Israeli Police and Special Forces Prevent Faisal Husseini Memorial Meeting in Jerusalem

Israeli police and special forces prevented the holding of a memorial meeting in honor of the memory of the late Jerusalem political figure, Faisal Husseini, who died in Kuwait on 31 May 2008. The memorial was scheduled to take place at 4: 00 pm Sunday afternoon in East Jerusalem’s Hakawati Theatre,

This would have been the seventh Feisal Husseini memorial meeting in Jerusalem. Last year’s event was held in the Dar al-Tifl school, originally established sixty years ago by Hind Husseini to house and educate 55 orphans who survived the 1948 massacre and expulsion of Palestinians from the village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem by the Jewish Irgun and Stern Gang militias, during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel.

But, although all previous six annual Faisal Husseini memorial meetings went ahead without interference, this year’s event was not allowed to take place.

“The Israeli police brought with them ‘the brass’, and on the side they had special forces ready”, said Adnan Abdel-Razek, a former UN official and then an associate working with Faisal Husseini in the Orient House, who was there to attend Sunday’s memorial. “They did not even have a court order – which would have meant they would have had to go to the court and explain why they wanted to prevent the memorial, and we would have had the opportunity to explain why we wanted to hold it. No, in Jerusalem, in this supposedly ‘united Jerusalem’, the Israeli police relied on the British Military Regulations of 1947″.

Abdel Razek explained: “They told us to leave, and then they started chasing people. We decided to regroup in front of Orient House. They were brutal – and they were more than brutal, they were nasty. They hit some people. Then they detained Abdel-Qader Husseini, the son of Faisal, who was the sponsor of the memorial meeting. We have 40 witnesses who say that Abdel-Qader did not do anything to provoke this detention. He did not even open his mouth. But the officer in charge said ‘It’s my decision’. Fifteen minutes later Abdel-Qader was released. Then, the officer said that he would not allow even two people to gather together. We know the law and argued with him, saying that the exact stipulation in the military regulation prevents three people (not two) assembling. So, eventually, the officer said that three people could not gather together, then he changed it back to two”.

He continued: “The Israelis have zero tolerance for any Palestinian voice, and it’s getting worse and worse. We have no government, the PLO does not weigh in, and the Palestinian National Authority is not active in stopping the march of the occupation. The Israelis are building settlements, continuing construction of The Wall, confiscating land, and our people are busy discussing ‘important matters’ to advance the negotiations. But there is no way the Israelis can prevent people forever from exercising their basic human rights to political expression and free speech.”

Both Dar al-Tifl, which is located behind the American Colony Hotel, and the Hakawati Theatre, are in the same neighborhood and very close to Orient House, described on its own website as the “Palestinian national gathering place for Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem …which aspires to develop Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the emerging Palestinian state”.

Orient House, a Husseini family property, was closed for a long period after the June 1967 war. It was renovated in the early 1980s to serve as Faisal Husseini’s office and headquarters, first for his Arab Studies Society, and later, when Husseini served as a member of the Palestinian team to the multilateral negotiations that emerged from the Madrid Peace Conference, Orient House became known as the unofficial Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Jerusalem,.

Husseini, a member of Fatah, was the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee Member in charge of Jerusalem.

Faisal Husseini’s offices in the Orient House were shut down by the Israeli authorities during the first Intifada from 1988 until 1992, and again on 10 August 2001, during the second Intifada. It has not since reopened. The only current occupant of the building, the American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) non-government charity organization, works out of rented office space on the upper floors.

An Era Passes – Tommy Lapid dies at age 77

A champion of a secular Israel, who opposed the growing influence of the religious-national right but who may have inadvertently invigorated its growing and purposeful strength, has died Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital.

Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who suffered a heart attack a few months ago, was admitted to hospital on Friday. He died today of cancer, according to news reports.

He is the man who once said, as Minister of Justice in 2004, that photos of a Palestinian woman trying to salvage something from the ruins of her IDF-razed home in Rafah made him think of his own grandmother who suffered under the Nazis.

Born 77 years ago in the former Yugoslavia, Lapid was a prominent journalist who headed the secular ‘Shinui” (“Change”) party. Israel, Lapid said, should be a Jewish state with freedom of — and from — religion.

“I don’t mind them carrying on their religion but I do mind when they try to impose their views on the secular majority in this country”, Lapid said of the religious-national right. “I think Israel should be a modern, Western civilisation and not a medieval ghetto”.

The current Shinui platform states that Israel should be “Jewish, Democratic, Zionist and Liberal”. It also states that the party will “fight religious coercion”, and believes in “separation of religion and state, without reducing the ‘Jewishness’ of the country. Religious belief will not be legislated nor will it be financed by the state. Our party believes in civil marriages (and divorce) – public transport on festivals and Shabbat and equal rights for the various Jewish religious streams. We will cancel the Tal law which differentiates in the conscription of religious and non religious citizens”.

In this last provision, there appears to be a convergence of aims between Shinui and its religious-national opponents.

Shinui was the largest winner in the 2003 general elections, winning nearly as many Knesset seats as the Labour party — but left the ruling coalition in December 2004 in a dispute over funding of religious institutions. Shinui then spilt in the run-up to 2006 elections, in the aftermath of a major shift of Israeli political alliances that surrounded Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement” from Gaza, and no longer has any representation in the Knesset.

In between, Lapid served as Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, then resigned from political life after Shinui split before the 2006 elections. He then became chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial council. Lapid was himself a Holocaust survivor who had a number of family members, including his father and grandmother, perish in Nazi concentration camps prior to the end of World War II.

As Justice Minister, Lapid made news headlines by opposing, in a May 2004 cabinet meeting, the destruction of Palestinian homes in Rafah during an IDF operation in southern Gaza. After the cabinet session, Lapid told Israel Radio that “I did think, when I saw a picture on the TV of an old woman on all fours in the ruins of her home looking under some floor tiles for her medicines – I did think, ‘What would I say if it were my grandmother?’ ” In the interview with Israel Radio, Lapid said it made him “sick” that the army was considering demolishing as many as 2,000 Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp to expand an Israeli-patrolled zone along the Egyptian border.

Plans to destroy Palestinian homes in Rafah are still alive, as former IDF commanders have explained to journalists on several recent occasions. Reserve Major-General Yom-Tov Samia, former commander of the Southern front, said at a recent briefing to journalists in Jerusalem that he had even been willing to help Palestinian families living in Rafah, which has grown on both sides of the now-walled Egyptian-Gaza border, to move their furniture if they would be willing to move several hundred meters away from the border to create a sort of supervisable sterile zone that could more easily be monitored by the IDF.

More recently, Lapid said in a weekly commentary on Israel Radio in early 2007, after airing of video footage showing a Palestinian woman being viciously verbally attacked through the iron bars on the veranda of her downtown Hebron home by a neighboring Israeli woman settler – who among other things called the Palestinian woman a “Sharmuta”, (“whore”), that what was happening in Hebron reminded him of persecution endured by Jews in his native Yugoslavia on the eve of World War Two. “It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation,
spitting and scorn,” Lapid said in his radio commentary.

After the widespread airing of this footage, Israel’s mainstream politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then also chimed in to denounce the Israeli woman settler’s behavior as “shameful”.

But, Israeli religious-nationalist commentators have accused Lapid of “shamelessly playing on sterotypes similar to those which appear in Nazi and other anti-Semitic press”.

Meanwhile, the religious-national right has been organizing. It has moved away from a preoccupation with religious life and a study of the scriptures, and sent many of a generation of yeshiva students – not a few of whom are American by birth, and for whom a pioneer ethic has a doubly patriotic resonance — out to settle the West Bank, and the same time to serve into the Israeli Defense Forces, where a number have now reached high ranks.

These soldier-settler-scholars appear to have been inspired in part on the transformation in the American military, which formerly chose generals who relied on their charismatic personalities and “seat-of-the-pants” instincts, but which in recent decades has been sending its most promotable (and certainly more compliant) officers off to become more multi-dimensional leaders by doing stints of academic study in post-graduate and doctoral institutions, in American service academies and internationally.

The current stated aim for these soldier-settler-scholars is to take over the government in Israel – and they are gaining in strength and political power.