Expecting more of the same for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/12/2016

London – Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are looking back with deep concern at a year in which they saw their struggle for freedom and independence bat­tered.

The Palestinians end the year with no sign of reconciliation be­tween the main political factions Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Gaza’s siege continues unabated, Jewish settlements are expanding and Israeli settler in­cursions into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque grow in number and fre­quency.

Fatah’s seventh congress includ­ed a marathon 3-hour speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that simply confirmed com­mitment to the established direc­tion of travel. Abbas was re-elected party chairman and he, in turn, re­affirmed his commitment to nego­tiations with Israel for the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution of the refugee problem.

The Palestinians find their cause, which once took centre stage, com­peting with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for international attention. Israel has benefited from the di­version of attention away from its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily oppressive practices.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds his allies that Israel faces major threats in a tough neighbourhood. He claims that this is the wrong time for Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians, which may al­low either Hamas or the Islamic State (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the West Bank, threatening Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The status quo is that Israel effec­tively controls the whole of historic Palestine, further colonises Pales­tinian land, judaises Jerusalem and blockades Gaza. The Palestinian Authority provides it with security cooperation that Abbas considers sacred. Israel is therefore comfort­able, despite occasional uprisings.

Add to that a deal with the out­going US administration to deliver $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and a promise to protect it from any criticism or im­position of a peace deal at the UN Security Council and 2016 can be considered to have been an excel­lent year for the 68-year old state.

However, that is not the end of the good news for Israel. The 2016 Republican Party platform for the first time rejected the description of Israel as “an occupier”, omitted any mention of a two-state solu­tion and conflated settlements with Israel itself.

During the campaign, US Presi­dent-elect Donald Trump first de­clared his intention to be “neutral” on the Palestinians and Israel so as to broker a deal but he changed his tune when he spoke at the con­ference of the main Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He not only de­clared his unwavering support for Israel but promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem, a position his advisers reiter­ated after his election.

If implemented, this would break long-standing US policy and is guaranteed to generate unprec­edented anger among Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

US President Barack Obama has, it seems, given up on any last-minute moves to reignite the peace process or to impose some pres­sure on Israel through the Secu­rity Council. However, he remains committed to the two-state solu­tion, despite some senior Israeli of­ficials’ calls for it to be abandoned.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of senior Israeli and US policymakers, US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded that “more than 50% of the ministers in the current Israeli government have publicly stated they are op­posed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state”.

He said Israeli settlement con­struction is a deliberate obstacle to peace and warned that such expansion was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. Kerry was speaking as the Knesset was about to move forward on a bill that would legalise illegal settle­ment outposts in the West Bank, despite the world being united in considering all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­legal.

Efforts by France to have a peace conference before the end of the year also failed. French President François Hollande could not even convince Netanyahu to attend a pre-Christmas meeting with Abbas in Paris. Netanyahu would only ac­cept such an invitation if France gave up on its peace initiative, ren­dering the meeting useless.

Perhaps the real reason for Netanyahu declining the French invitation is that on January 20th Trump moves into the White House. Why engage with France or anyone else when Trump and his administration are making the right noises as far as Israel is concerned?

Trump’s election has further em­boldened Israeli leaders including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”. This conclusion by Bennett is a reflec­tion of Israeli thinking at the high­est level.

While many have been argu­ing for some time that Israel has been making a two-state solution impossible through changing the situation on the ground, it is now being declared dead by its main backer, the United States.

It is therefore likely that as the centenary of Balfour Declaration is marked in 2017, together with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli oc­cupation, we will be no nearer to a resolution to the conflict. With this the Palestinian leadership is likely to turn to international institu­tions, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue actions against Israel to at the very least remind the international commu­nity of the need to find a solution.

As for ordinary citizens around the world, it seems that support­ing the Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) is the main form of effective solidarity they can exercise to help the Palestinians reach their legitimate goals of free­dom, equality and independence.

What hope is there for Palestinians?

First published by the Middle East Monitor 


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.

Israël ne peut utiliser l’archéologie pour justifier le colonialisme et la dépossession

Israël ne peut utiliser l’archéologie pour justifier le colonialisme et la dépossession

Translation published first by the Middle East Eye on 18/4/2016

L’enchevêtrement entre archéologie et politique en Israël est une tendance dangereuse


Depuis que le sionisme a mené à bien son projet de création d’un foyer juif en Palestine, les Palestiniens ont dû faire face aux tentatives quotidiennes d’Israël de négation de leurs droits et de leur appartenance à la terre. Celles-ci prennent de nombreuses formes, dont des références générales à l’époque biblique, la connexion spirituelle entre les juifs et la Palestine historique culminant dans le « Dieu nous a donné cette terre ». C’est « dans la Bible ».

On devrait en déduire que tout le territoire situé entre le fleuve Jourdain et la mer Méditerranée appartient aux juifs, que Jérusalem est la « capitale unie et éternelle » du « peuple juif » et que la Cisjordanie est la « Judée et Samarie ». Collectivement, cela est censé prouver que la connexion des juifs à la terre est beaucoup plus forte que celle de n’importe quel autre groupe, dont les Palestiniens. Les hommes politiques israéliens utilisent ceci pour affirmer qu’il n’y a pas d’occupation dans la mesure où les juifs sont simplement en train de retourner dans leur terre natale.

Aujourd’hui, la Palestine historique ne manque pas de symboles historiques liés aux trois grandes religions monothéistes, et Jérusalem en possède un nombre abondant dans un espace minuscule qui contient le Mur occidental, l’église du Saint Sépulcre et la mosquée al-Aqsa. Chaque année, des milliers de fidèles partent en pèlerinage en Terre sainte, essentiellement des juifs et des chrétiens. Des milliers de musulmans seraient aussi du voyage si la paix prévalait et s’ils étaient autorisés à visiter leur troisième plus sainte mosquée, al-Aqsa.

Le contexte ci-dessus montre non seulement l’importance de la Palestine historique pour les trois religions mais aussi le potentiel de million de personnes la visitant chaque année, générant des bénéfices économiques substantiels pour les juifs, les chrétiens et les musulmans. Pour qu’un tel potentiel se réalise, il est important que la paix soit établie et que l’histoire de cette terre soit préservée pour les générations actuelles et à venir.

Celui qui en est responsable, en tant que puissance étatique et puissance occupante, est Israël. Son rejet de cette responsabilité est au mieux suspect. Israël s’est lancé en fait dans un processus consistant à ramener systématiquement sur le devant de la scène l’histoire juive de la terre et à cacher, ou dans certains cas effacer, la connexion qu’en ont les autres habitants. 

Lorsqu’Israël a occupé Jérusalem-Est en 1967, les forces d’occupation ont commencé par hisser le drapeau israélien sur la mosquée al-Aqsa. Bien qu’ils l’aient ensuite enlevé, les Israéliens ont rapidement procédé à la destruction au bulldozer du quartier marocain de Jérusalem, dont plusieurs mosquées, afin de faciliter l’accès des juifs au Mur occidental, qu’ils désignent aussi sous le nom de Mur des Lamentations.

Depuis lors, Israël s’est lancée dans un projet archéologique d’envergure dans cette zone sensible et dans d’autres zones moins sensibles afin de trouver des preuves de l’existence des juifs en ces lieux après leur exode d’Égypte et pour l’utiliser comme justification de leur revendication à la Palestine historique des temps modernes.

Les Israéliens sont particulièrement désireux de mettre au jour la preuve que les premier et second temples existèrent sur le site de la mosquée al-Aqsa. Depuis leur occupation de Jérusalem-Est, ils ont creusé autour et sous le site, suscitant les vives préoccupations des Palestiniens et de la Jordanie, qui craignent que les excavations viennent endommager les fondations de la mosquée, précipitant son effondrement. On pense aussi que les fouilles menées par l’Autorité des antiquités d’Israël menacent les maisons du quartier palestinien de Silwan, qui se trouve en contre-bas du mur méridional de la mosquée al-Aqsa.

Si les fouilles étaient simplement menées pour des raisons purement historiques, on pourrait avancer l’argument que, si elles étaient faites avec précaution, elles pourraient être tolérées par les Palestiniens. Or, cette zone, que les Israéliens de droite appellent la Cité de David, est l’une de celles dont ils veulent se saisir, séparant ainsi de fait la mosquée al-Aqsa de l’un de ses quartiers palestiniens les plus proches. 

L’utilisation de l’archéologie en Israël pour délégitimer la connexion des non-juifs à la terre et légitimiste le projet colonialiste d’Israël ne se limite pas aux organisations de droite. En 2013, le Premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahou a qualifié de « magnifique » la découverte d’un ancien médaillon d’or à Jérusalem. Il avait alors affirmé : « Il est intéressant de voir que même alors, plus de 500 ans après la destruction du second Temple, nous voyons la menorah dans une illustration originale. C’est un témoignage historique, de la plus grande qualité, du lien du Peuple juif à Jérusalem, sa terre et son héritage – menorah, shofar, parchemin de la Torah. » 

En 2015, le ministre de l’Éducation Naftali Bennett s’est servi de sa page Facebook pour envoyer un « Mémo à Mahmoud Abbas [président de l’Autorité Palestinienne] et d’autres qui crient “occupation” : une jarre vieille de 3 000 ans portant l’inscription Ishba’al fils de Beda a récemment été découverte près de Beit Shemesh. Ishba’al est un nom mentionné dans le Tanach (Bible) et est uniquement propre à la période du roi David. Ce n’est qu’un autre exemple des nombreux faits sur le terrain racontant l’histoire de l’État juif qui a prospéré ici sur cette terre il y a 3 000 ans. À cette époque, il y avait des communautés qui levaient des impôts, jouissaient d’une économie forte, fournissait des transports, des institutions éducatives et une armée – comme aujourd’hui. Une nation ne peut pas occuper sa propre terre. »

Les institutions étatiques peuvent aussi se trouver mêlées à la controverse lorsqu’elles se risquent à utiliser des symboles historiques. Récemment, l’authenticité de l’image musicale représentée sur la pièce d’un demi shekel de la Banque d’Israël a été remise en question. Le « kinnor » ou lyre, qui ressemble à une harpe, donnait à cette pièce une apparence caractéristique et historique. L’instrument de musique apparaît au-dessus d’une inscription sur un sceau en pierre découvert en 1979 et daté du Royaume de Judée du VIIe siècle avant notre ère.

La Banque d’Israël a frappé la pièce décorée de la lyre en 1985, et cette dernière y figure encore à ce jour. Cependant, Haaretz a récemment rapporté que de nombreux archéologues pensent que ce sceau est un faux, une contrefaçon, ce qui place la Banque d’Israël dans une situation délicate. Devrait-elle retirer la pièce ou continuer à l’utiliser comme sa monnaie légale ?

Sa réponse a été la suivante : « Rien ne prouve que le sceau “Appartenant à Maadana, fille du roi” n’est pas authentique. Et quand bien même ce serait le cas, cela n’a aucune importance en ce qui concerne la pièce en tant que telle, de nombreuses années après sa production. Nous pouvons garantir au public que la pièce qu’il tient entre ses mains est une monnaie légale à tous égards. »

L’enchevêtrement entre archéologie et politique en Israël est une tendance dangereuse qui semble s’être intensifiée à mesure que la société et les politiques israéliennes ont viré vers la droite et que les hommes politiques du pays ont manœuvré le conflit d’un conflit politique à un conflit religieux. Cependant, personne, y compris les Palestiniens, ne nie que les juifs ont vécu en Palestine il y a environ deux mille ans ou qu’ils ont une connexion spirituelle à la terre. 

Cela n’empêche pas que d’autres groupes aient aussi des revendications. Avant que les juifs ne viennent en Palestine, celle-ci était habitée par les Cananéens. La chrétienté est née en Palestine, et par conséquent les chrétiens ont eux aussi une forte connexion à ce lieu. Plus récemment, dans les années 630, les musulmans l’ont conquis et l’ont habité depuis sans discontinuer.

La Palestine historique est appelée Terre sainte parce qu’elle est sainte pour les religions monothéistes. Refuser un tel attachement à n’importe lequel de ces groupes est égoïste et injuste. Les tentatives visant à mieux comprendre l’histoire, notamment à travers l’archéologie, sont très importantes, mais l’honnêteté l’est tout autant.

 Kamel Hawwash est un professeur britannico-palestinien d’ingénierie de l’université de Birmingham et un militant de longue date pour la justice, en particulier pour le peuple palestinien. Il est vice-président de la Campagne de Solidarité Palestine (CFP) et apparaît régulièrement dans les médias comme commentateur sur les questions du Moyen-Orient. Il écrit ici à titre personnel. Il blogue sur http://www.kamelhawwash.com.