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December 19, 2011

Bus to Jerusalem stopped after woman refuses to move to back

Saturday, December 17 2011|Ami Kaufman

All Tanya Rosenblit wanted to do was get on a bus to Jerusalem. She didn’t have any plans to turn into the Israeli Rosa Parks, when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews demanded she move to the back of the bus

Tanya Rosenblit

It was supposed to be just another regular Friday morning for Tanya Rosenblit. Tanya had to get from her hometown Ashdod to Jerusalem for a meeting there. On the way, Rosenblit experienced one of the most intimidating stories of religious coercion I’ve seen lately: She was told by a Haredi man to get to the back of the bus, or nobody was going to go anywhere.

And what do you think Rosenblit did? That’s right – she stayed put. And she took pictures of the whole ordeal and later wrote about it on Facebook. Here’s her story, which I publish a part of with her permission:

A bus ride to Jerusalem taking the wrong turn…

I lived in Israel all my life. I was brought up in a free country and I was taught the value of freedom as a basic right that could never be undermined by anyone. All my life, during my teens, my military service, my university years and then after I always felt as equal among my peers. I was always proud to be a woman and never felt deprived or weakened by men, until today.I had an appointment in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem and looked for easy transportation on a Friday morning. After checking the official Egged site, which is the leading bus company in Israel, I decided to take line 451 from Ashdod (my hometown) to Jerusalem. I chose this line because it stopped a mere five minute walk from my scheduled appointment.The driver looked at the station where I was standing and didn’t stop. I had to signal him by raising my hand for him to stop. When I entered the bus he looked surprised. He explained that the only ones who go on the bus are Orthodox Jews. I sat behind him in the first row and asked for him to tell me when we get to my station.At the next stop, Orthodox Jews started mounting the bus. At first, they just stared at me, but said nothing and moved on to sit somewhere in the bus behind us. Only one passenger decided that he preferred standing on the stairs near the driver, although there was plenty of space. I didn’t mind that, and focused on the music in my ears. But then, another one entered the bus, but instead of entering, he prevented the driver from closing the door. He looked at me with despise, and when I took off the earphones, I heard him call me “Shikse”, which means “whore” in Yiddish. He demanded I sit in the back of the bus, because Jewish men couldn’t sit behind women (!!!). I refused.

The driver tried to talk to him, explained that he was late, but the “penguin” wouldn’t budge. Another passenger, also religious and orthodox asked the driver to be refunded because he was gonna miss his meeting. He also said that he didn’t mind what was going on, he just wanted to get to where he was going and that the fact that they decided to stop the bus is a good reason for the driver to give him his money back. For company policy, he didn’t, but that’s a different story.

The driver understood he was not going to move anytime soon, so he called the police. Until that moment, no one tried to talk to me. The only comment I heard was from the initiator of this whole mess ordering me to sit in the back of the bus as a sign of respect. In the meantime, a crowd started forming outside the bus, as a result of his cries. I was starting to get scared, to tell you the truth. There were like 20 of them, all wearing black. Most of them were just curious, but they were definitely on his side.

After a while, the police came. It was one officer who first talked to the driver. The driver explained to him that he didn’t tell me anything and that they wouldn’t budge. Then, the officer had a long conversation with the person who started this whole mess. It seemed quite friendly, and in the end, the policeman came to me and asked me if I was willing to respect them and sit in the back of the bus. I answered that I respected them enough by wearing modest cloths, because I knew I was going to an Orthodox neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be humiliated by those who can’t even respect their own mothers and wives.

The officer stepped down and so did the leader of the little protest that was going on. He stayed in Ashdod, while the rest of the Orthodox Jews, including those who got on the bus later on boarded the bus and quietly went to sit behind me. The person who chose to stand on the stairs at the beginning remained on the stairs sitting and praying throughout the entire bus ride, because he wouldn’t sit behind a woman!!!

The entire delay took about half an hour, but we managed to arrive on time. In the neighborhood, I met some very pleasant people who were very happy and eager to help me when I asked for directions, men and women, Orthodox and religious. When I later decided to take a walk around the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, I was again treated as an equal, as a secular woman, with the utmost respect and sympathy, by men and women of all streams.

The reason I am posting this story is not to declare the Orthodox Jews as pure evil and the oppressors of human rights and liberties. I want to point out that this is a social and educational problem. There are a lot of lovely things about religion, but forcing people to choose religion is wrong. It is wrong to use religion as an excuse to eliminate people’s basic rights: the right for freedom and the right for dignity.

Waiting for Rosenblit to move to the back, preventing driver from moving (photo: Tanya Rosenblit)
A crowd gathers outside (Photo: Tanya Rosenblit)
He won’t sit behind a woman (photo: Tanya Rosenblit)
Policeman speaks to “head” of protest (photo: Tanya Rosenblit)
Most passengers just didn’t care (photo :Tanya Rosenblit)
Tanya’s story filled me with mixed emotions. First and foremost, I am in awe of her bravery. I don’t think there was any danger of violence, but to stand up to that kind of intimidation shows an inner strength of a very special kind.

And, of course, it filled me with anger. That the policeman actually asked her to move. And that this is what Israel is turning in to. It’s a slow process. But it’s steady.

Tanya wishes to make sure that her cry is not against the ultra-Orthodox as a whole and does not wish to turn this into a religious war of any kind. As she told me today: “The extremists are the problem. In Israel 2011 we are waging a battle for individual rights. We should fight for freedom and tolerance for all.”

I agree with Tanya that these are extremists. But I also believe their numbers are on the rise, and that the current political system has shown no interest whatsoever in changing the tide.

P.S. I just have to add that as much as I don’t like the word “shikse”, I don’t particularly approve of the term “penguin” as well. I can only presume it was written when emotions ran high.

Rudd seeks action on torture allegations involving Palestinian children

by John Lyons

The Australian

17 December 2011

AUSTRALIA will raise concerns with Israel about its juvenile military court system, which has been accused of jailing and torturing Palestinian children as young as 12.

Following a report in The Weekend Australian Magazine three weeks ago, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has instructed Australian diplomats to visit the juvenile military court.

The diplomats have been told to report to Mr Rudd on the conditions they find at the Ofer military prison, near Jerusalem.

According to a statement from Mr Rudd’s office, he has also instructed Australian officials to initiate a meeting with Israeli authorities to raise concerns about the system under which Palestinian children are tried.

Sixty of Israel’s leading psychologists, academics and child experts have written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that “offensive arrests and investigations that ignore the law do not serve to maintain public order and safety”.

The Weekend Australian Magazine reported that allegations included : a boy kept in solitary confinement for 65 days ; other boys in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day ; a seven-year-old boy in Jerusalem taken for interrogation who says he was hit during questioning ; three children being given electric shocks by hand-held devices to force them to confess ; dog’s food being put on the head and near the genitals of a blindfolded boy and a dog being brought in to eat it while his interrogators laughed.

The magazine reported that, since January, 2007, Defence of Children International has collected and translated into English 385 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children held in Israeli detention who claim to have suffered serious abuse : electric shocks, beatings, threats of rape, being stripped naked, solitary confinement, threats that their families’ work permits will be revoked and “position abuse” – which involves a child being placed in a chair with their feet shackled and hands tied behind their back, sometimes for hours.

A 10-year-old boy testified : “A soldier pointed his rifle at me. The rifle barrel was a few centimetres from my face. I was so terrified that I started to shiver. He made fun of me and said, ’Shivering ? Tell me where the pistol is before I shoot you’.”

A 15-year-old boy testified that he was tied to a metal pipe and beaten by a soldier and that an interrogator placed a device against his body and gave him an electric shock, saying : “If you don’t confess I’ll keep shocking you.” He said the interrogator gave him another electric shock, at which point he could no longer feel his arms or legs, felt pain in his head and confessed.

Gerard Horton, an Australian lawyer dealing with many of the cases in his role at DCI, said one Israeli interrogator working in the settlement, Gush Etzion, “specialises in threatening children with rape” to get confessions.

One woman involved in the YMCA’s rehabilitation program for children who have been under Israeli detention, Fadia Saleh, told The Australian as part of its investigation : “Last week, one boy described to me how dogs were present in the army jeep. In those jeeps, you have chairs on each side and an empty space in the middle – the children are put there, on the floor. Sometimes soldiers step on them.

“Every time the child moved, one of the dogs would bite him. When he arrived at the interrogation centre, his arm was bleeding. It was a short trip but he felt like (it was) a year.”

The Weekend Australian Magazine reported that, while diplomatic and parliamentary missions from many countries had visited the juvenile court, Australian diplomats had appeared to show no obvious interest in the court.

Mr Horton said Australia had been “conspicuously silent” about possible human rights abuses against Palestinian children.

He told the magazine : “It is disappointing that, of all the diplomatic missions in the region, Australia has been conspicuously silent on the issue of the military courts.”

Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Andrea Faulkner, was told of the treatment of children more than a year ago.

Although informed of the issue, neither Ms Faulkner nor any other Australian representative has visited the court.

The Weekend Australian Magazine was given rare access for the media to the court – it was allowed to visit on three separate occasions over the last year, with the Israeli Defence Forces, as part of this investigation.

This week, an Australian official has begun meetings on the issue in preparation for a visit to the juvenile court by Australian diplomats.

Most of the children before the military court are charged with stone-throwing and sentenced to prison terms ranging from two weeks to 10 months.

The Israeli Defence Forces reported at least 2766 incidents of rock-throwing against them or passing cars this year.

Israeli police say a crash in September in which a man and his infant son were killed may have been caused by a rock hitting their car.

Authorities in Israel did not want to discuss individual cases of children but the country’s international spokesman Yigal Palmor said there were “many things” that needed to improve and that Israel was working with human rights groups and making “slow reform and improvement”.

The treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank, which is under Israeli military occupation, is in contrast to the treatment of children in Israel.

In Israel, a child cannot be sent to jail until the age of 14, while Palestinian children are being jailed from the age of 12 ; in Israel a child cannot be interrogated without a parent present ; in Israel a child cannot be interrogated at night, while most of the Palestinian children being taken from their homes are detained between midnight and 5am ; in Israel the maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours, while in the West Bank it is 90 days.

In recent times, the military court has been visited by diplomats or parliamentary delegations from the UK, the US, the European Union, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Cyprus and the United Nations.

Mr Horton says that before most cases are taken up, DCI requires a sworn affidavit.

He told the magazine of the common treatment for many children : “Once bound and blindfolded, the child will be led to a waiting military vehicle and in about one-third of cases will be thrown on the metal floor for transfer to an interrogation centre.

“Sometimes the children are kept on the floor face down with the soldiers putting their boots on the back of their necks, and the children are handcuffed, sometimes with plastic handcuffs, which cut into their wrists. Many children arrive at the interrogation centres bruised and battered, sleep-deprived and scared.”

Mr Horton said the whole point of this treatment was to get the children to confess as quickly as possible.

In one case, even though a child insisted that a confession he had signed was not true, as he had signed it only after pressure, he was convicted on the basis of the confession.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said that, during Israel’s last appearance before the UN Universal Periodic Review Working Group, Australia questioned Israel about reported mistreatment of detainees.

She said the government universally opposes the detention of minors.

“The Australian government’s long held view is that all children, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or other differences, should enjoy the same legal and human rights protections,” she said.

17 décembre 2011 – The Australian – available to subscribers only

Refugees relate tales of terror

Syrians talk about chilling cycle of abductions, beatings and killings

    • By Alexandra Zavis and Rima Marrouch
    •  December 19, 2011
    • Gulf News
Lebanese mourners carry the body of Khalid Al Hujairi during his funeral

  • Image Credit: AFP
  • Lebanese mourners carry the body of Khalid Al Hujairi during his funeral in the eastern village of Arsal on the Lebanese-Syrian border on Saturday, after he died of wounds sustained in shootings at the border.

Wadi Khalid, Lebanon: In a rocky valley at the northern tip of Lebanon, three generations of a Syrian farming family cluster around a small gas heater in the derelict schoolhouse that has become their refuge.

Interrupting one another in a rush to be heard, family members describe communities under siege by an iron-fisted state, and village turning against village in a chilling cycle of abductions, beatings and killings.

The account given by the family, echoed by others across a valley brimming with refugees, illustrates Syria’s descent from a mostly peaceful uprising into ferocious bloodletting that in some places is beginning to resemble civil war.

Around Homs, military defectors and civilians, most of them members of the Sunni Muslim majority, are taking up arms to defend their communities against security forces controlled by members of President Bashar Al Assad’s minority Alawite sect, a small Shiite Muslim offshoot.

Article continues below

Uncorroborated

Sunnis have dominated the anti-government protests. Bodies have been dumped in the streets, conjuring images of the sectarian killing that ripped apart neighbouring Iraq. Because foreign reporters have mostly been barred from Syria, the family’s stories couldn’t be independently corroborated.

But their accounts were consistent with reports from human rights groups and anti-Al Assad activists. Leaders in this valley, so close that explosions in Syria can be heard, say that as many as 3,000 refugees are being sheltered here by families and in schools.

Umm Faris’ family, Sunnis, chafed under the Al Assad family, which has controlled the government for decades. But they never dared speak out. “You didn’t think of protesting,” Abu Faris said. But when they saw popular uprisings topple longtime rulers in Tunisia and Egypt early this year, they began to wonder whether Syria too could change.

Marches

At first, only a few men from the family took part in small marches down the main road of their village. But when security forces opened fire in March, allegedly shooting one of the protesters in the head, the whole family was galvanised into action.

The more lives lost, the bigger the protests became, they said. Before sunrise one August morning, electricity in the village was cut and armed forces swooped in.

Hoping they would leave the family alone, Abu Faris said, he went out to offer the men water. But he said they descended on his home, smashing dishes and furniture, snatching computers and knocking down the ceiling fans.

Among those taking part in the raid were people they said they recognised from a neighbouring Alawite village who had joined pro-Al Assad militias known as the Shabiha, an expression derived from the Arabic word for ghosts. Al Assad retains considerable support among minorities who fear they will be killed if the government falls.

Seventy-five people were arrested in the village that day, according to the family.

The bodies of two were returned to their families and, of the others, three have not been heard from since, they said.

In another abandoned school nearby, now home to more than 20 families, a gaunt young painter named Abu Farad and his pale, expressionless wife related a painful loss and a much more difficult time fleeing Syria. Abu Farad cradled his newborn son.

They came from the southern Daraa region, where he said he would sit on friends’ shoulders and lead protest chants. Security forces came looking for him, and when they didn’t find him, took away the couple’s three-year-old son. Soon after, Abu Farad was caught.

Home shelled

In detention, he was beaten, cut with razor blades, given electric shocks and then left on the street for dead. Friends found him and hid him. He then learned that his home had been shelled.

He raced back to find a pile of rubble. That’s when his wife told him their son’s body had been returned with three bullet wounds. When the couple fled, Abu Farad’s wife was eight months pregnant with their second child.

They walked for four days, with a bottle of water and two loaves of bread to sustain them. They reached Lebanon late last month and found refuge in the corner of a classroom here. Days later, their second son was born.

— Los Angeles Times

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