Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The interrogation of Yonatan Shapira

International solidarity is the theme of much of my writing. It is the democratic ability of people of conscience from below to resist authoritarian state policies, usually wars and occupations, across national borders. Conscience or intelligence often conjoins with the interests of the many who are hurt by such policies. For example, Americans who support the Palestinians are injured in many ways by the policies of the U.S. government. The war in Iraq and its immense costs, physical in lives and wounds, in homelessness for the next 50 years, and in wealth – Obama continues to pay for the occupation – all come from neo-con plans to “secure the realm” (the Middle East for oil profits, military bases, and "greater Israel"). So do the immense military projects/weapons sales which aid Israel (and Saudi Arabia and Egypt) and the forfeiting of American wellbeing – down to unemployment benefits though they have finally been extended – to feed the limitless maw of the war complex. It is in the interests of all Americans (not to mention humanity) to dismantle the war complex, piece by piece, weapon by weapon, billion by billion, corrupt media and think tank voice by voice. American Jews like myself have a particular moral interest in supporting the Palestinians – our ancestors were cursed by racism, and murdered by pogroms and the shoah. We of all people need to stand against the oppression of the Palestinians as well as of the Jews who oppose their brutalization until the expansion of “greater Israel” is abruptly halted and reversed.

My stepdaughter works for the Olympia coop whose board decided today to boycott Israeli products. This is broader than boycotting goods from the occupied territories (what Ury Avnery supports - see my post from yesterday). But I think Israel (and the United States government) need to feel the maximum economic and political pain about these policies quickly. Nonviolence is an answer to murder and oppression; such boycotts, day by day, chip away at the police state. My friends Ilene Cohen (who sent me these articles) and George Downs also act in solidarity against such policies. Ilene wrote to me in particular about the virtues of each of us standing up and being counted in the way we find appropriate.

The fascist Knesset seeks to jail jews who speak up. Below are two fascinating reports of the heroism of Yonatan Shapira, a pilot who refused, with others, to bomb the occupied territories in 2003 and was just interrogated and threatened at an Israeli police station. Though Kafkaesque, his treatment was mild compared to the torture of Palestinians; still, it is a symbol of secret polices operations everywhere – the story of Israel as it is, as a police state occasioned by its occupation and not a democracy even for Jews. Rona, the interrogator – a Yemeni Jew who ought to know better - promised him and other Israelis who speak up for nonviolent boycott of Israeli policies nastier treatment in future. But the decent or democratic way to deal with Yonatan is to answer his arguments. Israelis used to brag that Israel has freedom of speech on many issues compared to the tyranny of the United States at least about Israel – consider again, the suppression that greeted Mearsheimer and Walt, or the disgraceful and ignorant bashing of the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who helped the transition from apartheid to decency, and a Zionist. Goldstone told the truth about Gaza (Congressman Ed Engel has a particularly noisome comment on Goldstone recently).

Untruth – the refusal to consider or answer argument – is sadly the prevailing Israeli and American way. Bullying, lying, silencing by jailing or killing or fear - oppressors who talk only to themselves – this is not freedom, not reasonable discussion, not democracy. Yonatan Shapira is one of many heroes like Hanan Zuabi who stood up in the Knesset to be attacked physically or all the people who sought to bring food to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara. Rona may regret her occupation; she has now become an international symbol of the Interrogator. Yonatan’s tale is worth taking in.


Israeli Shabak interrogates Israeli activist over BDS & Bil’in protests
by Adam Horowitz on July 19, 2010 · (from Mondoweiss)

A month ago Phil posted on an event here in New York discussing Jewish perspectives on BDS. One the speakers that night was Yonatan Shapira, who spoke in favor of boycott. Shapira recently returned to Israel and sent this update. Translation by Dena Shunra.

I moved back to holy land two and a half weeks ago, and yesterday I was summoned for a chat with the Shabak.

So yesterday, Rona from the Shabak called and asked me to come over for a chat with her at the Dizengoff Street police station. She refused to tell me what it was about over the phone, and explained that I was not going to be arrested, and that this was an introductory or friendly conversation.

I got to the Dizengoff Police Station and was sent to a second-floor office in the back building, where a dude was waiting for me who introduced himself as Rona’s bodyguard. I was taken into some room or other and underwent a rather intimate physical examination, to make sure that I hadn’t installed any kind of recording device on either of my testicles. Having found to be clean, I was brought into the room where Ronna sat. She was a fine-looking young woman of Yemeni extraction, in her early thirties.

Rona said that she knew I am an activist working for BDS and for a general boycott on the State of Israel and wanted to know what else I do within the framework of this activity. I said that everything was well-known and made public on the Internet and in the media, and that I have nothing to add and I don’t intend to talk about it with her.

Rona stressed that there is a law being made in the Knesset and that it is very much possible that my activity will be illegal soon. She continued to try and drag me into a political discussion and asked if I knew that the BDS is actually a Palestinian organization.

Rona raised the topic of the Warsaw graffiti and wanted to know whether it was my own private initiative or whether it was also part of BDS, and if I understood that I had overstepped a boundary and hurt the feelings of many people (and apparently, also hurt the feelings of the Shabak.) I again suggested that she listen to interviews and read articles that had been published on the subject. She said that she had already listened and read, but that she wanted to know more. I told her that I would be glad to give a pubic lecture on the subject for anyone who wants to hear it, and that I would do so in a public and open manner, but not within the framework of a Shabak interrogation.
Other than the BDS topic, Rona asked if I knew that the demonstrations in Bil’in and Na’alin are not legal, and that the whole region is closed to Israelis and internationals every Friday, from eight to eight.

She spoke at length about how the soldiers feel in these demonstrations and about how they are irritated when I talk to them and also answer them.

Rona said that she had been there in the past, and that she had been hit by stones, and that it is terribly unpleasant, and that the presence of Israelis at the demonstrations inflames the violence of the Palestinians, and that I should think about how the poor soldiers feel, and that all she’s trying to do is for the good of the state and comes from her desire to protect the people living here.
I answered that everything that I do also comes from my desire to protect the people living here, and I inquired about where she has all that information about my activity from, and asked if they are also tapping my phone. She said that she could not answer but that in general, the Shabak had more important things to do. So I asked her what I was doing there, and why I had been invited for some sort of political interrogation if they did indeed have more important things to do. I asked again if my calls were being tapped, and Ronna said that she could not answer.

She asked very earnestly that I not publish the details of our conversation, because she’s not the sort of person who seeks fame… In response I said that as a person dedicated to a non-violent struggle against the occupation I would speak and publish everything, including all details of this conversation, and other conversations, if there are indeed such conversations in future. I documented the entire conversation on a slip of paper until Rona started talking about that piece of paper and about what I was writing it. Finally, she confiscated my dangerous piece of paper, claiming that I was not allowed to bring in a recording device and that it was illegal.

Fortunately, I remembered most of the conversation and Ronna has not yet confiscated my memory.

Maybe she’ll do that at our next meeting.

That’s it, she may have said a few more things, but that was the main deal.
As far as I’m concerned, I understand that what interests them is our activity on BDS, and that they may even be trying to prepare cases for us, so they’ll be ready for the moment when the new law is voted into existence.

Noam Sheizaf adds:

I find this account of the conversation very reliable, and similar to other accounts of political interrogations of Jewish activists I heard of. We should remember that political interrogations of Palestinians are not that friendly or polite.

I also think that Yonatan could be right in assuming the police or the Shabak is putting together files on Israelis involved in the BDS. One of the many anti-democratic aspects of the new Knesset bill is that it will be possible to enforce it on past actions as well.

Published 01:54 20.07.10
Conscientious objector Yonatan Shapira questioned by Shin Bet
Non-active Israel Air Force pilot who authored the "pilots' letter" of 2003, signed by 27 IAF pilots who said they would refuse to fly over the occupied territories

By Amira Hass

The Shin Bet security service on Sunday questioned a conscientious objector about his activity in an Israeli group that supports sanctions against Israel as part of its struggle against the occupation.

Yonatan Shapira, 38, a non-active Israel Air Force pilot who authored the "pilots' letter" of 2003, signed by 27 IAF pilots who said they would refuse to fly over the occupied territories, said he was instructed not to disclose any details from the interview.

Shapira told the agent he publishes everything regarding his anti-occupation activity and intended to publish this interview as well as any future ones in full detail, he told Haaretz.

He said he received the impression that this troubled his interrogator, who asked for the piece of paper he was writing on because it was "a recording device and is not legal."

Shapira gave her the paper but after leaving the building wrote down the questions from memory. The agent reminded Shapira the Knesset was expected shortly to outlaw calls for sanctions against Israel, he said.

He said the Shin Bet called him on Sunday at noon, while he was visiting friends in Tel Aviv.
"The caller said she was from the Shin Bet and that she wanted to talk to me," he said. "I asked what it was about and she said it wasn't for the phone. I said if anyone was listening to us it was only them, but she insisted we meet and that it was not an interrogation."

Attorney Gaby Lasky advised Shapira to ask at the interview whether he was considered a suspect and told him he did not have to say anything because such a meeting constituted a political interrogation even if the Shin Bet called it a conversation.

Shapira consulted with Yonatan Polak, who has been summoned many times for Shin Bet interrogations about his activity in the popular committees against the separation fence.
Polak told Haaretz that many of the Israeli participants in demonstrations against the separation barrier have been called in by the Shin Bet for questioning.

Shapira's meeting with the agent took place in the rear building of the police station on Dizengoff Street, not far from his friends' place. A security guard conducted a body search ("quite an intimate one", Shapira wrote on Facebook ), explaining he was checking to make sure Shapira wasn't hiding any recording devices.

The agent said something along the lines of "we wanted to meet you because recently we see you've been very active," Shapira said. He asked whether he was suspected of anything and she said he wasn't, that this was not an investigation and that she "only wanted to talk."

Almost immediately, Shapira related, she began talking about his activity in Global BDS Movement: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine, which supports measures against Israel. She asked what he did exactly, whether it was a Palestinian organization and what he knew about it and its activities.

Shapira said he told her that everything she asked was public knowledge, available on the Internet and in the press. He said he would be happy to deliver a public lecture about BDS to the Shin Bet and the police but would not conduct a political discussion in a Shin Bet interrogation room.

The agent asked if he knew the protests he took part in were illegal, in light of the Israel Defense Forces having declared the area a closed military area on Friday.

When he did not reply, she talked about the graffiti slogans, "Liberate all ghettos" and "Free Gaza and Palestine," spray-painted by Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists on a remnant of the Warsaw Ghetto last week.

She asked Shapira, who was one of the activists, whether the graffiti was his idea, whether it had anything to do with BDS and whether he did not understand that he "crossed a line and hurt many people's feelings" with his action.

Shapira said that he repeated his offer to discuss the issues in public and told the agent that for now she could get all the information from media interviews he had given.

When asked if the Shin Bet was bugging his phone, the agent first said she could not answer, then said, "You won't talk about BDS, why should I tell you?" When he asked her, "If I talk, will you tell?," she said no.

The Shin Bet said in a response that it is authorized, as part of its duty to preserve state security and democracy from terror threats, sabotage, subversion and espionage to receive and to gather information, and that Shapira was told clearly that the meeting was not an interrogation and that he was not considered a suspect.


Olympia Food Co-op removes Israeli goods from shelves; first US store to institute boycott
By Admin | Published: July 19, 2010, from the Web site of http://www.olympiabds.org/

Olympia, WA– The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors has decided to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations in Olympia, Washington. At a July 15th meeting packed with Co-op members, the Board reached this consensus. The Co-op becomes the first US grocery store to publicly join the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel for its human rights abuses.

Co-op board member Rob Richards explained, “My hope is that by being the first in the US to adopt the boycott we act as a catalyst for other co-ops to join in. Each additional organizational entity that joins may have a very small effect on the big picture, but drop by drop fills the tub.”
Noah Sochet, a Co-op member and OlympiaBDS organizer adds, “As a US citizen and as a Jew, I’m proud to say that my Co-op no longer underwrites the suffering in Palestine.”

In accordance with its mission statement, the Olympia Food Co-op has a longstanding boycott policy, which includes a boycott of China (for its occupation of Tibet) and a previous boycott of Colorado (for legalizing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in 1992). The Co-op also has policies for rejecting items whose packaging feature exploitive or oppressive imagery.

One Israeli product is exempt from the boycott: “Peace Oil,” a brand of olive oil fairly traded from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and the Galilee, will continue to be carried by the Co-op.
The boycott follows on the heels of a similarly historic event at the nearby Evergreen State College. On June 2, students at the Olympia-based college voted overwhelmingly to approve two resolutions calling on the college’s foundation to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as calling on the college to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment due to Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. The college is the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

News of the boycott has drawn praise from around the world, including in Israel. “I salute the great work of the people in Olympia,” said Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force captain and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. “The decision taken by the Olympia Food Co-op is an important step toward just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine. It is also a step toward accountability for Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie.”

The BDS movement began in 2005 when over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in Israel and in Palestine issued a call for the nonviolent tactic of BDS on Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights standards. The BDS call has become an international movement, endorsed by renowned figures such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker. The Co-op boycott comes two months after Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, declared a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.

Israel has responded to the BDS movement by arresting prominent Palestinian endorsers. The Knesset is currently considering legislation to outlaw endorsement of BDS by Israelis.

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