For a few years, a young radical group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank have committed random acts of violence and vandalization against Palestinians and their property to make them pay the price for affronting their way of life. They call themselves “Pricetaggers,” and they’ve largely avoided prosecution by Israeli authorities.
VICE News gets rare access to the young members of the Price Tag movement—at the homecoming of Moriah Goldberg, 20, who just finished a three-month sentence for throwing stones at Palestinians. She and her family remain proud of the act, even as the current conflict in Gaza was sparked after an all-too-familiar round of retributive violence.
Israel Is Forcing Palestinians in East Jerusalem to Demolish Their Own Homes
In the Shu’Fat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Palestinian Iyad Al-Shaer stood inside the gutted interior of a modest breeze block structure. The building, an addition to Iyad’s own home, was set to be a new residence for his brother Baser and his fiancé. But the fully furnished home, complete with a heart-covered bedroom that Baser had designed for his future child, now had three gaping holes punctured in its roof.
Just days after completing construction, the Israeli-controlled municipality issued Iyad a demolition order for his “illegally” constructed home, built without one of the expensive permits issued by the same set of authorities. Unable to afford the protracted and costly legal battle, he chose to destroy the structure himself.
Self-demolitions like this began a few years ago and have continued—albeit somewhat under the mainstream media’s radar—ever since, with Palestinians compelled to destroy their own homes in order to avoid the steadily increasing fines leveled by the municipality.
The demolished roof of Iyad’s brother’s home
While the Palestinian population in the city has quadrupled to over 300,000 since 1967, municipal authorities have only zoned nine percent of East Jerusalem land for Palestinian construction. Even with this space being set aside, permits are rarely granted, and the result is widespread “illegal” Palestinian construction—which, of course, Israeli authorities can then order to be demolished.
Tens of thousands of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents now live under the constant threat of having their homes demolished by Israeli authorities, part of a policy of displacement that has been taking place in Jerusalem with a startling degree of public support for more than four decades.
“We know that there are some 20,000 ‘illegal’ Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem,” Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) told us. “[That’s] about a third of the Palestinian housing stock.”
“They don’t consider us citizens, so they push. It’s not a personal thing—I am one of many,” says Iyad. “They push us to go outside of Jerusalem. I call it a soft transfer.”
Clowns Without Borders Go Into War Zones Armed Only with a Smile
In July 1993, a clown from Barcelona named Tortell Poltrona traveled to war-torn Croatia to do his act at a refugee camp. He had his doubts about how his performance would be received, but after an unexpectedly massive crowd of over 700 rapt children showed up to watch him, he left convinced of the value of comedy in crisis and conflict areas. That trip inspired Poltrona to found Clowns Without Borders, an organization devoted to bringing humor into lands where clowns usually dare not tread.
A year later, the internationally renowned clown Moshe Cohen, who had been bringing men and women with red noses and oversized shoes into dangerous places since 1990, opened an American chapter of Clowns Without Borders. Although it remains one of the organization’s smaller chapters (CWB has a presence in nine countries and is especially well established in France, Spain, and Sweden) and has only one part-time paid staffer, Clowns Without Borders USA now includes a board of 13 clowns, four logistical volunteers, and 30 active performers, some amateur and some professional.
Driving with the Female Street Racers of Palestine
I’m driving around the streets of Ramallah, Palestine with Noor Dawood, the celebrated Palestinian street racer and the only female drifter in the Middle East. Noor is one of four members of the “Speed Sisters,” the first and only female racing team in the Middle East, who have brought international attention to the burgeoning Palestine street racing scene, pissing of Muslim clerics and dismantling the caricature of Palestinian womanhood as they go.
From the driver seat of her GTI, Noor speaks about the challenges the women faced at the beginning. “At first, [the other drivers] were skeptical,” the Texas-born 23-year-old tells me as we drift around a turn. “They weren’t used to seeing a woman driving crazy behind the wheel—racing against and beating men. But then they were like, ‘These women can drive.’”
They defintiely can, and I quickly reconsider my choice of venue for the interview. Noor’s aggressive driving on the tight, steep, and manic streets of occupied Palestine is whittling away at my composure, every terrifying curve sends my scripted questions into pre-pubescent squeaks.
A bird’s eye view of the course. In the background, you can see a monument erected in memory of the Palestinian lives lost during the Second Intifada. Behind that, the Israeli settlement of Beit El is visible.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ramallah has a geography that breeds racers, who evolve out of the lawless and severe landscape of the occupied territories. “Yeah, learning to drive here was definitely part of it,” Noor tells me. “These streets are how I got my start, where I first learned how to race, and how to drift. All is equal out here.”
This Palestinian Taxidermist’s Stuffed Animal Zoo Is Heartbreaking
OK sure, so somebody stuffed Napoleon’s horse, but in general, no one pays too much attention to the animal victims of war. No one except Dr. Sami Khader, that is.
Dr. Khader lives in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. It’s a place that’s seen its fair share of hate. Since 2003, the 40,000 or so people who live there have been encircled by the walls of theinfamous Israeli West Bank Barrier. It’s also home to Palestine’s only zoo, where Dr. Khader is the resident veterinarian and director.
Scattered around his room are plastic soda bottles of various sizes that serve as mobile terrariums for the doctors’ creatures. On the table two snakes are curled up at the base of their bottles, on the floor a scorpion paces back and forth in its container and a soda bottle pokes out of the doctor’s leather bag, though I can’t see what creature is living in that. Maybe it’s just a Coke. All the animals were either found by the doctor or dropped in by the Qalqilya townspeople, and scattered among the living are skeletons, pinned insects and a stuffed bobcat.
Dr Sami Khader, director, resident veterinarian, and self-taught taxidermist at Qalqilya’s zoo.
“Do you want to hold it?” Dr. Khader asks, gesturing to a snake on the desk. He casually describes being bitten by another snake recently, by a species that could, apparently, have killed him in an hour had it not been for a delayed shot of antivenom.
“It was a very stupid day,” recalls Dr. Khader. “I was giving a lecture at a school and I brought some snakes to show the kids. It was dark and I reached into the wrong container. Usually I pick the snake up by its head, but this day I chose the wrong snake and I was bitten. I acted like nothing happened. I finished the presentation then went to the hospital.”
I’m not here to gawk at snakes in bottles, though, I’m here to see an exhibition of stuffed animals that Dr. Khader has created from the beasts that were killed in the Second Intifada, the four-year period of fighting that claimed the lives of 4,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis.
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr. Khader appears to be an entirely self-taught taxidermist.
Israel is the world’s biggest exporter of military drones, used around the world for everything from surveillance to precision rocket attacks on speeding cars in remote locales. Israel’s drone program hasn’t stirred as much controversy as its American counterpart, but not because their targeted killings are any less fatal. VICE sent Simon Ostrovsky to a drone testing airfield in Israel to find out what their latest eye-in-the-sky can see.
Meet the Lawyer Representing Osama bin Laden’s Son-in-Law
The term “polarizing figure” has become a lazy way to describe politicians, pundits, and media figures for essentially being very loud about mostly superficial things. But there are still a number of people around who fit the definition perfectly. Defense attorney Stanley Cohen is one of those people, capable of simultaneously evoking both absolute hatred and adoration from various parts of society. In fact, he’s the only lawyer I’ve ever come across who has a Haters section on his own website.
Stanley has accumulated a list of clients including Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, and al-Shabaab. Most recently, he’s added two new clients to his portfolio: Mercedes Haefer, who’s accused of taking part in cyberattacks against PayPal as part of the Anonymous collective, and Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and a man accused of acts of terrorism against the United States.
Stanley has been referred to as “the terror lawyer” by conservative US pundit Sean Hannity, a “savage lawyer” by professional anti-Muslim subway activist Pamela Geller, and beat Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein to the coveted title of Worst of the Worst Self-Hating, Israel-Threatening Jews.” At the same time, Stanley has been hailed as something of a champion of free speech and antiestablishmentarianism by internet activists, and for defending the human rights of the disenfranchised.
Stanley was kind enough to let me interview him, and we spoke about his nemesis, his career, and getting hassled by the IDF.
Stanley with the American poet Peter Spagnuolo (left) and Yasser Arafat. Photo by Peter Spagnuolo via
VICE:Hi, Stanley.Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Stanley Cohen: Sure. So, it’s good to know that Eric Holder finally admitted that the US drone program killed four Americans.
In Yemen? Yeah. They already announced those missing four a while ago, so it’s like, “Gee, guys, did it take you two fucking years to figure this out?”
Eric Holder has become something of a nemesis to you, right? Yeah—fuck Eric Holder. Eric Holder is no different from every other attorney general in recent history. We haven’t had an independent, dynamic, enlightened, historical US attorney general since Ramsey Clark. Basically every attorney general down the line has been swallowed up by the political agenda of whoever the president is, and it’s typically worse with the Democrats than even the Republicans. So yeah—Holder is a good team player, unlike, “I Have a Drone,”[Obama] who won’t admit it, but I’m sure goes to sleep at night believing he spoke to the creator during the day. Holder is just a petty hack.
In all your work in Israel or Palestine, have you ever actually had an encounter with the IDF? Yeah, I’ve had encounters at crossings, I’ve had encounters at the Wailing Wall, I’ve had encounters where I was on an investigation and we were avoiding road blocks because I had to get into Tulkarem [the then-Hamas stronghold in the West Bank] at a time when it was basically locked down, so I got a local cab. It was kind of funny—the Palestinian didn’t know who I was, but when I said I needed to get to Tulkarem, he said I couldn’t get in. So I said, “Look, if you can get me there and get me out of there, there will be a big, healthy tip for you.”
Moriel Rothman doesn’t sound bitter when he reflects on the contradictions that formed his childhood identity and eventual political outlook. In fact, he sounds more saddened, if anything. “On the one hand, my heroes were Israeli commandos, and on the other they were the young Jewish American Freedom Riders[Jewish civil rights activists in 1960s America]. I held these two together without fully coming to terms with the fact that there might be a contradiction.”
That contradiction, if you hadn’t picked up on it, stems from the fact that while the Freedom Riders were fighting for the rights of America’s persecuted minorities, Israeli commandos were systematically crushing the rights of their persecuted Palestinian neighbors.
Moriel is a 23-year-old American-Israeli who was born in Jerusalem, spent most of his life in the US, and is now back in the city of his birth. “I think we’re brought up to talk on a universal level about values of justice, standing up to inequality, breaking the law when the law is unjust, and standing up for the oppressed,” he continued. “But not when it comes to our own context—not when it comes to Israel and not when it comes to standing up for Palestine.”
Late last year, Moriel spent time in a military prison for refusing to live out the first part of his childhood dream: the military commando. Military service in Israel is mandatory by law for Jewish youth and young people from the Druze religious minority, however, only around half of those eligible enlist and many more leave during their service.
Dancing Idiots, Candy Floss, and Rubber Bullets: Passover in Hebron, Palestine
The city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank is a pretty bizarre place at the best of times. But the recent Passover festival held by Jewish settlers living on the Palestinian land was easily among the most surreal things I’ve seen in a region that seems to thrive on weird shit.
The collective psychosis in Hebron stems from a centuries-old ownership dispute over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims and the Cave of Machpela to Jews. The tomb is the supposed burial place of Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim, the founding father of Islam, Judaism, and, therefore, Christianity. I don’t subscribe to any of those, but—despite the fact that the founder of three of the world’s largest religions surely has enough love to go around—I guess it’s understandable to fight over access to your spiritual father’s grave.
Hebron’s current state of madness, however, has less to do with religious craziness and more to do with ethnic segregation. Hebron is the only place in the West Bank where Israeli settlers live directly inside a Palestinian city. To deal with the minor awkwardness that presents, it’s been divided into two sectors—one controlled by the Israeli military, the other by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Tomb of the Patriarchs itself is also divided into a Muslim half and a Jewish half, because, as you might expect, there are those who refuse to play nice. In 1994, an American settler named Baruch Goldstein decided to play spectacularly un-nice and is now immortalized on Murderpedia for his massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Muslim side of the tomb. That, plus the Second Intifada, set the stage for the head-spinning clusterfuck that is today’s Hebron.