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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Israeli forces destroy stone-cutting facility in Qalqiliya

Published Monday 05/12/2011 (updated) 06/12/2011 15:52
An Israeli bulldozer carries out a house demolition near Qalqiliya.
QALQILIYA (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces on Monday demolished a manufacturing facility used to cut stone in Qalqiliya.

Witnesses told Ma'an that various military vehicles and bulldozers arrived at the village of Azzun and destroyed the structure, claiming that it was unlicensed.

Hussain Ghannam, the owner of the stone-cutting plant, said that the structure is located in Area C and has been there since 2008. The manufacturing facility was the source of income for eight families, he told Ma'an.

The Israeli civil administration had asked Ghannam to produce a title deed for the property and he was working with lawyers to have one issued.

The decision to destroy his property was completely unexpected, he said.

Area C covers 60 percent of the West Bank with a Palestinian population of about 150,000.

Israel retains military authority and full control over building and planning in Area C: as much as 70 percent of it is inaccessible to Palestinians, classified as Israeli settlement areas, firing zones, or nature reserves.

From 2000 to 2007, the Civil Administration approved just 5 percent of the applications for building permits submitted by Palestinians in Area C.

Israel’s weapons, a Crime against Humanity

In an article of March 4, Richard Lightbown argues that Israel’s use of depleted uranium, white phosphorus and other toxic metals in its war on the people of the Gaza Strip has put the whole of the Strip’s population and its environment – air, soil, groundwater and possibly seawater – at risk of serious long-term injury and contamination.
Press TV on 4 March 2011 reported that cancer cases in Gaza had increased by 30 per cent, and that there was a link between the occurrence of the disease and residence in areas that had been badly hit by Israeli bombing. Zekra Ajour from the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights told the channel that Gaza had been a testing ground for illegal weapons.

Birth defects

On 20 December 2009 Al-Dameer had published another paper in Arabic on the increase in the number of babies born in Gaza with birth defects, thought to be the result of radioactive and toxic materials from Operation Cast Lead.1 The birth defects included incomplete hearts and malformations of the brain. During August, September and October 2008 the number of cases had been 27. In the comparable months in 2009 the numbers had risen to 47. There was a similar rise in aborted foetuses. Al-Dameer had called for scientific monitoring throughout the Gaza Strip to obtain statistics on deformed foetus cases relating to the intentional use of internationally banned weapons.
Similar dramatic increases in birth defects over a longer period have been recorded in Iraq and have been linked to widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons. (It is reported that local midwives no longer look forward to births as they don’t know what is going to come out.)

Depleted uranium

“Depleted uranium burns at almost 1200 degrees Celsius. (TNT by comparison burns at 576 degrees Celsius.) At this temperature the fire vaporizes any metals in the target which in combination with uranium are released into the air in aerosol form. After deposition the aerosols have the potential to contaminate groundwater.”
Although the epidemiologist Professor Alastair Hay told the BBC in March 2010 that it was difficult to suggest any particular cause for the trend,2 scientific data has been published which contradicts his opinion. A review in Environmental Health in 20053 concluded by saying:
Regarding the teratogenicity of parental prenatal exposure to DU aerosols, the evidence, albeit imperfect, indicates a high probability of substantial risk. Good science indicates that depleted uranium weapons should not be manufactured or exploded.
When later asked in the same interview about white phosphorus, Prof. Hay had replied;
…phosphorus is an essential element in our bodies and so you would I think have to ingest a huge amount to cause any particular problem. But there has been no investigation anywhere that I am aware of to link phosphorus with health problems…
Apparently the professor has not read the Goldstone Report of the previous year which states in paragraph 896:
Medical staff reported to the mission how even working in the areas where the phosphorus had been used made them feel sick, their lips would swell and they would become extremely thirsty and nauseous.
The toxicity of phosphorus is also recorded in a report by New York medical staff:4
Oral ingestion of white phosphorus in humans has been demonstrated to result in pathologic changes to the liver and kidneys. The ingestion of a small quantity of white phosphorus can cause gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Individuals with a history of oral ingestion have been noted to pass phosphorus-laden stool (“smoking stool syndrome”). The accepted lethal dose is 1 mg/kg, although the ingestion of as little as 15 mg has resulted in death.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that breathing white phosphorus for long periods causes “phossy jaw”, a condition in which there is poor wound healing of the mouth and breakdown of the jawbone.5

Depleted uranium in US-supplied bunker-buster bombs

Evidence of the use of depleted uranium against Gaza is tenuous and Goldstone merely recorded in paragraph 907 that it had received allegations which it had not further investigated. Much of this evidence came from Action des citoyens pour le désarmement nucléaire (ACDN: Citizens Action for Nuclear Disarmament). Their report of July 2009 hypothesizes that the GBU-39 bunker-buster bomb is packed with 75 kilogram of depleted uranium. (A UNEP report also ambiguously refers to bunker-buster bombs containing depleted uranium.) The US delivery of 1,000 of these bombs to Israel arrived in early December 2008 shortly before the start of the war. The GBU-39 is considered one of the world’s most precise bombs and Boeing, the manufacturer, claims that the bomb will penetrate three feet of steel-reinforced concrete. (UNEP suggests that it can penetrate reinforced concrete to depths ranging from 1.8 to over 6 metres.) Boeing’s patent on the weapon mentions depleted uranium.6
It is not known how many bunker-buster bombs were used against Gaza but it seems reasonable to assume that the number could run into hundreds. It is thought that they were used mostly in the Philadelphia corridor against the tunnels. Desmond Travers, the former Irish army officer who was a member of the Goldstone Commission, would only say that depleted uranium may have been used during the war, although he did agree that it would have been well suited for attacking the tunnels where maximum penetration would have been desired.7 He was also in agreement with ACDN that the use of below-ground targets would have considerably reduced the levels of aerosol uranium that was dispersed into the air.
Col Raymond Lane, who is chief instructor of ordnance with the Irish armed forces, gave testimony to the Goldstone Commission on weapons used in the Gaza conflict. He told the commission that he had no expertise of depleted uranium and so had not investigated it. He gave no reason for his failure to bring in specialist expertise to investigate the subject.8
In April 2009 Jean-François Fechino from ACDN was part of a four-person team which went to Gaza for the Arab Commission for Human Rights. Samples that the team brought back were analysed by a specialist laboratory which identified carcinogens: depleted uranium, caesium, asbestos dust, tungsten and aluminium oxide. Thorium oxide was also found, which is radioactive, as are depleted uranium and caesium. The analysis also identified phosphates and copper, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a health hazard, especially to children, asthmatics and elders.9
Depleted uranium burns at almost 1200 degrees Celsius. (TNT by comparison burns at 576 degrees Celsius.)10 At this temperature the fire vaporizes any metals in the target which in combination with uranium are released into the air in aerosol form. After deposition the aerosols have the potential to contaminate groundwater. (The Gaza aquifer, which is the Strip’s only water source, is also connected to ground water supplies in Egypt, although water only flows into Gaza from Israel.11)
There is empirical documentation that the aerosols can travel up to 42 Km and theoretical documentation that they can travel further. Sderot is about 43 kilometres from the Philadelphia corridor and less than five kilometres from Beit Hanoun. In consequence, it may be that the activities of Israel’s air force have created a greater threat to the Israeli city than all of the 8,000 well-publicized rockets from Gaza ever have.
Depleted uranium accumulation has been recorded in the bone, kidney, reproductive system, brain and lung. It is carcinogenic, toxic to the kidneys, damaging to cellular DNA and causes malformations to an embryo or foetus.

White phosphorus

“Doctors found that when they removed bandages applied to a wound that still contained fragments of white phosphorous, smoke would come from the wound since the chemical continues to burn as long as it is in contact with oxygen.”
Although an Israeli army spokesman told CNN on 7 January 2009, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.” the chemical had been used by Israeli forces since the beginning of the war.12 The Goldstone Report stated that Israeli sources later claimed their forces had stopped using white phosphorous on 7 January 2009 because of international concerns. This was also untrue as there is evidence that it had been used after that date. Goldstone declared the Israeli armed forces to have been “systematically reckless” in using white phosphorous in built-up areas (paragraphs 884, 886 and 890).
Difficulty in detecting the extent of damage to tissue and organs gave serious problems to medical staff trying to treat white phosphorus injuries. Several patients died as a result. Doctors found that when they removed bandages applied to a wound that still contained fragments of white phosphorous, smoke would come from the wound since the chemical continues to burn as long as it is in contact with oxygen. White phosphorous sticks to tissue so that all flesh and sometimes muscle around the burn would have to be cut out. The substance is also highly toxic (Goldstone paragraphs 892/4/5/6).
An article published in The Lancet included photographs of a young man who was admitted to hospital in Gaza with white phosphorous burns on 30 per cent of his body. The day after admission smoke was noticed coming from the wounds and the patient was rapidly transferred to the operating room for removal of dead tissue and removal of white phosphorus particles. During the operation a particle of the chemical was dislodged and caused a superficial burn on a nurse’s neck. The patient survived.13
Col Lane testified that although white phosphorus gave the best quality of smoke for military purposes it was “horrible stuff” and the Irish army had stopped using it 20 years previously. He recounted how the British army had sea-dumped quantities of the material off the coast of southwest. Scotland in the 1950s, some of which had been washed up on the coast of Ireland by a storm in 2007. It had ignited on drying (the colonel had witnessed this himself) and in one instance a child had suffered burns as a result.

Other toxic materials

Mass spectrometry analysis conducted by the New Weapons Research Group (NWRG) found aluminium, titanium, strontium, barium, cobalt and mercury in biopsies taken from white phosphorus wounds at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza. (Aluminium, barium and mercury have potential for lethal and intoxicating effects; aluminium and mercury can cause chronic pathologies over time; mercury is carcinogenic for humans; cobalt can cause mutations; and aluminium is fetotoxic, i.e. injurious to foetuses.)14
White phosphorus bombs are built with alternating sectors of white phosphorus and aluminium. Analysis by NWRC of the powder from a shell near Al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza also found high levels of molybdenum, tungsten and mercury. Tungsten and mercury are carcinogenic, while molybdenum is toxic to sperms.
In a report appropriately entitled “Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger”, NWRG also conducted analyses of two craters caused by bombs in 2006 and two others by bombs in 2009. In the 2006 craters they identified tungsten, mercury and molybdenum, while in the 2009 craters at Tufah they discovered molybdenum, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper and zinc. Cadmium and some nickel and manganese compounds are carcinogenic.15
NWRG has further conducted research of hair samples from 95 children resident in heavily bombed areas of Gaza. Again using mass spectrometry the study identified the carcinogenic or toxic metals chromium, cadmium, cobalt, tungsten and uranium. One wounded individual also had unusually high levels of lead. The study found the results alarming and considered the levels could be pathogenic in situations of chronic exposure. Thirty-nine of the examinees were recommended for further checks.16

DIME weapons, soil contamination and cancer

“DIME bombs cause a high proportion of amputations particularly of legs, while patients often suffered internal burns as well.”
It has been reported that soil in the area of a DIME (dense inert metal explosive) bomb blast may remain barren for an indefinite period of time because of contamination from heavy metal tungsten alloy.17 The same material in trial rapidly caused tumours in 100 per cent of rats when used at both low and high doses, with the tumours spreading to the lungs, necessitating euthanasia.18
DIME weapons were first used against Gaza by Israeli drones in the summer of 2006, when Palestinian medical personnel reported that it significantly increased the fatality rate among victims.19 Shortly after the DIME weapons were also trialled during the first week of the war in Lebanon in July 2006.
The Goldstone Commission was unable to confirm that DIME munitions were used by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. Col Lane had told the commission in testimony that there was no actual proof. He then went on to testify that he had been given samples in Gaza which analysis in Dublin had shown to contain DIME materials consisting mostly of tungsten with traces of iron and sulphur. He was of the opinion that ordnance had been used that had some sort of DIME component. He also mentioned that he had read of unusual amputations, and that tungsten and cobalt would have this effect. Weaponry had been found with DIME components which was capable of amputation and there are Palestinian amputees, yet neither Col Lane nor the commission was prepared to say that DIME weapons had been used by Israeli forces.
DIME bombs cause a high proportion of amputations particularly of legs, while patients often suffered internal burns as well. The bombs consist of powdered tungsten alloy mixed with an explosive material inside a casing which disintegrates on explosion. The tungsten powder tears apart anything it hits including soft tissue and bone, causing very severe injuries. Tungsten alloy particles, described as “finely powdered micro-shrapnel”, are too small to be extracted from the victim’s body and are highly carcinogenic. (Goldstone, paragraphs 902-4)
No weapons fragments can be found from DIME bombs with standard diagnostic resources, despite the indication of heavy metals from this type of injuries. Mass spectrometry analyses by NWRG of biopsies from amputation injuries revealed aluminium, titanium, copper, strontium, barium, cobalt, mercury, vanadium, caesium, tin, arsenic, manganese, rubidium, cadmium, chromium, zinc and nickel. Doctors reported that it was difficult to determine the extent of dead tissue (which it is vital to remove). This resulted in higher rates of deep infection, subsequent amputation and higher mortality.20
The wide range of heavy metals discovered by analysis in casualties, residents and soil in Gaza suggests that other unidentified weapons may have also been trialled. (The Sensor Fuzed Weapon has been suggested as one such technological perversion that the Israeli forces may have used.21)
The whole Gaza population and their environment, including generations yet to be conceived, have been put at risk of serious long-term injury from heavy metal pollution of the air, soil and groundwater (and possibly the seawater too), while the causal pollution is likely to cross state borders into Egypt and even into Israel. Reassurances of the legitimate and responsible use and the reduced lethality of weapons (an opinion in part shared by Col Lane) are callous and inadequate in the context of the dangerous reality that has resulted. Meanwhile, the impacts of Israel’s illegal assaults on Gaza remain ignored and its deeds uncensored by the wider international community.


  1. Kawther Salam, 29 December 2009; Abortions, Cancer, Diseases and… in Gaza |  Intifada-Palestine.
  2. BBCNews, 4 March 2010; Falluja Doctors Report Rise in Birth Defects.
  3. Rita Hindin, Doug Brugge and Bindu Panikkar; Teratogenicity of depleted uranium aerosols: A review from an epidemiological perspective; Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2005, 4:17 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-17.
  4. Lisandro Irizarry, Mollie V Williams, Geri M Williams and José Eric Díaz-Alcalá, 21 October 2009; CBRNE – Incendiary Agents, White Phosphorus.
  5. UNEP, 2007; Lebanon Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, p 149.
  6. ACDN, 4 July 2009; Report on the Use of Radioactive Weapons in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead | PDF
  7. Dr Hana Chehata, 9 March 2010; Disturbing Findings of Toxic Uranium Levels in Gaza  |  Middle East Monitor.
  8. Video accessed from
  9. Palestinian Telegraph, 24 May 2009 | Israel Used Depleted Uranium in Offensive on Gaza.
  10. Sister Rosalie Bertell | Depleted Uranium in the Human Body: Sr Rosalie Bertell, PhD | video
  12. Human Rights Watch, 10 January 2009 |  Q & A on Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza | PDF
  14. Sobhi Skaik, Nafiz Abu-Shaban, Nasser Abu-Shaban, Mario Barbieri, Maurizio Barbieri, Umberto Giani, Paola Manduca, 31 July 2010|  Metals Detected by ICP/MS in Wound Tissue of War Injuries Without Fragments in Gaza | PDF
  15. NWRC, 17 December 2009; Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger | PDF
  16. NWRC, 17 March 2010; Metals Detected in Palestinian Children’s Hair Suggest Environmental Contamination
  17. James Brooks, 6 December 2006; US and Israel Targeting DNA in Gaza? The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic Weapon, Part II. Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding.
  18. John F. Kalinich, et al, 15 February 2005; Embedded Weapons-Grade Tungsten Alloy Shrapnel Rapidly Induces Metastatic High-Grade Rhabdomysoarcomas in F344 Rats | PDF |
  19. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon | Part 1; Al-Jazeera.
  20. David Halpin, 14 August 2006; Are New weapons Being Used in Gaza and Lebanon |  Electronic Intifada.
  21. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon | Part III; Al-Jazeera.

Settlers Set Fires, Separate Attack Wounds 60-year-old Man, Clashes in Shu’fat

05.12.11 – 07:30

PNN -On Sunday afternoon, a group of Israeli settlers set fire to Palestinian agricultural land in the northern West Bank. The burning, which destroyed five dunums of cultivated land, took place near Jenin on land that used to be controlled by the Homish settlement but was returned to Palestinians in 2005. 
Israeli soldiers patrol the Palestinian village of al-Walajeh (Brendan Work, PNN).
The attack came after Israeli police arrested seven female Jewish settlers for price tag attacks against Palestinians. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), the girls—six of them minors—are suspected of attacks on Palestinian olive trees. Two other women were held in custody for breaking into an Israeli army military base, spraying slogans and slashing tires.
In an unrelated settler attack on Saturday, Israeli settlers from Itamar in the north beat a 60-year-old Palestinian man who they claim intruded on their land. Ghassan Douglass, the PA official in charge of documenting settler attacks in the northern West Bank, said that Najeh Abu Qader was tending his own trees when he was set upon by a group of settlers who beat him violently and expelled him from his land.
Douglass said the area in question was “hundreds of meters” away from land considered part of Itamar.
Clashes in the East Jerusalem refugee camp of Shu’fat left 15 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers wounded, according to PNN reporter Maysa Abu Ghazaleh, following the Israeli decision to open a military checkpoint in the area.
Three units of Israeli musta’arabeen (soldiers dressed as Palestinians) entered the refugee camp on Saturday and fired live bullets at Palestinian youths. Fifteen Palestinians were wounded, with injuries reported to eyes and feet, as well as rubber bullet fire and sound bombs. Palestinians responded with rocks and Molotov cocktails, leading to three injuries on the Israeli side.
One Palestinian was also arrested in Shu’fat, but his name was not reported.
The planned checkpoint, which was announced last Thursday, would add several more neighborhoods to the 50,000 Palestinians excluded from access to Jerusalem.
An arrest was reported in the Nablus refugee camp of Balata, where Israeli troops detained 45-year-old Yasser Budrusawi and took him to an unknown location. In the Bethlehem-area village of al-Shawawreh, 23-year-old Mahmoud Ribaiyeh’s home was invaded and searched and he was instructed to come for an interrogation at Etzion military detention center within the week.

Two Children Die and Lives of Dozens of Others Endangered; PCHR Strongly Condemns Ministry of Health’s Decision to Decrease Transfers of Patients to Israeli Hospitals without Taking into Consideration Their Serious Health Conditions or Providing an Altern

Sunday, 04 December 2011 00:00

Ref: 125/2011

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the decision taken by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to decrease transfers of patients who are in critical or serious health conditions to Israeli hospitals to receive medical treatment or resume previous treatment, under the claim of rationalizing medical transfers from the Gaza Strip.  PCHR expresses utmost concern for the lives of dozens of patients who urgently need medical treatment in advanced health facilities, due to lack of capabilities in hospitals throughout the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, with which the Ministry of Health deals.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, the Ministry of Health in Ramallah issued a decision decreasing transfers of patients to Israeli hospitals starting from 02 November 2011, and the Department of External Treatment in Gaza has been committed to this decision.  The decision is attributed, according to sources of the Ministry, to the high costs of treatment in Israeli hospitals.  These sources pointed out that this decision had been studied and discussed in the Ministry of Health for years, but it was delayed due the need of some patients, especially those suffering from serious or incurable diseases in need of treatment in advanced health facilities, and because Israeli hospitals are closer to the Gaza Strip than Egypt and Jordan.

This decision has led to stopping dozens of transfers of patients who suffer from serious diseases, 90% of them cancer patients, whose treatment is not available in the Gaza Strip.  It has also endangered the lives of dozens of patients who are in critical conditions and whose transfer to Egyptian hospitals is not possible due to the long distance. Furthermore, not all medical treatment for their diseases is available in hospitals in Jerusalem or the West Bank.  Two children died as they urgently needed advanced medical treatment, but the Ministry of Health transferred them to hospitals that cannot treat their diseases.  Those hospitals apologized for not admitting them, and the Ministry of Health did not transfer them to Israeli Hospitals.  PCHR lawyers immediately intervened with concerned bodies and with the Director General of Medical Insurance in the West Bank in an attempt to save the lives of the two children, but they died before a response was sent to PCHR.

On 04 November 2011, Mohammed Azzam Sahwil, born on 29 September 2002, who was suffering from growth retardation and muscle atrophy, died.  His health condition deteriorated on 01 November 2011, so he was admitted into the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza City.  The Ministry of Health was provided with an urgent report to make necessary arrangements for transfer him abroad.  On 25 October 2011, the child obtained Form No. 1 to receive medical treatment abroad.  On 02 November 2011, the child obtained financial coverage for medical treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem, but the hospital refused to admit him because of its inability to treat him.  The Ministry of Health was informed of this decision, but it did not take necessary action to transfer him to an advanced hospital that can treat his diseases – in this case an Israeli hospital.  As a result, his health condition deteriorated further until he died in the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza City.

Less than one month later, the child’s sister died in similar circumstances.  The Ministry of Health did not learn the lesson from what happened to her brother.  On 01 December 2011, Hiba Azzam Sahwil, born on 03 January 2003, who was also suffering from growth retardation and muscle atrophy, died.  On 27 November 2011, she obtained Form No. 1 to receive medical treatment abroad.  On 27 November 2011, she obtained financial coverage for treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem.  On 28 November 2011, an appointment was arranged for her on 13 December 2011.  However, her health condition deteriorated on 29 November 2011 and she was admitted into the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital.  The Ministry of Health was informed and al-Maqassed Hospital was contacted to schedule an appointment at an earlier date.  However, at approximately 12:30 on 30 November 2011, al-Maqassed Hospital announced it would not admit her because of its inability to treat her.  The Ministry of health was informed about that and was requested to immediately transfer the child to Ekhilov Hospital in Israel, but the Ministry refused to transfer her.  At approximately 11:30 on 01 December 2011, a financial coverage was sent to al-Mizan Hospital in the West Bank, but the child had already died at approximately 11:05.

PCHR is following up the case of a sister of the two dead children, Ayat Azzam Sahwil, born on 31 October 2003, who suffers from the same disease.  On 22 November 2011, she obtained Form No. 1 to received medical treatment abroad. On 27 November 2011, she obtained a financial coverage to receive medical treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem.  The Ministry of Health was informed of her sister’s death and was urged to save Ayat’s life by transferring her immediately to an Israeli Hospital.  At approximately 13:30 on 01 December 2011, she obtained a financial coverage for treatment in Ekhilov Hospital in Israel, and coordination for her access to the hospital is ongoing.

It is worth noting that PCHR has sent a letter to Mr. Nizar Masalma, Director General of Medical Insurance in the West Bank, demanding him to allow 24 patients, who suffer from serious and chronic diseases, to continue receiving medical treatment in advanced medical facilities.  PCHR is still waiting for a response.

In light of the above:
  1. PCHR calls upon the Ministry of Health to recognize the repercussions of the decision to decrease transfers of patients to Israeli hospitals and its impact on the lives of patients from the Gaza Strip who suffer from serious diseases, and calls for immediate suspension of this decision pending providing adequate alternatives that can provide similar health services to patients from the Gaza Strip;
  2. PCHR warns of the deterioration of health conditions of dozens of patients who suffer from serious diseases and cannot access medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, and warns of a possible increase in the number of deaths among these patients if the decision remains in effect;
  3. PCHR calls for an immediate solution to this problem which threatens the lives of dozens of patients, for whom the Palestinian Basic Law and international and regional human rights instruments ensure enjoying the highest attainable level of health, including access to necessary health services, medicines and adequate treatment to maintain the life and health of every human being.

Extremist settlers hurl blocks at Hebron’s Old Market

December 4, 2011 by occupiedpalestine
Andrew Michaels | 3 December 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

Settlers from Avraham Avino  targeted Palestinians in the Old Souq in Hebron during the Saturday market on December 3rd 2011. At approximately 11 AM  Five unmasked settlers, aged around 20-30, threw concrete blocks down from a roof above the Old City at the booths outside of the shops, and at the people passing. The blocks were of considerable size – each weighing around 5-10 kilos. As they were thrown from a height of eight meters, anyone hit would be severely maimed or killed. Some of the blocks became lodged in the roof above the shops while some landed in the street.

Extremist Zionist settlers aim for Palestinians

To access the Souq the settlers had to pass over the roofs of several Palestinian families in clear view of the military posts  that are stationed on the rooftops. They were standing next to a military post as they threw the concrete blocks – uninterrupted by the military.“If it was a Palestinian (throwing stones from a roof), he [the soldier] would shoot him!” a shop owner said.

A witness identified two of the settlers as people who had taken part in an attack on Palestinians two years ago when the Eawawy family´s home was burned down. The arson was investigated by the Israeli police, as the Old City is in Israeli controlled H2, but asthe police have failed to take action even though the perpetrators have been identified. The shopkeepers were reluctant to report today´s attack to the police due to the Israeli authority´s failure to investigate settler attacks.

International observers arrived at the area before the military, who arrived after they had been contacted by the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH). Attacks by settlers who live next to the Old City are frequent and the residents have had to attach netting above shops and streets to protect frequently targeted areas.

Andrew Michaels is a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (name has been changed).

 Source & more at the site of the International Solidarity Movement

Gaza hopes electricity line repair will ease blackouts

Published Sunday 04/12/2011 (updated) 05/12/2011 21:37
A view of the sole power plant in the Gaza Strip.
(MaanImages/Hatem Omar, File)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The main electricity line supplying Gaza has been repaired after two weeks of partial blackout in the blockaded strip, officials said Sunday.

The Israeli Electric Company which controls the sea line has fixed the broken connection that plunged Gaza residents into more than eight hour of power outages per day, Media Director at Gaza's electricity company Jamal al-Dardasawi told Ma'an.

He said the reconnection of the main supply to the coastal strip would enable energy from other Israeli suppliers to reach Gaza, but warned residents to ration their power usage due to ongoing shortages under Israel's blockade.

The coastal energy line cut out after 20 hours when it was last fixed on Nov. 17.

Gaza residents had warned that the electricity crisis was disastrous during the cold winter months, and complained that they are still being charged for electricity that they do not have access to.

Last week, the energy authority in Gaza accused Israel of deliberately disconnecting the main electricity grid to the coastal enclave as part of a "punitive policy."

"The Israeli occupation uses security pretexts to justify disconnecting a grid which provides 14 megawatts to the northern Gaza Strip," head of the energy authority Kanaan Ubeid said.

Israel continues to supply the Gaza Strip with water and 70 percent of its electrical power, the rest being supplied by neighboring Egypt or local power plants.

Israel had warned that it would cut the supply of water and electricity to the Gaza Strip if rival parties Fatah and Hamas formed a unity government.

Al-Dardasawi told Ma'an on Saturday that breakdown of the Israeli supply line was just one factor in the ongoing energy crisis in the coastal strip.

The Gaza Strip needs investment and regional coordination in the energy sector in order to better prepare for the future, he said.

Israel tightened a land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Hamas took control of the territory one year after winning national elections, ousting Fatah incumbents and splitting Palestinians into rival administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Gaza's energy sector is crippled by Israel's ban on importing materials for locally-implemented construction, leaving power stations unable to function without crucial supplies and paralyzed after severe damage inflicted by Israel's 2009 war on the coastal strip.

Former President Katsav to enter Israeli prison following rape conviction

Former minister Shlomo Benizri to be cell mate in religious wing of Ramle jail.

By Ophir Bar-Zohar, Yanir Yagna, Yaniv Kubovich and Revital Blumenfeld

Former President Moshe Katsav will enter Ma'asiyahu prison in Ramle on Wednesday to begin serving a seven-year jail term for two counts of rape and other sexual offenses. Katsav must report to the jail by 10 A.M. on Wednesday.

Katsav will enter Ma'asiyahu through the front entrance after the prison service rejected all requests that he be allowed to arrive less conspicuously. The Israel Police which are responsible for security on his arrival, already erected barriers on Tuesday at the site to keep away curiosity-seekers.

Katzav - Alon Ron Former President Moshe Katsav
Photo by: Alon Ron

After processing formalities are completed, he will be placed in the wing of the facility for religious prisoners.
Initially he will be held in a cell for inmates who are thought to be at risk of suicide. It is under the closer surveillance of his guards and is equipped with two security cameras. The doors to his lavatory and shower are translucent so they don't obstruct the view of the ex-president.

The prison service decided to allow him to initially share a cell with convicted former government minister Shlomo Benizri. The service also agreed to Benizri's request that the closed circuit cameras not be in use during daytime hours. The cameras may be turned on when Benizri leaves the cell, however. In addition if prison authorities are concerned that Katsav may do harm to himself, Benizri would be returned to his prior cell and Katsav would be subject to constant surveillance.

The head of the prison service ordered one extra guard to be added to the staff of the wing where Katsav will be held, but he will not be with Katsav all the time to protect him. Although the religious wing is considered relatively prisoner-friendly, the former president will be required to abide by strict rules. He will get up at 4:45 A.M. for prayers and later in the day will engage in religious study. At 10 P.M. he will be back in his cell, which will be locked for the night. There is no television in his wing.

Katsav spent his last day of freedom Tuesday at his home in Kiryat Malakhi with family and friends. In a break with his usual routine, on Tuesday Katsav did not go to pray at a synagogue near his home, but instead prayed at home with family and friends in an effort to avoid press photographers.

He believes in his innocence and is very angry, said one of his friends on Tuesday. "He has already absorbed the fact that he is going to prison. It's a disgrace to the State of Israel that the former president is going to jail," the friend said. The atmosphere at home is very difficult, said another friend Haim Barda, who visited Katsav on Tuesday from nearby Ashkelon. Barda said Katsav's wife, Gila, and other family members are doing what they can to keep up the spirits of the former president. Friends who visited the household said Gila Katsav and the former president's mother have been crying constantly and he has tried to assure them that he would withstand the ordeal of years in jail.

The Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols, which had been due to consider a proposal on Tuesday that would strip Katsav of his ceremonial privileges, was deferred due to a request by Katsav for a rehearing on his appeal by an expanded panel of Supreme Court justices. If the ceremonial privileges are ultimately revoked then Katsav would not have a state funeral or be buried in the section of the Mt. Herzl cemetery that is reserved for national leaders. He has already been stripped of financial perks accorded former presidents. He will continue to receive a pension, however.

Friends said there was no risk that the former president would do harm to himself in prison, but he is adamant about his innocence and would not admit to the charges of which he was convicted even if it resulted in a lighter sentence. Katsav gave an interview to the New York Times on Tuesday, telling the newspaper that he has not made special preparations in advance of his incarceration on Wednesday at Ma'asiyahu prison.

In a related development on Tuesday, members of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee considered a request by Shas MK Nissim Zeev that the former president serve his jail under house arrest in Kiryat Malakhi. The MKs did not reach a formal decision on the matter, in part due to earlier representations by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch that he would not permit such a step. The committee, however, has no authority to make such a decision.

Zeev was relying on a legal provision allowing the justice minister to permit a prisoner to serve a jail term outside of prison and was based in part on the fact that Katsav had been exposed to state secrets and also because he would be in prison with inmates whose requests for a presidential pardon he rejected.

For Katsav's victims and for women's organizations that have lent them support, the prospect of the former president going to jail is still not a happy occasion. Michal Rosen, who is the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, said: "From our standpoint, the case is over. The justice system has expressed itself. The two levels of the court system have found him to be a serial rapist and have placed their full faith in the [accounts of the] victims...."

Daniel Sror, who was a lawyer for one of Katsav' victims, who was only identified as A. from the Tourism Ministry, said although his client had a sense that justice has been served, it is not a time for celebration. "There is nothing happy about this sorry case," he said on Tuesday.

U.S. shouldn't 'zero-out' Israel defense aid

  • Published 21:19 06.12.11
  • Latest update 21:19 06.12.11
Anyone who has a clue about our relationship with Israel understands that a robust, wide-ranging foreign aid program benefits U.S. interests in the region.

By Tom Dine

The recent political pledge made by Republican presidential contenders Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney to "zero out" foreign assistance appropriations and start over would be a direct assault on our security relationship with Israel. Anyone who has a clue about our relationship with Israel understands that a robust, wide-ranging foreign aid program is not only vital for Israel's security, but also greatly benefits our interests in the region and around the world.

F-15 - Neil Cohen / IDF Spokesman - 2008 An Israel Air Force F-15 during takeoff.
Photo by: Neil Cohen / IDF Spokesman

The subsequent insistence by the Perry-Gingrich-Romney troika that Israel would somehow be exempt from this policy of slash-and-burn budgeting could only be read as a disturbing misunderstanding of the vital role foreign economic assistance and security aid play in U.S. diplomacy, or worse, a deliberate attempt to distort the issue in order to score cheap political points.

I certainly expect they will take the opportunity to explain this indefensible policy on Wednesday when they address Jewish American Republicans gathered in Washington.

Last month, during a Republican debate, Gov. Perry said, "the foreign aid budget in my administration, for every country, is going to start at zero dollars. Zero dollars. And then we'll have a conversation."

His call to zero out all foreign assistance and then restore selected grants was surprisingly echoed immediately by both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Fearing the reaction from voters concerned about Israel's security, all three candidates later insisted they were not proposing to end or dramatically slash Israel's aid, but efforts to walk back their comments smacked of political opportunism, not thoughtful policy.

For several decades, the United States has played a vital role in supporting Israel's security, and in 2007, the United States committed to providing Israel with $30 billion in security assistance over the next decade. The policy advocated by the Gov. Romney, Gov. Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would break that trust.

When there are calls for the zeroing out of foreign aid - a program that makes up less than one per cent of the annual U.S. federal budget - it is the job of top Executive and Legislative branch leaders to remind Congress and the public that support for a robust foreign aid program not only serves the Jewish state of Israel, but the interests of the United States around the world.

There is no question that preserving security assistance to Israel remains a priority, especially as the Israeli people face grave threats from an Iranian regime pursuing nuclear weapons and a region in the midst of a sometimes-chaotic transition. But at the same time, it is also vital we remember the important role U.S. assistance plays in advancing our vital interests in the region.

Gutting America's foreign aid programs is not in the interest of Israel and it certainly isn't in the interest of the United States.

Centrist pro-Israel groups have long advocated expanding, not reducing, foreign aid programs - both as a boost to critical U.S. interests and because of Israel's continuing need for assistance. To his credit, President Obama has increased U.S. assistance to Israel to unprecedented record levels. The President seems to understand that a strong Israel, one supported by the United States, is important to maintaining security in the region.

Anti-foreign aid advocates have a long history of recklessly exploiting misperceptions about foreign assistance. They exaggerate its impact on the federal deficit, conspicuously ignore the boost it provides to America's image around the world and downplay its role in bolstering America's critical allies.

Drastically cutting or even eliminating aid entirely would severely damage America's interests while having little impact on our deficits; then arguing we should carve out an exemption for Israel is a cynical bit of political sleight of hand that would weaken the critical U.S.-Israel alliance and threaten political support for the special U.S.- Israel relationship.

Critically examining foreign aid grants and ensuring that every dollar is used efficiently must be a priority for the next administration and Congress. But promises of wholesale, indiscriminate cuts or even eliminating foreign aid entirely is extremely dangerous and either reflects an egregious lack of foreign policy judgment or, at worst, a cynical willingness to political gain above America's national interests.

The current crop of Republican presidential candidates claim they would "restore" U.S. leadership of the Free World, but seem willing to end programs that are critical to that role.

Now is not the time to retreat from America's leadership role, nor is it time to resort to political gimmicks that isolate Israel and harm American interests. Our security remains on the line - and so does that of our democratic friend and ally Israel.

Tom Dine was for thirteen years executive director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and for four years an Assistant Administrator of USAID.

IDF soldiers arrested over link to 'price tag' attacks in West Bank

  • Published 20:26 06.12.11
  • Latest update 20:26 06.12.11
Detention of 3 soldiers come 2 days after 7 female Jewish settlers were arrested on suspicion of vandalizing army property and damaging Palestinian-owned trees.

By Chaim Levinson

Israel Defense Forces spokesman said on Tuesday that three soldier had been arrested Monday on suspicion of involvement in the recent ‘price tag’ attacks in the West Bank, with two other soldiers arrested as well.
The suspect is a known West Bank activist, who was also recently investigated for forging an official document, in an unrelated case. He is linked to sabotaging IDF vehicles in the West Bank base of the Benyamin brigade, where he served up until two months prior to a price tag attack of the facility.

Price tag - Haggai Ofen - January 26 2010 Settlers near the outpost of Givat Menachem, January 26 2010.
Photo by: Haggai Ofen

Military Police officials also arrested a resident of the settlement of Elon Moreh, a yeshiva student who served in the Kfir combat brigade.

The third soldier detained on Monday is from the community of Adi in northern Israel, who is currently serving in Central Command.

Specific suspicions against the two serving soldiers were not yet clear.

The arrests come two days after seven young, female Jewish settlers, six of them minors, were arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of vandalizing army property and participating in an incident last summer near the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, in which Palestinian-owned olive trees were damaged.

In October, Military Police investigators arrested an Israeli soldier following suspicions that he had leaked IDF operations in the West Bank to Jewish settlers.

The soldier, a married man and father of two children, served in the Samaria Brigade's rabbinate and has yet to be informed of the specific charges against him.

Following that incident, Israeli settlers vandalized an IDF post in the Samaria region in a so-called "price tag" attack.

IDF officials called the incident grave and unprecedented, as it marks the first time settlers had carried out a planned act of vandalism against army equipment.

The Yesha Council, which represents West Bank settlers, strongly condemned the act and called on the perpetrators to turn themselves in.

Government ministers react sharply to Clinton's criticism of Israeli democracy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday lamented Knesset attempts to restrict left-wing groups and expressed concern over the status of Israeli women.

By Barak Ravid

Several Israeli government ministers on Sunday sharply responded to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her critical comments on the status of women in Israel and Knesset bills that would restrict left-wing organizations.

Speaking to a closed forum in Washington on Saturday, Clinton criticized recent legislative attempts in Israel to restrict left-wing organizations and expressed shock over growing discrimination against Israeli women. She mentioned cases of IDF soldiers leaving during performances of female singers and the fact that females sit in the back of buses in certain places in Israel. Clinton said that some of these phenomena reminded her of Iran.

Hillary Clinton U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Photo by: AFP

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Clinton's comments were "completely exaggerated".

"Israeli democracy is alive, liberal and breathing," Steinitz said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. "I don’t know many better democracies in the world. It is of course necessary to fix things sometimes. The matter of excluding and segregating women is completely unacceptable and needs to be put to a stop, but there is a great distance between this and the argument that there is a threat to Israeli democracy."

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that elected officials should concentrate on what is happening in their own countries. He added, however, that he shared the concern over the dignity of women. He said that the government should take steps to demonstrate its commitment to equality between men and women.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the Knesset passes laws after thorough checks.
"Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East," Yishai said. "I assume that everything done here will be done within the law and I am not concerned by that."

On the battlefield of gender segregation

 Published 02:03 25.11.11 Latest update 02:03 25.11.11

The people at the advertising agency were not interested. As they put it: 'No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old.'

By Rachel Azaria
Every area pertaining to religion and state has been defined in recent years as a battle between secular and Haredi Jews. That has been the accepted view in Israeli society: Ultra-Orthodox and secular are the two camps, and they fight. Shabbat, kashrut, the so-called hametz and pork laws: All the battles have been portrayed in black and white, with everything seen as clear-cut.

But Israeli society is more complex than that. There are a lot more shades of gray, and many more people who define themselves in a more nuanced manner, whether they affiliate themselves with religious Zionism, are traditionally observant or formerly Orthodox, or identify with one of the other Jewish streams - Conservatism or Reform, among others. This complexity began to find expression in the last municipal elections in Jerusalem, when essentially all of the non-Haredim found themselves aligned in one camp, opposite the ultra-Orthodox. We called ourselves "pluralists."

This past month, the main front in relations between religion and state in Israel has centered around the exclusion of women from the public domain. In recent years women have all but disappeared from public spaces in Jerusalem. I personally experienced this for the first time during the 2008 election campaign for the city council, when I asked, as is customary in political campaigns, to post pictures of the electoral list I headed on Jerusalem buses. We approached the bus company, agreed with them on a price and finalized the details - before they thought to mention that it was forbidden for buses to carry pictures of women. When we argued that we were an electoral list for the city council, that any photograph would be modest, and that I myself am an Orthodox woman and mother, the people at the advertising agency were not interested. As they put it: "No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old."

That's when my eyes were opened, and I began to be aware of the matter and to look for the absent women on posters in Jerusalem. Thus the issue of women's exclusion from public space became part of my daily work, whether in the fight against buses on which women are required to sit in the back, the campaign for women's rights at the Kotel (Western Wall ), or in the legal petition to the High Court against the segregation of men and women on the streets of Mea She'arim during the interim days of Sukkot, as well as on many other fronts. I have paid a price for this activism, most recently when Mayor Nir Barkat relieved me of my municipal portfolio in the city council.

Such exclusion and segregation is contrary to Israel's Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, and is contrary to our aspiration to be a democratic, permissive and tolerant society. This new phenomenon, and the system's willingness to capitulate to it, fills me with great fear for the position of women in the State of Israel. No less significant, I am convinced that this type of segregation raises the walls even higher between those who are Haredi and those who are not. It makes it difficult for the ultra-Orthodox to integrate into the workforce and to be drafted into the military, since both are places where men and women are not separated, and it retards the welcome process that was under way, in which the Haredi public was finally beginning to feel a shared fate with the rest of Israeli society.

There are extremist Haredim who want this to happen, who feel threatened by the integration of members of their community into the Israeli public space. Indeed, this may well be the reason for the modesty and segregation revolution that is taking place in Haredi society.

And so, in a battle that is the spearhead of religion and state relations today, the rules have changed, and we find ourselves in a campaign being led mainly by Orthodox women and a Conservative rabbi (Rabbi Uri Ayalon ). Moreover, the public that supports this campaign is especially diverse: secular, Orthodox, formerly Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and traditionally observant. Also - and now for the big news: Haredi women have joined the frontline of the battle. Because ultimately we are talking about an alliance of a large public that is interested in leading a good, sane and pleasant life in the State of Israel, as opposed to a few extremists who insist on making sure that it will be very hard for us to live together.

This alliance of the conciliatory public, a public that wants to live together with other groups in society, must grow stronger and act as a counterweight to the small, radical and loud group. And that is what is beginning to happen. Everyone who wants to live together in Jerusalem is uniting to wage this battle, and this is allowing us to see Israel's true colors. Because the world is not black and white.

Rachel Azaria is a member of the Jerusalem City Council from the Yerushalmim party.

Resist Segregation


Published February 03, 2010, issue of February 12, 2010.

The need to restrain the burgeoning power of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel grows ever more urgent. The latest flashpoint is public transportation.

For several years, on an increasing number of public buses, women have been expected not only to cover their arms and legs, but also to board and sit separately from men, in the back of the vehicle. On January 31, in a long-awaited decision, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that these so-called “mehadrin lines” — borrowing a phrase that implies very strict adherence to religious rules — were legal as long as they were “voluntary.” He said that the state would not tolerate the use of threats or violence to enforce the separation, a pledge that became immediately suspect after he also said that he found no evidence of such coercion used against women.

That would be news to the women who more than three years ago petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to ban gender-based segregation on public buses, using as proof their own experiences of harassment. The Israeli writer Naomi Ragen, an Orthodox Jew, was one of those petitioners. She had been physically threatened on the No. 40 bus in Jerusalem because she refused to give up her seat to a man.

For the operator of a public bus to suggest that women sit in the back is akin to the person behind the luncheonette counter in Greensboro, N.C., declining to serve the four black students who arrived there 50 years ago and tried to order some food. There is nothing voluntary about segregation. The mere suggestion is demeaning and unacceptable in modern society.

We fear that this continued diminishment of women’s rights will open up a dangerous wedge in the already fraught relationship between American Jews and Israel. In the last few months, a woman was arrested for wearing a prayer shawl at the Kotel, and another woman was hauled in for police interrogation just for praying there, as she had done for years. “Where does it end?” Ragen asked in 2007 after her experience on the bus, when she said there were 30 mehadrin bus lines in the country. Now estimates put the number between 56 and 90.

Supporters of Israel must strongly protest Katz’s acquiescence to the segregationists. The right of Haredi men and women to live and worship as they please must be protected, of course. But Israel’s public sphere must be open to all. In a 21st-century democracy, no one should be relegated to the back of the bus.

Invoking Rosa Parks, Haredi Women Move to Back of the Bus

By Nathan Jeffay

Published July 24, 2008, issue of August 01, 2008.

Haifa, Israel — Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate are calling on women to keep out of men’s eyesight whenever they travel by bus — by making their way to the back of the vehicle.

OUT OF SIGHT: Women keep to the back of a bus from Or Akiva to Bnei Brak.
OUT OF SIGHT: Women keep to the back of a bus from Or Akiva to Bnei Brak.
TAKING A STAND: Naomi Ragen wanted segregated buses to be outlawed.
TAKING A STAND: Naomi Ragen wanted segregated buses to be outlawed.
The directive, issued by the so-called Rabbinical Transportation Committee, is being distributed to thousands of schoolgirls and seminary students and posted on public notice boards in ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, neighborhoods. It represents a new phase in a decade-long campaign by Haredi rabbis to introduce gender separation on bus lines commonly used by the Haredi community.

The transportation committee is an offshoot of the long-established Modesty Committee, which represents leaders of various Haredi factions, including the Hasidic rebbes; the so-called Lithuanian or non-Hasidic yeshiva heads; the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox, and the militant, Jerusalem-based Eida Haredit.

For the past decade, the transportation committee has been pressuring bus companies to segregate Haredi-trafficked bus lines along gender lines. The committee’s quest has enjoyed considerable success, rendering more than 35 bus lines what it calls mehadrin — a talmudic term denoting something that is kosher to a particularly high standard. On these lines, men use the front doors and sit at the front, while women use the back doors and sit at the back.

“In every public place there should be separation between men and women, and a bus is no different,” said a transportation committee spokesman, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Shafranovitch, in a brief statement to the Forward.
Recently, however, the pace of compliance by bus companies has slowed, with just two new routes rendered segregated since the start of 2008. Amid mounting impatience, the rabbis have taken matters into their own hands. Women are now being asked to treat even nonsegregated buses as if they are segregated, in order to “cause the transportation companies to come to their senses, hurry up and make these lines mehadrin,” the committee’s notice reads.

The twist is that to advance the cause of modesty, the request would propel Haredi women — arguably Israel’s least politically active demographic, due to rabbis’ concerns that female involvement in public affairs is immodest — to the forefront of a controversial direct-action campaign.

It also has sparked a row over who may lay claim to the legacy of Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who famously refused to obey an Alabama bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white passenger. Opponents of segregation say the mantle is theirs. But enthusiasts for segregation have begun to argue that by making their way to the back of the bus, they are actually Parks’s heirs.

“I see Haredi women who sit at the back as being the Israeli Rosa Parks,” said writer Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, one of the leading proponents of segregation. “We see it as a stand against the deterioration of standards in the public arena, and view the chance to sit at the back without men gazing at us as a form of empowerment.”

The first mehadrin buses started running in the late 1990s, operated by small Haredi firms. Shortly afterward, the main state-licensed bus company Egged began running mehadrin services. Several smaller firms followed suit.

In February 2007, the segregated buses became the focus of national and international attention after New York-born novelist Naomi Ragen claimed that while riding home in Jerusalem seated at the front of the bus, she was threatened by self-appointed enforcers from the Haredi community. Ragen, who is identified with the Modern Orthodox community, began a public fight against what she called the “Taliban lines.”

Joined by four other non-Haredi women who had run-ins on the buses, and with the backing of the Jerusalem-based Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, she brought a case to the Supreme Court this past January. While she wanted to outlaw the segregated buses altogether, she believed she stood on firmer legal ground demanding that a nonsegregated option exist wherever segregated buses run.

The judge ordered the Transportation Ministry and bus companies to come up with a coherent policy that satisfies Haredim and non-Haredim alike. This process is still under way, accounting for the bus companies’ reticence to segregate more lines this year.

Ragen believes she is taking a stand on “an important issue which is frightening and a slippery slope,” she told the Forward. “Soon it will be separate streets, and then women will need to wear veils.”

A co-petitioner, Chana Pasternak, director of the Modern Orthodox women’s organization Kolech, said it was “impossible in the 21st century to justify discriminating against women like this.” She added, “I feel the need to take a stand, like Rosa Parks.”

Pasternak depicted the segregation as absurd. “One time I was at the front of a bus,” she said, “and a Haredi man told me I sit there to flirt with the men and that I’m a sinner. I said that if I, a grandmother, can even make you think about sin, I’m glad.”

But to the rabbis and their followers, segregation equals progress. According to the recent notice, those who make their way to the back of the bus take part in a holy endeavor. “Thanks to the preservation of the modesty and sanctity limitations, we will gain the inspiration of the divine presence of creation, an abundance of wealth and happiness and everything good,” the rabbis’ notice states.

Schmidt said that Haredi women view the practice as a form of social protest. A translator and writer from Kiryat Sanz, a Haredi neighborhood in Netanya, she said that Haredi women “get on the buses and have to look at advertisements for condoms and listen to licentious music. We are activists, and this is one thing we can do to enact a change to the slipping standards in the public sphere.”

Members of the Haredi community are not uniformly supportive of the rabbis’ initiative. Dov Epstein, a resident of Efrat in the West Bank, believes that the onus should be on a man “to be mature enough to handle his base nature,” according to his wife, Varda, a self-declared Haredi feminist. She, on the other hand, favors segregation, maintaining that it helps to “place women on a pedestal.” The rabbis act “knowing that men can be stimulated by women, ensuring that they don’t view them less as human beings and more as sexual beings by avoiding seeing them,” she claimed.

In addition to feminism, Varda Epstein is able to frame her support for segregation in decidedly non-Haredi terms of Zionism. For example, Pasternak argued that “observant women have been riding public transport alongside men for many years and still do outside Israel, making this a move to the extreme without basis in Jewish law.” Asked for a response, Epstein retorted that Jewish statehood in Israel creates new opportunities for the development of Jewish life.

“In America, there are all different religions and the aims [of the Jewish community] are different,” Epstein said. “Here, we are a Jewish state, and that means that we can push the boundaries of proper observance.”
Ragen is dismissive of women who defend segregation. “You will always have a segment of the population who side with the oppressor,” she said, “but they are siding with those destroying our religion and should be ashamed of themselves.”

Whatever one’s view of the Haredi principles, this campaign seems destined for considerable success. Egged, the main target of the public action campaign, told the Forward that this kind of pressure can swing its decisions. “Public transport in Israel is less of a monopoly today than it was, and we deal not with travelers but with customers,” company spokesman Arieh Frankel said. “And if Haredi customers want mehadrin lines, we will give them to them.”

Israel’s Sex-Segregated Buses Riding High

By Nathan Jeffay

Published June 16, 2010, issue of June 25, 2010.

“Hey, lady!” yelled the bus driver. He was loud but friendly. “You forgot your Psalms booklet.”

Back Of The Bus: Women must ride the back of the bus and men ride up front on several public transportation routes heavily patronized by Orthodox Jews in Israel. The recent development has sparked some protests, but on board the buses even secular riders comply.
Rahel Jaskow
Back Of The Bus: Women must ride the back of the bus and men ride up front on several public transportation routes heavily patronized by Orthodox Jews in Israel. The recent development has sparked some protests, but on board the buses even secular riders comply.
It was a typical weekday afternoon in Tel Aviv, Israel’s secular metropolis, and the Route 322 bus is picking up its first passengers as it gets going to Ashdod.

On this particular 322, the driver, a jolly middle-aged man with a mop of gray hair and a distinctly non-Haredi yarmulke balanced on top, has come up with an innovation: When you pay your fare, you receive a ticket in one hand and in the other a booklet with a passage from the biblical Book of Psalms.

Each passenger’s booklet contains a different passage and the idea is that if all the booklets are in use at the same time, passengers together will recite the entire Book of Psalms, which would be seen as a religious achievement. This trip, the driver hopes, is to be a spiritual journey in the literal sense.

The 322 is the only autobus mehadrin running to and from Tel Aviv. The phrase autobus mehadrin, a new addition to the Israeli lexicon in the last decade, literally means beautified bus. It refers to a route that meets Haredi standards of modesty: Men sit at the front and women at the back.

Critics say that these routes — around 60 in number — are anything but beautiful. They claim that the segregation they practice is religious coercion at its worst because if non-haredim refuse to comply with the separation of the sexes, violence sometimes results.

Last March there were two acts of protest against the buses. One involved the hanging of posters opposing them in several Israeli cities. In the other, demonstrators marched outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.

The gender-segregated buses are also the subject of an ongoing case before the High Court, in which five women, including New York-born novelist Naomi Ragen, have questioned their legitimacy. On the judge’s instruction, the Transportation Ministry convened a committee to formulate a policy regarding these buses. The committee recommended outlawing them, but Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said they should continue. The High Court is deciding how to go forward.
On paper, one might expect the 322 to be a route where stand-offs are common. The buses run through and pick up passengers in parts of secular Tel Aviv. Most of the other gender-segregated lines serve only Haredi areas. But the day I rode the 322, the journey was extremely calm. The regulars say it always is.

The bus started out in the religiously diverse Ramat Hachayal neighborhood in northern Tel Aviv, close to the section of the city where most Haredi residents live. Although on many mehadrin buses, women board at the back and men at the front, on this bus everyone boarded together at the front.

One passenger was a secular woman originally from the former Soviet Union, evidently a first-timer on a mehadrin bus. When the driver explained the seating convention, she complied matter-of-factly.

Another, a young Haredi man with a light wispy beard who wore traditional dress, was happy to discuss his views on segregated routes.

Keeping away from women other than one’s wife and family members, said the 20-year-old Tel Aviv resident, is basic Jewish law, and he tries his best to travel only on segregated lines. To show the way he keeps his thoughts pure on nonsegregated lines, he gestured, raising a hand to each side of his eyes, like blinkers.
This young man, a Hasid from the Skver sect, has grown up in a Haredi world with enough political and financial clout to get Israel’s Transportation Ministry to establish niche services catering to his religious lifestyle, like the mehadrin buses. He believes Haredim should continue to push for segregation in other areas of public life.

Another passenger, a middle-aged Ashdod resident in his 50s, disputed the claim made by many critics that the mahadrin buses reflect a newfound Haredi strictness on gender mixing. Transportation has always been difficult for Haredim, he said. In the past, whenever he found himself seated next to a female, he felt the need to move to avoid the risk of brushing legs with her, the man explained. To him, segregated buses were a logical solution to a long-standing problem. But he said that if a woman insisted on sitting at the front of the bus, he would not confront her.

As more passengers boarded, men from similar backgrounds gravitated toward each other. The subtleties of the dress of Haredi men tell the informed observer to which community they belong. After a few minutes on the bus, Hasidic men were at the front, non-Hasidic men behind and, still farther behind, a couple of yeshiva boys of what Haredim call a “more modernisher” bent, discernible from the fashionable touches to their Haredi outfits.

Though there was no indication it was intended, this configuration placed the men’s distance from the women’s section in direct proportion to their community’s zeal for segregated buses.

The atmosphere was friendly, and most male passengers had a like-minded neighbor to chat with. In the men’s section, chatting generally won out over reciting Psalms.

In the women’s section, as my travel companion told me afterward, the dynamic was different. There, passengers from different sects and backgrounds sat together, and camaraderie developed, even between the extremely observant and the non-religious.

The main social glue, seemingly, was the presence of children, who traveled with mothers, not fathers. At one point, a woman got off the bus and, seeing a stranger about to board, carried the new passenger’s baby on board, leaving her free to cope with her bags and her other children.

Both women in this case were Haredi, but this kind of camaraderie extended to secular female passengers, as well.

In the women’s section, reciting Psalms was taken much more seriously. Everyone read their Psalm booklets — even secular passengers, creating a sense of shared mission. When the woman who received help boarding got to her destination, a secular woman jumped up to help her alight.

Psalms weren’t the only pastime in the women’s section. There was also a soap opera of sorts going on: The Drama of Yael. Will she or won’t she? The quest for love was audible for all to follow. A pretty 19-year-old from Bnei Brak, Yael wasn’t actually on the bus. But her matchmaker, who described her in detail, was, and she was determined to use the journey to find a shiduch, or match.

The matchmaker could not have been more different from the iconic Yente of “Fiddler on the Roof.” This matchmaker was in her early 20s, attractive, immaculately dressed in a below-the-knee skirt and sweater, and carefully made up.

To witness her at work was gripping. Phone calls were made to possible suitors, friends of friends were sounded out and people called back for more information.

When questioned about the bus, women on the 322 were less focused than men on ideology, but more on punctuality, pleasant atmosphere and price.

One secular woman, a middle-aged French-born immigrant wearing leggings and a T-shirt, said she found the bus reliable and had no objections to taking a segregated service. A Haredi woman in her 20s, dressed in a pink long-sleeved shirt, long black skirt and stockings, was enthusiastic about the price. Her ticket home from Bnei Brak to Ashdod cost 10.50 shekels, compared with a 15-shekel fee on the mainstream, non-segregated bus service run by Egged, Israel’s largest bus company. Route 322 is not operated by an ideological bus firm but by Veoila Transportation (formerly Connex), a French-based multinational that also operates in North America. Like many firms that cater to the Haredi community, where incomes are lower, Veolia undersells its secular counterpart in order to make itself affordable to this extremely cost-conscious community.

A morning spent observing buses in predominantly Haredi Bnei Brak followed by a ride on the 322 provides fresh insight to the mehadrin bus row. At a time when Israelis are turning away from buses to cars and trains, every segregated route was busy.

The 322 we took set out in mid-afternoon, quiet time on most buses, and traveled almost at capacity with a diverse group, men and women of all different ages and from different Haredi groupings. But for the bus companies, there was no mystery here.

In Israel, bus companies catering to the Haredim have a whole demographic begging for bus lines. It is a demographic that owns fewer cars. And its members have big families, so even when there is a car, it may not hold everyone. This demographic is always on the move, attending simchas, visiting family members and religious leaders.

And the rabbinic fanfare given to each new line is more effective than any ad campaign.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at

Haredi Gender Segregation Spreading Dangerously

By Elana Sztokman

Just when we thought that gender segregation in Israel had become endemic, it spread further. In addition to the segregated business conference that my Sisterhood colleague Allison Kaplan Sommer reported on here, three new fronts for gender segregation have opened up in Israel, each one bringing a new version of extremism to life here.

The first is the Jerusalem light rail, which is slated to begin operating in the coming months. According to recent reports, the Haredi community has succeeded in winning gender-segregated cars. When the idea first reared its head last year, the (secular) managers of the project surprisingly expressed favor for segregation, citing the need to “serve everyone in the city.”

The idea that misogyny deserves to be accommodated by the municipality represents a frightening intrusion of warped religious thinking into public life.

Tali Farkash, a Haredi writer for YNet, writes that, “The light rail is just another battle in the war on gendered freedom of movement in Israel. This war is no longer just about specific buses in specific haredi areas. It is a nationwide war which currently includes sidewalks, supermarkets, planes, and HMOs with separate medical services.” In addition, the Supreme Court ruled it illegal to enforce segregation, but the powers that be seem not to have noticed.

The next front is on the Internet. There is now a separate-gender Facebook-type platform, FaceGlat, designed to ensure that men and women don’t mix in virtual, as well as real, life.

Asked why even men and women who are married to each other cannot connect on Faceglat, the site’s founder responded, “They can meet at home, on the sofa in their living room.”

Actually they can’t. Because a third new front in gender segregation is at home. According to a report in Haaretz,, the latest trend in the Haredi world is gender segregated family Shabbat meals. Women sit in the kitchen and men in the dining room. So much for married couples being able to meet at home. Indeed, what used to be seen as the entire purpose of a family meal – i.e., family members talking, interacting and connecting – is now seen as a terrible threat to piety.

This is all sad. It signals the death natural human relationships, eliminating even the most basic norms of conversation, erasing all possibility for boys and men to learn to see members of the opposite sex as people rather than as objects.

It’s also very troubling because this gender-segregation bug is like the Ebola virus, spreading uncontrollably and taking over everything with no end in sight. And it’s supported by economics and greed. Whether the light rail managing company or Internet entrepreneurs, some business people look at Haredi social trends with dollar signs in their eyes. Even secular leadership doesn’t seem to have the courage or the rhetorical ability to fight it.