The UK should put Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council

First published by the Middle East Eye on 28/3/2017

After supporting the UN resolution against Israeli settlements, the UK’s attack against the council is illogical – unless this is all about trade deals

In a surprise move, the UK representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council made a scathing attack against the council at its 34th session late last week, accusing it of “bias against Israel”.

Of particular concern is the council’s Agenda Item Seven which requires that Israel’s human rights record is discussed and scrutinised three times each year.

“The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel, undermines the Council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

Making no distinction between attacks on Israeli forces maintaining an illegal occupation and attacks on civilians, he said that the council “must also recognise the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces. According to the Quartet’s report last year, there were 250 terrorist attacks, leading to the deaths of at least 30 Israelis”.

“If things do not change,” the representative concluded, “in the future we will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Syrian and Palestinian Territories.”

Breaking with the EU

Despite the UK’s dissent, the 47-member council comfortably passed five resolutions on Israeli human rights abuses:

  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan
  • Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan

The UK only supported the resolutions on Palestinian rights to self-determination and the human rights situation in the occupied territory, voting against the resolution on the occupied Syrian Golan and abstaining on the other two.

The UK’s argument for voting against the Golan resolution was that “Syria’s regime butchers and murders its people on a daily basis. But it is not Syria that is a permanent standing item on the Council’s agenda; it is Israel.”

Even while voting against the resolution, the UK confirmed that it had not changed its position on the illegality of Israel’s occupation of this Syrian territory. However, in voting against the resolution, the UK broke from the EU, which may be a sign of things to come as it exits the union.

The UK’s stance seemed to be in tune with the Israeli and the US positions. After the resolutions passed, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the UNHRC “has become the most notorious branch of the BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement] movement. The body’s resolution on Syria, he said, was “ridiculous”.

Acting US spokesperson Mark Toner said the US “strongly and unequivocally” opposed the council’s Agenda Item Seven, the one which permanently tables a discussion of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians three times each year.

The US stance can be explained by the change of administration from President Obama’s to that of President Trump.

‘Stay strong Israel’

Following his election, Trump claimed that Israel was being treated “very, very unfairly”. He accused Obama of handling Israel with “total disdain and disrespect” after the US abstained from the vote on UN Security Council resolution 2334 which condemned Israeli settlement building. Trump then tweeted “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has been enacting Trump’s promise. Last month, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a high profile position at the UN and, more recently, pressured the UN secretary general to pull a report labelling Israeli policies as apartheid.

She further threatened to boycott the Human Rights Council altogether. And in her appearance at the recent AIPAC conference, in a reference to resolution 2334, she promised, “The days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.”

While the US abstained on 2334, the UK voted for the resolution before it passed in December. Instead of halting construction, Israel has since announced approval for the constructions of thousands of new settlement units.

So it is at best illogical for the UK to abstain at the UNHRC on a resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement activities and, at worst, an abdication of its responsibility as a signatory to the 4th Geneva Convention that sets rule for the administration of occupied territory.

The UK’s threat to vote against all future resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the occupied Syrian and Palestinian territories implies that it might also vote against a resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. That would be a shocking development which would further damage the UK’s image as an upholder of human rights.

If not occupation, what is it?

It is interesting to note that the UK is willing to change its policy to protect Israel when it perceives it to be treated unfairly, but not to bring it to account for its violations of international law.

If passing resolutions, democratically put and democratically passed, against Israeli oppressive and illegal practices is unfair, what does the UK consider Israel’s 50-year occupation to be?

What does it consider illegal settlements, land theft, legalising illegal settlements, prisoners, the siege of Gaza and the refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to be?

Every day, Palestinians wake up to the reality of a foreign occupation that is far from temporary, one which impacts every aspect of their lives. That is grossly unfair.

In the UK’s own statement at the council, its representative stated clearly that, “Respect for justice, the rule of law, and international law are the cornerstones of international peace and security”.

The representative should have taken note of the findings of the report which UN ESCWA commissioned, released earlier this month, which found Israel guilty of apartheid.

While that report was taken down following pressure from the US and Israel through the UN General Secretary, it was quickly followed by another damning report of Israeli policies in which Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, charged Israel with “the subjugation of humanity” in Palestine and intensifying a crackdown on human rights campaigners.

Either the UK doesn’t get it or it is prepared to turn a blind eye to Israeli policies as it looks beyond Brexit and towards strengthening trade ties, including those with the US and Israel.

In the new brave world, it seems trade will always trump human rights and the upholding of international law. The UK is talking the talk on Israeli aggression through empty condemnation, but walking the walk to protect it.

In the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK is once again betraying the Palestinians while celebrating its role in creating Israel, an apartheid state.

It should be putting Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council. 

Richard Falk: People must shame UN for quashing ‘apartheid Israel’ report

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2017

Professor Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur for Palestine, was hosted in London by the Middle East Monitor yesterday as part of his book launch tour. He introduced his book “Palestine’s Horizon Toward a Just Peace” eloquently to a packed hall. He had earlier been met with a barrage of hate by a Zionist mob at the London School of Economics. Thankfully, this particular session was not interrupted by the yobs.

However, the real interest of the audience seemed to be in a more recent publication which he co-authored with Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was launched on 15 March concluded that

“Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

Rather than prompting a debate in the UN and the Security Council, its publication and conclusion was met with outrage by Israel and its ally the United States. Pressure was exerted on the recently appointed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to quash the report. This he did by directing ESCWA to withdraw the report because it did not have his approval. The demand was rejected. ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Rima Khalaf, eventually resigned from her role and the report was taken down form ESCWA’s website. A spokesman for the UN Chief confirmed “that Guterres had ordered that the report to be taken down but sought to make clear that the request was ‘not about content’ but about ‘process’.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report to Der Sturmer – a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic. Both US and Israel envoys to the UN welcomed the secretary-general’s action with Danny Dannon claiming “anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to the practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”

Palestinians who had initially welcomed the report condemned Guterres’ actions. Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement:

“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible.”

She explained, according to WAFA, that the report constitutes

“a step in the right direction and highlights the true reality on the ground, which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.”

She called on Guterres to do what is right, reinstate the ESCWA report and “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would be bestowing Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honour in recognition of Khalaf’s “courage and support” for Palestinians.

The rigorous report, authored by two highly respected academic experts said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.” But also stated that “only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative.”

Speaking in London, Falk suggested the key addition the report makes to the discussion about the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians is that it looks at the impact on a people as a whole. The report said the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices”. It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.

This somewhat contradicts Guterres’ claim that due process was not followed. In reality though, the secretary-general must have been expecting the knocks on the door and the endless phone calls from US and Israeli representatives and decided he had ultimate say about what report is produced in the UN’s name regardless of its rigour and scholarly review. It is no secret to say that the new Trump Administration signalled – even before taking office – that what it judged to be unfair treatment of Israel by UN bodies would end, regardless of Israel’s flagrant breaches of countless UN Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.

When asked how to make the report more effective within the UN system following its removal, Falk said the best strategy would be “to raise the visibility of this issue at this time and shame the UN into taking seriously its own study”.

“I am confident enough that if the study is examined by intellectual sources around the world, they will, even if they don’t agree with its conclusions they will regard it as a serious objective undertaking.”

Falk went on to reveal that after submitting the report, ESCWA anonymously sent it for evaluation to three of the most distinguished international jurists around the world and that “each of them acting separately submitted very positive reports”. Only one submitted suggested changes which the authors duly made.

Reflecting on the way the UN had dealt with the ESCWA report, Falk likened its treatment to what happened to the Goldstone report on Israel’s 2008/9 war on Gaza which Goldstone later regretted. Falk assured his audience “I am not Goldstone fortunately” referring to the request that he and Tilley repudiate their own report, which he confirmed “was of course a little bit unrealistic”.

When asked what advice he has for the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, Falk recognised the difficult position the Palestinian leadership is in admitting they are “between a rock and a hard place”. He acknowledged that “it is easy to criticise them but hard to be them”. However, he suggested the Palestinian leadership has an opportunity here “to take this path of emphasising the moral and legal high ground, which they have started to do.” He suggested this would be building on the 2012 upgrade in Palestine’s UN status to a non- member observer state which he described as a “ghost state”, and initiating proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the 2014 attack on Gaza and the illegal settlements. He acknowledged that the ICC itself is under tremendous political pressure and it is not clear “whether anything tangible would emerge out of this”.

Falk suggested that “[for the Palestinians] taking this report seriously would be another way of advancing their campaign to say international law is on our side. Israel’s administration of the Palestinian people is an international crime and generates the collective responsibility of international society.”

The challenge for them, he argued, would be “either you refute the finding of apartheid or you act upon it. If you act upon it you have a responsibility to do whatever is possible to end the commission of that crime or be complicit in its effects.”

It is now up to supporters of justice to shame the UN and for the Palestinian leadership to seize the opportunity the report presents to garner further support for their cause but more importantly action against Apartheid Israel.

Palestinian Bedouins face Israeli discrimination from the river to the sea

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 5/12/2016

Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Image from Middle EST mONITOR: Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Will they or won’t they and when? This has been the question being raised constantly over the past few weeks about Israel’s intention to expel the Bedouins of Um Al-Hiran village in the Negev.

Their expulsion and the demolition of their village were to take place on Tuesday 22 November following an announcement by the Israeli Land Authority. A last minute appeal to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court was rejected. In the event, the demolition order was postponed by police who claimed it was “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court”. However, it may also have been due to a show of solidarity by activists and members of the Knesset who spent the night there and possibly international pressure.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the day the demolition was to take place, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I have raised with the Israeli Ambassador the concerns expressed in the House of Commons about plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev. Demolition orders delivered to residents had stated that initial demolitions would occur on 22 November. Although the demolition did not happen yesterday, the threat remains.”

However, rather than call on Israel to end the threat to the village and to connect it to the services Jewish communities expect, he simply called on “the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community to work together to find a solution that meets the needs and respects the rights of the people affected. This should include a robust planning process that adequately consults and addresses the needs of Israel’s Bedouin communities.”

The “planning process” the British minister refers to has already determined that a settlement for Jews only would be built on the ruins of Um Al-Hiran. To add salt to the wound, the new Jewish settlement would be named Hiran.

Um Al-Hiran is not the only village facing demolition.  It is one of approximately 40 Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognise and has refused to provide with the necessary services. They are home to 85,000 of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouin citizens and, while the majority were moved to the Negev from their original locations in 1948, some of the villages predate the creation of Israel.

Another village, Al-Araqeeb came to prominence after Israel destroyed it repeatedly. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. In June of this year, it was demolished for the 100th time while its residents were observing the month of Ramadan and therefore fasting from sunrise to sunset.

The Bedouin community in the Negev has been under threat of eviction from their villages for a number of years. Their plight was sealed in 2103 when the Prawer-Begin bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset with 43 votes for and 40 against. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and claimed that it would result in the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. It argued that if fully implemented “it will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognised” Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.” Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin Plan was “halted” when one of its architects, Beni Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not receive their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without consultation with them. However, to this day it is not clear whether the bill was shelved or postponed.

It seems though that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing with its plan on a village by village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

The situation for Bedouins in the West Bank, who do not hold Israeli citizenship, is similar in many ways to their counterparts with Israeli citizenship. They number approximately 50,000. Their insecurity is particularly highlighted in “rea C, the part of the West Bank under both security and administrative Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords. Here, small communities living often in temporary structures have their structures destroyed by the Israeli army.

In July of this year, a leaked letter from eight European ambassadors to Israel representing Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Norway protested the confiscation by the Israeli army of shelters for two “vulnerable” Bedouin communities. The letter claimed “these confiscations, as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will. “If that scenario materialises, the UN expresses its concern that it may amount to forcible transfers, which are considered a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”

Another example of life as a Bedouin in the West Bank is reported here.

Israel has also developed plans to expel Palestinian Bedouins from their current villages East of Jerusalem to a “new town” without their knowledge or any consultation with them. The town would accommodate about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes and would be located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The arrogance of the colonialist Israeli state is exemplified by its claim the proposal “suits the ‘dynamic changes’ Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society to ‘a modern society’ that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trades and more.” It does not seem to have consulted the people in question about whether they agree with this or not and what kind of future they see for themselves.

And so it seems the Bedouins that have inhabited historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, for far longer than Israel has existed, moving from one area to another as and when they wished, must now accept a future determined for them. Whether the state whose citizenship they hold in the Negev or their illegal occupier in the West Bank, Israel treats the Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions for them which in reality suit its colonialist agenda. How else does it explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish only settlements? This is pure discrimination and racism rather than “development”.

East Jerusalem is occupied but the hearts and minds of the children are not

This column first appeared in the Middle East Eye on 6/10/2016

Jerusalem has a special place in the hearts of people all over the world. I was fortunate to visit it again recently, or rather “return”, as my parents were both born in this great city.

My first sighting of the Dome of the Rock never fails to send a shiver down my spine. There is no other place like it. It is home to holy sites revered by followers of the world’s three great religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism. They are literally within shouting distance of each other.

Politically, Jerusalem is claimed by Israel as its “eternal united capital”, but the Palestinians too claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. No state, apart from Israel, considers it to be Israel’s capital and, in the absence of a Palestinian state, Palestinians can only dream of it becoming their capital.

The additional reality is that far from it being united, the city is divided into West Jerusalem, which is predominantly, if not exclusively, inhabited by Jews today after the expulsion of its Palestinian residents by Jewish gangs in 1948, and East Jerusalem with an overwhelmingly Palestinian population but an increasing number of Jewish settlers in illegal settlements which Israel has been building since the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

One city, two worlds

The contrast between the two Jerusalems could not be starker. As a friend who recently visited for the first time told me: “I could not believe the difference between west and east. The west in many places had a western, American feel with wide roads, pavements and grass verges, while the east seemed underdeveloped, crowded and chaotic.”

There are many aspects of the occupation of East Jerusalem that are troubling, including the settlements, the wall, house demolitions, house evictions, arbitrary closures, attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque and lack of permits for Palestinians to build and expand. However, the situation for children is particularly disturbing.

A quick drive through east and west reveals almost no playgrounds or parks for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem to use while a visitor would encounter many well-equipped playgrounds and parks in the predominantly Jewish west.

While Palestinian families occasionally make use of facilities in West Jerusalem, they do so reluctantly, fearing discrimination and harassment by their Jewish counterparts. Instead, some choose to make a journey to Ramallah or Jericho for their children’s and their leisure outings. This is sad because it reduces the opportunities for interaction between the two communities, especially the children, before their characterisation of the other is formed through parental or societal influence.

You have to ask what the municipality presiding over both parts of the city is doing to deliver services to the Palestinian taxpayers, who cannot turn to the Palestinian Authority for them because Israel does not allow it to operate in Jerusalem.

Never shall they meet

Opportunities for Jewish and Palestinian children to mix at school are almost non-existent. Jerusalem’s only Arab-Jewish school has faced attacks from Jewish extremists including an arson attack in November 2014, anti-Arab graffiti in June 2015, and even had its listing on Waze, a google-owned app changed to “a threat”.

While the two populations are largely segregated, the level of poverty in the city affects both communities with some 50 percent of Jerusalem’s 850,000 residents living below the poverty line including 82 percent of the population in East Jerusalem.

The impact of Israel’s “security needs” on Palestinian children is profound. Every year, hundreds are arrested and interrogated. Between January and the end of August, 560 children alone were detained by Israel. Many are taken during the night or in the early hours of the morning. They are reportedly often deprived of the presence of a parent or lawyer and sometimes are made to sign confessions written in Hebrew under duress.

In the absence of reasonable provision of leisure facilities and under a brutal daily occupation you would think that children can find some comfort, enjoyment and security in their East Jerusalem schools.

Well, on the face of it, this should be possible. However, in reality there is no happy story to tell. Israel, through its occupation, is on a mission to attract the hearts and minds of Palestinian children, to love it, adore it and accept it as the ruling entity over them, without question.

During my visit, I witnessed the start of the new school year. Families were busy buying books, stationary and the status symbol school bag for their children. The bag tends to be in the style of the current craze. This year, it seemed anything depicting images from Disney’s Frozen was a must have.

One of my young relatives was upset not because she had not bought a Frozen bag and book covers, but because her cousin was also planning to buy the same. “Why can’t she buy Mini Mouse?” she asked. Children will be children. She, like most if not all Palestinian children, was oblivious to the battle for her identity and belonging that is being waged by Israel on Jerusalem’s youngest residents.

Chronic shortage of space

East Jerusalem’s schools suffer from a basic lack of infrastructure and resources.

A report published in August by the nonprofit organisation Ir Amim found that the number of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian children studying in the “informal education system” – schools which are publicly recognised, but only partially funded and operated by third parties – has surpassed those studying in both the formal education system, which are fully publicly funded and operated, and those who study in private schools.

Ir Amim reported that the shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem had grown to 2,672 units, stating that “authorities have perpetuated the classroom shortage by not allocating sufficient land to build more classrooms in East Jerusalem”.

The report also worryingly noted that 36 percent of students drop out of school in East Jerusalem. Anecdotally, the number of boys that drop out is higher than girls. As men are often the main breadwinner in families here, this raises a serious question about what the boys go on to do with their time, considering their low skill levels and the lack of opportunities for employment, and its overall impact on the society.

As a result of parent perception of the inadequacy of public schools, many are forced to turn to private education. This is extremely costly, particularly when one considers the economic situation in East Jerusalem characterised by low wages and high taxes.

Hearts and minds

The other worrying feature of the current situation is Israel’s attempt to influence children’s understanding of their identity and how they should view it. It has been trying to do this through the imposition of the Israeli curriculum as opposed to the PA curriculum in East Jerusalem schools. Israel has been trying to do this for years but, having faced severe resistance from parents and the schools themselves, it is now linking the release of investment in schools to the adoption of the curriculum.

People I talked to during my recent visit referred to this as “educational blackmail”. Several told me they felt that Israel “was brainwashing our children to forget their Palestinian identity while at the same time becoming admirers of their occupier,” as one put it.

The Israeli curriculum refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and encourages children to celebrate what Israel has done since capturing it or, as they refer to it, as its “unification”. This is only one example of how Israel attempts to impose its own narrative on impressionable young children in early school years.

My recent experience though tells me that Israel cannot win the battle for the hearts of the children who are Palestinian, feel Palestinian and will grow up as Palestinian. Israel may feel that imposing its own narrative through blackmail may change minds, but it will fail. Palestinian schools may adopt the Israeli curriculum in order to secure funds, but Israel should realise that the industrious and proud Palestinians will ensure their children think Palestinian too.

East Jerusalem may be under occupation, but the hearts and minds of the children are not.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding 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 www.kamelhawwash.com. 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.

Israel’s ‘apartheid wall’ inspires more violence than it deters

This first appeared on the Middle East Eye on 12/9/2016

For more than a decade, Israel has been building a wall which it claims provides security for its citizens.

The wall, which the Israeli cabinet decided to build in 2002 with the declared objective of “regulating the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel”, has been called many names, depending on which side of the wall you sit: “security barrier”, “West Bank Barrier”, “separation barrier”, “Apartheid wall”, and “racial segregation barrier”.

Only some 15 percent of the wall sits on the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Palestine and Israel. Palestinians claim that Israel uses the path of the wall to claim more of their land and even to access strategic water aquifers.

When completed, the wall will be some 709 km long (twice as long as the Green Line) and, at its highest, it will reach six to eight metres compared with the Berlin Wall’s 3.6 metres.

On average, the width of the area it confiscates along its path is 60 metres. Since 85 percent of its path is in the West Bank, it has had a severe impact on surrounding Palestinian land and the movement of Palestinians.

Construction on the wall began during the Second Intifada. Israel argues that its construction dramatically reduced the number of suicide bombings, which had become a regular occurrence, from 73 from 2000 to 2003 to 12 from the end of 2003 to 2006.

Holes in the wall

However, since the wall has not been fully constructed, gaps remain, which Palestinians can use to enter Israel, without permit, if they choose to take that risk.

Clearly many do as the Israeli chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot recently claimed. He estimated that “some portions of the security barrier that are fenced, rather than walled, contribute to the illegal entry of an estimated 50,000-60,000 Palestinians into Israel each day”.

Eisenkot reported that the security forces only manage to arrest approximately 4,300 Palestinians without permits annually, and that 44 percent of the “terror” attacks carried out in the recent upsurge in violence were in some way connected to Palestinians who were in Israel illegally. This is in contrast to the estimated 100,000 Palestinians that enter Israel with permits on a daily basis, none of whom were associated with attacks.  

This led Eisenkot to tell the Knesset State Control Committee, “We are making efforts to close the open border areas. There are still 100 kilometres of border without a security wall.” 

If Eisenkot’s estimate of illegal entries by Palestinians is correct, then that would amount to some 18 million illegal entries per year. However, consider that according to the Israeli foreign ministry’s website there have been 157 stabbing attacks (including 76 attempted attacks), 101 shootings, 46 vehicular (ramming) attacks and one vehicle (bus) bombing since September 2015. This amounts to a maximum of 304 attacks at the time of writing.

Cause and effect

While I am saddened by any attack either by a Palestinian or Israeli against civilians, if you factor Eisenkot’s 18 million illegal with the number of recent attacks, the percentage of attacks linked to illegal entrants is nearly zero. This is even fewer if you discount those attacks carried out by Palestinians from Jerusalem who do not need to cross illegally.

Therefore it must be asked: is it the wall that deters violent attacks by Palestinians or is it Israeli actions that incite Palestinians to violence, inspiring them to cross the wall and carry out attacks against Israelis?

This is anecdotally confirmed by testimonies from some Palestinians who posted on social media the reasons why they had gone on to attack Israelis citing the general climate of humiliation and repeated attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque.

The question of whether the wall is providing Israel with the security that officials claim is important because if it is not, then there is less justification for it, particularly considering the impact it has on Palestinian lives.

Palestinians claim Israel uses the routes of the wall to keep control of water resources thus depriving Palestinians of their own water supply, diverting it to illegal settlements. Its negative impact on the environment has also been assessed by Palestinians.

But even beyond this, it is the wall’s impact on the very fabric of Palestinian society that hits you when you visit Palestine and speak to the locals.

Everyday restrictions 

Before its construction, Palestinians moved relatively freely between the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israeli areas inside the Green Line. However, that freedom has now completely disappeared, giving way to a system of checkpoints and permits that has deprived many young Palestinians from even visiting Jerusalem.

On a recent visit to the West Bank, a Palestinian doctor from Ramallah – only 15km from Jerusalem – told me that her son was now 11 years old but had never been to the city.

Even when Israel issues permits to Palestinians, for example to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it tends to deny permits to young Palestinians and sometimes even to middle-aged Palestinians.

Permits to visit families beyond the wall are even more difficult. This limits the social interactions that you would expect any free people to have. In particular, the opportunities for young people to meet, date and marry if they reside in different areas reduces markedly. And on the occasion when this happens, the question of where they will hold their wedding becomes a logistical nightmare.

If a couple from East Jerusalem wishes to invite their extended family from the West Bank to their wedding, they cannot hold it in East Jerusalem. Instead, they will need to hold it in the West Bank, typically Bethlehem or Ramallah or in areas adjoining the wall, but just inside the West Bank, such as Ezariyya or Abu Dis.

Recently, Israel barred Qassam Barghouti, the son of the well-known and imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, from attending his own wedding in Attira where his now wife lives. He had to hold his wedding in Kubar in the West Bank a few days later.

Once married, the question then of where Palestinians with different types of identity cards can live needs more space than the word limits on this column will allow.

Some readers will remember a famous image of Pope Francis making an impromptu prayer at the wall near Bethlehem during his 2014 visit to occupied Palestine. However, the reality is that the wall, as it exists, is illegal according to the now 12-year-old judgement by the International Court of Justice, which has been ignored by Israel and not pursued with sufficient vigour by the Palestinian leadership.

Israel seems to be surrounding itself by walls, as it embarks on the construction of a wall on the border with the besieged Gaza Strip and another on its southern border with Egypt to stop illegal entry from the Egyptian side. It should stop to think that walls do not bring acceptance or security, only division and resentment. 

Conference: Holding Palestine in the light

Lichfield is holding a conference entitled Holding Palestine in the Light 7-9 October.

This promises to be an excellent event and I am privileged to be contributing to it.

Details here