Jerusalem at the heart of the conflict

My article was first published in Palestine News in February 2016

Jerusalem at the heart of the conflict

Violence has erupted in Jerusalem in recent months with scores of deaths and regular clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli Occupation Forces. Here Kamel Hawwash, a native of East Jerusalem and vice chair of PSC, explains why the future of the city lies at the heart of any peace agreement.

The issue of Jerusalem was one of the final status issues under the Oslo Accords, one that was so sensitive that the peace process may not have been set up if it had been one of the issues the Israelis and Palestinians had to tackle first. But after 22 further years of futile negotiations, the peace process has now failed in its entirety. Meanwhile, on the ground, Israel has created facts that make the achievement of peace based on what is termed “the two-state solution” unattainable.

Jerusalem has suffered more “facts on the ground” than most. This is because after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, it illegally annexed the city and successive Israeli governments have referred to it as the eternal united capital that will “never be divided.” They have pursued a policy of the Judaisation of East Jerusalem in an attempt to destroy its Palestinian Arab, Muslim and Christian character.

Fast forward to 2015/16 and, apart from the iconic skyline of Alaqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock compound, the city is unrecognisable. Many Israeli flags flutter over the city, both in the old part and where illegal settlements have been deliberately planted in what used to be completely Palestinian neighbourhoods like Attur and Silwan.

The settlements are built on Palestinian land which mainly ended up in the hands of settler organisations through shady deals, for example where Palestinians believe they are selling to other Palestinians but find they are victims of an act of deception. Israel also uses the law of absentees to confiscate Palestinian land and homes handing them over to settlers with Israeli courts generally approving these immoral acts.

In addition Israel has almost completely encircled Jerusalem with a belt of settlements built on illegally occupied land in the West Bank to cut the city off, making it impossible for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state. The rest of the area in the centre of the West Bank, often referred to as E1, is subject to regular Israeli plans for construction which the international community strongly opposes as filling the area with settlements would finally kill off any prospect of the two-state solution.

As well as building settlements, the Israelis have evicted many Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem neighbourhoods like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah because settler organisations claim they used to belong to Jews before 1948. Apart from the immorality of these acts, the effect is that space for Palestinians to build and develop is reduced and opportunities for young people to set up homes in their neighbourhoods are almost nonexistent. Meanwhile they are forced to watch Jewish Israelis develop their lives on land illegally taken from them as a people.

When Israel occupied East Jerusalem it issued the indigenous Palestinian population with special identity cards carried in a blue wallet which denoted residency rights. But the Israeli authorities can take away the “blue ID,” as it is known, at any time if they judge that Jerusalem is longer the “centre of your life.” This can be if a Palestinian moves to work in the West Bank or live or study abroad. A Jewish Jerusalemite who leaves the city to work elsewhere in Israel or to live abroad does not lose the right to live in Jerusalem.

Israel has also used the route of the separation wall to exclude tens of thousands of Jerusalemites from the city. They have to pass through checkpoints to reach services they used to access prior to the construction of the wall such as education or health. They pay taxes to the city’s council but do not receive services in their neighbourhoods and Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from offering alternative services. This leaves residents of areas such as Abu Dis and Alram in no man’s land.

Palestinians are also witnessing a replacement of Jerusalem’s Palestinian history with a Jewish one by stealth. This can be seen through road signs which no longer list the road or neighbourhood name in Arabic using its historical Arabic name but by a Hebrew replacement. So young Palestinians and visitors will use the Hebrew replacement thus providing further Judaisation of the city.

Under PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, the number of “visits” by Jewish settlers to Alaqsa mosque has increased. They take place without invitation or coordination with the Jordanian Waqf, which under the various agreements administers the Muslim Holy site. The settlers are accompanied by Israeli Occupation Forces and clashes erupt regularly between Palestinian worshippers and the settlers.

In order to facilitate the settler visits, Israel regularly bars Palestinians from entering the mosque. This has led Palestinians to believe that Israel plans eventually to divide the site between Jews and Muslims and to fear that the number of settlers who wish to replace Alaqsa with a Jewish temple is increasing both in number and influence in what is a settler-led government.

In Jerusalem Palestinians and Israelis interact regularly, unlike other parts of the West Bank. At times of rising tensions, this can lead to friction and in some cases outright violence. While Israelis are protected by the occupation forces, Palestinians feel vulnerable as they have no confidence in the occupation forces offering protection. Incidents such as the burning alive of Palestinian child Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014 and the lack of justice for him confirm these fears.

The impact of all these things has been to create a feeling among the Palestinians of Jerusalem that they are losing their city to the colonisers. Israel controls every aspect of their daily lives and does all it can to control the demography of the city to at best maintain the current proportions of Israeli Jews and Palestinians but at worst to change it over time to ensure a clear Jewish majority.

This has helped ferment a state of continuous Palestinian anger as they see their city being taken away from them. This anger can explain the recent Palestinian uprising which started in October in which over 150 Palestinians have lost their lives in alleged attacks against Israeli civilians and occupation forces. Because the Palestinian Authority, which exercises a security cooperation with Israel in the rest of the West Bank, has no presence in annexed East Jerusalem, it has paradoxically allowed the population to hit back at the occupation with acts of revenge that have at times been violent.

As the French try to initiate another attempt to find a way forward to peace, all stakeholders should see East Jerusalem Street as the barometer for the seriousness of any initiative. If Palestinians can see an end to the rabid Israeli colonisation of their city, then peace might have a chance of coming to the Holy Land. Without this, the current rise that started in Jerusalem could morph into a full intifada.

مقابلة مع قناة القدس عن فعاليات التضامن مع فلسطين

مقابلة مع قناة القدس عن فعاليات التضامن مع فلسطين
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Press release from Britain-Palestine APPG

This press release follows the UK Government’s announcement that it would ban local authorities and other publicly financed bodies from boycotts, including those of illegal Israeli settlement goods.


Richard Burden MP blasts Ministers for ducking Parliamentary Scrutiny of “Anti –Boycott rules”

Richard Burden MP, Chair of Britain-Palestine All-Party Group has today accused Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock of trying to duck Parliamentary Scrutiny for new restrictions on public sector procurement and ethical investment decisions, stating last week’s announcement should have been made to MPs, rather than on a visit in Israel.

Mr Burden said today:

This all started last October at the Conservative Party Conference, when Matt Hancock issued a press release outlining the Government’s intention “to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel.”

Most of the examples given by Ministers at the time of what they had in their sights however, were not  boycotts of Israel as a nation but rather responses to illegal actions by Israel in the Occupied territories –  for example settlement building in the West Bank. This even seemed to fly in the case of the Foreign Office’s own advice to business which warns of the risks associated with trade relationships with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Foreign Office and Department for International Development seemed to be facing one way while the Cabinet office seemed to be heading off in the opposite direction.

Ever since then I have been trying to find out what is going on. I have tabled several written questions about prospects for parliamentary scrutiny on both issues, and information was not forthcoming – until Matt Hancock announced his intentions on procurement guidance in Israel earlier this week.

 It is still not clear what the Minister’s announcement in Israel actually means. One message coming out of the Government is that it simply repeats existing rules regarding discrimination on the grounds of nationality against other WTO members. However, if that is the limit of what the Government is intending, why have they made such a song and dance about it on the international stage?

 And if that is all that Ministers are saying, how do they square that with their attacks on decisions by councils or others which seek not to boycott Israel but to sever connections with illegal settlements in the West Bank and other breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention? There is nothing about those kinds of decisions by councils that breaches WTO rules.

 So, it is vital that Ministers urgently clarify its intentions when Parliament returns on Monday. That is why it is particularly worrying that last week’s announcement was made in Israel rather than in the House of Commons either before or after the current recess.

 The danger is, of course, that with so much uncertainty surrounding the actual meaning of what the Government is doing – both in respect of pension funds and procurement policies – Councils and other public sector institutions could be deterred from taking ethical investment and procurement decisions in general. That could certainly include decisions in response to Israel’s actions in the occupied territories but it could go a lot further.

 A wide range of individuals and organisations have expressed concern about these proposals – including those campaigning for Council and pension fund divestment from fossil fuel and tobacco, and those working to promote fair trade principles. Would the kind of thing Ministers are suggesting today have ruled out Councils from divesting from companies involved in South Africa during the Apartheid era? Who knows?

 Ethical investment decisions are often seen as good business practice in the private sector. For local councils, it can be particularly important to community cohesion for procurement and investment decisions to contain ethical dimensions.

 Ministers have a duty to explain to Parliament why their new rules mean, and to come clean about why they are doing this.

————-ENDS ————–


  1. “Government to stop ‘divisive’ town hall boycotts & sanctions” | Conservative Party Press Release, October 2015:
  2. These proposals contradict current Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice, “Overseas Business Risk — the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, 14/7/2015, which states: “Settlements are illegal under international law . . . There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity.” See here:
  1. The International Development Secretary reinforced the position of following Foreign Office advice following a question during oral questions on 16 December 2015:

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Surely the Secretary of State will be aware of the guidance on the Foreign Office website, which warns UK companies thinking of investing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the “legal and economic risks” if they engage in “financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements and other economic activities in Israeli settlements or benefitting Israeli settlements” because of the illegal nature of those settlements and their being an obstacle to peace.

Does the right hon. Lady therefore agree that it is perfectly reasonable for both public and private institutions to pay due regard to that advice when they make their own investment and procurement decisions.

Justine Greening: They should do that; that is good Foreign Office advice. We have been very clear that we deplore illegal settlements, because they take us further away from a two-state solution and peace in that part of the world, when we need to be taking what could be final steps and final chances to reach a two-state solution.

  1. Richard Burden MP received the following answers to written PQs recently:
  2. On pension changes:
  3. On procurement changes:
  4. During Business Questions on 28 January, Shadow Leader of the House, Chris Bryant MP, also raised the importance of parliamentary scrutiny on the issue, to which Leader of the House, Chris Grayling did not acknowledge in his response.

CB: “… concerns the Government saying they want to stop councils making ethical pensions and procurement decisions. They want to amend the Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds Regulations) 2009 and publish a revised Cabinet Office procurement policy note. I believe that this constitutes a major curtailment of local authorities’ power to act. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that the changes will be subjected to proper scrutiny? That means a debate and vote on the Floor of the House on any changes in the pensions regulations, and a separate debate and vote on the procurement policy note.” See full Hansard transcript here:

  1. “Putting a stop to public procurement boycotts” | Cabinet Office Press Release 17 February 2016;

It’s time that the Palestinian Authority embraced the BDS call

This article was published by the Middle East Monitor on 19/2/2016

It’s time that the Palestinian Authority embraced the BDS call

 Image from the Middle East Monitor

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been in the news recently following the British government’s decision to “ban” local authorities from applying their ethical procurement policies if this will result in boycotts of Israeli goods or companies complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine. Significantly, this was announced not in Britain’s House of Commons but in Israel during a visit by Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock. The government moved swiftly to implement the policy without any parliamentary debate or vote. It issued a so-called procurement policy note informing public authorities that they would face “severe penalties” if they continue procurement boycotts on ethical grounds. The instruction notice said that “public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government.”

This move and similar steps taken previously by France and now possibly Canada to make boycotts of Israel illegal are at best illogical but, most worryingly, send a message to Israel that only it can determine whether to end the occupation and when. The tools to put civil society pressure on it to do so without delay are being stripped away.

On 20 October last year, France’s highest court of criminal appeal upheld the convictions of 12 Palestine solidarity activists for calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, finding them guilty “of inciting hate or discrimination”. Canada’s Trudeau government intends to join the Conservatives in condemning any individual or organisation participating in any boycott of Israeli products or services, including the United Church of Canada and the Quakers. They seem to be doing this with somewhat of a heavy heart, though, since they acknowledge that “most of the organisations and individuals supporting the BDS movement are doing so in good faith, believing it will somehow force an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its control over Gaza, and maybe some sort of peace deal.”

The attacks on those responding to and promoting the BDS call are illogical. Since the occupation is not a static beast, the longer that it goes on, the less chance there is of realising a two-state solution, which is what each of these countries claims is its national policy. Their actions thus far to convince Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity and end the occupation have amounted to nothing. The number of illegal settlers has reached 650,000 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Will they only act when the number of illegal settlers reaches a million, or even more?

For its part, the Palestinian Authority has not fully embraced the BDS call, choosing instead to focus on boycotting settlement goods and, even then, doing so intermittently. This goes as far back as 2010 when the then PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was seen tossing settlement products onto bonfires. However, away from the cameras there has not been a sustained effort to enforce a boycott to the degree that it has hurt the settlements.

In fact, President Mahmoud Abbas has been explicit in refusing calls for expanding this modest action to a full boycott of Israel in line with the BDS call. In 2103, he famously chose a trip to South Africa, of all places, during which he rejected the BDS campaign in the country. “No, we do not support boycotts of Israel,” he said, “but we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.” This caused outrage among Palestinians and their supporters despite a clarification issued later by the Palestinian Embassy in South Africa.

Just over two years after Abbas’s statement, the Palestinians find themselves not only in a worse position on the ground but also almost abandoned by their Arab allies, and with Israel succeeding in convincing its allies to attack supporters of the BDS movement and refraining from any peace initiative not to its liking. The most recent example was Israel’s rejection of the French efforts to convene a peace conference to breathe life into the dormant peace process.

The Palestinians therefore need to take the initiative. The PA’s insistence on pursuing an end to the occupation through peaceful means is not utilising its most successful tool, which is BDS. This peaceful means of putting pressure on Israel is home-grown. The call came from Palestinian civil society in 2005. Its aims are explicit, moral and legitimate, calling for an end to the occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and respect and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Considering Israel’s intransigence, actions on the ground and the death of dozens of Palestinians, mostly youngsters in the current uprising, it is time that the BDS call became the call from both Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Authority. This should happen alongside a sustained campaign to discourage Palestinians from working in the illegal settlements before moving on to a complete ban. This acknowledges the difficulty of immediate implementation but at least indicates the direction of travel.

It would also send a clear message to the international community that without a peace deal and with no protection for Palestinians from Israel’s murderous actions and continued land theft, the people of Palestine are united in calling for an escalation of BDS as a peaceful resistance tool alongside the internationalisation of the conflict and the pursuit of war crimes trials in the International Criminal Court. After nearly 50 years of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and twenty-two years of futile talks, it is time that the Palestinians played their part in delivering on US Secretary Kerry’s warning to Israel in 2014 that should his peace initiative fail, Israel could face “boycotts on steroids”.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at He writes here in a personal capacity.

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