With Bannon’s appointment, Israel is comfortable with anti-Semitism

First published by the Middle East Eye on Monday 28/11/2016

From MEE. A file photo of Stephen Bannon, who was recently named to be Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House (Reuters)

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The cat is out of the bag: Israel is comfortable associating with suspected holding anti-Semitic and extremist right-wing views as long as they support it.

How else is it possible to explain Israel and its supporters’ lack of objection to the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist for US President-elect Donald Trump?

Bannon’s own ex-wife Mary Louise Pickard accused him in court of having a problem with his daughters attending a particular school. The reason given was “the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. He also questioned why another school had “so many Hanukkah books in the library”?

It is important to note that the allegations were made in a custody battle. However, at least one of the allegations regarding the Hanukkah books incident was corroborated by a representative of the school in question.

As has been widely reported since his appointment to the Trump team, Bannon ran the far-right publication, Breitbart News. Bannon was accused of presiding over “the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists” by the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who is a staunch supporter of Israel.

Joining in the criticism, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement “the President is entitled to choose advisors who he believes will help him implement his agenda. However, both in his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. There should be no place for such views in the White House”.

A speedy examination of Breitbart shows it has covered Israel sympathetically, but it also has covered the alt-right movement sympathetically by including individuals who have expressed homophobic, misogynist, white supremacists and anti-Semitic views. Matthew Tyrmand, a columnist for Breitbart News attacked Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, calling her a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist.”

One would have thought that Israel and its supporters would at least raise their concerns with the man Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called “a true friend of Israel”, President-elect Trump, or would at least seek clarification about Bannon’s past views. After all, anti-Semitism is not only wrong in its own right but has recently formed a major plank of attacks both on the British Labour party and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Instead of raising concerns, Israeli officials and supporters have rallied around Bannon. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer praised Trump and his team saying “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel. We have no doubt that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is a true friend of Israel, he was one of Israel’s greatest friends in the Congress, one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country, and we look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever”.

Emeritus Harvard Law Professor and staunch supporter of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, leaped to Bannon’s support saying “I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel”. The clue is in the last sentence, “supportive of Israel”.

Dershowitz went further in his defence: “so, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the headline (on the Breitbart website) about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness”.

Dershowitz has in the past accused Black Lives Matter, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Richard Goldstone either of outright antisemitism or behaviour that he judged to be problematic in this regard. However, it is behaviour towards Israel or criticism of its practices that has formed the core of his assertions. The contrast with his take on Bannon could not be starker.

It is important to note that his appointment has been widely condemned by Jewish organisations, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). In a statement, Rabbi Alissa Wise JVP Deputy Director said:

“In President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon–a leading white nationalist–as Chief Strategist, we are seeing a confirmation of exactly what Trump promised throughout his campaign: the open endorsement of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism”. She reflected on the dangers of a far right Government not with reference to an abstract or theoretical situation but to the reality of Israel adding “From our work on Israel, we are familiar with the deepening violence, hatred and repression that comes from a far right government”.

The National Jewish Democratic Council feared that “Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon is just the first appointment of many individuals who have engaged in, or at least, tolerated anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia”. The pro-Israel Group J Street also joined Jewish groups condemning Bannon. However, it is telling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declined to take a position on Bannon claiming through its spokesman, Marshall Wittmann: “AIPAC has a long-standing policy of not taking positions on presidential appointments”.

However, is it a leap to conclude from the Bannon episode that Israel turns a blind eye to anti-Semites and extremists if they support it and its policies? Well, Bannon is no joe public. He is the most senior advisor to the President-elect of the United States and the future leader of the free world. Israel and its supporters have perhaps judged that they could not have hoped for a better outcome form the US elections than a Trump win. The team he is forming is to their liking, so why rock the boat about an individual who I would contend would have been more problematic to them had he been called to serve in the Obama Administration.

If a President Trump fulfils his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, protects Israel at the UN Security Council and finally scuppers any chances of a Palestinian state, then tolerating a troublesome senior advisor in his administration is a price worth paying.

However, we are entitled to think that those of us who receive accusations of anti-Semitism must feel aggrieved when we criticise Israel without demonstrating any hatred towards Jews. Those people would surely be happy to send their children to a school with Jewish children when Bannon would not. Those people that have been vilified as anti-Semites suggests there is a major antisemitism problem within the right wing.

Israel welcomes Trump’s win with new anti-Palestinian laws

First published by the Arab Weekly on 20 November 2016

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States seems to have emboldened Israeli politicians, who clearly feel their strongest ally will provide them with the chance to end any hope of freedom or independence for the Palestinians.

Soon after Trump’s win, the Israeli cabinet approved two sets of draft legislation. One would retroactively grant legal status to illegal outposts across the West Bank in defiance of international law. The other would ban the use of loudspeakers to carry the adhan — Muslim call for prayer. The outpost legalisation bill is likely to pass in the Knesset, despite initial hesitation by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is now supportive.

Reaction from the administra­tion of US President Barack Obama against the illegal settle­ments was immediate and strong. US State Department spokes­woman Elizabeth Trudeau said Washington was “deeply con­cerned” by the proposal, express­ing hope that “it does not become law” as “this would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that’s inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break long-standing Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land”.

She added: “This legislation would be a dramatic advance­ment of the settlement enter­prise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a two-state solution.”

This was in sharp contrast to the deafening silence from the Trump camp. Trump, who claims to be a better negotiator than his competitors for the presidency, has not questioned the $38 billion aid package the United States gifted Israel for which it gets nothing in return regarding America’s policy of creating a two-state solution to the conflict.

The bill to silence the Muslim call for prayer drew no reaction from either the current or future US administrations. However, it angered Palestinians who say Israel is acting to please Israelis in illegal settlements who claim the call to prayer annoys them and is noise pollution. Palestin­ians see it as another attempt to erase Jerusalem’s proud non- Jewish religious and cultural heritage.

The bill angered and united Christian and Muslim Palestin­ians. Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Theodosios Atallah Hanna condemned the bill. Hanna said he considered the Israeli ban as “a dangerous and unprecedented step that comes as part of Israel’s racist policy aiming to Judaise Jerusalem”. Today, they are targeting mosques and tomorrow is the churches’ turn, he said.

Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament used their status to recite the adhan from the podium of the Knesset in defiance of the measure. Ironically, the bill’s progress through the Knesset is stuttering because ultraorthodox politicians fear it might restrict broadcasts from synagogues.

It is unlikely that the Trump camp, which is well-known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, will protest such restrictions to the freedom of worship. Israeli politicians expect upcoming US policies to be even more in their favour.

Right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to declare that “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”.

He concluded that “this is the position of the president-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Jason Greenblatt, a legal adviser to Trump, said: “The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region but it’s certainly not Mr Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it’s an obstacle for peace — because it is not the obstacle for peace.”

Empty condemnation of Israeli settlements doesn’t work: We need action

Firs published by the Middle East Eye on 10/11/2016

Instead of finding creative language of condemnation, the international community should declare that settlements are illegal and prohibit trade

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Israel is the only state in the world that believes that it can continue to build settlements only for Jews in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights until such a time that their fate is decided through negotiations. Its most important ally, the United States, currently considers them “illegitimate” and an “obstacle to peace”, though its position has changed over the years.

The United Kingdom frequently “condemns” settlements as it considers them “illegal under international law” adding that new announcements “take us further away from a two-state solution and raises serious questions about the Israeli government’s commitment to achieving the shared vision of Israel living side-by-side a viable, independent, and contiguous Palestine state”.

In the past, the British government has also used terms in reference to settlement building such as “concerned”, “deeply concerned”, “extremely concerned”, “profoundly concerned”, “deplores”, “very disappointed”, “deeply disappointed”, “extremely disappointing and unhelpful”, “provocative actions”, “provocative and deeply counter-productive” and “extremely worrying”.

Israeli settlers start to build a new illegal outpost north of the West Bank Palestinian village of Ain al-Baida in October 2016 (AFP)

In fact, a quick check of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website shows that various officials made seven announcements using a mixture of the above language since June of this year.

The European Union says settlements are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”.

The position of the Canadian government is that the “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace”.

Lowest common denominator

The Australian government’s approach to settlements is more problematic from a Palestinian point of view and is, in fact, out of step with most others.

In 2014, Canberra’s stance on the settlements moved significantly as then Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out using the term “occupied” when describing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. The attorney general, George Brandis, speaking on behalf of the minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, said it was “unhelpful” to refer to historic events when describing these areas, given the ongoing Middle East peace process.

A Palestinian woman searches through her belongings after her family home in East Jerusalem was demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers near the Israeli settlement of Ramat Shlomo (in the background) in October 2016 (AFP)

He went on to tell a Senate hearing that “the description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful”.

“It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language,” he added.

The different kind of language used to express individual governments’ views on Israeli settlements clearly has an impact on statements made by the main international body that attempts to speak with one voice on the issue. The reader may expect this to be the United Nations, but in fact it is the Middle East Quartet which specifically articulates this view and, in doing so, seems to be choosing the language of the lowest common denominator.

Quartet’s feeble words

The Quartet is made up of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia. In its a recent report, the focus of the language used when it came to settlements was not one of calling them “illegal” or “illegitimate”, but to describe their impact on the prospect of the two-state solution. It talked of how settlement construction is one of the trends “undermining hopes for peace”.

It noted that “the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution”. It suggested that “this raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state.

In fact, the transfer of greater powers and responsibilities to Palestinian civil authority in Area C contemplated by commitments in prior agreements has effectively been stopped, and in some ways reversed, and should be resumed to advance the two-state solution and prevent a one-state reality from taking hold”.

The report’s only recommendation on this matter was that “Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development”.

Then serving as Middle East Quartet envoy, Tony Blair visits a UN-run school in Gaza City in 2015 (AFP)

This seems to be an extremely weak recommendation which Israel can simply file, ignore and breathe a sigh of relief that it will not face any action for continuing with its settlement expansion.

Perhaps the most interesting statement on settlements came recently from the US. Reacting to Israel’s announcement that it would build a new settlement, it “strongly condemned the announcement”. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the new settlement would be “another step towards cementing a reality of perpetual occupation” that would “further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace”.

Interestingly, he linked the announcement to America’s decision to gift Israel with a 10-year $38bn military aid package. It was “deeply troubling”, said Toner, that Israel would make its announcement so soon after the conclusion of the aid package.

“I guess, when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that is a source of serious concern as well,” he said.

Failed strategy

It seems clear to me that the long established convention of simply issuing statements following each announcement either of an expansion of settlements or the establishment of new ones has failed. Clearly, no amount of creative language to censure settlements has worked.

Every time Israel makes a new announcement, I suspect that countries which feel they must respond only face the dilemma of which exact words to use. I have made this point repeatedly at meetings with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the UK and the look on the faces of the officials we have met almost confirmed this.

Israel knows that it can ride out any criticism and build. It is certain there will be no real repercussions. In fact, Israeli politicians feel so emboldened that Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently called for Israel to build more settlements in response to any UN criticism.

In September 2015, Israeli soldiers evacuate Palestinian land owners trying to farm on their land near Karmi Tsour, a settlement near Hebron (AFP)

If the UN Security Council adopts a resolution on settlements, Bennett said, Israel would “need to have an appropriate Zionist response, immediate sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, including Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Ofra and Beit El”.

By 2017, the “temporary” occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights will have lasted 50 years. Talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis about ending it and signing a peace deal will have gone on for 24 years. The number of illegal settlers will be pushing towards the one million mark. All efforts to cajole Israel into ending the occupation have failed.

The international community should spend less time searching for acceptable language to indicate their displeasure with Israel and take firm action instead, particularly on settlements. They should be declared illegal and any trade with them should be prohibited. That would be a start in shifting the dynamics of the conflict.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian youths wanting to play football in the Maale Adumim settlement in the Israeli occupied West Bank (seen in the background) are blocked by Israeli security forces as they try to enter the settlement in October 2016 (AFP)

Israel’s ban on the Muslim call to prayer in Jerusalem is the tip of the iceberg

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/11/2016


Al-Aqsa mosque

Something is in the air in Jerusalem and if Israel has its way it soon won’t be; the Muslim call to prayer — the adhaan — is under threat. The state which is built upon the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people is inching its way towards banning the call for prayer, which was probably first heard in Jerusalem in 637 AD. That was the year in which Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab travelled to Palestine to accept its surrender from Patriach Sophronius, bringing a six-month siege of the Holy City to a peaceful end.

The required respect for people of other faiths was exemplified by one of Caliph Umar’s first acts upon entering Jerusalem. He understood the sensitivity surrounding religious sites and the potential danger of changing the status quo. He thus declined an invitation from Sophronius to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lest Muslims turn it into a mosque. Instead, he stepped outside the Church to perform the midday prayer; a mosque named after him was later built on the site and exists to this day. This is in sharp contrast to the establishment of Israel in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland at gunpoint. Villages and towns were ethnically cleansed and wiped from the face of the earth, and their mosques were also destroyed or turned into synagogues or museums; at least two became cafes and one became a cowshed.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and one of Israel’s first acts as the occupying power was to raze the 770-year old Moroccan Quarter of East Jerusalem in order to improve access to Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, in order to facilitate their prayers there. Just a year after issuing the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Britain had actually dismissed attempts by Chaim Weizmann to vacate the Moroccan Quarter and to place the Western Wall under Jewish ownership. Fifty years later, Israel had no qualms about bulldozing the Shaikh Eid Mosque which had stood since the time of Saladin.

Christian sites

Churches continue to come under attack by the Israelis. Benzi Gopstein, the leader of extreme right-wing Jewish group Lehava, voiced support for arson attacks against Christian churches in 2015; he has also called Christians “blood sucking vampires” who should be expelled from Israel.

Jewish extremists have on a number of occasions targeted churches in what are called “price tag” attacks. There was a particular rise in these in the lead-up to Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land in 2014. A top Catholic official received death threats and Hebrew graffiti appeared on the wall of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, the local headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church: “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel”.

At the end of last month, the Israeli flag was raised at the Eastern entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, enraging the Christian community and raising serious concerns about Israel’s commitment to protecting Christian sites. The Church fought a two-year battle with its water supplier which threatened to cut the supply due to unpaid bills, which was settled in 2012. Add to this Israel’s restrictions on visits by Christians to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and on Christians from Gaza visiting either Jerusalem or Bethlehem, and the difficulties faced by Palestinian Christians becomes clear.

Muslim sites

The situation for key Muslim sites in the occupied Palestinian territories is even more precarious than those of Christians. When East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, the Israeli flag flew for a short time over the holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque was set alight in 1969, reportedly by an Australian tourist; the damage included the complete destruction of a 1,000-year old pulpit.

An agreement between the Israelis and the Jordanian custodians of the holy sites, which covers the whole of the area on which Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, stated that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the compound and that Jews would be able to visit but not pray. The status quo has largely stood the test of time but in recent years has come under great strain, particularly since Ariel Sharon’s “visit” to the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in 2000, which triggered the Second Intifada. The visit seems to have given Jewish extremists the green light not only to dream about praying on what they call the “Temple Mount” but also to plan to build a Jewish temple thereon; the plans include the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the frequency and extent of incursions by extremists during which the use of the sanctuary by Muslim worshippers is restricted. This practice has increased tensions and prompted fears of a change to the “status quo”, moving the Jordanian government to act by withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest. Clashes have erupted frequently between Israeli security forces and Palestinians devoted to protecting their mosque. Israeli forces have also harassed worshippers, banning some from entering the Noble Sanctuary or withholding their Jerusalem ID cards, without which they struggle to move around the territories. Such practices were a major contributory factor to the ongoing year-long uprising in which individual Palestinians have attacked mainly security forces but in some instances Israeli civilians in what has been termed the “knife intifada”.

Another city that has suffered disproportionately, probably due to its religious significance, is Al-Khalil (Hebron). The city is home to 120,000 Palestinians whose lives are blighted by the planting of 700 particularly extreme Israeli settlers in the centre of the city; they are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and a system of closed military zones and checkpoints. The city is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarchs. The mosque was the scene of a terrorist attack in 1994 by a Jewish American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 Muslim worshippers while they were praying; although the murderous attack was condemned by the Israeli government it was — and is — applauded by some Israelis, particularly the extreme right-wing settlers. Israel’s response was — perversely — to impose greater restrictions on Palestinians and to divide the Ibrahimi Mosque physically, as well as to open it up exclusively to Jews for ten days of the year and to Muslims for another ten days.

Restricting the call to prayer

Israel’s restrictions on access to the holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron have recently been complemented with bans on the daily call to prayer. In Hebron, the practice has been ongoing for a number of years and included the call being silenced 49 times in January 2014, 52 times in December 2015 and 83 times last month.

The practice seems to be spreading to Jerusalem. Israel recently banned three mosques in Abu Dis from broadcasting the morning call. Lawyer Bassam Bahr, head of a local committee in Abu Dis, condemned the “unjustified ban”, saying that “Israel attacks Palestinians in all aspects of their lives.” It seems that the ban was a response to complaints from illegal settlers in nearby Pisgat Zeev who complained to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat about the “noise pollution” coming from local mosques. Both Barkat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are clearly set on applying the “unbearable noise” law to the call for prayer.

The mayor and prime minister know the importance of the call to prayer to the Muslim community; their plan to eradicate it from the air of Jerusalem to appease illegal settlers shows that neither has the wisdom of Caliph Umar. Their plan has not only enraged Palestinians, but also damaged yet further attempts to create a climate that will lead to peace; it is most definitely part of Israel’s attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and empty the Holy City of its Islamic and Christian heritage. The ban is, in fact, just the tip of the Judaisation iceberg.

As for the settlers objecting to the Muslim call to prayer are concerned, there is an easy solution. They could leave the houses that they have built — illegally — on land stolen from its Palestinian owners and either go back to where they came from in North America or Europe or live within the internationally recognised borders of the state whose citizenship they carry. That would be the most moral of solutions, although it is doubtful if they know what morality is.

Waleed Shaath is the two millionth reason for ending the siege on Gaza

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 31/10/2016

Waleed Shaath, held by his mother, is the two millionth person born in Gaza on 12th October 2016 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Apaimages]

Waleed Shaath, held by his mother, is the two millionth person born in Gaza on 12th October 2016 [Abed Rahim Khatib/Apaimages]

The news that the population of Gaza has reached the 2 million mark was reported widely in the media but has stirred hardly any real action by the international community to ensure that Waleed Shaath — the milestone Palestinian baby — could look forward to a normal life. Waleed was born on 12 October in Rafah; the town in southern Gaza is probably best known internationally for its crossing to neighbouring Egypt. The immediate question that comes to mind is when will Waleed actually be able to travel out of Gaza through this crossing and what sort of a future can he look forward to?

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) publishes a weekly “Protection of civilians” report documenting incidents in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The report for the period when Waleed was born (4-17 October), makes for reading typical of other reporting periods: two Palestinian deaths, two Israeli deaths and a further 115 Palestinian injuries due to violence by Israeli forces, including 22 children across the OPTs. Israeli forces conducted 178 search and arrest operations and arrested 295 Palestinians in the West Bank; on two occasions, they carried out land-levelling and excavation operations in the vicinity of the perimeter fence with Gaza.

OCHA reports that at least ten incidents involving Israelis opening fire at Palestinian civilians in the Access Restricted Areas (ARA) at land and sea in the Gaza Strip were recorded; while no injuries were reported, two fishermen including a 17-year-old, “were forced to take off their clothes and swim to Israeli naval boats, where they were detained and their boat and fishing nets seized.” A number of rockets were fired towards Israel, causing no injuries, and the Israelis launched air strikes and shelling, which caused no injuries.

The electricity supply in Gaza, which is inadequate at the best of times, deteriorated further during the reporting period with blackouts increasing from 12-16 to 18-20 hours per day on several occasions. OCHA puts this down to “a lack of fuel triggered by recurrent closures during the Jewish holidays, and to the continuing disputes between the Ramallah and Gaza authorities over a tax exemption for the fuel purchased for the plant. This forced the Gaza Power Plant to shut down one of its two operating turbines, affecting the delivery of basic services and undermining vulnerable livelihoods and living conditions.”

Baby Waleed may have been lucky if his parents wanted to travel out of Gaza as the Rafah Crossing was open — exceptionally — for two days (15 and 16 October) in both directions. OCHA reports that 1,368 Palestinians reportedly exited Gaza to Egypt and 1,296 entered. This, remember, is out of a population of 2 million people.

The Palestinians in Gaza are mainly from other parts of historic Palestine; they were forced into exile to make way for the establishment of Israel. Sadly, these refugees have become accustomed to existence under what a friend who returned from Gaza recently called a “medieval siege”, not through choice but reality. Gaza, we are told, will become uninhabitable by 2020. Waleed will be three years old then, and existing in an uninhabitable homeland.

It is natural for anyone who cares about this sort of desperate situation facing fellow human beings to ask who is to blame. If you ask the Palestinians, they will tell you without hesitation that it is the occupying power, Israel, as well as its backers, chiefly the United States, who know the situation but choose not to intervene. Israel and its allies blame the de facto ruling power, Hamas, for the rockets that are fired from Gaza occasionally, and for its unwillingness to adhere to three principles set out by the Middle East Quartet (the UN, EU, Russia and the US – a group established in 2002), which are:

  • a Palestinian state must recognise the state of Israel without prejudging what various grievances or claims are appropriate;
  • abide by previous diplomatic agreements; and
  • renounce violence as a means to achieve goals.

It is important to note that Israel has not adopted or accepted the mirror image of these principles; it does not formally recognise the de facto Palestinian state; it does not abide by its agreements signed with the Palestinians, notably Oslo; and it certainly does not renounce violence as a means to achieve its goals.

The lack of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas does not help the situation and despite renewed efforts, which seem to occur on an almost monthly basis, the prospects for reaching an agreement or implementing existing agreements appear bleak. The Quartet’s most recent reportmade specific recommendations for improving the situation which have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

The Gaza siege is a blight on our humanity. The explicit acceptance by Israel, Egypt and the international community of the collective punishment — illegal in international law — of 2 million people to achieve political goals has brought neither permanent security for Israel nor a change of the ruling party in the enclave.

Each reader can put the Gaza blockade into context without much of a leap of the imagination. What would your situation be like if your city, town, village or region if it was under the same kind of siege for a week, a month, a year or — as in Gaza’s case, ten years? My adopted home town is Birmingham; Britain’s second city has a population of 1.1 million and is at the heart of the road and rail networks passing through the Midlands. I could not possibly imagine being prohibited from travelling in or out of the city as and when I want or need to, while also depending on humanitarian aid, enduring daily attacks by those imposing the siege and losing hope day after day that things will get better.

We owe it to Waleed and those born since his arrival to end this unbelievable suffering. With very day that passes yet another generation will grow up hating their occupier not because of incitement by their leaders but due to the reality of their existence and their perception about who bears responsibility for it.

What Brexit should mean for the Arab world

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/10/2016

June 23rd marked a turning point in Britain’s relationship with the European Union when the British people voted to leave the union, triggering a process known as Brexit.

This quickly brought about the resignation of the prime minis­ter, David Cameron, who was replaced by Theresa May. In her first major speech, she confirmed that Britain would be leaving the European Union and that “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it”.

Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Since then it has had a love-hate relationship with the European Union as in later years the union took control of more of the issues held dear by the British people. While Britain had a special deal with the European Union exempting it from the European currency, the euro, and the Schengen agreement, which allowed free movement of people within that area, there was a perception by Britons that they had lost sovereignty and control of their borders.

May recently announced that Britain would formally inform the European Union of its decision to leave by the end of March 2017, triggering Article 50 in the relevant treaty, which then sets in motion at least two years of negotiations to extract Britain from the union.

As the reality of what has happened sinks in, and Britain begins to look to the future as an independent kingdom able to negotiate its own trade deals, opportunities open for it and for others. Negotiations about membership or access to the single European market will be the most difficult as the Euro­pean Union generally ties the degree of access to the freedom of movement of labour, which Britain now wishes to control.

It is widely expected that Britain’s access to the single market will change significantly. It is therefore imperative that it looks to enhancing trade with other countries and regions if its economy is to at least hold its own and to benefit from Brexit as its proponents have claimed it will.

One of the initial effects of the referendum vote was a drop in the value of the pound by almost 20%. This makes British exports, education and holidaying in Britain cheaper for consumers from the Arab world.

At a recent reception held alongside the ruling Conserva­tive Party conference in Birming­ham and hosted by Arab ambas­sadors, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson surprised the audience when he stated that “the growth in exports to the Arab world outstrips any other part of the planet including the EU”. The exports include Rolls-Royce cars, underpants and even sand to Saudi Arabia. Significantly, he did not mention the arms trade. Clearly, the Arab world, whose “troubles” Johnson did not wish to see characterise the British people’s impression of it could offer some respite to Britain as it forges new partner­ships.

The West always talks about mutual interests driving policy. Therefore, here is an opportunity for the Arab world to welcome Britain’s desire to grow its partnership with its members but to also press for a more favour­able foreign policy towards the region.

At the reception, the Palestin­ian ambassador reminded Johnson that in 2017 a number of anniversaries are coming up connected to the Palestinian issue, including the centenary of the Balfour declaration, which Britain will want to mark. Surely, it should be possible for the Arab world to exert some pressure on Britain to finally realise its responsibility for the plight of the Palestinian people and, in turn, exert pressure on Israel to end its expansionist project.

It seems Arab ambassadors in London have an open door, through trade, to push for a more enlightened British foreign policy. Will they rise to the challenge of making the best of Brexit or miss this unique opportunity?

TV Interview: Israel Suspends UNESCO Ties

I contributed to the Press TV programme ‘On the news line’ about the UNESCO resolution confirming that East Jerusalem including the religious sites is illegally occupied. This was broadcast on 20/10/2016.