Israeli society and its leaders are hastening its complete isolation

Israeli society and its leaders are hastening its complete isolation

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30 May 2016

The news that the Israeli cabinet has confirmed the appointment of extremist settler and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as Defence Minister is troubling to Palestinians and their supporters. The leader of Yisrael Beiteinu is known for his hatred of Palestinians. In 2015, he said that “Israeli Arabs” who are disloyal to the State of Israel should have “their heads chopped off.” More recently, he initiated a bill that would allow the death penalty for “convicted terrorists”, but only if they were Palestinians. He is also a man who is happy to “lose” Israeli citizens if they are not Jewish, saying: “We won’t be moving people, we will be moving the borders. It’s not a transfer.” He made his comment when asked about land swaps with the Palestinians.

Lieberman is but one example of the extremist leadership that now runs Israel; even its own Environment Minister Avi Gabbay described it as such when announcing his resignation recently. Other extremist members of the Israeli government include Naftali Bennett, leader of Jewish Home, who once said proudly that he had “killed lots of Arabs in his life and there’s no problem with that.” The intolerant Israeli education minister recently banned a novel from the school curriculum because it dared to imagine that a Jew and an Arab could fall in love. Another member of Bennett’s party is the extremist, so called Justice Minister, Ayalet Shaked. She infamously called the entire Palestinian people the enemy and justified their destruction, “including their elderly and their women, their cities and their villages, their property and their infrastructure.” She went on to call for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.” More recently, Shaked pushed for a plan to apply Israeli law to the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, effectively annexing them to Israel.

Culture Minister Miri Regev has insisted that the Israeli flag should fly on every state cultural institution, even in Arab areas. Her extremist views are not new but she has reconfirmed her former statement that African migrants are a “cancer”, adding, “Heaven forbid we compare Africans to human beings.”

Another group now facing an unprecedented attack are leaders and proponents of the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Transportation Minister Israel Katz has called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Interior Minister Arye Deri followed this up with a decision not to renew Barghouti’s Israeli travel document, which effectively bans him from travelling.

Sitting at the top of the tree of the most extreme government in Israel’s history is, of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The normally skilled communicator of Israel’s “victim” narrative and peace-seeking propaganda let his guard slip in the run up to the 2015 elections, when he promised voters that there would be no Palestinian state “on his watch” and incited against Palestinian citizens of Israel who were going to the polls “in droves”.

If Israel’s political leadership is seen as the most extreme in its history then what about its religious leadership? Take Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro of Yitzhar as an example. In his book “The King’s Torah” he wrote that even babies and children can be killed if they “pose a threat to the nation.” At the height of Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, Rabbi Dov Lior – who lives in the occupied West Bank – announced that “Jewish law permits the destruction of Gaza.” This followed the 2007 letter from former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that there was “absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.” He advocated the carpet bombing of Gaza. The most recent ruling by a religious leader was Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu‘s call to the Israel Defence Forces to execute rather than arrest alleged Palestinian attackers.

Even when it comes to coexisting with Israel’s Palestinian minority, its religious leaders tend to fall on the side of racism. In 2010, dozens of top Israeli rabbis signed a ruling to forbid the rental of homes to “Arabs”. Furthermore, the religious ranks have been silent on the predicament of the Bedouin citizens of Israel. Although what was called the ‘Prawer Plan’ to displace thousands of Bedouins from their homes in the Negev into what are more or less US Native American-style reservations was defeated, Israel has continued to implement it by stealth. The obscenity of destroying Bedouin villages and displacing their residents against their will only to build Jew-only settlements on the ruins has not troubled the religious leadership of Israel. This applies in particular to the Negev villages of Umm Al-Hiran and Atir.

You would be hard pressed to see any condemnation of the attack on the Bedouins in Israeli society, which I have described as being in a deep moral coma. Not only has its leadership moved towards extremism and racism but so too has the society that it represents. How else do you explain the recent call for Palestinian and Jewish mothers to give birth in segregated hospital wards? Jewish Home’s Bezalel Smotrich supported this call, saying: “My wife is truly no racist, but after giving birth she wants to rest rather than have a hafla [a mass feast often accompanied by music and dancing] like the Arabs have after their births.” He claimed that, “It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie down [in a bed] next to a woman who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby twenty years from now.”

It seems that Israeli society wants to see segregation not only in maternity wards but also in schools. A recent poll reported that half of Israeli Jews do not want “Arabs” teaching their children. The figure rose to 82 per cent among Israel’s religious Jews.

Anyone looking to the political left for an alternative will be disappointed. Israel’s Labour Party accepted its leader’s plan for separation from Palestinians, particularly around Jerusalem. It is, therefore, clear that Israeli society, religious leadership and political leadership are moving dangerously towards further racism, with not only separation from the Palestinians under occupation but also their Palestinian fellow citizens of Israel. The collective lurch to extremism and intolerance will increase the disdain towards Israel held by ordinary people around the world; increasingly, this includes Jews, particularly in the US. The success of BDS and the recent refusal of Holland, Ireland and Sweden to condemn or outlaw the campaign will increase pressure on Israel just when it thought that its friends would criminalise the movement across the world.

While BDS is succeeding in isolating Israel to some degree, though, it is Israel’s own lurch towards extremism that will increase its isolation even further. The government of Israel can choose to end this by ending the occupation, ensuring equality among its citizens and allowing the Palestinian refugees to return. It’s Israel’s call.

Interview on Voice of the Cape radio

23 May 2016

I was interviewed by Voice of the Cape radio about my my article in the Middle East Eye ‘It just ain’t cricket: how Israel transfers Palestinian land to settlers

Here is the link to the interview 

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

This was first published by the Middle East Eye on 21 May, 2016

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

image from Middle East Eye

The cricket season is in full swing in England and this was possibly playing on my mind when I read this headline in Haaretz “Israel seized Palestinian family’s East Jerusalem land behind Its back, gave it to settler NGO.”

My immediate reaction was this is simply not cricket, a British term used to describe an act that is unfair, not honest or immoral. Israel should know all about this as it has a cricket team and one that is a member of the European Cricket Council. In fact, Israel expropriated the land from the Abu Ta’ah family in East Jerusalem without a tender and against the rules, then handed it over to Amana, an organisation that works to establish settlements and outposts for Jews. A double whammy! Not only was the land taken from the family, it was given to an organisation that exists to take over as much Palestinian land as possible through any means, especially in occupied East Jerusalem, but worse was that – it will use it to establish its headquarters in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Amana was formed as an offshoot of the messianic Zionist movement Gush Emunim, and is run by Ze’ev Hever, a convicted terrorist. It has a long and chequered history of fabricating documents to take Palestinian land and property under the pretence that it once belonged to Jews or that it had been bought legally from previous owners. It was formed in 1976 with the goal of “establishing communities” only for Jews in the occupied territories. An investigation into its subsidiary Al-Watan (Arabic name for homeland), a company run by Hever, revealed that 14 out of 15 supposed real estate acquisitions it made were forged. That isn’t cricket.

Elad is another group which works to takeover Palestinian property and land in East Jerusalem and settle it with Jews. It received $115 million in donations between 2006 and 2013 which according to a Haaretz investigation, came mostly from companies registered in global tax shelters like the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and the Seychelles, and it is unclear who controls them. Another group which benefits from these donations is Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli Jewish organisation which works for the creation of a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

One of its main funders is American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz. In around 2000, Ateret Cohanim and Elad began to acquire land in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem outside the Old City and particularly around what they call the “City of David” area, which is part of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Stories abound of Palestinian families in Silwan waking up to find Jewish settlers moving into homes in Silwan protected by Israeli security forces.

The methods used to take over land or property belonging to, or rented for decades by Palestinians are many. One is to claim that Jews owned them prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and that they should revert to the state. The Palestinian families are evicted and the property turned over to settler organisations that would move Jewish settlers into them, despite not being descendants of the supposed original Jewish owners. Appeals to the Israeli courts usually fail to reverse the takeover and the “transfer” stands. Palestinians not only see this as a deliberate policy to replace them with Jews with no connection to the properties but a form of incitement. That isn’t cricket.

Another hotspot and focus for settler takeover of Palestinian homes is the Palestinian city of Alkhalil (Hebron). Ever since the first settlement was created there shortly after the Six Day War, and the planting of settlers in the centre of the city, settler groups and organisations have been working to occupy buildings to gently change the “demographics” in its centre.

An example of this was the takeover by dozens of settlers of parts of a Palestinian property on the sensitive Shuhada street, which they claimed they had bought legally. Protected by the Israeli army, the settlers are known to terrorise the local population of 200,000 inhabitants in order to push as many of them as possible to leave. Israel has also divided the Ibrahimi mosque which it claims as the Cave of the Patriarch against the will of the almost wholly Muslim population of the city. That isn’t cricket.

The practice of enticing Palestinians with substantial amounts of money to sell their properties to settler organisations is well established and where the direct approach fails, attempts to achieve this through devious and backhanded means are well known to Palestinians. This normally involves using Palestinians as front men to a sale to gain trust but in reality the sale was always to settler organisations or individuals. Palestinians deal harshly with those who sell their property to settlers and when found the rogues who facilitate these shady deals are also targeted.

Another means of taking over Palestinian property and transferring it to Jewish settlers is the use of what is called the absentee property law. This framework allows Israel to confiscate Palestinian property where the owners had left or was forced to flee as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and had not been able to (that is not allowed) to return. Initially, Israel had not applied this to East Jerusalem, but this changed in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that it could be applied to East Jerusalem, thus making it “legal” for homes to be taken and essentially handed over to settlers by the state. This is in defiance of international law, which is clear that East Jerusalem is illegally occupied.

Estimates of how much of Israel’s territory is confiscated under the Absentee Law is uncertain. However, the Independent’s Robert Fisk reported that when he interviewed the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, he estimated this to be up to 70 percent of the territory of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

What the above demonstrates is that Israel as a state and those organisations setup to increase the population of Jews living in the occupied Palestinian territories together use a combination of laws, forgeries, deception and outright brute force to take over Palestinian property to increase the presence of Jews especially in East Jerusalem and Hebron. The case of the Abu Ta’ah land in Sheikh Jarrah takes this a step further. The state itself was alleged to have used every trick in the book to complete this transfer which the Palestinians see as blatant fabrication and theft.

As the French work to convene an international peace conference to restart another round of futile talks between Palestinians and Israelis, there will be talk of confidence and trust building measures to create an atmosphere that helps both sides make the “necessary concessions”.  Israel could start with ending its determined effort to replace Palestinians with settlers, suspend the absentee property law and return the Abu Ta’ah land to its rightful owners. That would be cricket.

– 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 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.

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UK chief rabbi owes us Palestinians an apology

UK chief rabbi owes us Palestinians an apology

First appeared in the Electronic Intifada on 5/5/2016

For Palestinians, Zionism has meant war, forced displacement and diaspora.

Abed Rahim KhatibAPA images

The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom has weighed in on the row over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

Writing in The Telegraph this week, Ephraim Mirvis claimed that Zionism is not separate from Judaism as a faith. He astonishingly implied that no one can have a view on this except Jews and Zionists.

So much for open debate and discussion!

He further claimed that “Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the center of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years.” The reality is that not all Jews agree with his definition, let alone non-Jews.

A survey of British Jews by City University London last year shows deep disagreement on the term, with 41 percent not taking up the political identifier “Zionist.” Thirty-one percent identified as anti-Zionist or non-Zionist, while 10 percent said they were unsure.

The survey also found that the number of British Jews who call themselves “Zionist” dropped from 72 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2015.

Muslims have a strong attachment to the cities of Mecca and Medina – and of course to Jerusalem – but should all Muslims have a right to move to Saudi Arabia?

And what about Christians? Where was Christianity born? The answer is in historic Palestine. Should all Christians have a right to go and live there?


The chief rabbi and Zionism both ask us to accept that only Jews have a right to determine where they live and never mind the impact of their demand on whoever already lives on that land.

In his article, Mirvis astonishingly fails to mention my people, the Palestinian people, even once. His anger with the left has unfortunately left him ignorant of our plight.

To the chief rabbi, we are invisible.

He did not once acknowledge our existence on the land, our own unshakable connection to it or that it was and still is our home – whether for those living in historic Palestine or in the diaspora.

We are in the diaspora because of Zionism.

The chief rabbi implies that we cannot disassociate Zionism from Judaism – by implication accusing all Palestinians who oppose Zionism – as indeed we do – of anti-Semitism.

This is why Ephraim Mirvis is wrong, with the greatest respect to him, to conflate the two – a religion and a political ideology.


Palestinians do not have a problem with Jews – or with any other group – wanting to live in a state or entity of their own.

However, Zionists chose a land with a people, not an empty land for their state. That is the key issue here. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were violently driven from their homeland to make way for the realization of Zionism’s goal, and since then millions of Palestinians have been deprived of their most fundamental rights.

As British Palestinians we abhor all forms of racism including anti-Semitism. We will stand with our fellow citizens who follow the Jewish faith in striving to eradicate the scourge of all racism in this country, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

However, we will not accept the conflation of Judaism and Zionism to label us and those who support our legitimate right to self-determination in our homeland as anti-Semites.

The chief rabbi owes us Palestinians an apology for this conflation which suggests we are anti-Semites. Zionism owes us much more than an apology for our dispossession.

Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian academic and vice-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, writing here in a personal capacity.


British Palestinians want anti-Semitism eradicated and sanctions on Israel

British Palestinians want anti-Semitism eradicated and sanctions on Israel

First appeared on the Middle East Monitor on 3 May 2016

The current debate about alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and the ensuing clamour for eradicating this scourge from British politics is one that British Palestinians have followed with great interest; there has also been some concern. All British Palestinians I have spoken to over the past week or so have been troubled by this controversy. First, the presence of anti-Semitism – which we abhor – in this country, as well as the impact that this storm may have on campaigning for Palestinian rights and a just solution to our cause. There are many Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement in this country who are robust in their condemnation of Israel’s contempt for international law and who support strong measures to bring pressure to bear on the state until it accepts and follows the laws and conventions that the rest of the world is expected to abide by. And, indeed, until the Palestinian people obtain their freedom and legitimate rights. They support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign because they see it as a peaceful campaigning tool and because it makes legal and moral demands. We as Palestinians are horrified if some BDS colleagues face hatred in this country simply for being Jews; if, indeed, any Jew is thus persecuted.

We are, however, troubled that the recent storm engulfing the Labour Party and, in particular, Bradford North MP Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, two supporters of Palestinian rights, has given Israel’s apologists, including senior politicians, the opportunity to expand the definition of anti-Semitism rather deviously to effectively include not only criticism of Israel but outrage at what it does. This is not clever nuancing, but disingenuous and dangerous scheming.

The Labour Party has initiated an inquiry into anti-Semitism and the two Labour politicians should have a fair opportunity to explain their remarks; it will then be up to the party to decide what the consequences should be. I believe that one of the challenges the inquiry has to wrestle with will be precisely what definition of anti-Semitism is used to decide guilt or otherwise. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has published a document which may help them in their endeavours. It includes a repudiation of the claim that there is an accepted definition of anti-Semitism that conflates what we have traditionally understood this to mean with criticism of Israel, the so called and discredited definition prepared by the European Union Monitoring Committee (EUMC) on Racism and Xenophobia.

Over the past few days I have heard claims that this storm has been manufactured in order to damage Labour’s chances in the 5 May elections and that once this has passed people will sit and wait for the fallout. If Labour does badly then the pressure for a change of leader will mount. Some are even claiming that the groundwork for replacing Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known supporter of Palestinians and, even more importantly, an anti-racist campaigner for justice and human rights, has started in earnest. But what if Labour does well at the polls? Would that indicate that there is a much wider problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and its supporters or will it simply indicate that the British people also have other issues that concern them that impact on their daily lives and they see Labour as a preferred alternative to the Conservative Party? Pro-Israel supporters cannot tolerate a party led by a politician who supports Palestine and this has been troubling them since he was elected as leader last year.

As far as British Palestinians are concerned, we seek support for our liberation movement from across the political spectrum, racists and bigots excluded. Our cause is a just one – and supported by international law – and so we expect that those campaigning for justice, equality and human rights across the globe will join us in our quest for freedom and independence. Hence, we need to ensure that they are not hesitant about supporting our cause for fear of being labelled racists and, in particular, anti-Semites. This is where we see the long-term danger from the current storm.

We believe that Israel’s declared policy to tackle and intimidate both individuals and organisations campaigning for Palestine by labelling them as anti-Semites is in full flow, aided by organisations in Britain which either lobby for Israel explicitly or operate a dual role by claiming to represent the Jewish community while placing Israel at the top of their list of lobbying objectives with decision-makers, especially governments. There is, of course, nothing illegal about this. We Palestinians and our supporters also lobby for government pressure on Israel to end its illegal and racist policies.

It is, though, not acceptable to find government ministers, including senior figures such as Justice Secretary Michael Gove, spouting Israeli hasbara (propaganda). Take, for example, his recent declaration that the BDS movement is worse than Apartheid and his labelling of those committed to the BDS movement as anti-Semites. Neither is true, but when said with the authority of a Secretary of State it is dangerous simply because of the office he holds. In labelling BDS as anti-Semitic he is actually labelling myself and many other Palestinians who support the peaceful movement as a Jew-hater. I and, no doubt, all of my fellow British Palestinians, reject and condemn such an accusation. This label is extended to our supporters, many of whom in the past campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa until it collapsed and continue to campaign on other issues in support of the oppressed. Gove is not the only senior politician to level such accusations.

We British Palestinians stand with our Jewish fellow citizens in their fight against anti-Semitism and our joint fight against any form of racism in this country and elsewhere. We ask them equally to understand that we support peaceful means for ending Israel’s occupation, racism and its refusal to implement the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to our country. The BDS movement is a peaceful tool for achieving this. Labelling it and therefore many Palestinians as anti-Semites is inaccurate, wrong and dangerous. Please stop it. It does not help to achieve peace. It is both possible and reasonable to want anti-Semitism eradicated and still campaign for sanctions on Israel until it ends its occupation and oppression.

Kamel Hawwash


A Palestinian view on the antisemitism row

The Guardian published my letter below online on 2 May 2016 and on print on 3 May 2016.

The Guardian 3/5/2016

A Palestinian view on the antisemitism row

Jonathan Freedland (My plea to the left, 30 April) asks us to imagine if a country far away was created for black people and asks if the left would treat it as it does Israel. As a Palestinian I want to tell him that if, instead of a country for Jews, a country for black people or any other group had been created in our homeland without our consent, we would have objected and resisted as Palestinians with the same vigour.

If it continued to defy international law and occupy, colonise and murder and make our lives so miserable that we would leave, we would call for its boycott as we do in the case of the real occupier, Israel. And if that occupation had continued for as long as Israel’s has, we would have called supporters of human rights to help us end this occupation, treat Palestinian citizens of that state equally and allow Palestinian refugees to return. As it happens, those are the legitimate demands of the BDS movement called by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005.

Further, had Israel been created in, say, Uganda and not in Palestine, does Freedland or any other supporter of Israel think that Palestinians would have created Fatah or Hamas and sent them to Uganda to attack the Jewish citizens of this entity in Uganda?

Even closer to home, Balfour had more right to promise Wales to the Zionists than Palestine – with my apologies to the Welsh people. Had he done so and had Israel been created in Wales, had Cardiff been occupied and declared the united capital of Israel, and had Swansea been under siege for 10 years because it reacted to Israel’s illegal occupation, would the Welsh have simply accepted this and behaved as a model occupied people?

I remind all who are interested in peace in historic Palestine that we Palestinians did not choose our occupiers. They chose Palestine knowing it was not an empty land but one that had a people, my people, the Palestinians that have paid with their land, lives and rights.

As we approach the 68th anniversary of our catastrophe or Nakba, our occupiers need to acknowledge the wrong they did to us, apologise and pursue a genuine reconciliation, which may necessitate a very different political arrangement in historic Palestine. Instead they are busy conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism, thinking this will end the call for Israel to come to its senses. Supporters of Israel who do this are really working to protect its illegal policies and to delay the day when it finally operates within rather than above the law.
Professor Kamel Hawwash

Updated 10/6/2016