Thursday, March 27, 2008

Twilight Zone / When charity ends at home

Twilight Zone / When charity ends at home

By Gideon Levy
March 15, 2008

The ovens have been brought downstairs, into hiding. The two bagel and cake bakeries have already been closed by army order. The Israel Defense Forces confiscated the ovens in one of them, but the employees in the other bakery managed to rescue and hide theirs. The popular clothing shop Pretty Woman, in the heart of the bustling mall in Hebron, and its neighbor, Mama Care, the high-end shop for baby clothes, are about to close. The same is true of the new and spacious supermarket, the modern physical-therapy institute, the beauty salon, the barbershop and the library: Everything will be closed by order of the GOC Central Command. Local food and clothing warehouses were also emptied out by the IDF last week, with an inventory worth about NIS 750,000, designated for the impressive orphanages of the Islamic Charity Movement. The goods were loaded onto trucks and confiscated.

In the well-kept orphanage we visited this week, the hundreds of children were eating only majadera (a rice-and-lentil dish) and yogurt for lunch: There is no meat, no chicken, no fish; everything has been taken away. The gates of the movement`s new school, a handsome stone building designed for 1,200 pupils, have also been welded shut by the IDF.

The army has declared war on the Islamic Charity Movement in Hebron , in the context of the war against Hamas, the war against terror. After emptying the offices of the city`s money changers of cash reserves several weeks ago, the next strategic target is the private bakeries and shops in the city, whose owners happen to lease their places of business from the owner of the buildings: the Islamic Charity Movement.

How pathetic is an occupation army that empties out warehouses of food and clothing earmarked for orphans; how absurd is GOC Central Command Major General Gadi Shamni, who signs closure orders for beauty salons and clothing shops; how outrageous is the confiscation of industrial refrigerators in which food for children is kept; how cruel is a military regime that closes libraries used by young people; how ridiculous are the excuses that closing bakeries contributes to the war against terror; how foolish is the battle against dairies whose products are earmarked for these children; and how difficult is the situation of the Israeli occupation in the territories if it must resort to such contemptible activities in order to establish its status.

The Islamic Charity Movement in Hebron was established in 1962, long before the birth of Hamas, shortly before the beginning of the Israeli occupation. Since then the organization has established a ramified network of educational and welfare institutions, and has acquired a great deal of real estate all over the city, with the declared aim of providing assistance to the needy - mainly to local orphans and the children of the poor. The legal adviser of the movement, attorney Abd al-Karim Farah, young and energetic in an elegant suit and a well-kempt beard, who does not hesitate to shake women`s hands and is now studying Hebrew at a local ulpan, says that in the early days of the occupation the Military Administration helped and encouraged the activity of the charitable movement. He himself is a product of its institutions.

Today the Islamic Charity Movement cares for 7,000 orphans and children in distress from Hebron and surrounding villages. There are 350 youngsters at its boarding schools and 1,200 pupils attending its three city schools; another six are in outlying towns. The children have lost one or both parents, or come from severely distressed homes. Only a small percentage are children of the fallen. The movement`s institutions employ 550 people, assisted by hundreds of volunteers. Their monthly budget is 400,000 Jordanian dinars, over NIS 2 million. Attorney Farah says everything is supervised by accountants and the Palestinian Authority`s welfare and education ministries. Also, the curricula in the movement`s educational institutions are identical to those of the PA, according to Farah, who emphasizes that `everything is legal.`

Most of its budget comes from donations from abroad - from Arab countries, and European and American agencies - but the charitable organization also has quite a number of independent sources of income: from buildings and modern commercial centers all over Hebron that it owns and leases to private tenants and businessmen, two bakeries, a sewing workshop and a dairy, whose products are used by the children in the institutions and are also for sale in the open market. The movement has a board of directors that is elected biannually and was headed by Dr. Adnan Maswadi, an ear, nose and throat specialist, who was recently released from detention in Israel and was forced to resign. About 30 additional employees are presently under arrest for belonging to the organization.

`I would like to emphasize,` says Farah, `that our movement has no official connection with Hamas. Perhaps some of our workers belong to Hamas, just as in other institutions such as the municipalities, but there is no formal connection. Nor are there transfers of money to Hamas, as Israel claims. Our financial reports are open and transparent. We are in no way the infrastructure of Hamas.`

Since 2002 the IDF has raided the movement`s offices many times, confiscating a computer here and taking away files there, detaining employees for investigation, issuing closure orders. But what has happened in recent days is unprecedented. On February 26, the IDF carried out a raid and issued seven closure orders for institutions associated with the movement. Last Friday it also raided its 500-square-meter food and clothing warehouse. Closure orders were also issued against all the stores and commercial centers owned by the movement.

Attorney Farah says he would have been happy had the IDF explained the steps it took, and what is permitted or forbidden in terms of his organization. The movement has already hired the services of Israeli attorney Jawad Bulus, who will appeal to the attorney general on its behalf and try to overturn the evil decree. Researcher Musa Abu-Hashhash has written a report on behalf of the B`Tselem human-rights organization.

Meanwhile, we go on a tour of Hebron accompanied by Farah, to see the results of the war the GOC Central Command has launched against Hamas.

First stop is the Mercy Bakery, a shop and a gallery, which makes savory and sweet confections. A paper declaring `Confiscation order and closure` is pasted on the display window, in Hebrew, signed by GOC Shamni. `In the context of my authority,` etc.; there are still bagels for sale. The bakery`s staff was told that until April 1 they are allowed to sell them, although Shamni`s order went into effect in February - for three years. Why for three years? Perhaps then the movement will change its ways. Three years with education, but without food. To be on the safe side, the bakers took the forbidden ovens away from here in time. Two sacks of white flour donated by the World Food Program and the European Union remain in the empty premises.

The neighboring store, a modern and luxurious supermarket, lacks for nothing. Its owner has rented the premises from the Islamic Charity Movement, and therefore it has been condemned to closure. `Confiscation order and closure. From April 1 all activity involving equipment found on the business` premises will be forbidden, and the military commander will act to realize his ownership and to seize said equipment.` All in the usual inarticulate and absurd language of the IDF.

The owner of the supermarket, Mujahid al-Atrash, opened his large store only three months ago and invested NIS 500,000 in it. `Don`t I have anything to say about this?` he asks. `Where will I go?` Ein Gedi mineral war, Tnuva sour cream, cans of Red Bull, Huggies diapers, Head & Shoulders shampoo, Osem petit-beurre cookies, Strauss ice creams. The adjacent shop, Ayman`s barbershop, has a closure order on the window. The same is true along Nimara Street, the `street of the tiger.`

On King Faisal Street, Hebron`s answer to Dizengoff, Pretty Woman and Mama Care are both full of customers. Spacious stores, two floors, dozens of women, all wearing head scarves. Pretty Woman`s owner, Lina Karaki, opened the store nine years ago and says she invested about another NIS 1 million in expanding and renovating it about a year ago. The store really is elegant, with a marble floor and chandeliers. `I don`t belong to any organization or any party. I have nothing to do with all this. What is illegal about my store? They gave us a month to get out. Where will we go? This is not a street stall that can be closed in a month,` Karaki says.

On the second floor is the evening-gown department, the best of Hebron fashion for NIS 3,000 per dress. There are 18 employees in the shop, who are liable to lose their livelihood. The end-of-season sale is in full swing, but Karaki emphasizes that it has nothing to do with the closure order. This is only the end of winter and the beginning of summer fashions. She still hopes that the edict will be canceled.

We enter the far reaches of the mall, over which the general`s closure order hovers. And what do we have here, in this bastion of Hamas? A cosmetics store, two clothing shops, The Gap and Calvin Klein in the display windows. There`s a closure order on the dental clinic of Dr. Rima Kawasmeh on the second floor, and also on the door of the private physical-therapy and fitness institute of Dr. Mohammed Amaru, this time signed by Colonel Yehuda Fuchs, the Hebron brigade commander. Shamni and Fuchs have apparently divided the responsibilities between them: Shamni signs the orders for bakeries and Fuchs for fitness clubs. Together with his Ukrainian doctor-wife, Amaru opened the place in 1998 and equipped it with the best rehabilitation and fitness devices. A month ago he completed another renovation in the luxurious institute: sophisticated treatment beds, a Jacuzzi, exercise machines, silent air conditioning, a therapeutic pool and even a `beauty machine` designed for people who suffer from paralysis of the face. Amaru says the patients are afraid to come since the IDF raided the club, about a month ago: `There is no law in the world that will do this to me. I don`t belong to any group, I am not connected to anyone. I only pay rent here.`

On the floor above is the public relations office of the Islamic Charity Movement: rooms that have been emptied of their contents, except for two heaters, which were apparently too heavy for the IDF`s `porters.` Farah says that in the IDF liaison office there are probably already whole containers full of equipment seized from his organization. Its public library for youth, on the third floor of the mall, is also supposed to be closed. It contains 18,800 books, cataloged and classified, about science and religion, plus computers and even tapes for learning Hebrew. Everything will soon be closed, by order.

The IDF spokesman`s response: `During recent weeks forces of the IDF, the Shin Bet security services and the Civil Administration have been operating in order to strike at the institutions of the Islamic Charity Movement, which belongs to the Hamas terror organization and works to increase support for the organization, to disseminate its ideas, to find and enlist activists, and to transfer money for terrorist activity.

`Hamas activity is carried out under the civilian cover of support for the population and charity, but in fact the goal of the movement is to strengthen the power and control of the terror organization Hamas, as part of the expansion of terrorist activity against the State of Israel and its attempt to increase power in Judea and Samaria.

`In the context of the activities and protests of the Islamic Charity Movement in Hebron, the movement has transferred money to terror activists and their families, educated young people in the spirit of jihad, supported the families of shaheeds [martyrs] and prisoners, and worked to disseminate Hamas principles among the Palestinian population. By these acts the Hamas terror organization has exploited the Palestinian population and its weaker elements, in order to harness them to the terror network.

`In the context of the activity, the IDF operated against a number of economic assets of the Islamic Charity Movement in Hebron, and ordered their closure and the confiscation of some of their property. These assets constituted a source of income for the Hamas terror organization, which earned substantial sums of money from them for terrorist activity. The IDF will continue to adopt all the means at its disposal against the terror organizations and those who help them, and against Hamas in particular, in order to provide security to the inhabitants of the State of Israel.`

The orphanage is located in a pleasant neighborhood on the western slopes of the city, at the edge of a vineyard. Everything is so clean and well-kept - the dining room, the bathrooms, the bedrooms and the classrooms used by 150 children. It is hard to believe that here, in these buildings, live dozens of youngsters in distress. Now they are out in the yard, preparing to enter the dining room for lunch. The discipline is strict and the order is exemplary. Grace for meals is posted on the wall. The children are well-dressed; their bedrooms have posters of native birds on the walls. Mohammed is fatherless, Mahmoud is motherless. All the children with whom I spoke are from severely deprived backgrounds. Outside there is a garden and a shady place to sit, large sports fields with a mosque next to them. Six in a room, they sleep in attractive wooden beds covered with flowered bedspreads. Every residential wing also has a large guest room with armchairs and a television, `so the children will feel at home.`

It is doubtful whether they ever lived in such conditions. It is also doubtful whether they will be able to continue to live like this, if the IDF continues to confiscate, to close and to destroy

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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