Criticise Israel and you immediately trigger its army of outraged partisans

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/12/2018

An army of social media trolls are at the ready to denounce legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise
Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

While access to the nuclear button is normally reserved for the head of state, any pro-Israel civilian can launch the bullying trigger button, and they are encouraged to do so by Israel. An army of social media trolls linked to Israeli missions abroad have their fingers hovering over this button, ready to defend as soon as they perceive an attack. It’s a button they have pressed repeatedly in recent days.

Take the case of Airbnb. The holiday property listings company enraged the bullying army by withdrawing listingsfor properties built in illegal Israeli settlements from its website. Pro-Israel critics claimed that Airbnb was singling out Jewish Israeli properties, and therefore, this was anti-semitic.

Breaking international law

The reality is that the settlement enterprise itself is racist, because homes are only built for Jewish Israelis. Imagine the outcry if Britain built homes only for white Christians, banning other inhabitants of Britain from acquiring them. Settlements are also illegal under international law.

Airbnb said it took action because settlements were at the “core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.

A statement from the company noted: “US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories. At the same time, many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.

A reasonable person would see clear logic in that stance. However, the bullying trigger button was pressed, and an illegal settler is now bringing a lawsuit against Airbnb. Consider that for a moment: an illegal settler is suing a company for a moral and legal act.

It was then the turn of British Quakers to enrage the pro-Israel lobby. Their crime? Divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation. Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said in a statement: “With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.”

More pressure needed

This time, it was the Board of Deputies of British Jews that pressed the bullying trigger button. In a statement, the board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, condemned the decision: “The appalling decision of the Friends House hierarchy to divest from just one country in the world – the only Jewish state – despite everything else going on around the globe, shows the dangers of the obsessive and tunnel-visioned approach that a narrow clique of church officials have taken in recent years.”

Any reasonable person who knows the Quakers would realise that they would have reflected seriously before making such a decision, and that it was based on their deep knowledge of the situation over decades. Divesting from companies that profit from an illegal occupation is moral and legal.

Israel does not recognise that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deemed it absurd to talk of an occupation, and the long-advertised US “deal of the century” will likely reflect this by avoiding a call to end the occupation.

This will certainly not lead to peace. What is needed is more pressure on Israel to comply with international law and to finally end the occupation of Palestinian land. Airbnb was correct to identify the settlements as a core issue, and it is time that others follow suit.

Whither free speech?

The bullying trigger button will now be pressed regularly, judging by the number of moves to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Chile’s congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that the government “forbid the entry of products manufactured and coming from Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory”. This follows hot on the heels of Ireland’s senate passing a bill banning the import of products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The vicious attack on CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, fired for standing with Palestinians, shows that Israel is being singled out not for criticism, but rather for protection from accountability.

Free speech, it seems, is a value that most claim to uphold – except those who blindly support Israel. Speak if you want to, they say, but the price will be high. The bullying trigger button can be pressed by anyone in defence of Israeli apartheid. 

Israel’s anti-BDS actions reveal that the boycott might just be working

First published by TRT World on 19/10/2018

Israel fears nothing more than the power of boycotts, it realises that it has the power to penalise Israeli actions while the international community looks on at its lawless actions.

Lara Al Qassem, a Palestinian-American student was detained at Tel Aviv airport on the 2 of October as she went to pursue a master’s degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

She was finally released and admitted to Israel just over 16 days later. The Supreme Court upheld her appeal criticising the authorities for their decision which gave “the unavoidable impression” that she was barred for her political opinions.

Lara will now be able to join her Masters course at the Hebrew University.

Her lawyers said in a statement that, “The supreme court’s decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law.”

However, Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin called the court decision “shameful” and said that with their decision, the justices “were continuing to act against Israeli democracy and the clear lawmaking of the Knesset”.

The Israeli authorities had denied her entry despite having an official student visa prior to travelling. The reason given was her role as president of a small local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida, which has engaged in boycotts against Israeli products in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Her entry denial, which subsequently resulted in her detention was ordered by the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri.

On the 9 of October, Erdan tweeted that that if Lara “declares in a clear and explicit manner that she erred in the past and she believes today that support for a boycott on Israel and the BDS [movement] is a mistake and illegitimate, and that she regrets having served in the past as head of the branch of a boycott group, we will reconsider our stance regarding her entry into Israel,”

Clearly this was unacceptable to Lara who went on to fight her case in the Israeli courts.

Reactions to the story in Israel have been mixed.

The National Council of Young Israelis supported the Israeli Government’s decision claiming “every country has the ability to regulate who can enter its borders and Israel should be no different in that regard.”

The Hebrew University has been supportive of Lara’s entry and in an unusual step asked to join her appeal to the Jerusalem District Court.

Knesset members from the Meretz party visited Lara and leader Tamar Zandberg tweeted, “just visited Lara Alqasem, 22 year old American student detained in Ben Gurion airport for 6 days now because a right wing website didn’t like her past political activity. Israeli borders should be of a liberal democracy without thought police”.

I myself was denied entry to Israel in April 2017 following the passing of the same law under which Israel has denied entry to Lara.

The law was passed in March last year and gives the authorities power to deny entry to any foreign national engaged in supporting of boycotts either of settlement goods, or Israel, within its internationally recognised boundaries.

In my case, I was separated from wife and son who were allowed entry and I was placed on a flight back to the UK hours after my arrival. A few days later Anwar Makhlouf, another Palestinian and head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile was also denied entry under the same law, this time at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan.

Restricting BDS is backfiring

The BDS call was made in 2005 by over 150 civil society organisations. According to its website, “It works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

Its three key demands are an end of the occupation, an end to the discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel, and the promotion of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Each of these is a moral and legal demand.

Israel’s claim that it is an anti-Semitic movement because it targets ‘the world’s only Jewish state’ is false, because the Palestinians can only target their occupiers, who happen to be Jewish.

They did not choose their occupiers, they chose Palestine.

In addition to entry denial for BDS supporters, in 2011 Israel passed the law for “Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott.”

This allows an individual or organisation proposing a boycott to be sued for compensation by any individual or institution claiming that it could be or has been damaged by such a call.

Evidence of actual damage would not be required.

This law was recently used by three Israeli teenagers to sue two New Zealand-based supporters of BDS—one Jewish and one Palestinian—over a cancelled concert by New Zealand singer, Lorde.

A judge at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that, the two women must pay $12,000 in damages to the teenagers.

While the New Zealand justice minister saw this as a political stunt, the Israeli law office, Shurat HaDin which filed the suit, has said it fully intends to pursue enforcing the court’s ruling, and believes Israel’s legal agreements with New Zealand will allow it to do so.

This action has misfired as the two New Zealanders, Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, decided to raise funds, and to date have raised at least $18,000, not to pay the fine they had been ordered to pay but rather to give to the Gaza Mental Health Foundation instead.

In the US a number of anti-BDS laws have been passed that would prohibit companies that boycott Israel from securing public projects while in the UK, the government has attempted to stifle local authority pension funds from divesting from companies complicit in the oppression of Palestinians.

It is difficult to assess whether these have had a real impact in countering the BDS movement. However, there is fear in Israel of a growing ‘silent boycott’ including by artists and academics who simply turn down or do not respond to invitations to participate in activities organised by Israeli institutions or to perform in Israel.

There are calls for the 2019 EUROVISION song contest to be boycotted and it appears that having tried to host it in Jerusalem, Israel is now planning to move the event to a different location.

It seems that Israel’s anti-BDS policies have not succeeded in combatting this growing movement, particularly through legal means.

Israel also continues to send mixed messages about whether BDS poses a real threat. It cannot have it both ways. It is either effective and a threat to its policies, or it is not.

Israeli politicians and Israeli supporters abroad often characterise the BDS movement as ineffective. However, in reality, Israel is investing millions to counter it and has assigned a minister, Gilad Erdan, and changed the law to both ban BDS proponents from entering and to allow those that claim to have been harmed by specific actions to sue those behind the actions.

The growing success of the BDS movement does however come at a price for Palestinians like Lara al Qassem and myself, who are now denied entry to Palestine because Israel controls all entry points to historic Palestine.

This is unless we renounce their principles including speaking out against the Israeli government’s policies and in support of BDS.  It would appear that this is what Lara had to do, or at least, imply.

This is doubly painful because as Palestinians we are denied entry to our homeland, while Jews from any part of the world, and with no real connection to the land, are allowed not only to visit but to settle there.

Our determination to campaign peacefully for justice for Palestinians should not come at such a high price and if international law were just, it would force the occupier to allow us all to enter, to visit and to settle.

We are still unable to exercise our Right of Return, enshrined in international law but we are also discriminated against as we are denied entry while our fellow citizens from the country whose nationality we now hold can enter unimpeded.

Israel could, of course, meet the BDS movement’s demands, which include our right to return.

That would end the reason for BDS and would bring peace to the holy land.

 

Supporting Palestine can now get you denied entry to the US

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/10/2018

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not

In April 2017, while travelling for a routine family holiday to Jerusalem, I was denied entryupon arrival at Tel Aviv airport. Israeli authorities’ official – and bizarre – explanation for the entry denial was: I had attempted to “gain illegal entry”. However, being British citizens, we are normally allowed to travel to Israel without a visa. We have it issued at the entry point and I had obtained it on many occasions before.

But as I came to realise later the real reason was due to my role as vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a UK-based organisation that campaigns peacefully for Palestinian rights and which upholds the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation.

BDS promoters denied

In March 2017, Israel passed the “BDS law“, which allowed it to deny entry to those engaged in BDS movement promotion. My colleague and PSC chair, Hugh Lanning, was denied entry soon after the law was passed. Another colleague, Anwar Makhlouf, head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, was also denied entry at the Allenby Bridge based on the same law.

When I contacted both the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the foreign office in London for an explanation, I received the same reply: this was a sovereign decision for Israel. This meant Britain did not even acknowledge that Israel has no sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK’s position is what gives Israel the green light to conduct its policy with total impunity.

Even pro-Palestine Jewish foreign nationals, who are supposedly entitled to go to Israel by the Law of Return (which grants citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world) have been denied entry, and even denied permission to board their flights to Israel.

In July 2017, five members of an interfaith delegation were denied permission to board a Lufthansa flight at Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport that would ultimately take them to Tel Aviv. Among them was Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who said in a statement: “Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi.”

She added: “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv district Court on 11 October, 2018 (AFP)

Last July, Ariel Gold, co-director of BDS campaign group Code Pink, was denied entry at Ben Gurion airport despite obtaining a visa in advance to take a course at the Hebrew University. Her deportation, and those of others, are normally ordered by Israeli Minister of Security Gilan Erdan, and Israeli Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri.

The most recent case of entry denial involved Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old Palestinian-American student, despite the fact that she has recently been granted a student visa for her masters’ degree in the Hebrew University. Alqasem spent days in detention at Tel Aviv airport struggling to be allowed to join the course she had registered for.

At the time of writing, Alqasem was planning a second appeal to Israeli courts. She stood her ground, refusing to bow to the demands by Erdan to renounce the BDS movement.

When I was denied entry to Israel last year, the Israeli interrogator had printed many pages of my tweets and challenged me about a small number of them. However, because they were presented to me in Hebrew I declined the opportunity to comment.

Israel’s arrests of Palestinians for social media posts have soared. In May, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Centre for Studies (PPC) said that Israel had detained some 500 Palestinians, including women and children, because of their social media posts. In 2015, Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet, was detained for three years, before her release last month, for writing a poem, entitled “Resist my people, resist.”

US ban?

Entry denial due to BDS movement promotion is an established Israeli policy. I wonder, however, if my activity on social media, and my op-eds on the Palestinian conflict, were the reasons behind being denied boarding of a US-bound plane at Heathrow airport in August.

US authorities have thus far refused to provide me with an explanation as to why this happened despite having initially secured approval through the visa waiver (ESTA) scheme, just as any other British citizen is normally entitled to do.

ESTA entitles the holder to travel to the US without a visa for a two-year period. I had obtained this in the past and travelled to the US to attend conferences connected to my academic work without any problem, the last time being in 2015.

My trip was planned at short notice to spend Eid Al-Adha with relatives in America. Having obtained my ESTA, I made my way to Heathrow to board a Virgin Atlantic flight to Seattle on 17 August. Upon arriving, I tried to check-in via the terminals but could not.

I was informed by a member of staff that I would not be allowed to travel since my ESTA had been declined, despite its initial approval. No explanation was given. I was then told that I could apply for a visa at the American Consulate in London.

I was shocked and devastated. I had now missed the window for my holiday and lost a substantial amount of money, which was not recoverable.

What could possibly have changed since my last trip to the US? My immediate answer was that there was a new administration in the White House, with little tolerance for foreigners and which is blindingly supportive of Israel.

However, I decided to investigate further before my hunch was confirmed. I wrote to the US ambassador in London and completed a “redress” request directly to the US Department for Homeland Security.

Hugh Lanning addresses a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in the UK in 2014 (PSC/Flickr)

A couple of weeks later, the embassy responded through its Customs and Border Protection Attache saying: “Whilst the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are unable to discuss any person’s denial of an ESTA or their admission into the US due to security/privacy policy laws, I can confirm that you will require Non-Immigrant visa should you wish to travel to the US in the future.”

The “redress” response, which arrived a few days later, was almost unintelligible.

Trump’s America

In the absence of an explanation, I am left with the conclusion that Trump’s America does not tolerate criticism of its policies and that it works very closely with Israel, sharing intelligence about individuals who are deemed undesirable for both countries.

It is safe to assume that Israeli authorities have supplied US authorities with names of individuals like myself who have been denied entry because of their advocacy for the Palestinian people. However, for the US to then deny them entry based on this peaceful work is very troubling.

I have been a severe critic of the current US administration’s policy towards the Palestinians. But does this make me a possible security threat to the US? Of course not. However, it helps Israel to further bully its critics into silence if they fear being denied entry to other countries that Israel can influence.

Neither denial of entry to Israel nor to the US will silence supporters of the Palestinian people. In fact, this will embolden us to be even more vocal in our criticism of apartheid Israel.

Photo: Travellers arrive at the international terminal of O’Hare International Airport on 25 April, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois (AFP)

Israeli sovereignty doesn’t extend to Palestinian territories

First published by the Arab Weekly on 21/1/2018

Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations.

Fifty years after Israel took control of all of historic Palestine in the Six-Day War, it is taking a number of approaches to the sta­tus and laws that operate in what the rest of the world consid­ers illegally occupied Palestinian territory. Israel regards the area as “disputed” territory that it might consider returning — or more likely return part of — to secure peace with its neighbours.

In reality, Israel behaves as if it is sovereign over the whole of historic Palestine. It is important to note that UN Security Council Resolu­tion 2334 distinguished between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, thus rejecting Israeli sovereignty over them.

International law does not consider Israel as sovereign over the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, which the Israelis in 1967 annexed in the Six-Day War. In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump referred to Israel as a “sovereign nation” that can “determine its own capital.” He is wrongly recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the whole city.

There is no way to access the ille­gally occupied Syrian Golan Heights except through Israel. That border has been effectively shut since the 1967 war, with the exception of some movement facilitated by the UN peacekeeping force for humani­tarian reasons. Even this move­ment came to a halt after violence erupted in Syria.

The Gaza Strip is accessed through the Beit Hanoun crossing, which Israel controls, or the Rafah crossing, which Egypt controls.

Entry to the West Bank and East Jerusalem is under Israel’s control, too. Palestinians with a Palestinian Authority (PA) passport enter and exit only via King Hussein Bridge, while Jordanian passport holders issued with Israeli visas by Israel’s Embassy in Amman can enter via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge further north.

Those carrying foreign passports, including European and US citizens wishing to visit either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, can enter through one of the bridges or through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

The situation for human rights activists who wish to visit the oc­cupied territories has changed con­siderably over the past few years. While some have been subjected to questioning about the purpose of their visit and who they were plan­ning to meet, most were allowed to enter, especially those who man­aged to convince Israeli authorities they were tourists visiting holy sites.

Faced with increased scrutiny of its policies and an escalating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, however, Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations. It does this in addi­tion to pushing allies to implement anti-BDS laws, particularly in the United States, where some 20 states have such laws.

While Israel has long denied entry at will to activists and EU and US citizens of Palestinian heritage, it is now routinely denying entry to those working in organisations sup­porting BDS or individuals who are vocal in criticising it and supporting BDS. Israel has passed legislation amending its law of entry to specifi­cally deny access to such individu­als. This included Hugh Lanning, chairman of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign and myself. Shortly after this, it denied entry to Anwar Makhlouf, the head of the Palestinian community in Chile and three Swedish citizens, members of the World Council of Churches, over alleged BDS affiliations.

Israel went further in implement­ing its ban in July, ordering Lufthan­sa airline to deny boarding to five members of an interfaith delegation at Washington Dulles International Airport, including Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise. Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist organisation opposed to the occupation, said this was the first time Israel had barred Jews, including a rabbi, entry to Israel be­cause of political positions. Israel’s law of return stipulates that all Jews have the right to move to Israel and become a citizen. The airline claimed: “We don’t know who these people are. We have no information as to why the Israeli government does not want them to enter. We simply have to abide by the rules and regulations of every country in which we operate.”

Israel has gone even further, using intelligence about those planning to travel to one of its entry points to ban them before attempting to board flights. On November 13, it announced it was barring seven EU officials from travelling with a 20-member delegation of European Parliament members, national lawmakers and mayors over “sup­port for Israel boycott” and for their aim to raise awareness on the plight of Palestinian prisoners, including political figure Marwan Barghouti. Israel’s Interior Ministry said the delegation had planned to visit Barghouti in Hadarim prison. It an­nounced its decision a week before the delegation was to visit.

The European Union — France in particular — might have been expected to stand up for its citizens but instead used the sovereignty issue as a reason not to challenge Israel’s decisions. A French Foreign Office minister said: “One can regret this Israeli decision but it remains nonetheless sovereign.”

This is rather bizarre as the European Union does not recog­nise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories. It was left to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to challenge the decision. The group’s executive director, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, said: “The interior minister is not authorised to serve as a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country’s citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are ap­propriate to be heard. Freedom of expression is not just the right to express oneself but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage and infuriate the majority in Israel.”

The European Union must take a stand on the issue of sovereignty, especially as it relates to the oc­cupied Palestinian territories, to ensure non-Israelis can access them or consider taking their own measures, including denying entry to illegal Israeli settlers wishing to visit. Otherwise, the message to Israel is “Carry on; there are no red lines to cross.”

Blacklisted: Why I will not allow Israel to defeat me

 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 9/1/2018

We will continue to work using all peaceful means to support the Palestinians until they have attained their rights whatever the price Israel attempts to extract from us

I do not have to imagine the anguish – yet determination – felt by the activists who are likely to be denied entry by Israel following the publication of its blacklist of organisations to be targeted for supporting the Palestinian people. I was denied entry at Tel Aviv airport in April 2017 shortly after the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted to ban supporters of boycotts against Israel.

Being denied entry to my homeland by a representative of a state that was built on the dispossession of my people was very difficult to grasp.

Denied entry

I had travelled with my wife and five-year-old son to spend the Easter vacation with family in Jerusalem. They were allowed in but I had to endure a 12-hour wait in a holding room for a flight back to Birmingham.

The British embassy told me they could not help as Israel was a “sovereign country”, but Israel is not sovereign over the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including East Jerusalem where I was too be based.

Those wishing to visit the OPT can only do so via Israeli-controlled entry points either along the River Jordan or Tel Aviv airport.

I had mixed feelings about my experience – a combination of anger, helplessness and humiliation. But at no point did I regret anything that I had done that may have led to my being denied entry. I did, however, quickly understand more clearly than ever what it feels like to be a Palestinian refugee, to be so close to my homeland and not to be able to step out of the airport to see it, to smell it and to feel it. I always have this incredible feeling of belonging to the place as soon as I see the majestic Al-Aqsa mosque as I drive to the Mount of Olives where my wife’s family have lived for centuries.

On the blacklist

The two weeks I spent back in Birmingham separated from my wife and son could have been extremely difficult under the circumstances. However, I was damned if I was going to sulk or allow Israel to defeat me. Rather than curtail my activism I wrote my story up, was interviewed by the media, wrote more op-eds about Israeli violations and tweeted just as much, if not more.

Being denied entry to one’s homeland by a representative of a state that was built on the dispossession of your people is very difficult to take (AFP)

One of the reasons I was denied entry was I had a high profile in one of the organisations that appear on Israel’s blacklist, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which has been campaigning for justice for Palestinians for nearly 40 years.

I had spent eight years as vice chair of the organisation but had stepped down from this position at the time of my being denied entry for personal reasons. However, I had done enough to appear on Israel’s radar as a “problem”.

The PSC is non-partisan, working for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. It responded to the call from Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 to support a campaign organised by the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel until it ended the occupation, treated all its citizens equally and implemented the right of return for Palestinian refugees. All three demands are legal and moral.

Israel has attempted to present the BDS movement as anti-Semitic but this smear has no basis in reality.

The PSC worked closely with the BDS campaign and other organisations to pressure companies complicit in the occupation to reconsider their involvement, which led to some key successes including changes made by Veolia and G4S.

BDS success

In response to the BDS movement’s growing successes, Israel has dedicated a minister, Gilad Erdan, and a ministry funded to the tune of millions to combat BDS activities but has failed to counter it through argument. It has resorted to legal means to bully those who may be tempted into supporting BDS, especially in the US and in Europe.

In the US, where Israel enjoys blind support, individual states have passed legislation that would punish those companies that may be suspected of refraining from doing business with Israel and to exact a price from individuals who support boycotts.

France has already effectively outlawed boycotts of Israel, using strict laws against “inciting discrimination”, while the UK has attempted to stop local authorities boycotting Israeli companies through their specific ethical procurement guidance.

When the UK tried to apply similar pressure to local authority pension funds they were challenged by the PSC, which defeated the government in this matter. Yousef Munayyer, the director of the Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called the group’s inclusion a “badge of honour”.

In a show of defiance, a number of the organisations on Israel’s blacklist have come out to call their inclusion a badge of honour. They are in agreement that they will not be dissuaded from continuing to fight for justice for the Palestinian people and will even redouble their efforts.

Some have reported new members joining following the publication of the list. My guess is some organisations not included are feeling left out and will do even more in the coming years in support of the Palestinians.

It is personal

However, I, like Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, am hit doubly hard by the ban. First, I for now and Rebecca potentially are unable to visit Israel and the OPT to show our solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving for peace.

However, for her as an American Jew married to an Israeli with relatives there and myself as a Palestinian with relatives there, the impact on us is severe. It is personal.

The ban stops us ever seeing elderly members of our families. Certainly in my case my two remaining uncles are likely to die before I am next able to visit my homeland.

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, Israel has embarked on a set of measures to entrench its occupation, to complete the Judaisation of Jerusalem and to shut down criticism of its criminal policies.

It is even working to introduce the death sentence for Palestinians accused of carrying out operations against it. Those measures hardly indicate a desire by Israel for peace or that the conflict is about to end.

Against this background, Israel can be assured of one thing: individuals such as myself and organisations like the PSC will not be bullied. The peaceful but oppressed Palestinian people need us now more than ever.

We will continue to work using all peaceful means to support them until they have attained their rights whatever price Israel attempts to extract from us.

We are on the right side of history, while the Israeli regime, which continues to delegitimise itself through its actions, will be consigned to the dustbin of history. This is not a threat, but remember apartheid South Africa?

– 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 British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe 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.

Photo: A Palestinian boy walks past a mural calling on people to boycott Israeli goods in the al-Azzeh refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem (AFP)