The Spirit of Humanity – 4 Stories of Human Rights Abuses

As Iranians are being shot in the streets, a coup being perpetrated in Honduras and who knows what else is happening in the world right now, I keep my eyes on local events. Seeing the details can discourage you, but I find, not knowing will keep you numb. So here are four stories from Palestine, small in stature- only a detail in that which is a huge atrocity.

#1 The Seizing of the Spirit of Humanity
Under the usual (by now cliched to anyone confronting the IDF) claims of "closed military zone", the boat, Spirit of Humanity, has been threatened to be fired upon by IDF forces. Later, IDF forces seized the boat and arrested (under questionable law or jurisdiction) the 21 passengers. One of the passengers, Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate had the following to say:

"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip… President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We’re asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey."

As usual, I’d like to give an installment of Israeli media coverage of an illegal boat-napping. And what better way than to look at what is supposed to be our most Leftist media. The only article in Ha’aretz to even cover what is becoming policy norm in the Israeli navy had this to say in the first paragraph:

"One of the international activists who sought to sail to Gaza on Tuesday lamented the world’s "apathy" to the plight of the Hamas-ruled territory shortly before the Israel Navy seized control of the vessel."

There’s a lot of scorn in this little paragraph- a lot of cynicism. So again, let’s break this statement down:


  • As many activists know, in some alternate universes, the word "activist" is synonymous with either "naive person" or "trouble maker". In this case we have the word "International" attached to it. In Israel, when it comes to Israeli policy, anything coming from abroad is, of course, ill-willed and anti-Semitic. This point will be strengthened in the next two paragraphs, where Huwaida Araf (Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, but that won’t be mentioned in the article)- obviously an Arab- will be quoted, to make sure the Israeli reader thinks this is an "enemy vessel", cynically disguised as the Spirit of Humanity.
  • "Apathy" in quotes. You may say the author of this article was just quoting the exact word said by the activists on the boat. Or you may say that he thinks that’s a ridiculous turn of phrase, uttered by ridiculous and detached, naive trouble makers, as the people of Gaza need no sympathy, therefor there’s no apathy. 
  • Gaza actually isn’t mentioned here straightforwardly, instead, it’s politicized into the term " Hamas-ruled territory". Nothing puts the bajeezus into the Israeli reader, like the word Hamas.

Here’s another choice quote from the semi-informative piece of propaganda:

"The activists were attempting to break a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel after the Islamic group Hamas took over the territory in a bloody 2007 coup."

Next- the account of events, as told by the IDF:

"Early Tuesday, the navy surrounded the vessel, which was also carrying humanitarian aid, and told the activists to turn back because of security risks in the area and the blockade, according to the IDF.

But the boat later entered Gaza’s coastal waters, the IDF Spokespersons’ Office said in a statement, after which a naval force boarded it.

No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat, and the crew was to be handed over to the appropriate authorities, the IDF said."

As you will observe in the next 3 stories, it’s a very common strategy of the IDF to declare places "military zones", claiming it’s a dangerous area. Without a doubt- it is.

Next comes the inevitable lie, which is the bread and butter of Israel’s security policies:

"In the statement, the IDF Spokespersons’ Unit added that it "would like to emphasize that any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can legally do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination.""

Then, a golden nugget of truth:

"The army said humanitarian goods found on board the boat would be transferred to the Gaza Strip, subject to authorization. "

I have no doubt that the aid will be subject to authorization, as I have no doubt it won’t pass the authorization. Israel has banned toys and construction supplies from entering the strip, so basically, none of the Spirit of Humanity aid will reach it’s devastated destination.

At about mid article is a good time to tell us a bit about the passengers of the ship. After mentioning that there’s a "former U.S. Representative" and a "Nobel Peace Prize laureate" , the author tells us:

"The ship was flying a Greek flag, but no Greek citizens were aboard. The Greek government issued a statement saying it sent a message to Israel demanding that it release the ship, crew and passengers."

It’s interesting to note that other than asserting that the passengers were frauds, the Greek government were a 100% behind the convoy.

At this point, since the author somewhat humanized our convoy, it might be good strategy to excuse the IDF by issuing the following official statement:

"Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to
free the crew and passengers. "Nobody wants to keep them here," he said. "They will be released as soon as they are checked." "

The questionability of the jurisdiction of Israel to "check" the convoy is never questioned. Nor does the author question exactly what it means to "check". I do wonder and am very much looking forward to the testimonies of the crew and passengers, on their return home.

The article closes with more claims that the Free Gaza movement was actually perpetrating illegal, international acts and a reminder that Hamas is an illegal force inside the strip:

"The Free Gaza Movement has organized five boat trips to Gaza since August
2008, defying a blockade imposed by Israel when the militant group Hamas
seized control of the territory from its Palestinian rivals in June 2007.

Two other attempts were stopped by Israeli warships during Israel’s three-week offensive against Hamas in the territory in December and January. Nobody on board was harmed.

Israel tightened a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas seized control of the territory, home to some 1.5 million people."

Take action and sign the petition demanding the release of The Spirit of Humanity’s crew and passengers.

#2 The Persecution of Ezra Nawi
Ezra Nawi is an Israeli Jewish activist of the organization Ta’ayush. For years, he’s been in the forefront of activism in the Occupied Territories. He physically stands between the IDF and violent settlers and the most unfortunate Palestinians, who’s homes are demolished and basic human rights trampled on. Nawi has been arrested (again) about a month ago, and has been found guilty of "assaulting a police officer". He will be sentenced today, by a judge who’s been evidently prejudicial:

"Judge Eilata Ziskind not only mistakenly found me guilty but she instructed the court to invite a translator for the sentencing, as if I do not speak Hebrew; in her mind I, a Mizrahi Jew, am a Palestinian Arab–and Arabs are, almost by definition, guilty."

When Nawi says the judge mistakenly found him guilty, one might doubt the factuality of the defendant defending himself. In this case, however, there’s to much evidence to clear his name, and one doesn’t have to be a professional litigator to see them with their own eyes:



You may be interested in the details of the case, for that you can go to

Nawi’s statement as published in The Nation

and click on the linkable word "sentencing", in the second to last paragraph, so you may witness for yourself, how the court of law disregards simple facts and logic:

" According to the tape, the defendant did indeed incite the men and women to
enter the building that was slated for demolition, lay down in front of the bulldozer –
in order to prevent the bulldozer from demolishing the building after it had been
evacuated, and afterwards he re-entered the building, another event that interfered
with the police. The police had to follow him into the building in order to remove him
and evacuate the shack. He was the one who instigated the tumult that disturbed the
policemen’s work and eventually assaulted the policemen who entered the building in
order to remove him from the site.
Therefore, I find the defendant guilty of assaulting the policemen."

The demolition of this shack (calling it a house, really disregards reality) may have been legally warranted by the state of Israel, but it violates international law, as stated in article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:

"Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations"


As B’tselem explains:


"According to the official commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross, "military operation" is defined as "the movement, maneuvers, and actions of any sort, carried out by the armed forces with a view to combat." Punitive house demolitions do not meet this definition."

What Nawi was doing was in service of not only human rights (as articulated in articles 17 and 25 and consequentially a list of other articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), but the law. The judge somehow failed to see even that.


Take action and sign the petition demanding the release of human rights activist Ezra Nawi.

#3 The Invasion of Bil’in
This story is one that I take very personally. As you know, I join the protest in the West Bank village of Bil’in, every Friday. In joining the protests, I also inevitably engage with the people, before, during and after. It’s very distressful to find that for the past two weeks, the village has been invaded almost every night. The IDF comes in, raids homes, declares them closed military zones and arrests minors at the barrel of a gun. I have no words to describe my anger, sadness and indignation, so here are the videos. As they aren’t mine, I couldn’t add translations (working on contacting the owner), but where I found it necessary I added notes below the video. Otherwise they seem to speak for themselves:

Aside from the ransacking of closets, what you see at the end is the poster in memory of Bassem Abu Rahme, which the IDF murdered just two months ago.

Update 9/7/09:
Bil’in is still being attacked every other night. This makes it the third week in a row.

#4 The Violence in Safa
For weeks now, I’ve been watching the insufferable, increasing violence, which the army has been employing against Israeli activists in Safa. Just so there are no misunderstandings, here’s what the activists are doing there in the first place [1,2,3]:


"On Saturday May 30, members of Anarchists Against the Wall, international and Palestinian activists, came to help farmers in Safa, West Bank, to work their lands. In the recent year farmers has been under a constant harassment by settlers who have been violently attacking them and destroying and stealing their crops."

Basically what activists do, in the cropping situations is serve as human shields. In hopes that the Israeli and international presence will lighten the severe violence employed by the IDF. Most obviously, this doesn’t really work:

The white-hooded (oh the irony) stone throwers are settlers. The army shows up telling the activists and farmers to leave the area, because it’s a "closed military zone". The Israeli activists are asking the army to arrest them, saying that the police is obstructing process of law if they don’t- as they won’t be able to identify the stone-throwers later. that’s basically when things got violent, as the IDF decided to arest the activists. This next video, from the same day, shows how the IDF threatens to arrest the more vocal Palestinian farmer, and what happens when the activists try to stop them:

In the last seconds you can see a high ranking officer calmly asking all the camera operators to leave.

These stories happen everyday. People who practice civil disobedience in the name of justice and humanity, and people who just sit at home living, are subjected to humiliation and violence, every day. I have no petitions for the people of Bil’in, or the farmers and activists of Safa. I want to call your attention to them. Now you know, please don’t stay numb.

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