Aired on Press TV on 29/8/2017
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 25/8/2017
Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes is now almost a daily occurrence. The reasons vary but the phenomenon is ultimately a form of collective punishment; the humiliation of the occupied by the occupier and a means to achieve “demographic control” of occupied Palestinian territory.
The Zionist state publicises the demolition of homes of the families of Palestinians who are alleged to have attacked Israelis, whether civilians or occupying forces; Israel claims that this is a deterrent to others who might be contemplating such attacks. Demolition can happen immediately after an attack or some days later; families await their fate not knowing when the roof over their heads will be destroyed by an Israeli bulldozer.
The most recent of these demolitions was of the family home of Omar Abdel Gelil Al-Abed from the village of Kobar near Ramallah. Abed is accused of killing three Israeli settlers on 21 July in the nearby illegal settlement of Halamish in the West Bank. As with other demolitions, this was carried out under heavy protection from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) accompanied by clashes with local residents.
Israel may also “seal” the home of an assailant rather than demolish it, as was the case with Hassan Ankosh, one of three young Palestinians who carried out an attack at Damascus Gate in occupied Jerusalem. The homes of the other two assailants were demolished. The decisions were approved by Israel’s High Court.
However, Israel has never demolished the homes of Jewish Israelis who have attacked Palestinian civilians. On the same day that Israeli forces delivered demolition orders to the families of four Palestinian assailants, the Supreme Court decided not to demolish the homes of three Israelis convicted of brutally killing 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014. Jewish terrorist Yosef Haim Ben-David and two minors were convicted of kidnapping and burning the Palestinian teenager to death in 2014. The Israeli court rejected the Abu Khdair family’s petition to demolish the homes of the terrorists; retired Israeli judge Elyakim Rubinstein ruled that too much time had passed between the “abominable act of murder” and the submission of the petition.
The judge’s ruling was telling. He emphasised that “Regulation 119” in Israeli law permitted the demolition of homes of anyone suspected of “terror activity” and of their “accomplices and supporters,” whether they are Jewish Israelis or Palestinians. “We can understand how the victim’s family feels… we are dealing with a deterrent and not a punitive measure. It should be remembered that the perpetrators were given lengthy prison sentences,” added Judge Neal Hendel, reiterating the Israeli government’s contentious claims that such punitive demolitions deter “terrorists” from carrying out attacks.
More recently, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arguedfor the demolition of the homes of the Israeli Arab citizens from Umm Al-Fahm whose attack at the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque triggered the closure of the holy site and subsequent standoff between Palestinians and security forces.
There is, of course, no evidence that demolishing the family homes of Palestinians deters others, otherwise the attacks would by now — after thousands of demolitions — have surely stopped altogether. In fact the demolition of Ghassan Abu Jamal’s home in 2015 was followed by an attack by his cousin Alaa a week later. “Alaa knew what the consequences of an operation were for the family,” commented Muawiyah Abu Jamal, “but when he was humiliated in front of his three sons, it obviously hurt his sense of pride.”
Palestinians see these demolitions as a form of collective punishment against the families of assailants who had nothing to do either with planning or carrying out such attacks.
Image of Israeli bulldozers after demolishing the Arab Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb [Sarah Stern/Twitter]
Some Palestinian homes are demolished due to a “planning policy” which in practice is the mechanism for controlling the demography through Israeli policies designed to ensure a Jewish majority from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and in specific areas such as the prized city of Jerusalem.
The discriminatory policy of denying planning permits for Palestinians to build on their own land or to extend existing homes to accommodate natural growth is well documented. This denial is particularly significant in Jerusalem, where Israel regularly approves plans for illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, but denies permits to Palestinians a stone’s throw away for home extensions of just a few square metres. Israel has often argued that building within existing illegal settlements is necessary for the same “natural growth” argument which it refuses to accept from Palestinians.
The Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya has been awaiting approval for an infrastructure plan for over 15 years but it seems that it must wait a lot longer. In the meantime, some of its residents have built on their privately-owned land but have either had their homes demolished or, in a further humiliating act, have had to demolish their own homes to avoid extortionate fines by the Municipality if it carried out the demolition. This was the case of Firas Saleh, who was forced to demolish his own home, in front of his children, or pay $80,000 for the privilege of the Israeli authorities demolishing it. The children had helped to build it and were devastated. Khaled Mahmoud had his 4 bedroom apartments demolished, making 40 people homeless. He had been trying to secure a building permit since 2002 without success. Both families undertook to rebuild their homes.
Another Palestinian neighbourhood under constant threat of house demolition or eviction is Silwan on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. The most recent victims were the Abu Sneineh family whose home was demolished in early August but was partially rebuilt by the family and neighbours, only to see the new structure demolished by the Israelis as well.
Others who are targeted regularly by Israel for home demolitions are the Bedouin Palestinians on both sides of the Green (1949 Armistice) Line. The “unrecognised” villages of Al-Araqib and Umm Alhiran have been targeted for demolition of all structures, with the former being demolished and rebuilt at least 114 times since 2010. Israel wants to move the Bedouins to American-style reservations and build Jew-only settlements on the site of Umm Alhiran. The residents of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank have also lived under the threat of eviction and demolition of their village.
In the past three weeks, Israel has targeted Palestinian schools in Jabal Al-Baba and Jubbet Al-Dhib, and confiscated the only source of power for a school in Abu Nuwar by removing its solar panels. In the case of Jubbet Al-Dhib, its pupils started the new school year with lessons in tents.
With no evidence that demolishing homes of Palestinian attackers really deters others, and knowing that house demolitions can only increase the hatred of Israel amongst Palestinians, it appears that this policy has failed spectacularly in what it sets out to do. Israel often accuses the Palestinian Authority of incitement and blames it for attacks against Israelis. However, it is to the Israeli occupation and its carefully developed oppressive policies that we should look for incitement.
Would you think kindly of an occupier who has just taken the roof from over your head for any reason whatsoever, let alone political reasons? Israel’s demolition policy is, in the end, a spectacular own goal.
First published by the Arab Weekly on 20/8/2017
The last serious, sustained effort to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians was made during the Obama administration by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry. He tried over nine months to advance peace talks but his efforts met with failure and the breakout of the 50-day war on Gaza in 2014.
In his final speech before leaving office, Kerry laid most of the blame for the talks’ failures on the Israelis. He claimed that while Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly supports a two-state solution, his coalition “is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” which are “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.”
Kerry then presented his principles for a future final status agreement: An Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights for all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both countries; an end to the occupation, while satisfying Israel’s security needs, with a demilitarised Palestinian state; and end to all claims by both sides.
Just before the end of the Obama administration’s term, France called a conference of stakeholders to discuss a possible way forward but that too failed to move matters. Some, including British representatives, thought it odd that the two parties to the conflict were deliberately not invited.
US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, is leading attempts to broker the “ultimate deal.” He has expressed uncertainty about the United States’ ability to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and told a recent gathering “there may be no solution.”
On August 1, China issued its own four-point plan to move the matter forward: Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state, upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians and calling for an early resumption of peace talks, coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date” and promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel. None of the main parties have reacted to the plan.
There is, therefore, no shortage of initiatives from the international community. The most serious one to come out of the Middle East was the Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced by then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in Beirut in 2002. The initiative calls for normalising relations between the Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
The initiative was met with enthusiasm by former US President George W. Bush and generally supported by former President Barack Obama. Trump has referred to it as a basis for the “ultimate deal.” He has said he is in favour of whatever the two parties agree upon, whether one state or two.
Israel’s reaction from the outset was lukewarm. Its position can be summarised as recognising some of the initiative’s positive elements while insisting that there are issues it would not compromise on, including the return of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and complete withdrawal from occupied Arab land.
Netanyahu rejected the initiative in 2007, when he was the leader of the opposition. He told visiting Arab foreign ministers that “the withdrawal from Gaza two years ago proved that any Israeli withdrawal — particularly a unilateral one — does not advance peace but rather establishes a terror base for radical Islam.”
In 2015, he stated “there are positive aspects and negative aspects to it.” While noting that the situation has changed in the 13 years since the deal was proposed, Netanyahu asserted that “the general idea — to try and reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”
Israel probably believes that some Arab countries see it as a potential ally against Iran and are therefore more likely to offer it more concessions on the final outcome of a deal with the Palestinians. The recent tensions in and over Jerusalem showed that was unlikely but Israel still did not feel the need to accept the Arab Peace Initiative.
I was interviewed by Press TV on 11/8/2017
Israel continues to avoid dealing with the problem, which is the occupation and siege when it could spend $1 Billion on measures to bring peace.
عرضت الحلقه على قناة العربيه في 9/8/2017
First published by the Arab Weekly on 6/8/2017
Israel has been replacing Arabic road names with the Hebrew names.
The Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation recently approved a draft bill that would end Arabic’s status as an official language of the country, despite an Arabic-speaking population that includes 20% of the state’s citizens.
This would have significant practical and moral implications for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians in Jerusalem who are not citizens but whom Israel labels “residents.”
It would be a further blow to their fight for equality and to remain in their homeland regardless of what state exists on it. It will add to their insecurity as citizens who may be transferred to a future Palestinian state either politically or physically or stripped of their citizenship to fulfil extremist Israeli politicians’ desire to make the country a purely Jewish state.
Arabic is used when certain services are provided and when Palestinians are required to complete official forms applying for official documents or services.
Israel has been replacing Arabic road names, particularly in East Jerusalem, with the Hebrew names that appear on signs in both Hebrew and Arabic, including “Al Quds” being listed as “Yerushalayim” in Arabic.
This, Israel hopes, will be implanted in the minds of Palestinians and visitors who will become accustomed to the Hebrew names rendering the Arabic version as part of some distant history.
It is worth remembering that Israeli Arabs are a minority only because of the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the area when Israel was created in 1948. The discrimination and insecurity felt by Palestinian citizens of Israel is palpable.
The Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) said Israel has enacted more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state. They include a “citizenship law” that bars Palestinian citizens from marrying Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories and taking them to live in Israel.
Israeli society itself discriminates against them through “admissions committees,” which Jewish communities can use to bar Palestinian citizens from living among them.
As for Bedouin citizens of Israel, the situation is dire. Israel has not recognised 45 villages they inhabit, depriving the areas of essential services. It has embarked on a plan to transfer them to a smaller number of locations and, in some cases, to build settlements for Jews only on sites they inhabited.
Even the Muslim call for prayer has been under attack and the government moved to silence its projection outside mosques because it “disturbs” illegal settlers who moved into predominantly Muslim areas.
Contrast this with Canada where French is the mother tongue of 22% of the population but when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses news conferences abroad, he repeats his remarks in French, recognising the minority speaking part of his fellow Canadians.
Israel, on the other hand, is moving ahead with a “nation-state bill” that gives primacy to Jewish citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that “there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.”
Any rational and fair-minded observer would reject that assertion and see this bill and the stripping of Arabic of its status as an official language as further proof, if any was needed, of Israeli policies that discriminate against a sizeable minority of its citizens and one that erodes visible signs of the historic Palestine’s Arab heritage.
A famous Arab song says: “The land speaks Arabic,” which people in historic Palestine still do but Israel wants them to only speak Hebrew. Rather than enrich Israel, it would be the poorer for the actions of an extremist exclusionary government.
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/8/2017
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]
When the PLO asked the United Nations General Assembly for an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state” on 29th November 2012, the motion was passed by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The vote was met with ecstatic celebrations by the Palestinian delegation and disappointment on the faces of Israeli diplomats. The Israelis knew this could be a game changer, for although they, together with their American ally had scuppered the attempt in the Security Council (UNSC) for full recognition of Palestine as a state, the new status would offer the Palestinians the opportunity to pursue their ‘internationalisation’ strategy.
Having failed to make progress in direct peace negotiations under the auspices of the Americans, the Palestinians used their newly found status to join an array of international organisations and conventions. Palestine had already secured membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the previous year, which resulted in Israel freezing its $2 million annual contribution to it.
On 12th April 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the relevant documentation to join 15 treaties and conventions including the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol. Perhaps the most important organisation Palestine was able to join as a result of its upgraded status was the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it formally joined in April 2015. Joining the ICC allows Palestine to bring cases against Israeli officials for alleged crimes, including the 2014 war on Gaza and continued illegal settlement construction.
While Palestine struggles to have resolutions passed in the UN Security Council due to the likelihood that the US will wield its veto to protect Israel, in other forums where the veto does not exist, it has generally secured enough support to pass relevant motions. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regularly investigates Israeli human rights abuses and passes resolutions condemning its practices. UNESCO has passed important resolutions regarding Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and the status of Hebron’s old city and Al Aqsa Mosque that have raised severe criticism by Israel and its American backer; they were, however, unable to block these without the weapon of a US veto.
Despite these successes, support for the Palestinians in international forums is under threat from a sustained diplomatic effort by Israel to dissuade states and organisations traditionally hostile to it and supportive of the Palestinians to change course.
A Palestinian statehood resolution at the UNSC in December 2014 seemed to have secured enough votes to force the Obama administration to wield the US veto. That was until Nigeria, which has traditionally supported the Palestinians had a last minute change of heart and abstained; meaning the US did not need to exercise its veto. That was despite France, China and Russia voting in favour of the resolution. Nigeria’s Ambassador echoed the US position stating that the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution”. This came after heavy pressure on the Nigerians which included telephone calls to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
In another first, India’s Narendra Modi made the first state visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister last July. Commenting on a visit in which he physically embraced Prime Minister Netanyahu he said that India and Israel shared a “deep and centuries-old” connection. Suffice to note that that connection had not translated into a similar visit by a sitting Indian Prime Minister since Israel’s creation in 1948. Furthermore, it is worth noting that India is now Israel’s biggest arms market worth about $1bn per annum.
Israel’s relations with China have been developing since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. China has moved from support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel to support for a nebulous “just and peaceful resolution” to the issue instead.
Football’s governing body, FIFA, which had been due to sanction Israel for allowing teams from the illegal West Bank settlements to participate in Israel’s league, against FIFA’s own rules. The move was kicked this into the long grass following a telephone call from Israel’s Netanyahu to FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino.
In recent months, particularly following US President Trump’s visit to the region, even Arab states that had unreservedly supported the Palestinians have shown signs of change. Netanyahu insists relations with Arab states which have largely been hostile to Israel is shifting. There has even been talk of limited normalisation by some Gulf States to incentivise Israel to halt settlement construction and re-engage in the “peace process” with Palestinians.
An even greater danger for the erosion of Palestinian support lies in Africa. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long been pursuing closer relations and support from the African continent. On a visit to Kenya in 2016, he said “There are 50 countries in Africa”, “Just about all of them,” he continued “could be allies of Israel. They vote at international forums, and I know people don’t believe this, but I think we can change the automatic majorities in the UN and so on if you begin to shift this.”
The next step in Netanyahu’s pursuit of this change is the forthcoming ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ which has been called for 23- 24 October in Lome, Togo. The Summit’s website sells it as a “framework that will permit the leaders of the trade, security and diplomatic sectors of Africa and Israel to meet, network and collaborate”. It quotes Netanyahu saying Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel”. The last time the Israeli and Togo leaders were due to meet was at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Summit in Monrovia, Liberia back in June. However, the meeting was cancelled following a scuffle between the two leaders’ body guards.
Netanyahu’s attendance at the annual conference was to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other forums and to “dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies”. The conference saw Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe named the new chairperson of ECOWAS in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
Although the Africa-Israel Summit is still on schedule, pressure to cancel it appears to be growing. Morocco and the Palestinian Authority have reportedly been pressuring the Togolese President to cancel the summit and African countries to boycott it. This pressure must grow rapidly to avoid Israel reaping the fruits of its efforts in Africa, the continent which experienced apartheid in South Africa and which until relatively recently saw its fall. How can Africa, in particular, entertain Israeli apartheid?
The Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has labelled Israeli policies as Apartheid for over a decade. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” he said in a statement in 2014. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
The Palestinians may have assumed that Africa would resist Netanyahu’s charm offensive. However, increasingly it seems economic considerations trump human rights. The PLO has representative offices in 20 African countries. Apart from the North African Arab countries and other member states of the Arab League, Palestine has in South Africa and the African National Congress in particular strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. South Africa has been considering downgrading its embassy in Tel Aviv in protest at the lack of progress towards peace and Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership must use every ally to push back against Israel’s diplomatic offensive in Africa or face further erosion of support where it matters for the just Palestinian cause.