The Great March of Return: An opportunity for Palestinians to return to Najd or is it Sedrot?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/3/2018

There is nothing like a trip to Beirut and a visit to Palestinian refugee camps to remind visitors of the nub of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba which refugees continue to endure to this day. They were thrown out of their homeland simply because another people wanted to make it their own and were prepared to use all means possible to have it, regardless of the catastrophic impact this would have on fellow human beings. The Palestinians did not ask to be occupied by the British or the Zionists and did not offer their land for another people, who would?

The 750,000 expelled in 1948 have now grown to nearly six million, most of whom are refugees living in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The others are not formally refugees but like their fellow Palestinians – who are formally refugees according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have an unshakeable connection to historic Palestine and wish to realise their right to return peacefully to their towns and villages in historic Palestine.

In 1948, 100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon. According to UNRWA their numbers grew to an estimated 452,000 by 2015, living in 12 refugee camps. However, a consensus carried out by Lebanon in 2017 reported a much lower figure of 174,000. Asked to explain the difference the Agency’s spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP: “UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon”.  In addition to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the consensus found that 17,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria had also moved into refugee camps in Lebanon as a result of the security situation there.

I am currently in Lebanon and ahead of Land Day, which is marked today, I took the opportunity to visit Sabra and the Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The names are infamous for a massacre that was carried out by Lebanese militia under the watch of the Israeli army during their devastating invasion of Lebanon between 16 and 19 September 1982. Estimates of how many were massacred vary between 800 and 3,500 mostly Palestinian civilians but also some Shias. The man in control of the area was none other than Ariel Sharon who went on to become Israeli prime minister.

I visited the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp last year and was therefore better prepared for what I was about to see than I was last year. To reach the Shatila camp from Sabra, you walk through a busy market which winds its way to the entrance where you are met with Palestinian flags and those of some of the factions. Images of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, abound, though there are far more of the man Palestinians lovingly call Abu Ammar than there are of Abu Mazen.

If you have just come from some of the affluent neighbourhoods in Beirut, entering the camp is like a time warp into a different era. No smart blocks, no wide roads or shops selling designer clothes and certainly no Porsches or Jaguars. Mopeds are the most common means of transport and even they have to occasionally slow down to pass one coming in the other direction. You encounter row upon row of winding alleys hardly large enough for two people to pass at the same time. But it is the electricity cables that hang overhead that characterise the camps. I had hear about them but seeing them is a different thing.

Israel and its supporters would want you to blame Lebanon for the conditions in the camps, which the government acknowledges are desperate. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a “duty” towards Palestinians and acknowledged, “Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels,” However, he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalisation. Hariri knows, neither do they.

They want to return to Palestine and they have a right to return according to UN Resolution 194, which resolved on 11 December 1948 that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

However, Israel has always refused to implement it – as it has countless other UN resolutions – claiming it would spell the end of the state. The international community is also complicit in the plight of the refugees for it has not acted in 70 years to pressure Israel to allow them to return. The Arab countries have also been found wanting. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative –which the Palestinian Authority accepts – lowered the ceiling from the right of all refugees to return to finding a “just solution”. What could be more just than their unconditional return?

The refugees have therefore been left with no alternative but to take matters into their hands. This started in 2011 when, on 15 May, refugees made their way to the border with Israel in a number of bordering countries. In Lebanon, their protests were met with live fire from Israeli border soldiers which resulted in the death of 11 civilians and injuries to 100. Israel’s claimed Lebanese forces shot them.

Frustrated by the lack of progress to deliver their rights, Palestinians are once again on the move to remind the world of this unfinished business, their return. This time they have chosen Land Day and the besieged Gaza Strip to be the theatre for this latest episode in their quest to return, the “Great March of Return”. Figures show that 80 per cent of the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. They include those refugees from Najd, a Palestinian village bordering Gaza that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and on whose land an Israeli settlement was created. It is called Sderot a city that is home to 24,000 Israelis and lies less than a mile from the border. Readers will recognise it as a colony that has received many rockets fired from Gaza and has become part of itinerary of visitors to Israel who stand and sympathise with the residents without giving a second’s though to the Palestinians just across the border on whose land it now exists.

Organisers of the Great March of Return insisted it will be a peaceful procession and that “it is a procession of human right that demands an implementation of the right of return.” according to spokesman Ahmed Abu Rteime. He insisted the Palestinians would only be armed with “the camera and the word” assuring that “there will be no burning of tyres, stone throwing or any confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces”. He said that the protestors would keep a 700 metre distance from the border.

“We are talking about a new style of peaceful resistance. Our goal is to revive our cause politically and peacefully,” said Abu Rteima.

The Israeli army’s response has been typically belligerent warning “these demonstrations might be used as a cover to damage the security infrastructure or harm the Israeli citizens or soldiers.” The Israeli army vowed that its forces would respond with a strong hand against such attempts. Israeli planes dropped leaflets and flyers in Arabic to the eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, warning residents not to approach the borders fence.

Israel, which killed disabled and wheelchair bound Ibrahim Abu Thuraya in December 2017, is certainly prepared to use live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Palestinians will bravely bring their plight to the attention of the world today but those of us looking on from the outside fear for their safety.

Instead of the Israeli army attacking the Palestinian refugees, the residents of Sedrot should be inviting those hailing from Najd to return to their hometown. That would be a much better way to mark Land Day. It would also give great hope to the refugees in Shatila camp and others.

 

Israel, Occidente y la hipocresía

Publicado por primera vez por Monitor de Oriente el 21/3/2018

La actual crisis entre Reino Unido y Rusia nos presenta un ejemplo más de la flagrante hipocresía de Occidente a la hora de lidiar con Israel y, prácticamente, la de todos los demás países. ¿Por qué mencionar a Israel en el caso del intento de asesinato de dos personas en las calles británicas en el que está involucrada Rusia, no Israel? Lo hago para señalar la preocupación repentina por las leyes internacionales que ha reaparecido dentro de los círculos políticos occidentales.

Junto con el secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg, el secretario de Exteriores británico, Boris Johnson, pronunció unas declaraciones acusando a Rusia de utilizar un agente químico militar, y afirmó que ambos tenían claro que “el uso de este agente es una clara violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas y de las leyes internacionales”. Un día antes, declaró en el BBC’s Andrew Marr Show que Rusia llevaba 10 años incumpliendo las leyes internacionales, acumulando reservas del agente químico nervioso. Brendan Lewis, presidente del Partido Conservador, en una entrevista en Pesto on Sunday, también se refirió a las acciones de Rusia como una ruptura con las leyes internacionales.

Johnson fue respaldado por los ministros de Exteriores de la UE, que emitieron un comunicado de apoyo al Reino Unido. “Todo uso [del agente nervioso] supone una violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas, de las leyes internacionales, y del orden reglamentario internacional”, declararon.

Poco después del envenenamiento de Sergei Skripal y su hija, Estados Unidos, Francia, Alemania y Reino Unido emitieron un comunicado conjunto condenando el ataque, que se produjo en la pequeña ciudad inglesa de Salisbury: “Es un ataque contra la soberanía británica, y cualquier uso de este agente por parte de un Estado es una clara violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas y de las leyes internacionales”.

Rusia ha sido acusada antes de saltarse la ley internacional respecto a sus acciones contra Ucrania y a lo que Occidente considera la ocupación de Crimea, que Rusia niega. En marzo de 2017, la Misión Estadounidense en la Organización para la Seguridad y Cooperación en Europa declaró que “Estados Unidos se muestra profundamente preocupado por las constantes violaciones de las leyes internacionales por parte de Rusia y de los principios y compromisos de nuestra misión en Crimea.”

El comunicado también acusó a las autoridades de ocupación rusas de “cometer continuos abusos contra los tártaros de Crimea, los ucranianos étnicos y demás grupos que se oponen a la ocupación rusa de la península”.

Cuando el fallecido Saddam Hussein envió a sus tropas a Kuwait en 1990, la comunidad internacional sólo permitió que esa ocupación durara siete meses. El dictador iraquí había anexionado Kuwait, declarándolo la 19ª provincia de su país. Sin embargo, se formó una coalición de fuerzas de 35 países para liberar Kuwait, con la que se expulsó a los iraquíes a principios de 1991. En aquel entonces, nadie se refirió a la resistencia kuwaití contra la ocupación iraquí como “terrorismo”.

Tanto Irak como Rusia recibieron sanciones por lo que la comunidad internacional consideró actos ilegales en Kuwait y Ucrania, respectivamente. Ahora, hay quien habla de más sanciones impuestas a Rusia tras el ataque en Salisbury. Incluso se ha pedido que el equipo de fútbol inglés boicotee el Mundial de Fútbol de la FIFA, que se celebrará en Rusia este verano. Respondiendo a una pregunta formulada en la Cámara de los Comunes, Boris Johnson declaró ante sus compañeros diputados que si Rusia está implicada, “será complicada una representación normal de Reino Unido en el Mundial”.

En Occidente, muchos se preguntan cómo Rusia puede seguir ocupando un asiento como miembro permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, gracias al cual tiene permitido ejercer un veto cuando lo desee. Eso significa que puede rechazar cualquier resolución que critique a Moscú o a sus aliados, o incluso que simplemente considere imponer sanciones contra, por ejemplo, el gobierno sirio por sus acciones.

Aquí nos encontramos con la hipocresía de Occidente, que parece estar dispuesto a todo con tal de otorgar a Israel una protección especial ante las críticas o ante sanciones, a pesar de llevar 50 años ejerciendo una ocupación ilegal de territorios palestinos, sirios y libaneses, y 70 llevando a cabo una limpieza étnica del pueblo palestino. Al igual que Rusia e Irak, Israel ha anexionado tierras ocupadas ilegalmente, incluidos Jerusalén Oriental y los Altos del Golán.

Estados Unidos ha criticado duramente a Rusia por utilizar su veto respecto a Siria e Irán. En 2015, la entonces embajadora estadounidense en la ONU, Samantha Power, afirmó que los vetos rusos “ponen en peligro la legitimidad del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU”. Su sucesora, Nikki Hayley, llegó a amenazar con que, si Rusia continúa utilizando su veto, Estados Unidos tendría que tomar medidas unilaterales en Irán. Hayley hizo esta advertencia después de que Rusia vetara una resolución que condenaba a Irán por violar un embargo de armas a los líderes hutíes en Yemen. La hipocresía particular de EEUU reside en su propio uso del poder del veto en 43 ocasiones para apoyar a Israel. En la última ocasión, lo usó para protegerse de las críticas contra su propia decisión de reconocer Jerusalén como la capital del Estado sionista en diciembre del año pasado. Esto no incluye todas las veces que la amenaza del veto estadounidense ha resultado en que ni siquiera se haga una votación respecto a las resoluciones en el Consejo de Seguridad, entre ellas una ocasión en la que la OLP intentó conseguir el reconocimiento de Palestina como Estado en 2014.

La hipocresía de Reino Unido se refleja en su apoyo a las sanciones contra el régimen de Saddam Hussein en Irak y contra Rusia, pero su absoluta negativa a la hora de considerar sancionar a Israel por cualquiera de sus acciones, incluida su ocupación colonial y sus asentamientos ilegales, los crímenes de guerra y crímenes contra la humanidad de los que ha sido acusado. Reino Unido se ha opuesto a todo boicot o sanción contra un Estado acusado de Apartheid por un informe de la CESPAO que fue retirado bajo presión de Estados Unidos e Israel.

Importantes miembros del gobierno británico y de los Amigos Conservadores de Israel trabajan horas extra para proteger a Israel. El secretario de Medio Ambiente, Michael Gove, para su total desgracia, describió como “antisemita” al movimiento pacífico de Boicot, Desinversiones y Sanciones (BDS), cuyo objetivo es presionar a Israel para que cumpla las leyes internacionales. Gove ha llegado a pedir a Reino Unido que desplace su embajada a Jerusalén, algo que violaría todas las leyes y convenciones internacionales.

Ahora, el Reino Unido ha indicado que, probablemente, no enviará a miembros de la familia real al Mundial de Rusia, pero ha anunciado que el príncipe William – segundo en la línea de sucesión del trono – hará una visita oficial a Israel este año, a pesar de la ocupación ilegal que ejerce el país en terreno palestino, su anexión ilegal de Israel, su muro de apartheid y su asedio ilegal de Gaza, que constituye un castigo colectivo y, por lo tanto, se trata de un crimen de guerra.

Por lo tanto, los palestinos y sus partidarios tienen muchas razones para increpar a la comunidad internacional por su hipocresía a la hora de tratar con Israel, cuyas acciones ilegales y violaciones de la ley internacional han sido constantes durante sus 70 años de existencia. Recuerden esto la próxima vez que un político occidental defienda las rupturas de Israel de las leyes como un “acto de defensa propia”. Es el único país del mundo al que los miembros permanentes del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU y demás países de Occidente proporcionan una inmunidad excepcional.

Israel, the West and shameless hypocrisy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2018

UK British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson [Financial Times/Flickr]

The current crisis between Britain and Russia offers yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Israel and almost any other country. Why bring Israel into the attempted murder of two people on the streets of Britain in which Russia, not Israel is implicated? I do so because of the sudden regard for international law that has resurfaced in Western political circles.

Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russia of using military-grade nerve agent and stated that the two were clear, “that the use of such agent is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a flagrant breach of international law.” A day earlier, he claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had been in breach of international law for the past 10 years because it had been stockpiling nerve agent during that period. Conservative Party chairman Brendan Lewis, speaking on Peston on Sunday, also referred to Russia’s action as being in breach of international law.

Johnson was backed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers who adopted a statement of support for Britain. “Any such use [of nerve agent] is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

Shortly after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the US, France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place in the small English city of Salisbury: “It is an assault on UK sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.”

Accusations that Russia has been in breach of international law have in the past related to its action against the Ukraine and what the West sees as its occupation of Crimea, which Russia disputes. In March 2017, the US Mission in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that, “The United States remains deeply concerned about ongoing Russian violations of international law and defiance of OSCE principles and commitments in Crimea.”

The statement further accused the Russian occupation authorities of “continuing to commit serious abuses against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all others who oppose Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.”

When the late Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990, the international community only allowed that occupation to stand for seven months. The Iraqi dictator had annexed Kuwait, declaring it to be his country’s 19th province. However, a coalition of forces from 35 countries was formed to free Kuwait, which ejected the Iraqis in early 1991. No one then talked of the Kuwaiti resistance against Iraq’s occupation as “terrorism”.

Both Iraq and Russia faced sanctions for what the international community regarded as illegal acts in Kuwait and Ukraine respectively. There is talk now about further sanctions against Russia following the attack in Salisbury. There are even calls for the English football team to boycott the FIFA World Cup, due to take place in Russia this summer. Responding to a question in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told fellow MPs that if Russia is implicated then he thought it would be “difficult to see how UK representation at the World Cup can go ahead in the normal way.”

Some in the West are questioning how Russia can continue to hold a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to wield a veto whenever it chooses. This, it is argued, means it can vote down any resolution that criticises Moscow or its allies, or even considers imposing sanctions on, say, the Syrian government for its actions.

Here, then, is the hypocrisy of the West, which seems hell-bent on singling Israel out for exceptional protection from criticism or meaningful sanctions despite its 50-year long illegal occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, and its 70-year ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Just like Russia and Iraq, Israel has annexed illegally-occupied land, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The US has been severely critical of Russia for its use of the veto when it comes to Syria and Iran. In 2015, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, claimed that Russian vetoes were “putting the UN Security Council’s legitimacy at risk.” Her successor Nikki Hayley even threatened that if Russia continues to use its veto then the US may have to take unilateral action against Iran. This was after Russia vetoed a resolution that had been watered down from a condemnation of Iran for violating an arms embargo on Houthi leaders in Yemen to “noting with particular concern”.The particular hypocrisy of the US lies in its own use of the veto power on 43 occasions in support of Israel, the last of which was against criticism of its own action in recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Zionist state in December last year. This does not include the number of times that the threat of the US using its veto resulted in resolutions not even making it to a Security Council vote, including an attempt by the PLO to secure recognition of Palestine as a state in 2014.

Britain’s hypocrisy can be demonstrated in its support for sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its support for sanctions against Russia but its absolute refusal to consider sanctioning Israel for any matter, including its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK has actually worked to oppose any boycott or sanction against a state that stands accused of Apartheid by an ESCWA report which was sanctioned by the UN but was then taken down under pressure from the US and Israel.

Prominent members of the British government and long-established members of Conservative Friends of Israel work overtime to shield Israel. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to his utter disgrace, labelled the peaceful and moral Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to pressure Israel to comply with international law, as “anti-Semitic”. Gove has even called for Britain to move its Embassy to Jerusalem in a move that would be against international laws and conventions.

Britain has now indicated that it might not send members of the Royal family to the World Cup in Russia but has announced that Prince William — second in line to the throne — will make an official visit to Israel this year despite its continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, its Apartheid Wall and its illegal siege on Gaza which has been said to constitute collective punishment and is thus a war crime.

Palestinians and their supporters, therefore, have ample reason to call out the international community for its hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with Israel, whose illegal actions and breaches of international law have accompanied its whole 70-year existence. Remember this fact the next time that a Western politician defends Israel’s breaches of international law as “acts of self-defence”. It is the only country in the world to which the permanent members of the UN Security Council and others in the West grant such exceptional immunity.

 

Israel’s ‘humiliation queue’ for East Jerusalem Palestinians

First published by the Middle East Eye on 20/3/2018

In recent months, the task of obtaining an appointment with the Population and Immigration Authority has become an ordeal, in Israel’s latest attempt at the ‘soft expulsion’ of Palestinians

The mere mention of the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi al-Joz  provokes howls of outrage in any Palestinian. Ask about their experience and you will be inundated with stories of obstruction, humiliation and oppression.
More here