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MasterCard and the Extremist Settlers of Silwan

June 13th, 2009

eileen fleming

Occupied East Jerusalem, June 13, 2009- Over thirty CODE PINK activists met with a few of the soon to be 1,500 homeless residents of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, located minutes away from the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

On June 8, 1998, under the cover of darkness, members of the fundamentalist nationalistic settlement group Elad [a Hebrew acronym for: To the City of David] entered four Palestinian homes, threw out the furniture and raised Israeli flags on the property.

Yigal Kaufman, a spokesman for Elad was quoted the following day in the New York Times, ''Our aim is to Judaize East Jerusalem. The City of David is the most ancient core of Jerusalem, and we want it to become a Jewish neighborhood."

The NY Times also reported that the religious extremist's moved into the homes "with the advance knowledge and protection of the Israeli police, raising charges that they were tacitly backed by the Israeli authorities." [1]

On June 12, 2009, Abd Schlode, a lifetime resident of the village informed the CODE PINK activists who gathered in the village's solidarity tent, "We are fighting for survival. Over 50,000 Palestinians live in Silwan.

"In 2005 we began to receive [demolition] letters on our doorsteps written in Hebrew addressed from the 'Municipality Against Honorable Unknown' but most of our people do not read Hebrew.

"We have documents that prove this land is ours and that we paid taxes.

"Since 1967 the Israelis destroyed over 18,000 homes and there are currently 22,000 home demolition orders. Yesterday 25 new home demolition letters were delivered here.

"In 2007, we paid 87,000 million shekels to the Israeli courts and we pay our taxes, but we have no playgrounds or opportunities for our children. We need the world to hear us, to look and see just who is the victim.

"The settlers are digging tunnels towards the Mosque and we learned of it when an UNWRA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] school collapsed and killed ten of our children.

"These settlers are the most extreme religious nationalists and they are behind what is going on here. They say this area was a part of King David's kingdom. So what? Many civilizations have been here since, Muslims were here too, but does this give them the right to build a zoo here?

"We need schools but the settlers take our land and build on it...It is unlikely that they actually live here, but it is recorded that among the settlers are the Minister of National Security and the head of the National Archives.

"The Shabaak [Israeli Security] are doing a great job here-there are lots of cameras and guards with guns. If I throw a stone they will see it and arrest me immediately. They arrested a ten year old boy for throwing stones.

"I once was a member of Fatah, but the last time I was arrested I quit the political party, because this is all about homes and children, survival and human rights.

"Bush made a lot of people hate America, but a few days ago when Obama was talking in Cairo, my son said to me, he is a good guy. We hope he will make the changes we need, but we know he faces a hard time with AIPAC.

"There is a lot of money coming here from developers."

Much of that money comes from the American casino tycoon Irving Moskowitz.

"For over a decade, Moskowitz has funneled millions in profits from his California-based Hawaiian Gardens casino, where he has been sued for exploiting undocumented workers, into settlement construction projects in the West Bank, including Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. He has also funded several neoconservative think tanks including a research center named after Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan, who was killed while leading the Entebbe rescue raid in 1976. Moskowitz and Netanyahu have remained close since he established the center.

"In 1996, Moskowitz convinced Netanyahu, in his first round as prime minister, to open a tunnel adjacent to the Temple Mount, a controversial act that led to several days of rioting and 70 deaths. Four years later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the tunnel set off the so-called Al-Aqsa uprising, the opening salvo of the Second Intifada. [2]

Last week, holders of an Isracard and/or MasterCard credit cards in Israel received an offer for a "City of David tour" with "attractions for the entire family" - which makes no mention of the fact that the tour is to be conducted by the Elad settlers.

Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, wrote the Directors of the MasterCard Company the following letter which received a swift threat as a reply.

The letter:

Dear Sir or Madam

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Isracard Company, entrusted with issuing MasterCard credit cards in Israel, is at present involved in supporting extreme-right Israeli settlers who are actively dispossessing the Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem's Silwan Neighbourhood. Moreover, Isracard has been using the MasterCard name and logo in this campaign of support for the settlers.

Two weeks ago, Isracard sent to its customers a gift coupon providing a large reduction in entry fees to the so-called "City of David National Park", managed by the highly controversial Elad settler association. The reduction is dependant upon the customer paying with a MasterCardPlus card.

In providing such coupons to its customers, Isracard has taken a clear position in support of the extreme right in Israeli politics – and has implicated MasterCard in the same. "The City of David National Park" is administered by the settler association "Elad" whose members have established themselves since 1991 in East Jerusalem's Silwan Neighbourhood, since which time they are constantly extending their foothold by means of entering Palestinian homes and expelling their inhabitants. The proclaimed aim of the Elad settlers is to "Judaise" the village of Silwan, which they call "The City of David" and where they assert the Biblical King David had his palace 3000 years ago (a claim strongly disputed among historians and archaeologists). The tens of thousands of Palestinians who live for generations in this location are for the Elad settlers no more than "a nuisance" to be expelled. Among other things, it was the Elad settlers who initiated – and got the Jerusalem Municipality to adopt – the plan of demolishing 88 Palestinian homes in Silwan in order to establish in their place "The King's Garden", where according to the settlers King David had his garden. As you may recall, this plan was strongly condemned by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on her visit to Jerusalem in March this year.

Visitors to the "City of David National Park" are not only directly contributing to the Elad setters' coffers, but are also exposed to an intensive dose of extreme-right nationalistic propaganda and a highly biased and one-sided description of Jerusalem's history, almost completely ignoring the part of non-Jews – especially, the part of Arabs and Muslims – in the city's history. Such a distorted depiction of history also appears on the settler website to which the Isracard coupon, emblazoned with the MasterCard logo, refers the company's customers: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il

Isracard's issuing this coupon and promoting the Elad settlers clearly cannot be considered a legitimate commercial activity. Rather, it is a political act with far-reaching implications. As the MasterCard name and logo were directly used, implicating your company with its world-wide business network, I feel it is incumbent upon your company to take up the matter with your "Isracard" business partners and firmly ask them to sever immediately and completely all connections with the Elad settlers.

As you have taken care to make widely known, your company has taken the initiative to create "The MasterCard Foundation" whose proclaimed aim is to help and empower poor, isolated and disadvantaged people in such countries as Tajikistan and Rwanda, and whose leadership includes such distinguished people as Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, known for her great devotion to the promotion of Human Rights . Obviously, this is the polar opposite of what the Elad settlers are doing in the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, and I am sure you will take quick steps to remedy this discrepancy.

Adam Keller
Gush Shalom spokesperson

On June 12, 2009, Gush Shalom received a fax from Ayala Tidhar and Orit Hangali of the Isracard Marketing & Foreign Relations Section and Rani Rahav an Isracard public relations director, phoned Keller and threatened to sue Gush Shalom.

Keller stated, "It is a bit surprising to hear that we are supposedly 'causing great damage' to the Isracard Company. How come one email message to our list of supporters would cause so much damage to one of the biggest companies in the Israeli economy? It would be good for them to consider if the damage was caused by us, or perhaps by the truth about them which we have uncovered.

"Indeed, the site known as 'The City of David National Park', just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, officially belongs to the National Reserves and Parks Authority, a supposedly neutral body. But this is in no way enough to whitewash Isracard's involvement with the place. It is well known that the administration of the place in practice has been transferred to the settler association Elad – a body which has a clear political and ideological identity on the extreme right side of the spectrum. The Elad people are openly and explicitly promoting the aim of "Judaizing (East)Jerusalem" – not simply by talking but also by constant and intensive activity, creating 'facts on the ground', dispossessing Palestinian inhabitants and violating International Law.

"Isracard cannot wash its hands off the nefarious settler activity by claiming that this is 'a governmental site'. In Israel, as in many other countries, a company must tell consumers what is the nature of the product or service which it is offering for sale. Isracard is not at liberty to offer its customers 'entertainment for the entire family' at a park run by extreme right people, without disclosing that, once arriving there, the customers would be exposed to extreme right propaganda.

"If Isracard goes through with the threat of judicial proceedings against us we won’t be afraid. We have available plenty of testimonies and witnesses regarding the 'City of David National Park' – what it is, who runs it and how, what kind of 'guidance' is given to visitors and what is the political slant of that 'guidance'. The gift coupon sent by Isracard to its customers includes the name and logo of MasterCard, an international company conducting world-wide business. Despite their extensive and long-standing business relationship, Isracard did not bother to let MasterCard know of the use made of its name and reputation in promoting extremist settlers who violate International Law.

"We in Gush Shalom decided to fill the vacancy and inform the MasterCard directors, with the help of our friends abroad. Meanwhile, there is a continuing wave of protest messages sent by Israeli peace activists to the Isracard offices and by Americans and Europeans to MasterCard."

Gush Shalom is requesting people of conscience to voice their concerns to the MasterCard company-contact info available @
http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/events/1244656130/

Please CC your correspondence to info@gush-shalom.org

1. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/09/world/settlers-move-into-4-homes-in-east-jerusalem.html
2. http://maxblumenthal.com/2009/06/gambling-with-conflict-how-settlers-and-a-california-casino-king-control-israeli-policy/

-###-

Eileen Fleming, Founder of http://wearewideawake.org/
A Feature Correspondent for Arabisto.com and The Palestine Telegraph
Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory"
Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu"

Only in Solidarity do "we have it in our power to begin the world again."-Tom Paine

http://www.wearewideawake.org/

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