Are UK banks targeting Muslim charities?
Muslim charities claim discrimination after major UK banks began closing their accounts.
Simon HooperLast updated: 05 Aug 2014 13:04
Muslim charities and individuals are angry after big banks closed their accounts [Getty Images]
London, United Kingdom - Some Islamic charities in the UK have considered moving their financial affairs abroad amid concerns that they could be frozen out of the British banking system after several Muslim organisations and individuals linked to them had their accounts closed without explanation.
HSBC, the UK’s largest bank, faced accusations of prejudice against Muslims after sending letters last week to a London mosque, a Gaza-focused aid charity, and the leader of a prominent Islamic think tank notifying them that they were outside the bank’s “risk appetite” and giving them two months to withdraw their money.
Those who received the letters included Anas Altikriti, the head of the Cordoba Foundation think tank and a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, who said that HSBC had also written to members of his family, including his 14- and 12-year-old sons.
In a statement, the Cordoba Foundation said that those affected had been “confronted with a wall of silence” when they had sought further clarification from the bank and called on HSBC to issue an unequivocal apology.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, a mosque once associated with radical preachers that reopened under entirely new management in 2005, also received the letter and said it might take legal action and called for a customer boycott of the bank.
“Our legal advisor has said that while the bank has acted within its terms and conditions, if they have specifically targeted Muslim organisations then this decision can be challenged under discrimination laws,” said Kozbar.
Another organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain, said it had opened an account with HSBC earlier this year, only for the bank to close it three days later, stating that it “did not meet the criteria to hold a bank account”.
The dreaded ‘T-word’
A spokesman for another charity, Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS), which supports the families of Muslim prisoners accused of terrorism offences, told Al Jazeera that its account had been frozen with immediate effect in the past month by another bank, Barclays.
“The impact is devastating. Your reputation takes a hit obviously and the only thing I can see is the fact that we deal with the families of people who are suspected of being involved in terrorism,” Fahad Ansari, a lawyer speaking on behalf of HHUGS, told Al Jazeera.
“That T-word is obviously a risk factor for them, but for us, we are dealing with women and children, mothers and wives, and there is no reason why they should be criminalised. There are scores of prisoner support groups in this country and they have never had any problems with bank accounts. Muslims are second-class citizens and there is no other explanation for it.”
CAGE, a civil liberties group that campaigns against counter-terrorism policies, said that its accounts with both Barclays and the Co-operative Bank had been shut down earlier in the year after its director, Moazzam Begg, was arrested and charged with terrorism offences.
Begg has pleaded not guilty to the charges, while CAGE has published a letter from the UK Treasuryconfirming that it is not subject to any financial restrictions.
“I think there has been some sort of pressure placed on [the banks], but we just don’t know. A problem with the lack of regulation in the banking sector is that it is almost impossible to challenge these things,” Asim Qureshi, CAGE’s research director, told Al Jazeera.
“There appear to be forces at play that are seeking to cripple organisations at the heart of Muslim community; it smacks of religious discrimination and Islamophobia.”
Number of banks involved growing
Abdurahman Sharif, operations manager at the Muslim Charities Forum, said he knew of other charities that had so far not identified themselves publicly that had also had financial services withdrawn.
“It’s not one bank, it’s a number of banks and it is growing actually,” Sharif told Al Jazeera. “The problem is that once one bank does this it sets a precedent that other banks follow. That is a serious matter because in a couple of months you could see no Islamic charities having a bank account in this country.”
Muslim aid charities have been under increased scrutiny this year because of concerns that Britons intent on fighting in Syria have been using humanitarian convoys as cover to travel to the war zone and fears that donations raised in the UK could be reaching armed extremist groups.
William Shawcross, the head of the Charity Commission, said in April that Islamic extremism was “potentially the most deadly” problem that the regulator faced.
But Sharif said greater scrutiny of charities’ finances prompted by international money laundering concerns and tougher UK counter-terrorism laws had disproportionately affected Muslim charities.
“The issue is one of perception. People assume that anything with the name ‘Islamic’ on it is suspicious and that is the biggest challenge we are facing at the moment, and that is why we are seeing accounts closed down.”
Last month, David Anderson, the UK’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that the withdrawal of banking services to charities because of more stringent counter-terrorism legislation risked impeding “positive and worthwhile NGO activity” and called for dialogue between policy makers and NGOs to resolve the issue.
But representatives of some affected charities believe other factors may explain the banks’ withdrawal of services.
Linked to Gaza?
Muhammad Ahmad, a spokesman for the Ummah Welfare Trust, an aid charity given notice by HSBC, said he believed the closure of the group’s account was linked to its work in Gaza, where it maintains a field office. The charity’s account also was shut down by Barclays in 2008 during a previous Israeli assault on the besieged Palestinian territory.
“People are dying on the ground. People don’t know where to turn because they have lost everything and all we are trying to do is give them some kind of relief. The banks may have the financial power but when it comes to weighing them on the scales of morality, I wouldn’t say they had one percent left now after what they have done,” Ahmad told Al Jazeera.
Others criticised banks for taking action at a time which affected charities’ ability to raise money during Ramadan, their most important fundraising opportunity of the year.
Ansari said that HHUGS had come close to closing its doors after discovering its account had been frozen just days before Ramadan when donors reported that standing orders were being rejected. The charity has previously had accounts closed by two other banks, HSBC and Lloyds-TSB.
“We had literature that was published for Ramadan with the bank details and all of that had to be thrown in the bin and republished. We had no access to funds, we had salaries to pay, rent and bills to pay, and apart from that we had our beneficiaries who are reliant on us. Ultimately, thank God, we survived but each time our income has diminished rapidly and it is harder to get back on our feet.”
Ansari said the charity was now considering moving its financial affairs abroad.
“We are exploring all options at the moment. An overseas account is far from ideal because it looks suspicious and we incur charges, but we need to have something in place so that we can carry on with minimum disruption because what is happening now is an absolute nightmare.”
A Charity Commission spokesperson told Al Jazeera none of the charities named in this story were currently the subject of investigations but said that business relationships between charities and their banks were not a matter for the regulator to become involved in.
“We know that this has put the charities in great difficulty. We haven’t heard from the banks as to what might have motivated this and the charities haven’t been told either,” the spokesperson said.
“Our position is clear; charities need a bank account to operate safely and effectively. We would have serious concerns if a charity were not able to operate because of a lack of banking services.”
Bank denies discrimination
HSBC told Al Jazeera that it had comprehensive rules in place to ensure race and religion were never factors in banking decisions and said discrimination against customers was “immoral, unacceptable and illegal”.
It said it had exited relationships with customers in 70 countries as part of a global review of its businesses after being fined $1.9bn by US authorities in 2012 over poor money laundering controls exploited by Latin American drug cartels to move hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC accounts.
The bank last year appointed Jonathan Evans, the former chief of the UK’s MI5 intelligence agency and an expert on Islamic extremism, to head a committee tasked with reducing its vulnerability to financial crime.
Barclays and the Co-operative Bank said they could not comment on specific customers’ affairs.
In an Eid message last week, David Cameron, the British prime minister, paid tribute to the “inspiring amount of charity” participated in and funded by British Muslims.
But charity officials say that access to banking facilities is vital for transparency and good governance and fear that fundraising and aid work in Muslim communities could otherwise be driven underground.
“The government has to understand that it is in their interest that genuine charities are able to operate freely without being hindered or abused in this way,” said Ahmad.
“Otherwise you are going to force Muslims who may have faith in some charities because of their Islamic principles to take charity into their own hands, and then the government will not know who the money is reaching.”
Gruesome Tales Surface of Israeli Massacres Against Families in Gaza Neighborhood
As the five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took hold on August 15, residents of Shujaiya returned to the shattered remains of their homes. They pitched tents and erected signs asserting their claim to their property, sorting determinedly through the ruins of their lives.
Those who managed to survive the Israeli bombardment have come home to bedrooms obliterated by tank shells, kitchens pierced by Hellfire missiles, and boudoirs looted by soldiers who used their homes as bases of operations before embarking on a series of massacres. Once a solidly middle-class suburb of Gaza City comprised of multi-family apartments and stately homes, the neighborhood of Shujaiya was transformed into a gigantic crime scene.
The attack on Shujaiya began at 11pm on July 19, with a combined Israeli bombardment from F-16s, tanks and mortar launchers. It was a night of hell which more than 100 did not survive and that none have recovered from. Inside the ruins of what used to be homes, returning locals related stories of survival and selflessness, detailing a harrowing night of death and destruction.
Outside a barely intact four-level, multi-family home that was hardly distinguishable from the other mangled structures lining the dusty roads of Shujaiya, I met members of the Atash family reclining on mats beside a makeshift stove. Khalil Atash, the 63-year-old patriarch of the family, motioned to his son heating a teapot above a few logs and muttered, “They’ve set us back a hundred years. Look at us, we’re now burning wood to survive.”
Bombed-out remnants of Shujaiya after Israeli bombing. Photo by Max Blumenthal.
Khalil Atash led me inside the home to see the damage. The walls of the second floor that was to have been home to two of his newly married children had been blown off by tank shells. All that was left of the bathroom were the hot and cold knobs on the shower. On the next floor, four small children scampered barefoot across shattered glass and jagged shards of concrete. A bunk bed and crib were badly singed in the attack. But the damage could have been far worse.
Khalil Atash with his grandson in the ruins of his home in Shujaiya. Photo by Dan Cohen.
As the attack on Shujaiya began, the Israeli army attempted to evacuate the Atash family, according to Khalil Atash, phoning them and ordering them out in Arabic. But the family was sure the call was a prank. When the army called again, a soldier exclaimed, “You think this is a joke? You have five minutes.” Three minutes later, an F-16 sent a missile through the roof. In an incredible stroke of luck, the missile did not explode. It remained lodged in the ceiling until a day prior to my visit, when a bomb detonation crew dismantled it.
I asked why the family remained in ruins when the army could attack again at any time.
“We have nowhere else to go now,” Khalil Atash explained. “You only die once and we’re not afraid after what we’ve been through. So we just decided to live in our house.”
The Atash family was among only a small handful willing to brave the nights in an area that was comprehensively flattened. Shujaiya stood within the long swath of Gaza Strip towns and cities that had been rendered uninhabitable by Israeli bombardment. All of these areas had one thing in common: They abutted the vast buffer zone the Israeli military had established between its border and the Gaza Strip. By pounding neighborhoods like Shujiaya and cities like Beit Hanoun until nearly all of their residents were forced to flee west for shelter, Israel was tightening the cage on the entire population.
Sprint for Survival
Khalil Atash’s son, 30-year-old Tamer, related his story of survival.
“The missiles started getting closer and began to hit everywhere so randomly,” he recalled, detailing how the strikes on Shujaiya gradually intensified after the first hour. “So I just lost it. I was watching my neighbors die and I was so close to them, I felt like I was dead too. I had two choices: Either I die doing nothing at that house or do something about it. So I chose to do something.”
Tamer called an ambulance crew and begged the driver to help transport his family out of the attack. “All I can do is pray for you,” the driver told him. But other first responders rushed headlong into the maelstrom, risking their lives to save as many of the fleeing residents as they could. By this time, the neighborhood was engulfed in flames and shrouded in darkness — Israeli forces had bombed all of its electricity towers. He and his family decided to make a run for it in the street. Neighbors followed closely behind them, embarking on a desperate sprint for survival as homes went up in flames around them.
Relying on cellphone flashlights to illuminate their path, the fleeing residents rushed ahead under withering shelling. Tens of people fell every few hundred meters, Tamer told me. But they continued anyway, sprinting for a full kilometer until they reached safety close to Gaza City.
As soon as he reached sanctuary, Tamer said he was overcome with guilt. Friends and neighbors were stuck in the neighborhood with no one to evacuate them. He decided to return to help anyone he could. “I’m from Shujaiyia, I have no other place to go, and we don’t own land,” he explained. “This is our only place here. So of course I came back.”
It was well past midnight, Shujaiya was in flames, and the Qassam Brigades — Hamas’ armed wing — was beginning to mobilize for a counterattack. “The situation outside was literally hell,” Tamer said.
In previous assaults on Gaza, Israeli forces met only light resistance. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, when the army attacked Gaza’s civilian population with indiscriminate firepower, most Israeli casualties were the result of fratricide. But this time was different. With little more than light weapons at their disposal, uniformed Qassam fighters engaged the Israelis at close distances, sometimes just a few meters away, exposing a glaring weakness of the Middle East’s most heavily equipped, technologically advanced armies. During the battle, Qassam fighters scored a hit on an Israeli armored personnel carrier, killing five soldiers inside, then momentarily captured the fatally wounded Lt. Shaul Oron.
The loss of soldiers and the possible capture of Oron — a situation that raised the specter of a politically devastating prisoner swap — sent Israeli forces into a vengeful frenzy. “The F-16s were no longer up in the sky bombing us, they were flying just above the houses,” Tamer recalled. “It felt like an atomic bomb with four F-16s coming one way and another four from the opposite direction, weaving between the houses. At this point, we realized we were not surviving. We said our last prayers, and that was it. Because we know that when the Israelis lose one of their soldiers they become lunatics. We just knew they had suffered something, we could sense it.”
Tamer watched some of his neighbors jump from fourth-floor windows as their homes burst into flames. Others rushed out in their night clothes, nearly nude, prompting him and other men to hand over their shirts and even their trousers to women scurrying half exposed through the darkened streets. After giving the shirt off his back to one woman, he gave his sandals to another who had sliced her feet open on rubble.
“Sure, I was crazy and stupid, but I just wanted for them to survive,” he said. “If I had to die, then fine, but someone had to make a sacrifice.”
By dawn, waves of survivors poured from Shujaiya into Gaza City. Sons had carried their fathers on their backs; mothers had hoisted children into lorries and ambulances; others searched frantically for missing family when they arrived, only to learn that they had fallen under the shelling. For many, it was another Nakba, a hellish reincarnation of the fateful days of 1948 when Zionist militias forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land. This time, however, there was almost nowhere for the refugees to flee.
Evidence of Chilling Plans
Back in Shujaiya, the shelling momentarily subsided for a one-hour ceasefire. But the International Committee of the Red Cross proved unable to evacuate those trapped in the area, possibly because of the Israeli army’s refusal to coordinate with its first responders or because the army had targeted its ambulances in airstrikes. Thus the stragglers and wounded were at the mercy of Israel’s Golani Brigade special forces troops, which had taken up positions at the edge of Shujaiya, occupying homes just east of the area’s main mosque.
I visited almost a dozen homes occupied by Israeli soldiers in eastern Shujaiya, wading through rubble and piles of shattered furniture in search of clues into the Israeli plans of operation. I found floors littered with bullet casings, sandbags used as foundations for heavy machine guns, sniper holes punched into walls just inches above floors, and piles of empty Israeli snack food containers.
In the stairwell at the entrance to one home I visited, soldiers had engraved a Star of David. In another, soldiers used markers to scrawl in mangled Arabic, “We did not want to enter Gaza but terrorist Hamas made us enter. Damn terrorist Hamas and their supporters.”
I found a wall in another home vandalized with the symbol of Beitar Jerusalem, the Jerusalem-based football club popular among the hardcore cadres of Israel’s right-wing. Below the Beitar logo was the slogan, “Price Tag,” referring to the vigilante terror attacks carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Graffiti by Israeli soldiers in a home in Shujaiya reads, “Price Tag.” Photo by Max Blumenthal.
In each home the soldiers occupied, I found walls etched with crude maps of the immediate vicinity. Each house was assigned a number, possibly to enable commanders to call in air and artillery strikes ahead of their forward positions. Names of soldiers, including those wounded or missing, were listed on several walls, but they were concealed with spray paint upon the troops’ departure.
In the ruins of a second-floor bedroom, in an empty ammo box under a tattered bed, a colleague discovered two laminated maps of Shujaiya. They were photographed by satellite at 10:32am on July 17, just days before the neighborhood was flattened. The date in the upper-right-hand corner of one map was written American-style, with the month before the day, raising the question of whether a US or Israeli satellite had captured the image. Outlined in orange was a row of homes numbered between 16 and 29; the homes immediately to their west were labeled with arrows indicating forward troop movements.
A map of Israeli army operations discovered in a destroyed home in Shujaiya. Photo by Max Blumenthal.
A local man who had accompanied us into the house pointed at the homes on the map outlined in orange, then motioned out the window to where they once stood. Every single house in that row had been obliterated by airstrikes. I looked back at the map and noticed that the dusty field we faced was labeled in Hebrew, “Soccer Field.” Two areas just west of the field were marked, “T.A. South” and “T.A. North,” perhaps a cryptic reference to Tel Aviv. Devised at least two days before the assault, the map sectioned Shujaiya into various areas of operation, with color-coded delineations that were impossible to decipher but suggested disturbing intentions.
Eran Efrati, a former Israeli combat soldier turned anti-occupation activist, interviewed several soldiers who participated in the assault on Shujaiya. “I can report that the official command that was handed down to the soldiers in Shujaiya was to capture Palestinian homes as outposts,” Efrati wrote. “From these posts, the soldiers drew an imaginary red line, and amongst themselves decided to shoot to death anyone who crosses it. Anyone crossing the line was defined as a threat to their outposts, and was thus deemed a legitimate target. This was the official reasoning inside the units.”
In the area occupied by Israeli soldiers, the killing that had previously taken place by air and distant artillery assaults took on a gruesomely intimate quality. It was there, in the ruins of their homes, that returning locals told me of the cold-blooded execution of their family members.
Massacres in Broad Daylight
At the eastern edge of the “Soccer Field” now occupied by tents and surrounded by demolished five-story apartment complexes, I met Mohammed Fathi Al Areer. A middle-aged man wearing an eyepatch, he led me through the first floor of his home, which was now a virtual cave furnished with a single sofa, then into what used to be his backyard, where the interior of his bedroom had been exposed by a tank shell. It was here, Al Areer told me, that four of his brothers were executed in cold blood. One of them, Hassan Al Areer, was mentally disabled and had little idea he was about to be killed. Mohammed Al Areer said he found bullet casings next to their heads when he discovered their decomposing bodies.
Just next door was the Shamaly family, one of the hardest hit in Shujaiya. Hesham Naser Shamaly, 25, described to me what happened when five members of his family decided to stay in their home to guard the thousands of dollars of clothing stocks they planned to sell through their family business. When soldiers approached the home with weapons drawn, Shamaly said his father emerged from the home with his hands up and attempted to address them in Hebrew.
“He couldn’t even finish the sentence before they shot him,” Shamaly told me. “He was only injured and fainted, but they thought he was dead so they left him there and moved on to the others. They shot the rest — my uncle, my uncle’s wife, and my two cousins — they shot them dead.”
Miraculously, Shamaly’s father managed to revive himself after laying bleeding for almost three days. He walked on his own strength toward Gaza City and found medical help. “Someone called me to tell me he was alive,” Shamaly said, “and I thought it was a joke.”
Hesham Shamaly’s 22-year-old cousin, Salem, was also executed by the Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions in the neighborhood. When Salem Shamaly returned to his neighborhood during the temporary ceasefire at 3:30pm on July 20 to search for missing family members alongside members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), he apparently crossed the imaginary red line drawn by the soldiers. When he waded into a pile of rubble, a single shot rang out from a nearby sniper, sending his body crumpling to the ground. As he attempted to get up, another shot struck him in the chest. A third shot left his body limp.
The incident was captured on camera by a local activist named Muhammad Abedullah, then disseminated across the world by the ISM. Israeli military spokespeople were strangely silent. Back in Gaza City, where survivors of the Shamaly family had taken shelter in a relative’s apartment, Salem Shamaly’s sister and cousin received an emailed link to the video.
Over the next three minutes, they watched Salem die. They knew it was him because they recognized the sound of his voice as he cried out for help.
Despair and Resistance
In an apartment on Remad Street in Gaza City, I met the parents, siblings and cousins of Salem Shamaly. They had been forced to relocate here after their home was completely obliterated by Israeli tank shells and drone strikes in Shujaiya. The apartment was crowded but impeccably clean. It was a more desirable arrangement than one of the UN schools where most of their neighbors lodged in squalid conditions with little to no privacy, though no less an indignity.
Salem Shamaly’s father, 62-year-old Khalil, said the family evacuated Shujaiya at 8am. As soon as they reached safety, they realized Salem was missing. “It’s impossible to put into words how difficult it was,” Khalil Shamaly said. “We waited for two or three days not knowing and when we found out, it was too difficult to handle. I have had to call on God and he helped me.”
The attacks on Shujaiya continued for days, making it impossible for the Shamaly family to retrieve Salem’s body. They beseeched the ICRC for help but after so many attacks on their vehicles from the Israeli army, which had declared all of Shujaiya a “closed military zone,” they were unwilling to approach the area. Salem’s father, Khalil, still believes his son might have been saved if he was evacuated right away.
When Salem’s family finally retrieved his body, they found it badly burned, almost unrecognizable, and tossed dozens of meters from the location where he had been killed by subsequent bombardments. The death toll had reached such unbearable levels he could not be buried in Shujaiya, where the cemetery was overfull. When Shamaly’s finally found a place to bury him, they had to open a pre-existing grave because that cemetery was also full. This was just one of many stories I heard this week of a rushed burial, a family thrown into chaos, and a young life truncated and denied dignity in death.
Salem’s cousin, Hind Al Qattawi, whipped out a laptop and played for me a clip of a report on the killing by NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin. Al Qattawi had wanted to demonstrate for me the international impact the incident made, but instead, she summoned barely submerged emotions back to the surface. As soon as the video of Salem’s murder began to play, his mother, Amina, sobbed openly.
“The real problem is not just losing your home in the bombardment,” Muhammad Al Qattawi, the brother of Hind, told me. “The problem is you have lost your future, you lose your hope, and you can even lose your mind. Two million people here are on the verge of losing their minds.”
He handed me a packet of pills that had been prescribed to various family members. Deprived of justice, they had been given antidepressants to numb their despair.
Among those suffering most was Salem’s younger brother. The slightly built 14-year-old recalled his brother as a bright accounting student who paid for his education by working in his father’s corner store. He was one of his best friends.
“We used to go out with him whenever we were bored and he used to take us places,” Waseem said, fighting back tears. “Now, he’s gone, and there’s no one else to fill his place.”
When Waseem recovered, I asked him what he wanted to be when he came of age. He replied without pause that he planned to join the resistance. A look of intentness had replaced his sorrow. He said he had not considered becoming a fighter until the war came down on Shujaiya.
When Hurricane Sandy battered the Eastern seaboard in 2012, it took down up to half of all cellular towers in the hardest-hit areas. The storm highlighted a flaw in our reliance on wireless phones as a primary means of communication. Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.
In a typical cell phone call, the signal travels through a cellular tower. LTE Direct cuts out that middleman. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.
Qualcomm and others will need to update their antennas and processors to take advantage of LTE Direct, so it will be a year or more before phones have this functionality. But an approved standard means companies can get working.
JERUSALEM — The Israeli eyeglass-shop owner accused of burning an Arab teenager alive last month led a “hunting expedition” to kill a Palestinian to avenge the murder of three Israeli yeshiva students, prosecutors say.
Many Israelis say they were appalled to see one of their own charged with murdering an Arab child. The revenge killing undercut Israel’s sense of moral superiority and exposed Israel to charges that Jewish extremists follow the same rules as Palestinian terror cells.
The criminal indictment against Yosef Haim Ben-David, 30, portrays him as a remorseless night stalker who prowled Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, armed with bottles of gasoline and plastic handcuffs, looking for a weak, vulnerable victim.
Ben-David’s attorneys have suggested that their client is mentally ill. Israeli police reports say he was taking medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Court filings show he was arrested briefly in 2012 after he told his therapist that he thought about strangling his infant daughter.
In a recent courtroom appearance, Ben-David proclaimed, “I am the messiah!” — an outburst that the families of his Arab victims fear was a calculated attempt to evade justice with an insanity defense.
The crime has roiled the deeply conservative, ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof, where the defendant’s father, a prominent rabbi named Saadiah Ben-David, raised 13 children and teaches classes in Jewish law at a yeshiva.
“This is against our Holy Torah and against the law,” the father was quoted as telling the Israeli Ynet news agency.
Yosef Haim Ben-David’s eyewear shop is in Geula, a dense, bustling commercial district in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. The store’s stock was recently cleared out and the business shuttered.
“He was a really good man. He was friends with everyone here,” said Yehuda Afgani, who works at a neighboring shop.
“I don’t care about the other guy,” Afgani said, referring to Ben-David’s teenage victim. “That’s what the stress of living here does to us.”
Ben-David rented a house in the Adam community, one of the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that are considered by much of the world to be a violation of international law, though Israel disputes this.
When Ben-David was arrested before dawn July 6, by plainclothes police wearing masks, neighbors first thought it was a terrorist attack.
His settlement boasts single-family villas, bougainvillea and sweeping views of the Judean hills. Neighbors said they had seen little of Ben-David since he moved to their quiet cul-de-sac 18 months ago. His wife was pleasant but kept to herself, minding their toddler daughter, they said.
Ben-David commonly wore jeans and brightly colored shirts instead of the black-and-white clothing of his ultra-Orthodox community.
A few days before the killing, he showed up two hours late to a Saturday religious service with his two teenage nephews, according to Rabbi Gur Lavi.
“They laughed and gave some excuse,” Lavi said. “This was not a serious man.”
The yeshiva of Ben-David’s father referred reporters to a family spokeswoman, who said Ben-David has had psychiatric issues since adolescence. She said his two accomplices, who were not named by authorities because they are minors, are relatives of his.
“Everyone here was against it. There is no ideology here of killing non-Jews,” said an elderly Jewish scholar with a long white beard and a tall black hat, sitting in a hushed room in a yeshiva filled with heavy books.
Ben-David’s first attack allegedly came after news broke June 13 of thekidnapping of the three Israeli yeshiva students as they hitchhiked home from the West Bank.
After midnight on June 15, Ben-David and a young accomplice went to an Arab-owned store. They broke the windows with a crowbar, poured gasoline inside and lit it on fire, the indictment said.
The victim of the attack, Raed Abu Khalil, 40, a father of eight, said Ben-David had often bought cigarettes with no problems.
“Thank God it was only the store,” Abu Khalil said in an interview. “It could have been one of my children.”
The discovery of the bodies of the three Jewish kidnapping victims on June 30 was an emotionally charged moment in Israel.
“Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created. Neither has vengeance for the blood of 3 pure youths who were on their way home to their parents,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on his Twitter account.
Late that night, Ben-David told one of his accomplices, a yeshiva student, “We have to take revenge against the Arabs,” according to the indictment.
The student changed into secular clothes and joined Ben-David on a drive to East Jerusalem, where Arab families were strolling after breaking the Ramadan fast.
There they spotted Deema Zalloum in a Muslim headscarf and a long coat, pushing a stroller with her 6-month-old daughter as her sons Yahia, 8, and Musa, 7, walked nearby.
The yeshiva student grabbed Musa “around his throat in a strangling position” and dragged him toward Ben-David’s Honda, the indictment said.
“My only thought was to rescue my son,” Zalloum recalled in an interview. She hit her son’s abductor on the head with her cellphone.
The teenage assailant punched her in the face and shoved her to the ground, kicking her with his boots “with hatred,” she said. Zalloum blacked out. Her sons escaped to a nearby dry cleaner, and the workers ran outside, but Ben-David and his accomplice sped away.
The July 1 funeral for the kidnapped Israeli youths prompted a national outpouring of grief. Late that night, Ben-David met at his eyeglass shop with the yeshiva student, 17, and a second accomplice, a toy-store clerk, 16, and suggested that they try to kidnap and kill an Arab, the indictment said.
They drove to Adam, removed the child seat in Ben-David’s car to make room for a victim and stopped in Hizmeh to fill bottles with gasoline, the indictment alleged.
Near a gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, the assailants stopped to offer Arab children cigarettes but failed to coax them into the car, the document said.
Finally, in the Shuafat district of East Jerusalem, they allegedly approached Mohammad Abu Khieder, who was 17 but looked younger. He was on his way to dawn prayers at the mosque.
Abu Khieder became suspicious and tried to call a friend, but the teenagers wrestled him into the car, and they sped away as Abu Khieder’s uncle shouted helplessly, the indictment said.
In the car, the yeshiva student allegedly choked Abu Khieder until he lost consciousness. At the Jerusalem Forest, Abu Khieder made a sound, and Ben-David clubbed him with a wrench twice, calling out the names of the families of the kidnapping victims, according to the indictment.
The medical examination showed that Abu Khieder was still alive when Ben-David allegedly set him on fire.
Afterward, the trio returned to Adam, played guitar and slept, the indictment said.
After Abu Khieder’s body was discovered, his family was incensed when Israeli investigators asked if the violence had been part of a family feud, or if Abu Khieder had been gay and was slain in an honor killing.
When the arrests of the suspects were announced July 6, authorities said that “nationalistic” motives were behind the murder.
Ben-David was initially provided representation by Honenu, a legal aid group whose clients have included Jewish settlers accused of shooting Arabs, vandals who have spray-painted anti-Arab slogans and defaced mosques and churches, and soldiers charged with human rights abuses. His first lawyer told the news media that Ben-David would plead temporary insanity.
Families of the Arab victims were outraged.
“This was premeditated. It shows they’re not crazy,” said Rami Zalloum, the husband of the woman who, with her child, was attacked in East Jerusalem. “Always, when they commit a crime against an Arab, they’re crazy.”
Orly Halpern, Sufian Taha and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
Gaza Strip: The Jews who Loathe Israel
August 6, 2014 14:05 BST
As the ceasefire between Hamas andgets underway, anti-Israeli groups including high profile Jews have vehemently condemned Israel’s offensive against Gaza that has killed more than 1,800 civilians since July 8. take a look at some of Israel’s enemies.
Norman Finkelstein, anscientist, activist, professor, and author, born to Jewish parents, is currently organising a mass pro-Gaza rally in on Friday to protest against Israel’s actions in the month long conflict.
He wrote on Stop the Terror Bombing! Lift the Blockade! Facebook page: “I am shocked by the cowardly Israeli massacre in Gaza, and Barack Obama’s cynical complicity. I am despairing that anything can be done to stop it. But its’ still in our power to bear witness, so it cannot be said that we stood by silently.”
Finkelstein’s primary fields of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict andof the Holocaust, which was motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors. He has been branded a Holocaust denier after his work ‘The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering’ was published in 2000. He argues that Hungarian-born Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz, and others exploit the the Holocaust as an “ideologicaly weapon” so the State of Israel “one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record can cast itself as a victim state”. Finkelstein’s work has attracted a number of supporters including US philosopher as well as detractors from around the world.
Born to a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family in Philadelphia, US philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky, who was once voted the world’s top public intellectual is a leading critic of US foreign policy.
He believes Israel should be held to account over its actions, writing: “Israel’s crimes have by now reached such an appalling level of savagery that any legitimate means should be used to protest them and bring them to an end, and soon, while something still survives their vicious and sadistic onslaught.”
Being Jewish, he faced anti-semitisim as a child, particularly from the Irish and German communities living in Philadelphia. His career was damaged when he defended the right of French historian Robert Faurisson to be a Holocaust denier, prompting France’s mainstream media to accuse Chomsky of being a Holocaust denier himself. His plea for the historian’s freedom of speech was published as the preface to Faurisson’s 1980 book -’Mémoire en défense contre ceux qui m’accusent de falsifier l’histoire’, (Defense against those who accuse me of falsifying history). Chomsky was married to Carol Doris Schatz (Chomsky) from 1949 until her death in 2008. They had 3 children together: Aviva, Diane and Harry.
Mira Bar-Hillel, the property and planning correspondent for the Evening, was born in Jerusalem in 1946 has described herself as a “deliberate outsider” in the British Jewish community since the most recent Gaza conflict – admitting to being on the verge of burning her Israeli passport. She was Israel’s first female radio news reporter after serving as a “non-aggressive” army member before moving to the UK in 1972.
She recently defended re-tweeting a far-Right hoax, re-telling tropes about ‘Jewish power’ in the USA, Hoax or not, saying, “Hoax or not the message is entirely true, and increasingly so.”
She made a vow she would never write about Israel but changed her mind when she discovered Holocaust survivors were living “below the breadline” in the country. She has also claimed in a recent interview on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme to have “evidence” that many of Britain’s 260,000 Jews will not speak up against Israel out of fear of being “ex-communicated” from their local community – fearing they will be blocked from their local synagogues, their children would be bullied and they would even be denied a Jewish burial. Her father was Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, an Israeli philosopher, mathematician, and linguist.
The Jewish-British stand-up comedian, actor and author, whose mother Molly is from Lithuanian Jewish descent, is not a stranger to holding anarchic views and has recently been quoted as saying on Twitter in regard to the Israeli-Gaza conflict: “It is the psychology of the murderer, the rapist, the bully. That’s what Israel is in this situation.”
In an interview with Caabu (Council for Arab-British Understanding), he described Israel as the “Jimmy Saville of nation states”, which “clearly doesn’t care about damaging the lives of children.”
Sayle was born and raised in Anfield, Liverpool. His parents, Molly and Joseph, were both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which he joined in the aftermath of the May 1968 French uprising. Sayle’s diverse career stems from playing a central part on the alternative comedy circuit in the early 1980s to featuring in films including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Gorky Park. He also has written books such as ‘Mister Roberts’ and published his autobiography – ‘Stalin Ate My Homework’.
Tony Greenstein comes from an Orthodox Jewish family but is a passionate anti-Zionist comparing Nazism to Zionism – accusing the Jews of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.
He is a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods. Greenstein has written for many publications including, Labour Briefing and Weekly Worker. His work has been published in Hodder & Stoughton’s The Essentials of Philosophy & Ethics (2006).
Greenstein has also written a number of articles for the Guardian’s Comment is Free section before he was banned for rejecting the idea that comparing Zionism and the Israeli State to the Nazis was anti-Semitic.
In an interview with the Brighton Argus newspaper, he said: “The first book I ever read was called The Scourge of the Swastika by Lord Russell of Liverpool which was about Auschwitz and the horrors of the Nazis.It made me think about how hateful human beings could be to other human beings. Soon I became aware that those arguing for the Jewish state were actually arguing for separation on racial grounds, which was exactly what the Nazis were doing. I thought it was wrong that a people who had been oppressed felt it was then OK to oppress others – so I decided to fight against it.”
Greenstein is a member of Brighton & Hove Trades Council, UNISON and Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre. He is an activist in the Brighton Benefits Campaign. He is also a law graduate who works in the area of employment rights.
Neturei Karta – meaning “Guardians of the City” in Aramaic – is a Orthodox Jewish religious group, who refuses to recognise the existence or authority of the State of Israel and is calling for its dismantlement. They attend many pro-Gaza rallies across the world to publicly demonstrate their position of unadulterated Judaism and condemnation of Zionism. They believe Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
Last month Rabbi Yoel Glauber spoke up for Gaza at the Al-Quds Day rally at Times Square in New York.
He said: “We Orthodox Jews have come here today toreligious community from around the world including Jerusalem. We are here to express our solidarity and sympathy with the suffering of the people of Palestine and Gaza, and to express our outrage and condemnation of the ongoing atrocity by the Israeli army against the people of Gaza. Our hearts cry for the people of Gaza.”
Russian-born Jewish intellectual, Israel Shamir, is a writer and journalist, famously known as a Holocaust denier and being anti-Semitic.
He was born in Novosibirsk, Siberia, a grandson of a professor of mathematics and a descendant of a Rabbi from Tiberias, Palestine. He writes and comments on Arab-Israeli relations, believing in an one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also opposes Zionism and Judaism.
“We should live in one state, not only because of the blatant failure of Oslo. The very idea of partition is wrong.” he said.
He criticises the Jewish quest for world hegemony, writing: “Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews; the world is.”
He refutes accusations that he is a Holocaust denier despite alleging that gas chambers at Auschwitz did not exist on his own website.
Defending himself he wrote: “My family lost too many of its sons and daughters for me to deny the facts of Jewish tragedy, but I do deny its religious salvific significance implied in the very term ‘Holocaust’; I do deny its metaphysical uniqueness, I do deny the morbid cult of Holocaust and I think every God-fearing man, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim should reject it as Abraham rejected and smashed idols.”
Most recently he has been associated with controversial site, Wikileaks, which publishes classified government information. Shamir is accused of giving the Russian Reporter “privileged access” to US diplomatic cables in 2010. He has also been blamed for allegedly leaking cables involving EU diplomats and passing on “sensitive cables” to the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
Jewish-Canadian award-winning journalist, Naomi Klein, known for her international bestsellers: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, has never shied away from heavily criticising Israel – once remarking that “the best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa”.
She is an avid supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, apologising to the Palestians in 2009 for joining it earlier. She emphasized it was important to her “not to boycott Israelis but rather to boycott the normalization of Israel”.
During a speech that year in Ramallah her remarks that “some Jews even think we get one get-away-with-genocide-free-card” was branded by one Jerusalem Post columnist as “intrinsically evil” and “malicious”.
Klein is married to TV journalist and documentary filmmaker, Avi Lewis. They had their first child, son Toma, on June 13, 2012.
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