Broadcast live on 15/5/2017
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.
First published by the Middle East Eye on 13/10/2016
The foreign secretary’s candid speech reveals an opportunity to influence UK policy in the Middle East – Arab ambassadors should seize it
Away from the endless discussions on Brexit at this year’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham, there were the usual fringe meetings and receptions that complement such an occasion.
One such event was the Arab ambassadors’ regular reception to which the Foreign Office normally invite the foreign secretary. I was grateful for an invitation. On previous occasions, the person who ended up attending to speak on behalf of the party and government was a junior minister rather than their boss.
However, on this occasion the rumour was that it would be the man himself, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. There was notable excitement among the attendees, including ambassadors representing countries from across the world.
We knew that the main speaker was about to arrive when the Kuwait TV camera and the ambassadors were summoned to the entrance led by his excellency, the doyen of the London diplomatic corps, Khaled al-Duwaisan, Ambassador of Kuwait.
It took some 10 minutes for Boris to complete the round of handshakes and small talk before he could be welcomed formally.
The doyen welcomed Boris as a “star” of Britain and praised him not only as current secretary of state but also for his previous role as mayor of London. He told him that “our relations as Arab countries are very strong’ and Britain has with them a “historic relation”.
He then invited the head of the diplomatic mission of Palestine, Professor Manuel Hassassian, to address the foreign secretary. It was not clear whether this had been agreed in advance, but the foreign secretary was happy for this to happen.
Professor Hassassian made good use of this opportunity to remind Boris of why 2017 would be a “remarkable year” for Palestinians. “We will be commemorating the hundred years of the Balfour declaration and 70 years of the Nakba and 50 years of the occupation and 10 years of the Gaza siege,” he explained.
He thanked the UK for the “nice words” of support and the money it donates to support the Palestinian Authority. This brought a smile to Boris’s face. Then the ambassador hit hard: “But Sir, we don’t need the money, we need you to be more involved in the political process.”
Hassassian suggested that “crisis management” had been a dismal failure and that what is needed is “conflict resolution”. He did not think it was enough for Britain to consider not importing goods from Israeli settlements or to simply say that it is for the two-state solution or the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. “Those are nice words to be said, but we need to see them concretised on the ground,” he challenged.
He also reminded the foreign secretary of Britain’s role. The Balfour Declaration, he said, “was the starting point in the destruction of Palestine. Great Britain should shoulder its historic, legal and moral responsibility.” He laid a challenge at Boris’s door to “add one sentence to the Declaration: ‘the recognition of the independence of Palestine'”.
Rolls Royces, pants – and sand?
Anyone thinking that Boris would rise to the challenge was quickly disappointed.
“I hope you will forgive me if I don’t venture to solve the problems of the Middle East peace process tonight off the cuff,” he told the crowd. In his typical light-hearted style, Boris acknowledged the doyen’s important role in leading the ambassadors in “paying the London congestion charge”.
Returning to more important matters, Boris acknowledged the importance of solving the Palestinian problem, but that “it was not the only problem in the region”. He seemed surprised at the lack of reaction to his statement. He then significantly stated that he did not believe that that region should be “defined by those problems”.
READ MORE: Human rights advocates weigh in on Boris Johnson’s comments and the UK export push to the Middle East
“It is absolutely vital that we do not allow the Middle East, the Arab world in the eyes of the British public to be defined by these problems,” he said, arguing that the region should be seen as providing a great opportunity, particularly following Brexit.
Reflecting on his time as mayor of London, Boris Johnson said that people used to accuse him of being the mayor of the “eighth Emirate”. He acknowledged the massive investment London has received, which changed its skyline. He described the Shard as “poking through like a gigantic cocktail stick through a super colossal pickled onion”.
Boris then talked of the opportunities in the other direction as “we also get the ball back over the net. This is the fastest-growing economic partnership that Britain has”. He then stunned the audience when he proclaimed 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, pants and “sand to Saudi Arabia”.
He finished with an acknowledgment of cultural synergy between Britain and the Arab world as the 400th anniversary of its greatest author is celebrated “who was himself a Sheikh,” he said with a dramatic pause. “Shakespeare!” This brought the house down.
Seize the opportunity
This was Boris Johnson at his best, connecting with the audience brilliantly and they loved him.
However, it is clear where Britain’s and his current priorities lie. The impact of Brexit, which was being debated in the serious sessions taking part in Birmingham’s magnificent Symphony Hall, clearly comes ahead of solving the problems of the Middle East.
The foreign secretary directed approaches to him on these issues to his junior minister, Tobias Ellwood, who was also in attendance. I doubt if he would have done that with such ease to the Israeli ambassador.
The most important message I took away from the evening was the statement about the growth of exports to the Middle East far exceeding any other part of the planet. I would see this as an open opportunity for the Arab world to influence British foreign policy in its favour as Britain seeks to develop its economic ties with markets outside the EU.
I would urge the Arab ambassadors who attended the reception to see this significant opportunity and formulate policy accordingly. This would be power not only for the various troubled countries in the region but also for the Palestinian problem. Their collective voice could and should be used to influence the kind of approach Britain takes to 2017 and, in particular, the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
My only regret was that, had I known Boris was to speak at the reception, I might have turned up in a corduroy jacket but I do not own one. During a visit to Israel last year, the then London mayor accused supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of being “completely crazy” and being promoted by a “few lefty academics” in corduroy jackets pursuing a cause.
I did manage to shake Boris’s hand at the reception wearing a suit and he may remember me as not “completely crazy”. He needs to realise that those working for justice for Palestinians are neither crazy, nor anti-Semitic, as Israel and some of its supporters claim.
– 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.
Photo: London mayor Boris Johnson salutes photographers as rides a bicycle in front of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, during his visit to Dubai, on 16 April 2013 (AFP)
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.
Interview by Paolo Zeriali on 8/7/2016 at protest opposite Downing Street, London
لمشاهدة هذه الحلقة اضغط هنا
I reviewed Mohammad Assaf’s concert at the London Barbican theater for Middle East Eye
From a Gaza refugee camp to the London Barbican, Mohammed Assaf caused a sensation, with his mixed audience dancing in the isles
The rise to fame of Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, the 2014 winner of the hugely popular MBC show Arab Idol, is a remarkable journey that brought him from Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp to London’s Barbican, where he caused a sensation this month.
Assaf was born in Libya but raised in Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp. His musical talent lay undiscovered save for singing at weddings and an appearance on a Palestinian talent show. This was until he was encouraged by his mother to compete for Arab Idol. The auditions in Egypt were easy to reach for most Arab competitors but not for a Palestinian from Gaza. It took him two days to reach the venue only to find that it was too late – or so he thought.
When he telephoned his mother to explain his predicament, she insisted that he contact the organisers even if he had to jump over the venue’s wall. He finally decided to heed his mother’s advice – or rather her order – and jumped over the wall, only to find that all the available places had been allocated. He would not take no for an answer and started singing. He was luckily recognised by another Palestinian who had been allocated a place and graciously gave it to him because he thought he would have a better chance of winning. He recognised him from his now legendary song Wave the Kufiyya.
Assaf sailed through the auditions with one of the judges, famous Lebanese singer Ragheb Alamah, telling him that he was one of the contestants he would remember. Assaf went on to wow the crowds in round after round with a mixture of traditional Palestinian songs but also classics, particularly by Egyptian icon Abdulhalim Hafez, whose looks some thought he shared. Alamah described him as Sarukh, or rocket, referring to his incredible projectile rise.
Assaf’s win brought the Palestinian people joy, pride and some relief from the occupation. It also brought him instant fame, a recording contract and the title of ambassador of culture and arts by the Palestinian government with “diplomatic standing”. Assaf, who had studied in a school run by UNRWA, saw the organisation name him the first UNRWA regional youth ambassador for Palestine Refugees.
Shortly after his win Assaf sang at the UN and the opening ceremony of the FIFA congress which preceded the 2014 World up in Brazil. (FIFA never provided an adequate explanation as to why this was switched from singing at the actual World Cup opening ceremony to the congress.)
Since his win, Assaf has built on his success when many winners of other such competitions disappear from the limelight following their triumph. He launched an album with Platinum records and a number of singles and videos. His most successful song and video since his win is probably Ya Halali w ya Mali which he recorded in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
He has also performed for his fans at numerous concerts around the world but also in his beloved Palestine. The difficulty of navigating his way out of Gaza as regularly as he needs due to the ongoing siege meant that he had to move first to Ramallah in the West Bank and now spending more time in Dubai to ensure he can meet his commitments, the most recent of which was at the Barbican.
Assaf’s concert at the Barbican was hugely popular with most tickets being snapped up soon after they went on sale. The crowd was very diverse, some who knew what was coming but others, mainly westerners, coming to experience this Arab Palestinian singer and his music for the first time. They were not disappointed. He brought the house down. He sang a range of songs from traditional Palestinian favourites to some from his own album but also classics by Egyptian legend Abdulhalim Hafez and Lebanese giant Wadi Alsafi. He was careful to ensure he pleased not only his sizeable Palestinian audience but also those from across the Arab world. They sang with him but were also moved to perform the traditional Palestinian dance, the dabka. Lines of dancers formed among across the isles as Assaf also danced the dabka on stage.
Assaf sang for almost two and a half hours, not only wowing the audience but also being complemented by the Barbican’s management according to Palestinian website Watan TV. They report that the Barbican had never seen such a reaction from an audience to a performer. They also expressed their surprise at what they said was a non-Arabic speaking audience dancing in the isles to the Palestinian dabka. British friends of mine who attended the concert were exhilarated from start to end, with one expressing her disappointment that he did not come back for an encore. I explained that encores are uncommon in the Middle East.
Assaf and Reem Kelani, whose new album I recently reviewed, are cultural ambassadors for Palestine, playing a vital role in presenting this culture not only to be enjoyed by audiences but to humanise Palestinians to counter Israel’s attempt to dehumanise them.
Palestinians are proud of their culture and can point to food, poetry, music, embroidery and dance as a few examples of what defines Palestinians as a people. Their struggle with Israel for freedom and the attainment of their rights has also included a struggle to stop Israel’s attempts at claiming elements of Palestinian culture as Israeli culture, be this humus, falafel or embroidery. The battle for cultural identity is therefore an important aspect of Palestinian resistance. For this battle to be won there is a need for a concerted effort to send more ambassadors forth to spread the message. This requires funding, support and talent, which in the person of Assaf but also many others, Palestinians demonstrably have in buckets.