Interview on Talk Radio Europe about Israel denying me entry to Palestine

I was interviewed by Pippa Jones for Talk Radio Europe on 20/4/2017

Listen below from 3 minutes into the hour.

UN resolution 2334 must be seen as a tool, not just a victory

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/7/2017

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinians were set to conclude that their cause had been severely damaged in 2016 when the UN Security Council delivered a timely Christmas gift on 23 December: Resolution 2334. The resolution declared the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied illegally and that Israeli settlements in both areas are in contravention of international law. Furthermore, it distinguished between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967.

While it was a major surprise to everyone when Egypt circulated a draft text of the resolution on the 22 December, prospects for it to be agreed looked good until the Egyptians announced that they were postponing the resolution. The decision was made under pressure from Israel as well as, significantly, the incoming Trump administration.

The following day brought a further surprise when four member states of the Security Council decided to bring the resolution to a vote; it was passed with fourteen out of the fifteen council members voting in favour while the United States refrained from using its veto to protect Israel. Rather than voting for a resolution which matched decades of official US policy regarding the illegality of settlements, the American ambassador to the UN abstained. The result of the vote was greeted with an unusual round of applause ringing around the famous Security Council chamber. Predictably,the Israelis were outraged; they rejected the resolution, called it “shameful” and accused the outgoing Obama administration of stabbing them in the back by abandoning the long-held US position to protect Israel from “one-sided resolutions” by wielding its veto.

Those proposing the resolution quickly incurred the wrath of Israel, which recalled its ambassador from New Zealand and cut aid to Senegal. Ambassadors of other members of the council, including permanent members, were summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry — on Christmas Day — while the US ambassador was called in for a meeting with Prime and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has to be said that while Israeli religious leaders were banning Christmas trees in Israel, the other SC — Santa Claus — who has not been over-generous with gifts to the Palestinians in recent years, ensured that resolution 2334 brought them some Christmas cheer. However, the question that has arisen since is whether or not the Palestinians will harness the opportunity presented or squander it as their leadership has done on at least two previous critical occasions.

On 9 July 2004, for example, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an unambiguous Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. One of its key rulings was that, “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, to cease the construction of the Wall, to dismantle its structures, and to repeal or render ineffective all related legislative and regulatory acts; Israel is further under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the Wall.”

Despite initial celebrations by the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians, this judgement lay largely underutilised by the former. Twelve years on and Israel has not suffered any consequences for its continued breaches. On the tenth anniversary of the judgement, 86 legal experts wrote to then UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions highlighting continued Israeli breaches and recommending ways by which Israel’s impunity could be challenged.

Moreover, following Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza in 2008/9, the UN Human Rights Council commissioned a report into the war which was headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone. The report contended that the blockade on Gaza was (and, therefore, still is) “collective punishment”, concluding that the attack on Gaza had been directed at the “people of Gaza as a whole.”Some of Israel’s actions constituted war crimes, it found, and the denial of rights of the Palestinians in Gaza “could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.” The report also accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

Once again the Palestinians had an opportunity to use an independent statement both to highlight criminal Israeli policies and to seek legal means to punish it for its crimes. However, the PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas caused outrage by delaying a vote in the UN Human Rights Council at the time, under pressure from the Americans. The Goldstone Report has lain unused ever since; in fact, under yet more external pressure the author subsequently retracted parts of it.

An objective assessment of the performance of the Palestinian leadership in the international arena more recently shows that it has secured some important victories. The most important was perhaps the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the UN when it was elevated to a “non-member observer state” in 2012. The overwhelming vote, with 138 states in favour to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau and the US) not only gave a much-needed boost to Palestinians but allowed Palestine to seek membership of dozens of international organisations and accords. Crucially, it paved the way for it to seek justice for Palestinians through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Indeed, the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, a move that they hoped would open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials. They have since requested the ICC to open investigations into the 2014 war on Gaza, Israeli practices against Palestinian prisoners and the illegal settlement project.Following its admission to UNESCO in 2011, Palestine applied to join 15 international bodies and conventions in 2014.

These moves have borne some fruit. Last October, the Palestinians took Israeli violations of occupied East Jerusalem to UNESCO and, despite tremendous pressure from Israel and its supporters, managed to secure a resolution on this matter, which troubled the pro-Israel lobby.

The Palestinians must now build on these gains and, in particular,having the world’s attention on illegal settlements following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Increasing efforts should be placed on documenting illegal settlement activities, through the PA working with NGOs that already have a track record in this area. Perhaps a visible ministry specifically for combating settlements – similar to Britain’s Ministry for BREXIT — could be set up which combines the documentation of statistics on the impact of settlements and the development of peaceful strategies to resist them. A further task would be to put pressure on governments, particularly permanent members of the Security Council who voted for resolution 2334, to articulate policies for extracting a cost for Israeli violations of the terms of the resolution. The cost of the settlement enterprise must rise to such a level that Israel will conclude that is unsustainable, as it did when the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

A collective effort involving the Palestinian leadership must be tireless in challenging Israeli violations through legal avenues such as the ICC as well as a major diplomatic mission to pressurise other governments to act. The Palestinian people must take their own responsibility to boycott Israeli goods, particularly those made in settlements, even more seriously. Finally, Palestinians in the diaspora must pressure their own governments to accept that, without real pressure, an Israel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump will continue with its violations of human rights and international law.

The challenge is immense, but Resolution 2334 has provided an opportunity for many actors to rally around one specific issue that Israel insists is controversial, but which every other state believes is not: its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The resolution must be seen — and used — as a tool, and not just another diplomatic but ultimately toothless victory.

What Brexit should mean for the Arab world

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/10/2016

June 23rd marked a turning point in Britain’s relationship with the European Union when the British people voted to leave the union, triggering a process known as Brexit.

This quickly brought about the resignation of the prime minis­ter, David Cameron, who was replaced by Theresa May. In her first major speech, she confirmed that Britain would be leaving the European Union and that “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it”.

Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Since then it has had a love-hate relationship with the European Union as in later years the union took control of more of the issues held dear by the British people. While Britain had a special deal with the European Union exempting it from the European currency, the euro, and the Schengen agreement, which allowed free movement of people within that area, there was a perception by Britons that they had lost sovereignty and control of their borders.

May recently announced that Britain would formally inform the European Union of its decision to leave by the end of March 2017, triggering Article 50 in the relevant treaty, which then sets in motion at least two years of negotiations to extract Britain from the union.

As the reality of what has happened sinks in, and Britain begins to look to the future as an independent kingdom able to negotiate its own trade deals, opportunities open for it and for others. Negotiations about membership or access to the single European market will be the most difficult as the Euro­pean Union generally ties the degree of access to the freedom of movement of labour, which Britain now wishes to control.

It is widely expected that Britain’s access to the single market will change significantly. It is therefore imperative that it looks to enhancing trade with other countries and regions if its economy is to at least hold its own and to benefit from Brexit as its proponents have claimed it will.

One of the initial effects of the referendum vote was a drop in the value of the pound by almost 20%. This makes British exports, education and holidaying in Britain cheaper for consumers from the Arab world.

At a recent reception held alongside the ruling Conserva­tive Party conference in Birming­ham and hosted by Arab ambas­sadors, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson surprised the audience when he stated that “the growth in exports to the Arab world outstrips any other part of the planet including the EU”. The exports include Rolls-Royce cars, underpants and even sand to Saudi Arabia. Significantly, he did not mention the arms trade. Clearly, the Arab world, whose “troubles” Johnson did not wish to see characterise the British people’s impression of it could offer some respite to Britain as it forges new partner­ships.

The West always talks about mutual interests driving policy. Therefore, here is an opportunity for the Arab world to welcome Britain’s desire to grow its partnership with its members but to also press for a more favour­able foreign policy towards the region.

At the reception, the Palestin­ian ambassador reminded Johnson that in 2017 a number of anniversaries are coming up connected to the Palestinian issue, including the centenary of the Balfour declaration, which Britain will want to mark. Surely, it should be possible for the Arab world to exert some pressure on Britain to finally realise its responsibility for the plight of the Palestinian people and, in turn, exert pressure on Israel to end its expansionist project.

It seems Arab ambassadors in London have an open door, through trade, to push for a more enlightened British foreign policy. Will they rise to the challenge of making the best of Brexit or miss this unique opportunity?

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

Who singles out Israel, its critics or its apologists?

First published by the Middle East Eye

25/7/2016

Israel and its supporters often accuse supporters of Palestinian rights for unfairly singling Israel out for criticism. They suggest that with so many abusers of human rights around the world, the focus should be on them, with some suggesting that once all the other abusers have been dealt with then they might accept some criticism of Israel.

Their reasons for singling Israel out for special treatment are that it is the “‘only democracy in the Middle East”, with “most moral army in the world” and the “only Jewish state” struggling to exist in an unstable and dangerous Middle East. Just look at Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen they say. The Assad regime has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and the so-called Islamic State has slaughtered Muslims in their thousands in Iraq, Syria and Libya and continues to terrorise peaceful civilians around the world.

To support their claim further, they refer for example to the United Nations Human Rights Council which they argue has an “unbalanced focus” on Israel when it comes to human rights abusers. In 2007 Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of “a pathological obsession with Israel”. Even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticising the world body’s own Human Rights Council for “picking on Israel” as part of an agreement on its working rules. The council had decided to include a permanent item on its agenda specifically considering Israel’s action.

Israel’s supporters have recently added the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to their examples of Israel being singled out for boycott. Some, including former UK Justice Secretary Michel Gove went as far as calling the BDS movement anti-Semitic and worse than Apartheid. In recent months, the UK’s Labour Party was hit with claims of endemic anti-Semitism in its ranks, not because members had demonstrated hatred towards Jews because they are Jews but because they criticised Israel. Some demanded that a new term is adopted, “new anti-semitism” which they attributed to criticism of Israel. This was not endorsed by Labour’s inquiry into anti-Semitism, led by Shami Chakrabarti.

Let us consider the reasons Israel’s supporters give for singling it out for special treatment. The claim that it is a democracy is partly true. It offers a five-star democracy for its Jewish citizens but an inferior two-star democracy to other non-Jewish citizens. Its five-star democracy extends to those Jews residing illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements but not to the Palestinian population residing in the same geographic area. Israeli settlers live under civil Law while Palestinians live under military law. Furthermore, Israel passes the democratic rights of Palestinians under occupation to its convenient invention, the Palestinian Authority, while effectively controlling every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the claim that Israel is a democracy is a fallacy.

The claims of the morality of its army hardly stands up to scrutiny. It claims that during major attacks on Palestinians, it uses smart weaponry that reduces civilian casualties. However, a comparison of fatalities on both sides shows a hugely disproportionate number of civilian deaths on the Palestinian side when compared with Israelis. In recent months, the Israeli Defence Force has executed Palestinians at checkpoints for alleged attacks and inflicts unbelievable suffering on the Palestinians in Gaza.

The IDF carries out “operations” in the area designated “A” under the Oslo Accords, which it is not meant to enter. It also regularly mistreats the Palestinians it detains and abducts children from their beds in the early hours of the morning. It detains Palestinians under administrative detention without charge for indefinite periods. There is no question of the IDF being considered a “moral army” by the Lebanese people who endured an occupation and several wars that brought them into close contact with the IDF. The morality of the Israeli army is therefore another fallacy.

The last claim, that Israel is the only Jewish state and that it is singled out because it is the “Jewish homeland’”assumes that Israel’s critics en masse or a substantial proportion are simply anti-Semites. Supporters of Palestinians who campaign against Israeli policies do so because of Israel’s misdemeanours, not because it is the “only Jewish state”.

Many Jews around the world did not ask for it to be created and do not accept that Israel is their state or speaks on their behalf. Take for example the reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to French Jews to emigrate after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo paper. He was told in no uncertain terms by French Jews that this was not a welcome intervention. The claim that Israel is somehow targeted because it is the only Jewish state is a further fallacy.

If the claim that Israeli is singled out for criticism is over-exaggerated, do its supporters and apologists single it out for special treatment?

Consider the US for a start. Its support for Israel is not comparable to support for any other state. The US funds it to the tune of $3 billion per year. It wields the UN Security Council veto for no other state even when a resolution comes to condemn settlements, which it has consistently considered illegal or to request the setting of a date to end the occupation.

Various states have moved to introduce legislation to effectively ban boycotts of Israel, which are being introduced to protect only Israel. Senior US politicians make regular appearances at conferences organised by the pro-Israel lobby, attempting to outdo each other in their love and support for Israel. This charade only applies to Israel.

The EU refuses to suspend its EU-Israel Association Agreement, despite it consistently violating human rights. Israel is a member of the European football federation, UEFA, despite no part of its territories being in Europe, racism being endemic in Israeli football and it hindering the development of Palestinian football.

Israel is a member of the Eurovision song contest, an “honour” not bestowed upon other non-European state, including Palestine. However, more seriously, Israeli academia is a regular winner of funding from the EU’s research funding under Horizon2020 despite its complicity in Israel’s occupation.

The UK is particularly guilty of singling Israel out for special treatment. It continues to promote trade with Israel, particularly in arms, despite Israel’s occupation and repeated wars on other states and horrific attacks on Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition changed the Law on Universal Jurisdiction to protect Israeli officials accused of war crimes from being arrested to answer for their possible crimes.

The coalition did this for Israel and no other state. When this change was found wanting, British officials cleared the diary of a Foreign Office minister to meet suspected war criminal Tzipi Livni, who was on a private visit to the UK to provide her with diplomatic immunity. They did this only because Livni is Israeli.

The above illustrates that when singling out takes place it is by supporters of, and apologists for Israel. If Palestinians are accused of singling Israel out then they have every right to do so. Surely, apologists for Israel cannot really expect Palestinians to campaign for solving all the world’s ills before turning their attention on their occupier and oppressor.

– 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 http://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.

What hope is there for Palestinians?

First published by the Middle East Monitor 

15/7/2016

The situation for Palestinians pursuing freedom, independence and the right of return continues to worsen. The occupation continues unabated, Jerusalem is being Judaised at an alarming rate, the siege on Gaza is as tight as ever and the refugees continue to languish in camps and those in Syria are on the move once again looking for safety and shelter. The Oslo Accords, which were designed to bring peace and independence within five years have not only failed to yield peace but have provided cover for accelerated colonisation of Palestinian lands to the extent that there are now some 650,000 settlers in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

2016 has seen particularly damaging developments.

In the USA, all presidential candidates with the exception of Bernie Sanders swore allegiance to Israel and those that were still in the race made typically nauseating – and in my view irresponsible – speeches, again with the exception of Sanders. The presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump initially indicated he would be “neutral” on Israel-Palestine, but this all changed when he faced the AIPAC audience. He firmly sided with Israel. His Republican opponent Hilary Clinton, a former secretary of State and wife of former President Bill Clinton, confirmed her blind support for Israel and the demonisation of the Palestinians. More recently, the Democratic party refused to include references to the occupation of Palestinian territories in its platform. Not to be outdone, the Republicans removed references to the “occupation” and dropped references to the two-state solution as the way to settle the conflict. This drew criticism even from the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Republican platform has effectively handed the future of the Palestinians to Israel leaving it to decide what a solution to the conflict might look like and in the process removing the two-state solution as the “only game in town”.

Internationally, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon will chair the Legal Affairs Committee of the General Assembly. A state, which is in breach of numerous United Nations resolutions chairing a committee on international law! Bouyed by this, Israel is even seeking membership of the UN Security Council whose key resolutions on the conflict it continues to defy.

In the UK, a new government has been formed with prominent pro-Israelis among its key ministers. The Prime Minister Theresa May is on record as siding with Israel. The new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose appointment has raised eyebrows, has a dubious but pro-Israel stance, exemplified by his remarks in Israel back in November 2015, which upset his Palestinian hosts so much that they gave him some BDS treatment, boycotting his visit. The Palestinians can be thankful that Michael Gove, a prominent Brexiter and former justice secretary, is not in the new government. He is a man who banned a Palestinian festival and more recently stated that “BDS is worse than Apartheid” smearing the whole campaign as anti-Semitic.

He will surely find a more prominent home in the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). CFI’s current Chair, former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is a notorious apologist for Israel. He pressured Southampton University to cancel an academic conference on Israel in 2015 and more recently requested a review of the Department for International Development’s funding of the Occupied Palestinian Territories insinuating that funds make their way to terrorists. His intervention also suggested that funding should be diverted to coexistence projects as a means of supporting the two-state solution, when in fact projects to help reduce racism and increase coexistence within Israel would potentially be more beneficial to all its citizens. The UK bent the rules to shield former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from questioning about her possible role in war crimes by the British Police on a recent private visit and tried to stop local authorities from implementing their ethical procurement policies when it came to companies that are suspected in complicity in Israel’s illegal occupation.

To cap it all, the UK plans to mark the centenary of the notorious and shameful Balfour Declaration in 2017. This has already angered Palestinians and supporters of justice who see the declaration as having been instrumental in their dispossession, the creation of a colonialist entity on their lands and the creation of the ongoing refugee problem.

The recent row about anti-Semitism in the Labour party has thankfully subsided with the publication of the Chakrabarti report, which dismissed the existence of a major problem within the party and steered clear of redefining anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel, which Israel and its supporters wish to conflate, However, this row has served to raise the pressure to silence criticism of Israel and to curtail free speech. The UK’s Chief Rabbi played his own role in this, implying that Zionism and anti-Semitism are indivisible and in the process implying that all Palestinians (as they oppose Zionism) as anti-Semites.

The exit of the UK from the EU raises uncertainty about the direction the EU will take on Palestine without the UK and indeed the UK’s own direction. This is likely to align it more with the American position, which is moving further away from the even unjust two-state solution that it once championed. There is an argument that the EU may be more robust in its approach to the conflict as the influence of the UK is eliminated. However, judging by the recent report of the Quartet, which the Palestinians found to be “disappointing”, there is no real evidence that this shift will take place. The French Initiative to hold a peace conference stutters along, directionless, having been rejected by Israel. Add to this, Israel’s rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative and hope of any move towards peace by the “international community” is fading fast.

To cap it all, Palestinians cannot rely on their Arab brothers. Israel claims its relations with key Arab states have never been better and the Egyptian foreign minister has just been to Israel on a rare and controversial visit. At a recent conference for Iranian dissidents in Paris, Prince Turkey Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia described Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Add to this Turkey’s recent normalisation agreement with Israel which dropped its long held demand for an end to the siege on Gaza and the noose around the neck of hope for Palestinians has been tightened like never before.

On the ground in occupied Palestine the situation is grim. Israel continues to control every aspect of Palestinian life. Its forces continue to kill Palestinians at the slightest hint of suspicion that they intend to carry out an attack. They then lay siege on their villages and towns, demolish their homes and round up their relatives. Hebron has recently been under such a siege following allegations of a number of such attacks. The old city of Jerusalem continues to be the target of a policy to replace its residents with Jewish settlers and Al-Aqsa mosque is under threat from takeover by Jewish extremists.

With little hope, the Palestinians can be excused for asking: What are we to do? The pursuit of their freedom and independence through resistance, through both military and peaceful means has not succeeded. They are now feeling abandoned. If the international community expects them to behave like a model occupied people and submit, then it has not learnt the lessons of history. The Algerians resisted until they were free.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC). He writes here in a personal capacity.