a vast prison, but even prisoners in jails around the world are allowed visitors.

Normal life for Palestinian women under Israeli military control
The Jerusalem Post states boldly today what everyone knows but which has been ignored by the EU and the UN. A US citizen 'plans to name Palestine as her destination when she lands at Ben Gurion Airport this Friday, even though such a response is likely to ensure her deportation.'  This truth is immediately followed by an untruth, that the group 'is targeting Ben Gurion Airport' although the sole aim of those forced to transit Ben Gurion Airport is to 'target' Palestine by going to Bethlehem.  The irony is lost on the Jersualem Post, which supports all Israeli Government policies, that the would-be visitors to Palestine will only be in Ben Gurion Airport because Israel bombed and destroyed Palestine's EU-financed airport, forcing everyone to transit Ben Gurion!  Israel, of course, has been known to kidnap travellers on the open sea, en route to Gaza, force them to go to Israel and then charge them with illegally entering Israel!

Scots will be part of the group going from the UK.   If you live in Britain, please write to your MP, if you don't then ask your UK contacts to to do so. Ask family members, friends, to press the UK government to help the UK group by
(a) putting pressure on the Israeli government to allow our peaceful passage and
(b) ensuring UK consular officials are at Ben-Gurion airport to help as required.

It's as easy as 1-2-3 to write to your MP by means of this website :

1 - Under "Select a campaign", choose the button "Support UK citizens' right to visit Palestine".
2 - Under "Find your MP", enter your postcode; click the button "Find your MP"
3 - Complete the details on the new page and submit.  You can amend the text of the e-mail if you feel like it.

Agios Nikolaos, Greece - With the support of Greek civil society and people from all around the world the Tahrir is casting off from Greece today.  "The Tahrir is leaving port in Crete, and we are breaking through Israel's Gaza blockade which now extends to Greek ports," said David Heap from aboard the Tahrir. "Israel's expansion of the Gaza blockade to Greece is just the latest example of how the blockade of Gaza is about attacking freedom, not increasing security."

Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to leave any country". Preventing flotilla ships from leaving Greek ports is a clear violation of this human right.

"Greece has no right to detain foreign-flagged ships in its ports other than for purposes of assuring seaworthiness via timely inspection. And they cannot interfere with 'innocent passage' through their territorial waters, and this passage is definitely innocent," said Richard Falk, American professor of international law and an appointee to two United Nations positions on the Palestinian territories. 

"Greece's position is disturbing but this should not divert our attention from Israel and its illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza. Israel is the source of the problem and it will be held accountable by the international community -- sooner or later," said Sandra Ruch, from the Tahrir steering committee. 

Support actions have been and continue to be held at Greek consulates all over Canada (as well as in cities all over the world) calling on the Greek government to end its support of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and immediately lift the blockade it is imposing on the Flotilla boats from Greece's ports. 

The Canadian Boat to Gaza has sent a letter to all Greek MPs asking them to let the flotilla boats go:
 


The price to be paid for Israel's 'legitimate security concerns'
It's not just the Greek Government; the EU as a whole, including the UK Government, together with the UN, Russia and the US are working to defeat the flotilla of peaceful activists protesting the brutal crimes against the people of Gaza and Palestine.  Israel uses criminal methods to sabotage the boats of the flotilla, and commits a host of daily crimes against the people of Palestine. Palestinians themselves have committed two crimes: the first was to be living on land coveted by colonists; the second was to resist their displacement and dispossession.  The long record of European powers in attacking and colonising people all over the world whose lands and resources they coveted is now being replayed in Palestine, this time through the determined support of European governments for the Israeli project to replace all Palestinians, as far as is possible, with Jewish immigrants.

The entire world system of states is acting in support of the State of Israel:

  • The Quartet headed by Tony Blair absolves Israeli soldiers of all responsibility for the murders of nine aid workers trying to get to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara: the Quartet "regrets the injury and deaths caused by the 2010 flotilla". (SPSC emphasis added)
  • The Quartet demands an end to the "deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit", while making no reference to the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in jails in Israel.
    Shalit is an occupation soldier whose unit fired murderous rounds of tank shells into Gaza. He was captured by Palestinian fighters in a daring operation, against overwhelming odds, and has been held as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian prisoners, many held without trial for years and routinely tortured.
  • The Quartet " calls on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation."
  • All goods to Gaza must go through "established channels so that their cargo can be inspected" – Israel taxes and creams off value from materials it allows into Gaza.

 The states of the EU are supporting the state of Israel. Tony Blair's job is just to go around rubbing salt in open wounds.

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