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Q&A on antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and BDS

Produced by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC)

29, April 2016

We are being contacted by members and supporters concerned with the misrepresentation of the campaign for Palestinian human rights by media and public figures.

In the past few weeks and months there has been increasing discussion of antisemitism. It is important that we set out the campaign for Palestinian rights is an anti-racist campaign, and that any attempt to connect or conflate antisemitism with the campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people is wrong, misleading and harmful.

Our aims set out that ours is a campaign based on the principles of peace, justice and international law.

It may be useful to refer to Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s statement on the attack on Palestinian rights and boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Why does Palestine Solidarity Campaign focus on Palestinian human rights?

Many Palestinians live under military occupation; others are living as refugees, barred from returning to their homeland; others live in Israel as second class citizens. None have the rights we take for granted. We are campaigning for all Palestinians to enjoy the same basic rights to live in peace and freedom that we ourselves have – rights that all humans should be able to exercise.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign was set up in 1982 specifically to campaign for Palestinian human rights. We are the biggest campaigning organisation in the UK dedicated to campaign for the rights of Palestinian people.

Does Palestine Solidarity Campaign oppose antisemitism?

Yes, we do.

Jewish people have suffered many centuries of persecution in Britain, Europe and elsewhere. It is vital that we stand against antisemitism and all racism.

As an anti-racist organisation, we abhor racism directed at any group. Antisemitism – hatred of or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity – must be challenged wherever it is found.

We encourage political leaders to defend equality for all religious or ethnic groups and to fight racism in all its forms.

Is antisemitism the same as anti-Zionism?

No, it’s not. As the Jewish Socialist Group have said:

“Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. Zionism is a political ideology which has always been contested within Jewish life since it emerged in 1897, and it is entirely legitimate for non-Jews as well as Jews to express opinions about it, whether positive or negative. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews.”

Antisemitism is hatred or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. It must be opposed and defeated.

Zionism is a political ideology that seeks to create a Jewish state that privileges Jewish Israelis above Palestinians, and that seeks to establish a permanent Jewish majority. While some seek to define Zionism as the right of Jewish people to self determination, the Zionism of the Israeli state has resulted in the denial of basic human rights to Palestinians.

The foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 was accompanied by the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of approximately 500 Palestinian villages and towns. Zionism, as enacted by the state of Israel, rejects Palestinians’ right of return, their right to self-determination, and their demand for equality.

The Israeli state privileges the right of Jewish citizens above Palestinian citizens. More than 50 Israeli laws discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. The racist nature of the Israeli state is unacceptable and must be challenged.

To confuse – whether deliberately or otherwise – legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government with antisemitism only serves to undermine the struggle against racism.

Why are you concerned about whether or not antisemitism is confused with anti-Zionism?

The UK Government has recently made efforts to revive a discredited definition of antisemitism (the EUMC definition) which explicitly incorporates criticisms of Israel within a definition of antisemitism. This has been supported by many of the Israeli government’s defenders in the UK.

If adopted, this definition would deny people the right to challenge the racism of the Israeli state – which privileges the rights of Jewish citizens above those of non-Jews.

We must protect our right to stand up against the dispossession of a people and to oppose the continuing oppression of Palestinians, whether living in the occupied territories, resident as second class citizens in Israel or living elsewhere as refugees. The racism intrinsic to the state of Israel must be amongst the forms of racist oppression that are opposed globally.

We oppose any attempt to limit legitimate debate or to prevent us from campaigning for the Palestinian people being able to access their full political and civil rights.

Why do you describe the campaign for Palestinian rights as anti-racist?

We believe in equality for all.

The Israeli Government subjects Palestinians to discriminatory treatment on the basis of their ethnicity. We want to Palestinians living under occupation, as refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel to enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israelis.

We support Palestine in a framework of human rights and justice, and we campaign for the implementation of international law.

Where is your evidence that pro-Palestinian human rights campaigning is under attack?

In 2010 an influential Israeli think tank, the Reut Institute, launched a report whose main recommendations have been accepted as policy by the current Israeli Government. The report identified the global boycott divestment and sanctions campaign as the biggest strategic threat to Israel and proposed a process of rebranding BDS activists as racists and extremists. Pro-Israel groups in the UK have taken the strategy forward and found willing allies within the current UK Government.

  • In January of this year, the Government introduced guidance which aims to prevent Councils making procurement or investment decisions based upon companies’ complicity with Israel’s occupation and human rights violations.
  • In 2015 the Board of Deputies of British Jews lobbied to have an international conference at Southampton University on Zionism and International Law closed down. Under pressure the University postponed the conference citing police advice that the safety of attendees could not be guaranteed.
  • Cambridge University was threatened with legal action for allowing a protest in which a mock checkpoint was erected to illustrate the daily realities of life for Palestinians living on the West Bank, on the grounds that to stage such a protest represented an attack upon Jewish students.

To conflate antisemitism with the right to challenge the Zionism of the Israeli state is a form of McCarthyism (political suppression) which degrades political discourse, diminishes the fight against racism and undermines free speech and democratic rights. This should be of concern to all of us no matter our faith, ethnicity or political standpoint.

Is boycotting Israel antisemitic?

No, it’s not.

We support the Palestinian-led call for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which uses effective-yet-peaceful means to pressure Israel to end the occupation and ensure Palestinians have the rights we take for granted. It is civil society holding countries and companies accountable for their actions.

The Palestinian call for boycott (BDS) states:

“We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonisation of all land occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall
    2. Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
    3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Boycott is a tool human rights defenders have used throughout history. It is a non-violent, global and traditional form of protest used to oppose oppression. It is not racist to refuse to buy, decline to invest in or stop supplying goods, arms or services to companies and institutions that are knowingly supporting breaches of human rights and international law.

We proudly continue in the tradition of civil and human rights activists before us. If it was good enough for Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela; boycott is good enough for us.

Rather than attack those defending human rights, the UK Government should be challenging Israel for its actions that breach international law.

It is not the place of politicians to tell citizens what we can or can’t boycott, nor to limit our freedoms to campaign for equality and justice. The job of the government is to uphold international law – and it is precisely because the government has failed to take any effective action against Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights that more and more people are joining the campaign for Palestinian rights.

We will continue to hold politicians to account for what they say and do to help promote Palestinian rights. We will continue to campaign for full rights of Palestinians and demand our right to do so.

PSC is part of a growing global movement in support of Palestine, proudly refusing to do business with Israel’s occupation, colonisation, and discrimination.

Isn’t there too much focus on Israel and not enough on other countries that deny human rights?

We support human rights and international law. Just as there are campaigns focused on other human rights issues, we are dedicated to campaigning in solidarity with Palestinians who have asked for the support of citizens around the world.

Judged by the actions of their governments over many years, Israel isn’t interested in peace. By erecting more and more settlements on Palestinian land it is in the process of building Palestine out of existence. The situation is urgent and deteriorating.

Our government is not only ineffective in opposing Israel’s human rights abuses, but by allowing financial links between Israel’s illegal settlement colonies and British businesses, it is complicit in these breaches. By blocking and attacking the rights of British people to support Palestinians’ peaceful call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the Government is assisting Israel in its crimes.

It is not only our right to boycott those who aid and abet this occupation and colonisation of Palestine – it is our duty.

If the Palestinians are guilty of incitement, then what does Israel’s 24/7 occupation amount to?

If the Palestinians are guilty of incitement, then what does Israel’s 24/7 occupation amount to?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/4/2016

  
Image from original article on Middle East Eye

Hardly a day goes by without Israel accusing Palestinian leaders of incitement against the state and its citizens. They argue that such incitement was one of the triggers for the seven-month long uprising which has seen forty Israelis killed by Palestinians, mostly in knife attacks, and over two hundred Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces, many executed while posing no threat to anyone. Such accusations Palestinian incitement extends all the way up to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He admitted recently that there is some incitement from the Palestinian side in his interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV. On other occasions, Saeb Erekat, General Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its chief negotiator has also accepted that there is some incitement from the Palestinians.

Incitement as far as Israel is concerned covers a wide spectrum, from calling those killed by Israel “martyrs” to objecting to repeated incursions by Jewish settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque, and including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign; seeking membership of international organisations such as the International Criminal Court; calling Israel out as an apartheid state; describing the horrific impact of the occupation to the UN General Assembly; and even reminiscing about the towns and villages (most of which have been wiped off the map by Israel) from where Palestinian refugees come and to which they long to return.

Israel has worked tirelessly to convince the so called “international community” to accept its definition of “terrorism” and make it cover any form of resistance that is quite legitimate, including throwing stones. Even attacks against Israeli soldiers maintaining an illegal occupation in Palestine are deemed to be “terrorism”. The international community now works according to Israel’s definitions and narrative and seems to require the victims, the occupied people, to be exemplary and simply curse their predicament but do nothing about it. How many victims of an acknowledged crime are required to protect the criminals? The Palestinians under Israeli occupation are.

The situation is the same across the Atlantic. US presidential candidates making their obligatory, embarrassing pilgrimage to the main pro-Israel lobby group conference, AIPAC, earlier this month joined in this nauseating spectacle of dancing to Israel’s tune. Their words were carbon copies of what an Israeli spokesman would say. They accused the Palestinians of raising their children to hate and of loving death more than life. Both are inaccurate and very racist accusations designed to pander to the lobby. Only Bernie Sanders skipped this festival of anti-Palestinian hatred and then took Clinton to task for barely mentioning the Palestinians in a recent debate between the two Democrat front-runners for the White House.

While Palestinians can understand why Israel trivialises the impact that the loss of their homeland in 1948 (the Nakba) and the occupation of the remaining 22 per cent in 1967 (they Naksa) have had on them, they cannot fathom how and why supposedly intelligent people like the presidential candidates can be so insensitive to this. The fact that they see the Palestinians as the villains and their Israeli colonisers and occupiers as the victims is like being stabbed in the heart. To call on them to submit to Israel’s brutal occupation is in itself a form of incitement.

If the Palestinians are guilty of incitement, then what does Israel’s 24/7 occupation amount to? What the Palestinians can do pales into insignificance when compared to Israel’s deliberate daily provocation and humiliation of subjugated people in the hope of a reaction, to which the so-called Israel Defence Forces (IDF) can “respond”. This provocation – and provocation is not a strong enough word to convey the impact it has — is the most significant incitement of young Palestinians to take matters into their own hands. If those calling on them not to react could put themselves in their position for even one day and be on the receiving end of what it is like to live under occupation, I am confident that they would understand why they might be driven to violence.

The list of examples of incitement by Israel is long.

When Zionists claim that historic Palestine belongs to the Jews and use this to argue not only that modern day European Jews with no connection to the land have a “right to return” but also deny the same right to Palestinian refugees driven out of their homes and land in 1948 by Jewish terror groups, that is incitement by Israel.

When Palestinian children are abducted in the night by the army of an occupying power; denied legal rights including representation; shackled when brought to court; and made to sign confessions in Hebrew, that is incitement by Israel.

When an Israeli armoured bulldozer accompanied by dozens of soldiers arrives and demolishes a Palestinian home in occupied East Jerusalem under the pretence of the lack of a building permit, then that is also incitement by Israel.

When illegal Jewish settlers protected by the security forces throw a family out of their home in Sheikh Jarrah, and move into it themselves, that is incitement by Israel.

When Israeli settlers break into the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the security forces and claim that the mosque site is theirs, then that is incitement by Israel.

When Muslims are barred from reaching their holiest mosque in Palestine at the whim of the Israeli security forces, then that is incitement by Israel.

When homes are built for Jewish Israelis on Palestinian land and the owner’s movement is restricted to allow them freedom of movement, then that is incitement by Israel.

When the IDF fires tear gas canisters into Palestinian schools causing the children to suffocate or faint, then that is incitement by Israel.

When the occupying state takes over the main mosque in Hebron and divides it between Jews and Muslims, and determines when Palestinians can and cannot pray in it, then that is incitement by Israel.

When the occupation authority builds roads which encroach on Palestinian land for use by Jewish settlers only, then that is incitement by Israel.

When Jewish settlers terrorise the local population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and even murder Palestinians such as Mohammed Abu Khdair and the Dawabshe family under the protection of the IDF, then that is incitement by Israel.

When Israel lays siege to 1.8 million human beings in the Gaza Strip for ten years with no prospect of the blockade ending, then that is incitement.

When the occupiers use the most powerful and devastating weapons on earth, save for nuclear weapons, to kill and maim in war after war against the Palestinians in Gaza, then that is incitement by Israel.

As far back as 2006, PLO Secretary General Dr Erekat said, “The Israeli ministry of defence is telling its citizens to carry weapons when trailing in the occupied West Bank near Palestinian villages.” This, he added, is an outrageous case of incitement to violence against Palestinians that reflects Israel’s official policy and mindset. “It should be of grave concern to the international community.”

Israeli incitement goes right to the top. In the 2015 general election campaign Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu incited the Jewish population against Israel’s Palestinian citizens when he said, “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” as if they were a swarm of cockroaches. He was also accused of incitement by Palestinian citizens when he promised Israeli Jews, “We will dramatically increase law enforcement services in the Arab sector.” Netanyahu told the press at the site of a shooting that Israel “will open new police stations, recruit more police officers, [and] go into all the towns and demand of everyone loyalty to the laws of the state.” Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev incited against African refugees claiming, “Heaven forbid [that] we compare Africans to human beings.”

At a recent conference to counter the BDS movement, an Israeli minister called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Even foreign political figures have been the subject of incitement as Saeb Erekat has noted. He strongly condemned the hateful Israeli campaign against Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom following her legitimate calls for an investigation into Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Palestinian civilians.

Those searching for a peaceful resolution to the injustice affecting Palestinian must recognise Israeli provocations and incitement as serious contributing factors to the violence. They cannot expect the occupied Palestinians, victims of Israel’s colonisation project, to turn the other cheek when slapped. That cheek is badly bruised and cannot take any more humiliation, provocation and, yes, incitement by Israel.

Israël ne peut utiliser l’archéologie pour justifier le colonialisme et la dépossession

Israël ne peut utiliser l’archéologie pour justifier le colonialisme et la dépossession

Translation published first by the Middle East Eye on 18/4/2016

L’enchevêtrement entre archéologie et politique en Israël est une tendance dangereuse

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Depuis que le sionisme a mené à bien son projet de création d’un foyer juif en Palestine, les Palestiniens ont dû faire face aux tentatives quotidiennes d’Israël de négation de leurs droits et de leur appartenance à la terre. Celles-ci prennent de nombreuses formes, dont des références générales à l’époque biblique, la connexion spirituelle entre les juifs et la Palestine historique culminant dans le « Dieu nous a donné cette terre ». C’est « dans la Bible ».

On devrait en déduire que tout le territoire situé entre le fleuve Jourdain et la mer Méditerranée appartient aux juifs, que Jérusalem est la « capitale unie et éternelle » du « peuple juif » et que la Cisjordanie est la « Judée et Samarie ». Collectivement, cela est censé prouver que la connexion des juifs à la terre est beaucoup plus forte que celle de n’importe quel autre groupe, dont les Palestiniens. Les hommes politiques israéliens utilisent ceci pour affirmer qu’il n’y a pas d’occupation dans la mesure où les juifs sont simplement en train de retourner dans leur terre natale.

Aujourd’hui, la Palestine historique ne manque pas de symboles historiques liés aux trois grandes religions monothéistes, et Jérusalem en possède un nombre abondant dans un espace minuscule qui contient le Mur occidental, l’église du Saint Sépulcre et la mosquée al-Aqsa. Chaque année, des milliers de fidèles partent en pèlerinage en Terre sainte, essentiellement des juifs et des chrétiens. Des milliers de musulmans seraient aussi du voyage si la paix prévalait et s’ils étaient autorisés à visiter leur troisième plus sainte mosquée, al-Aqsa.

Le contexte ci-dessus montre non seulement l’importance de la Palestine historique pour les trois religions mais aussi le potentiel de million de personnes la visitant chaque année, générant des bénéfices économiques substantiels pour les juifs, les chrétiens et les musulmans. Pour qu’un tel potentiel se réalise, il est important que la paix soit établie et que l’histoire de cette terre soit préservée pour les générations actuelles et à venir.

Celui qui en est responsable, en tant que puissance étatique et puissance occupante, est Israël. Son rejet de cette responsabilité est au mieux suspect. Israël s’est lancé en fait dans un processus consistant à ramener systématiquement sur le devant de la scène l’histoire juive de la terre et à cacher, ou dans certains cas effacer, la connexion qu’en ont les autres habitants. 

Lorsqu’Israël a occupé Jérusalem-Est en 1967, les forces d’occupation ont commencé par hisser le drapeau israélien sur la mosquée al-Aqsa. Bien qu’ils l’aient ensuite enlevé, les Israéliens ont rapidement procédé à la destruction au bulldozer du quartier marocain de Jérusalem, dont plusieurs mosquées, afin de faciliter l’accès des juifs au Mur occidental, qu’ils désignent aussi sous le nom de Mur des Lamentations.

Depuis lors, Israël s’est lancée dans un projet archéologique d’envergure dans cette zone sensible et dans d’autres zones moins sensibles afin de trouver des preuves de l’existence des juifs en ces lieux après leur exode d’Égypte et pour l’utiliser comme justification de leur revendication à la Palestine historique des temps modernes.

Les Israéliens sont particulièrement désireux de mettre au jour la preuve que les premier et second temples existèrent sur le site de la mosquée al-Aqsa. Depuis leur occupation de Jérusalem-Est, ils ont creusé autour et sous le site, suscitant les vives préoccupations des Palestiniens et de la Jordanie, qui craignent que les excavations viennent endommager les fondations de la mosquée, précipitant son effondrement. On pense aussi que les fouilles menées par l’Autorité des antiquités d’Israël menacent les maisons du quartier palestinien de Silwan, qui se trouve en contre-bas du mur méridional de la mosquée al-Aqsa.

Si les fouilles étaient simplement menées pour des raisons purement historiques, on pourrait avancer l’argument que, si elles étaient faites avec précaution, elles pourraient être tolérées par les Palestiniens. Or, cette zone, que les Israéliens de droite appellent la Cité de David, est l’une de celles dont ils veulent se saisir, séparant ainsi de fait la mosquée al-Aqsa de l’un de ses quartiers palestiniens les plus proches. 

L’utilisation de l’archéologie en Israël pour délégitimer la connexion des non-juifs à la terre et légitimiste le projet colonialiste d’Israël ne se limite pas aux organisations de droite. En 2013, le Premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahou a qualifié de « magnifique » la découverte d’un ancien médaillon d’or à Jérusalem. Il avait alors affirmé : « Il est intéressant de voir que même alors, plus de 500 ans après la destruction du second Temple, nous voyons la menorah dans une illustration originale. C’est un témoignage historique, de la plus grande qualité, du lien du Peuple juif à Jérusalem, sa terre et son héritage – menorah, shofar, parchemin de la Torah. » 

En 2015, le ministre de l’Éducation Naftali Bennett s’est servi de sa page Facebook pour envoyer un « Mémo à Mahmoud Abbas [président de l’Autorité Palestinienne] et d’autres qui crient “occupation” : une jarre vieille de 3 000 ans portant l’inscription Ishba’al fils de Beda a récemment été découverte près de Beit Shemesh. Ishba’al est un nom mentionné dans le Tanach (Bible) et est uniquement propre à la période du roi David. Ce n’est qu’un autre exemple des nombreux faits sur le terrain racontant l’histoire de l’État juif qui a prospéré ici sur cette terre il y a 3 000 ans. À cette époque, il y avait des communautés qui levaient des impôts, jouissaient d’une économie forte, fournissait des transports, des institutions éducatives et une armée – comme aujourd’hui. Une nation ne peut pas occuper sa propre terre. »

Les institutions étatiques peuvent aussi se trouver mêlées à la controverse lorsqu’elles se risquent à utiliser des symboles historiques. Récemment, l’authenticité de l’image musicale représentée sur la pièce d’un demi shekel de la Banque d’Israël a été remise en question. Le « kinnor » ou lyre, qui ressemble à une harpe, donnait à cette pièce une apparence caractéristique et historique. L’instrument de musique apparaît au-dessus d’une inscription sur un sceau en pierre découvert en 1979 et daté du Royaume de Judée du VIIe siècle avant notre ère.

La Banque d’Israël a frappé la pièce décorée de la lyre en 1985, et cette dernière y figure encore à ce jour. Cependant, Haaretz a récemment rapporté que de nombreux archéologues pensent que ce sceau est un faux, une contrefaçon, ce qui place la Banque d’Israël dans une situation délicate. Devrait-elle retirer la pièce ou continuer à l’utiliser comme sa monnaie légale ?

Sa réponse a été la suivante : « Rien ne prouve que le sceau “Appartenant à Maadana, fille du roi” n’est pas authentique. Et quand bien même ce serait le cas, cela n’a aucune importance en ce qui concerne la pièce en tant que telle, de nombreuses années après sa production. Nous pouvons garantir au public que la pièce qu’il tient entre ses mains est une monnaie légale à tous égards. »

L’enchevêtrement entre archéologie et politique en Israël est une tendance dangereuse qui semble s’être intensifiée à mesure que la société et les politiques israéliennes ont viré vers la droite et que les hommes politiques du pays ont manœuvré le conflit d’un conflit politique à un conflit religieux. Cependant, personne, y compris les Palestiniens, ne nie que les juifs ont vécu en Palestine il y a environ deux mille ans ou qu’ils ont une connexion spirituelle à la terre. 

Cela n’empêche pas que d’autres groupes aient aussi des revendications. Avant que les juifs ne viennent en Palestine, celle-ci était habitée par les Cananéens. La chrétienté est née en Palestine, et par conséquent les chrétiens ont eux aussi une forte connexion à ce lieu. Plus récemment, dans les années 630, les musulmans l’ont conquis et l’ont habité depuis sans discontinuer.

La Palestine historique est appelée Terre sainte parce qu’elle est sainte pour les religions monothéistes. Refuser un tel attachement à n’importe lequel de ces groupes est égoïste et injuste. Les tentatives visant à mieux comprendre l’histoire, notamment à travers l’archéologie, sont très importantes, mais l’honnêteté l’est tout autant.

 Kamel Hawwash est un professeur britannico-palestinien d’ingénierie de l’université de Birmingham et un militant de longue date pour la justice, en particulier pour le peuple palestinien. Il est vice-président de la Campagne de Solidarité Palestine (CFP) et apparaît régulièrement dans les médias comme commentateur sur les questions du Moyen-Orient. Il écrit ici à titre personnel. Il blogue sur http://www.kamelhawwash.com.

Regeni murder: If only Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall had been Italian

Regeni murder: If only Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall had been Italian

First published by the Middle East Eye on 20/4/2016

Why did the UK and US not react firmly against Israel for the killing of Hurndall and Corrie the way Italy did with Egypt for the death of Regeni?

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The world was shocked at the discovery of the body of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni in a ditch in Cairo on 9 February. His body showed signs of horrific torture which made it difficult even for his relatives to confirm his identity. The 28-year-old Cambridge University student had been kidnapped 10 days earlier while researching labour unrest and independent trade unions in Egypt.

Ironically, he went missing on 25 January, the fifth anniversary of the start of Egypt’s revolution. Egypt’s initial theories for the cause of his death ranged from being a casualty in a road traffic accident to being murdered by a criminal gang and even to being killed in a lover’s argument.  

The reaction of Italy was firm and robust. The Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano who claimed that Regeni had been subjected to “inhuman, animal-like violence” announced that while Egypt appeared to be cooperating with a team of Italian investigators dispatched to Cairo, Italy wanted justice for Regeni. “We will not settle for alleged truths,” he said. “We want those really responsible identified and punished on the basis of law.” Rejecting suspicions of Egyptian security forces involvement in Regeni’s death, the Egyptian interior minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, called them “completely unacceptable”.

Not satisfied with Egypt’s response the Italian government recalled its ambassador on 8 April for “an urgent evaluation” of what steps to take to “ascertain the truth about the barbaric murder of Giulio Regeni”. In diplomatic norms, recalling an ambassador is a significant step in expressing displeasure at the behaviour of the host nation, in this case Egypt. States use this very sparingly as it can sometimes take months if not years for relations to return to normality, possibly impacting on other aspects of the relationship including trade cooperation. On this occasion Italy saw this move as an appropriate response.

Coverage of Regeni’s death rightly filled many column inches around the world with writers contrasting the significant coverage of his death with that of thousands of Egyptians who lost their lives since the start of the revolution five years ago.

The media also tends to give significant coverage to the death of peace or human rights activists around the world including when this happens in Israel. However, if one compares the action of Italy as a state to the killing of one of its citizens in Egypt to the lack of action by the UK and the US to the killing of their citizens by Israeli forces while protecting Palestinians from Israeli violence one finds a marked difference.

Corrie and Hurndall: A muted response

Take the case of Rachel Corrie, an American citizen from Olympia Washington who decided to spend her senior year at college in Rafah, Gaza to connect it to her home town through a sister cities project. She did not live to see this through as she was run down and killed by an Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to dissuade the driver from demolishing the home of a local Palestinian pharmacist. Her killing on 16 March 2003 did not draw a sharp response form the US government.

While US Representative Brian Bard introduced a resolution in the US Congress calling on the US government to “undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation” into Corrie’s death, the House of Representatives took no action on the resolution. It was left to Israeli military and legal processes to rule on the reasons for Rachel Corrie’s death.

The Israeli army’s investigation absolved the driver of any deliberate wrongdoing, claiming he could not see Corrie from his cab due to limited visibility. The investigation was criticised by a number of international and Israeli human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. It took until 2012 for US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to say that the Israeli investigation “was not satisfactory, and was not as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been”.

Shapiro said further that the government of the United States is unsatisfied with the IDF’s closure of its official investigation into Corrie’s death. Those were empty words, similar in nature to condemnations or expressions of concern at a new settlement building announcement.

The Corrie family were left to their own devices filing an appeal against the army investigation and holding Israel liable for her death. In 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the Corrie’s appeal. There were no howls of protest or a recall of the ambassador by Corrie’s home nation the USA despite its dissatisfaction with the original investigation.

The case of British photographic journalism student Tom Hurndall who died in January 2004 having been shot in the head by an IDF sniper on 11 April 2003 followed an eerily similar path to that of Corrie. Hurndall had only been in Gaza for five days when the IDF opened fire on Palestinian civilians near a checkpoint in Rafah. Tom managed to rescue one child from the line of fire but was shot in the head as he knelt down to pick up another child paralysed by fear.

The Israeli army claimed its checkpoint had come under fire from Palestinian militants and that it was responding to this when Tom was hit. The IDF’s initial “routine internal inquiry” concluded that Hurndall was “shot accidentally in the crossfire”, and suggested that his group’s members were essentially “functioning as human shields”. This was contradicted by witnesses at the demonstration asserted that he had been hit by a rifle bullet while trying to shield the children rather than having been merely hit in the crossfire.

There was no immediate outrage from the British government at this callous killing and, like the case of Corrie, it was left to the Hurndall family to pursue justice for their son. The British government did support the family through then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. This combination resulted in the Israeli advocate general ordering the IDF to open a further investigation in October 2003. This led to a military court finally sentencing Hurndall’s killer to 11 and a half years for manslaughter. He eventually served six and a half years. Once again though, a Western government was not so robust in the pursuit of the killers of one of its citizens to consider breaking ties with Israel over the matter or even to recall its ambassador to exert pressure from the outset.

Western supporters of justice for the Palestinian people therefore visit Palestine unsure of what their governments would do to help them if they were arrested, injured or even killed by Israeli security forces. There is little protest and no action by western governments when Israeli soldiers attack European or American citizens as they do here and here or even when settlers attacked US officials.

The only exception to this was Turkey’s reaction to Israel’s attack on the Gaza siege-breaking flotilla on 30 May 2013, in which 10 Turkish human rights activists on the lead ship the Mavi Marmara were killed by the Israeli military in international waters. Turkey broke diplomatic relations with Israel and to this day those relationships have not returned to the same level they were at before the attack.

Egypt and Israel are allies to the same Western governments but it seems that when it comes to bringing killers of their citizens to account, there is a differential to the way they deal with the two states. What this does is embolden Israel to act at will not only against the helpless Palestinians but also against citizens of its closest allies.

Kamel Hawwash is a British/Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing 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 http://www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Palestine’s Arab Idol Mohammed Assaf rocks London

I reviewed Mohammad Assaf’s concert at the London Barbican theater for Middle East Eye

 

From a Gaza refugee camp to the London Barbican, Mohammed Assaf caused a sensation, with his mixed audience dancing in the isles

Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, Gazan winner of the Arab Idol talent competition, performs on stage during his first concert outside the Arab world on 29 September 2013 (AFP)
Monday 18 April 2016 13:09 UTC

 

The rise to fame of Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, the 2014 winner of the hugely popular MBC show Arab Idol, is a remarkable journey that brought him from Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp to London’s Barbican, where he caused a sensation this month.

Assaf was born in Libya but raised in Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp. His musical talent lay undiscovered save for singing at weddings and an appearance on a Palestinian talent show. This was until he was encouraged by his mother to compete for Arab Idol. The auditions in Egypt were easy to reach for most Arab competitors but not for a Palestinian from Gaza. It took him two days to reach the venue only to find that it was too late – or so he thought.

When he telephoned his mother to explain his predicament, she insisted that he contact the organisers even if he had to jump over the venue’s wall. He finally decided to heed his mother’s advice – or rather her order – and jumped over the wall, only to find that all the available places had been allocated. He would not take no for an answer and started singing. He was luckily recognised by another Palestinian who had been allocated a place and graciously gave it to him because he thought he would have a better chance of winning. He recognised him from his now legendary song Wave the Kufiyya.

Assaf sailed through the auditions with one of the judges, famous Lebanese singer Ragheb Alamah, telling him that he was one of the contestants he would remember. Assaf went on to wow the crowds in round after round with a mixture of traditional Palestinian songs but also classics, particularly by Egyptian icon Abdulhalim Hafez, whose looks some thought he shared. Alamah described him as Sarukh, or rocket, referring to his incredible projectile rise.

Assaf’s win brought the Palestinian people joy, pride and some relief from the occupation. It also brought him instant fame, a recording contract and the title of ambassador of culture and arts by the Palestinian government with “diplomatic standing”. Assaf, who had studied in a school run by UNRWA, saw the organisation name him the first UNRWA regional youth ambassador for Palestine Refugees.

Shortly after his win Assaf sang at the UN and the opening ceremony of the FIFA congress which preceded the 2014 World up in Brazil. (FIFA never provided an adequate explanation as to why this was switched from singing at the actual World Cup opening ceremony to the congress.)

Since his win, Assaf has built on his success when many winners of other such competitions disappear from the limelight following their triumph. He launched an album with Platinum records and a number of singles and videos. His most successful song and video since his win is probably Ya Halali w ya Mali which he recorded in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

He has also performed for his fans at numerous concerts around the world but also in his beloved Palestine. The difficulty of navigating his way out of Gaza as regularly as he needs due to the ongoing siege meant that he had to move first to Ramallah in the West Bank and now spending more time in Dubai to ensure he can meet his commitments, the most recent of which was at the Barbican.

Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf at the Barbican in London on 10 April, 2016 (MEE/Kamel Hawwash)

 

Assaf’s concert at the Barbican was hugely popular with most tickets being snapped up soon after they went on sale. The crowd was very diverse, some who knew what was coming but others, mainly westerners, coming to experience this Arab Palestinian singer and his music for the first time. They were not disappointed. He brought the house down. He sang a range of songs from traditional Palestinian favourites to some from his own album but also classics by Egyptian legend Abdulhalim Hafez and Lebanese giant Wadi Alsafi. He was careful to ensure he pleased not only his sizeable Palestinian audience but also those from across the Arab world. They sang with him but were also moved to perform the traditional Palestinian dance, the dabka. Lines of dancers formed among across the isles as Assaf also danced the dabka on stage.

Assaf sang for almost two and a half hours, not only wowing the audience but also being complemented by the Barbican’s management according to Palestinian website Watan TV. They report that the Barbican had never seen such a reaction from an audience to a performer. They also expressed their surprise at what they said was a non-Arabic speaking audience dancing in the isles to the Palestinian dabka. British friends of mine who attended the concert were exhilarated from start to end, with one expressing her disappointment that he did not come back for an encore. I explained that encores are uncommon in the Middle East.

Assaf and Reem Kelani, whose new album I recently reviewed, are cultural ambassadors for Palestine, playing a vital role in presenting this culture not only to be enjoyed by audiences but to humanise Palestinians to counter Israel’s attempt to dehumanise them.

Palestinians are proud of their culture and can point to food, poetry, music, embroidery and dance as a few examples of what defines Palestinians as a people. Their struggle with Israel for freedom and the attainment of their rights has also included a struggle to stop Israel’s attempts at claiming elements of Palestinian culture as Israeli culture, be this humus, falafel or embroidery. The battle for cultural identity is therefore an important aspect of Palestinian resistance. For this battle to be won there is a need for a concerted effort to send more ambassadors forth to spread the message. This requires funding, support and talent, which in the person of Assaf but also many others, Palestinians demonstrably have in buckets.