Bedouins’ endless suffering in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/2/2018

How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Unabated onslaught. Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two classrooms destroyed by the Israeli Army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, on February 4. (AP)

Descendants of the Bedouins who inhabited historic Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 live on either side of the Green Line that defines the internationally recognised border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Once nomads, tens of thousands of Bedouins live in villages across the desert region of southern Israel and in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship. Those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have Palestinian Authority passports.

On February 4, Israeli forces closed off an area around a school for Bedouins in the West Bank village of Abu Nuwar and demolished two EU-funded classrooms in the school. A statement from Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “The building was built illegally and without the necessary permits. In addition, the enforcement was approved by the Supreme Court.” This was the fifth time the school had been demolished since 2016.

Another area where whole communities are under threat of expulsion is Khan al-Ahmar where 12 communities are at risk. The area east of Jerusalem has about 1,400 residents. The communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road.

Importantly, the area is east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, making it strategic for Israel’s expansionist policies and its plans to annex more Palestinian land.

Palestinian Bedouins have suffered severely at the hands of the occupying forces in the West Bank but the situation for Bedouins on the other side of the Green Line, where they settled in villages in the Negev, is no different. They, too, face discrimination and oppression, including property demolition, from the Israeli authorities.

Members of the Bedouin community in the Negev have been under threat of eviction from their villages for years. Their plight was sealed in 2013 when the Prawer-Begin Bill was approved by the Knesset by a 43-40 vote. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and said it would end with the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) in southern Israel.

It argued that, if fully implemented, “it will result in the destruction of 46 ‘unrecognised’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”

Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin plan was halted when one of its architects, Benny Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to stop progress on the legislation just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that, contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not have their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without its consultation.

Two villages in particular gained prominence in recent years because of Israel’s actions against them. Al-Araqib attracted attention after Israel repeatedly destroyed it. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. Last October, it was demolished for the 120th time.

The other village is Umm al-Hiran. Israel wants to expel the whole community from the village and build a settlement for Jews. At a protest against the demolitions in January 2017, Yaakub Abu al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was killed by Israeli police while driving his car. Locals denied police claims that Qian had been shot after ploughing his car into police officers, saying his car accelerated only after he was shot and lost control. An Israeli police officer died in the incident.

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

Whether as the state in which they have citizenship in the Negev (85,000) or as their illegal occupier in the West Bank (50,000), Israel treats Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions about them to suit Israel’s colonialist agenda. How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Israel is pushing its luck with the EU

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/10/2017

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks during US President Donald Trump’s (R) visit to Israel on 23 May 2017. [Israeli Government Press Office/Haim Zach/Handout]

When it comes to the various stakeholders in the Israeli Palestinian conflict Israel has guaranteed American support in almost whatever it does. Other stakeholders, including the EU, have consistently criticised Israeli government policy but consistently failed to back it up with any action. That is, possibly, until now.

The Obama administration was castigated by the pro-Israel lobby for its supposed lack of support for Israel despite granting it a 10-year $38 billion military aid package, the likes of which no other state could dream to secure. In fact, over half the aid the US hands to other states goes to Israel.

Obama missed a trick on not making the aid package conditional upon any progress in the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, or a halt to settlement construction, which the US sees as “illegitimate”. Neither Netanyahu’s brazen snub to Obama when he addressed the US Congress without coordination with the White House, nor the humiliation of American Vice President Biden – who while on a visit to Jerusalem in 2010 was met with an announcement that Israel planned to build 1,600 home for Jewish Israelis in units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo which is attached to Jerusalem – was enough to trigger such conditioning.

The US is a member of the Middle East Quartet now renamed the ‘Office of the Quartet,’ which brings the EU, Russia and the United Nations together. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood”. The Quartet’s last key report was published in 2016. The report focussed on violence and incitement, Gaza and Palestinian governance and settlement expansion, land designations, and denial of Palestinian development.

In the area designated C under the Oslo Accords, Israel maintains full control over both security and planning. The denial of Palestinian development is enacted mostly through the denial of permits for building construction. The Quartet noted that “only one permit for Palestinian housing construction in Area C was reportedly approved in 2014, and there do not appear to have been any in 2015. In the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, only 34 building permits were approved for Palestinians in Area C, out of at least 2,000 submissions”.

The report further noted that there were over 11,000 demolition orders pending against Palestinian structures, three quarters of which are on private Palestinian land. The report acknowledged that “as Palestinians are consistently denied permits to build legally, they are left with few options but to build without permits”.

There was a significant increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished across the West Bank in the first four months of 2016, with some 500 demolitions of Palestinian structures by the Israeli authorities and nearly 800 Palestinians displaced, more than what was carried out throughout the entire year of 2015. Although many of these were not dwellings, the loss of structures such as water wells, solar panels, and animal shelters has impacted the livelihoods of over 2,500 people in the first half of 2016. The trend continued in 2017 and to this day.

Israeli security forces gather around as a Palestinian home is being demolished in Jerusalem on 14 March 2017 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel makes no distinction between structures it considers to be illegal that are funded by Palestinians and those that are funded by non-Palestinians, those built without planning permission or those agreed upon in bilateral agreements with the Palestinians.

Gaza’s International Airport, which opened in 1998, was destroyed by Israel in 2001. It was built with funding from Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Germany. To this day the airport remains in ruins and no sanctions were ever taken against Israel by either Germany or Spain.

In January of this year Israeli forces demolished some 15 structures in Khirbet, including homes and the only school in the small hamlet, which is located on the outskirts of the village of Beit Furik in the Jordan Valley in the north-eastern occupied West Bank.

In July the Dutch government lodged a protest with Israel over the confiscation of electricity equipment, which was said to be a hybrid power system of both diesel and solar power. The electrification project in the southern Bethlehem region was donated by the Dutch government and cost about 500,000 euros ($590,806), 350,000 euros ($413,564) of which went to Jubbet Al-Dhib, according to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The Dutch Foreign Ministry requested Israel return the equipment and is “currently assessing what next steps can be taken,” the ministry’s statement to Haaretz said.

In August Israeli troops dismantled a structure built for a nursery for 25 Palestinian children in the village of Jabal Al-Baba near Jerusalem claiming it was built without a permit. This followed the demolition a few days earlier of a small primary school in the southern West Bank and the removal of solar panels used to power another school. This drew criticism from the EU which expressed “strong concern about the recent confiscations of Palestinian school structures undertaken by Israel in Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank,” adding that “every child has the right to safe access to education and states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children”.

But has Israel pushed its luck too far with the EU?

Despite Israel’s destruction of facilities funded by the EU, history shows it has protested to Israel but has not taken action. However, this could be about to change.

Reports have emerged that eight EU countries, led by Belgium, have drafted a letter to be delivered to senior Foreign Ministry officials demanding compensation amounting to €30,000 ($35,456) for confiscating and demolishing structures and infrastructure built by them in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. This follows Israel’s refusal to return the confiscated equipment as demanded by the eight countries which are members of the ‘West Bank Protection Consortium,’ a body through which they coordinate humanitarian assistance to Area C.

The letter stresses that “the demolition and seizure of humanitarian equipment, including school infrastructure, and the interference in the transfer of humanitarian assistance contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law and causes suffering to the Palestinian residents”.

However, Israel claims that European activity in Area C is not humanitarian assistance but “illegal development that is being done without coordinating with Israel and with the aim of strengthening the Palestinians’ hold on Area C”. This claim was previously made in 2015 by Benjamin Netanyahu who ordered the demolition of some 400 Palestinian structures built in the West Bank with European funding.

While the international community has often talked the talk about Israeli crimes, this is a rare example of action that could at least make Israel think twice before acting. While this is a small step by eight EU countries it could mark a significant and necessary change in policy from condemnation of Israeli policies to tangible action. EU citizens should be outraged that contributions from their taxes to alleviate Palestinian suffering and build peace, are being wasted by Israel while goods from illegals settlements continue to make their way to EU supermarket shelves.

If the EU is serious about peace and its support for a two-state solution then it can use existing instruments to exercise its influence. This includes suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement for Israel’s failure to adhere to a clause which states that “relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles”.

Israel’s clear failure to respect Palestinian human rights should finally trigger a suspension of this agreement.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes is, in fact, an own goal

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 25/8/2017

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes is now almost a daily occurrence. The reasons vary but the phenomenon is ultimately a form of collective punishment; the humiliation of the occupied by the occupier and a means to achieve “demographic control” of occupied Palestinian territory.

The Zionist state publicises the demolition of homes of the families of Palestinians who are alleged to have attacked Israelis, whether civilians or occupying forces; Israel claims that this is a deterrent to others who might be contemplating such attacks. Demolition can happen immediately after an attack or some days later; families await their fate not knowing when the roof over their heads will be destroyed by an Israeli bulldozer.

The most recent of these demolitions was of the family home of Omar Abdel Gelil Al-Abed from the village of Kobar near Ramallah. Abed is accused of killing three Israeli settlers on 21 July in the nearby illegal settlement of Halamish in the West Bank. As with other demolitions, this was carried out under heavy protection from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) accompanied by clashes with local residents.

Israel demolishes home of Palestinian resistance fighter

Israel may also “seal” the home of an assailant rather than demolish it, as was the case with Hassan Ankosh, one of three young Palestinians who carried out an attack at Damascus Gate in occupied Jerusalem. The homes of the other two assailants were demolished. The decisions were approved by Israel’s High Court.

However, Israel has never demolished the homes of Jewish Israelis who have attacked Palestinian civilians. On the same day that Israeli forces delivered demolition orders to the families of four Palestinian assailants, the Supreme Court decided not to demolish the homes of three Israelis convicted of brutally killing 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014. Jewish terrorist Yosef Haim Ben-David and two minors were convicted of kidnapping and burning the Palestinian teenager to death in 2014. The Israeli court rejected the Abu Khdair family’s petition to demolish the homes of the terrorists; retired Israeli judge Elyakim Rubinstein ruled that too much time had passed between the “abominable act of murder” and the submission of the petition.

The judge’s ruling was telling. He emphasised that “Regulation 119” in Israeli law permitted the demolition of homes of anyone suspected of “terror activity” and of their “accomplices and supporters,” whether they are Jewish Israelis or Palestinians. “We can understand how the victim’s family feels… we are dealing with a deterrent and not a punitive measure. It should be remembered that the perpetrators were given lengthy prison sentences,” added Judge Neal Hendel, reiterating the Israeli government’s contentious claims that such punitive demolitions deter “terrorists” from carrying out attacks.

#CollectivePunishment

More recently, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arguedfor the demolition of the homes of the Israeli Arab citizens from Umm Al-Fahm whose attack at the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque triggered the closure of the holy site and subsequent standoff between Palestinians and security forces.

There is, of course, no evidence that demolishing the family homes of Palestinians deters others, otherwise the attacks would by now — after thousands of demolitions — have surely stopped altogether. In fact the demolition of Ghassan Abu Jamal’s home in 2015 was followed by an attack by his cousin Alaa a week later. “Alaa knew what the consequences of an operation were for the family,” commented Muawiyah Abu Jamal, “but when he was humiliated in front of his three sons, it obviously hurt his sense of pride.”

Palestinians see these demolitions as a form of collective punishment against the families of assailants who had nothing to do either with planning or carrying out such attacks.

Israel demands compensation from residents after demolishing their homes

The aftermath of Israeli bulldozers razing Al-Araqeeb village in Negev [Sarah Stern‏/Twitter]

Image of Israeli bulldozers after demolishing the Arab Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb [Sarah Stern‏/Twitter]

Some Palestinian homes are demolished due to a “planning policy” which in practice is the mechanism for controlling the demography through Israeli policies designed to ensure a Jewish majority from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and in specific areas such as the prized city of Jerusalem.

The discriminatory policy of denying planning permits for Palestinians to build on their own land or to extend existing homes to accommodate natural growth is well documented. This denial is particularly significant in Jerusalem, where Israel regularly approves plans for illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, but denies permits to Palestinians a stone’s throw away for home extensions of just a few square metres. Israel has often argued that building within existing illegal settlements is necessary for the same “natural growth” argument which it refuses to accept from Palestinians.

#Silwan

The Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya has been awaiting approval for an infrastructure plan for over 15 years but it seems that it must wait a lot longer. In the meantime, some of its residents have built on their privately-owned land but have either had their homes demolished or, in a further humiliating act, have had to demolish their own homes to avoid extortionate fines by the Municipality if it carried out the demolition. This was the case of Firas Saleh, who was forced to demolish his own home, in front of his children, or pay $80,000 for the privilege of the Israeli authorities demolishing it. The children had helped to build it and were devastated. Khaled Mahmoud had his 4 bedroom apartments demolished, making 40 people homeless. He had been trying to secure a building permit since 2002 without success. Both families undertook to rebuild their homes.

Another Palestinian neighbourhood under constant threat of house demolition or eviction is Silwan on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. The most recent victims were the Abu Sneineh family whose home was demolished in early August but was partially rebuilt by the family and neighbours, only to see the new structure demolished by the Israelis as well.

Others who are targeted regularly by Israel for home demolitions are the Bedouin Palestinians on both sides of the Green (1949 Armistice) Line. The “unrecognised” villages of Al-Araqib and Umm Alhiran have been targeted for demolition of all structures, with the former being demolished and rebuilt at least 114 times since 2010. Israel wants to move the Bedouins to American-style reservations and build Jew-only settlements on the site of Umm Alhiran. The residents of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank have also lived under the threat of eviction and demolition of their village.

In the past three weeks, Israel has targeted Palestinian schools in Jabal Al-Baba and Jubbet Al-Dhib, and confiscated the only source of power for a school in Abu Nuwar by removing its solar panels. In the case of Jubbet Al-Dhib, its pupils started the new school year with lessons in tents.

Palestinians hold Friday prayers at Jerusalem home under threat from settlers

Posters are placed outside the Shamasna home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem. The family faces imminent evacuation to make room for Israeli settlers who claim they own the property. The posters read 'No to occupation' and 'Sheikh Jarrah is Palestinian'. [Twitter/Quds TV]

Friday prayers area held on 11 August 2017 outside the Shamasna home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem to show solidarity as the family is facing imminent evacuation to make room for Israeli settlers who claim they own the property. [Twitter/Quds TV]

With no evidence that demolishing homes of Palestinian attackers really deters others, and knowing that house demolitions can only increase the hatred of Israel amongst Palestinians, it appears that this policy has failed spectacularly in what it sets out to do. Israel often accuses the Palestinian Authority of incitement and blames it for attacks against Israelis. However, it is to the Israeli occupation and its carefully developed oppressive policies that we should look for incitement.

Would you think kindly of an occupier who has just taken the roof from over your head for any reason whatsoever, let alone political reasons? Israel’s demolition policy is, in the end, a spectacular own goal.

No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel 

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/5/2017

Israeli security forces break up Palestinian protests organised to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, in Ramallah, West Bank on April 23, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

As Palestinians mark a number of key, painful anniversaries in 2017, Israel is busy with not ending the occupation, but entrenching it and crying wolf claiming to be the victim in the decades-old conflict.

The Palestinians recently marked the 69th anniversary of the massacre of Deir Yassin in which tens of Palestinians were slaughtered by Zionist terror groups. They will shortly mark the Nakba and the creation of Israel on their homeland and against their will in 1948. June marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. June also marks the tenth anniversary of the siege on Gaza and, in November, the Balfour declaration will be 100 years old.

On the ground, prospects for a just peace are almost non-existent. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to move more of its citizens into these illegally occupied areas. Plans for more settlement units continue to surface and even the idea of settlers leaving their illegal housing units have brought accusations of “ethnic cleansing” by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem continues to be Judaised, and the lives of Palestinians in the holy city continue to be made miserable through restrictions on building, extortionate taxes, heavy handed security, house demolitions, evictions and the planting and expansion of Jewish only settlements in East Jerusalem. Extremist settlers continue to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, protected by Israeli security forces without coordination with the Jordanian endowment which administers the holy sanctuary. Even the sound of the Muslim call to prayer which has been heard in the city and the whole of Palestine for centuries is being suppressed.

Israel continues to impose an immoral blockade on Gaza and has the temerity to warn of a catastrophe in the enclave with Major General Yoav Mordechai warning that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 per cent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. This is compounded by recent action by the Palestinian Authority to cut salaries of workers and to refuse to support the supply of electricity to the troubled strip.

The feeling of helplessness by Palestinians, particularly the youth, continues to rise and the regular extrajudicial killing of Palestinians at check points shows no sign of abating. On 7 May, Israeli security forces killed 16-year-old Fatima Afeef Abdulrahman Hajeiji, spraying her body with 20 bullets at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, alleging she was about to attack them with a knife, which eye-witnesses strongly dispute.

In March, Israeli forces killed Basel Al-Araj, a Palestinian intellectual and opponent of the Israeli occupation in an area which the Oslo Accords designated as coming under PA security control, clearly confirming Israel has no respect for any accords or agreements it signs. The killing of the popular activist enraged Palestinians who directed their anger at both Israel and the PA whose security coordination was recently lauded by US President Donald Trump during his meeting with Abbas in Washington saying “they get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.”

The impact of the wall on the daily life of Palestinians is immeasurable, drawing concern and condemnation from many quarters including from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has spoken of his “profound grief and sorrow” after hearing the testimonies of Palestinians whose land has been put beyond their reach by the vast concrete wall Israel has built near Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Rising Jewish settler violence goes unchecked by Israel which continues to practice double standards when dealing with this when compared with Palestinian acts. Palestinian prisoners continue to be mistreated and have their legitimate rights denied by Israel, driving them to a mass hunger strike by 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 prisoners which recently entered its third week.

As for Palestinian citizens of Israel, they continue to be treated like second class citizens and to endure the effect of over 50 discriminatory laws. The Bedouin population in the Negev has been targeted for eviction and transfer, while Jewish settlements are built in their place.

In addition, the status of Arabic as an official language of the state is under threat as proposals have been approved by the Cabinet to downgrade it to having “a special status in the state” while the national language is “Hebrew”. This is part of the so called “Nation State Bill” which would also explicitly reserve “the right to realise self-determination in the State of Israel uniquely to the Jewish people.” In any other context, this would be seen as a racist move when at least 20 per cent of the population are not Jewish.

With such a litany of abuses, an objective assessment would conclude that not only is it legitimate to continue to criticise Israel for its policies, but also those western democracies which support it in order for them to rethink their support.

However, 2017 is proving to be the year of the absurd in the international community’s relationship with Israel. It is the year when Israel is pushing hard to change the discourse on the situation despite an escalation in its crimes. A year in which German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was snubbed by Netanyahu for choosing to meet NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

While 2016 ended with UN Security Council resolution 2334 which criticised the continuing illegal settlement enterprise, criticising Israel in 2017 for the same indiscretions as it committed in 2016 is now suddenly “unfair”.

Recently all 100 US senators signed a letter asking UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body. “Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing,” the letter said.

Amazingly it was lost on the senators, or more probably they chose to ignore, Israel’s refusal to adhere to the body’s multiple Security Council resolutions on the matter, including resolution 2334 which Israel said it would not respect and proceeded to announce further settlement building. This coincided with Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley choosing to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran in her first session holding the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hezbollah,” Haley told the Security Council Thursday. “For decades they have conducted terrorist acts across the region.”

The UK for its part put the UN Human Rights Council “on notice” at its last session accusing it of “bias against Israel”. “The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel undermines the council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

It is incumbent on all who have fallen for Israel’s hasbara propaganda about it being treated unfairly to point to any change in Israeli policy that their collective cowardice in dealing with it has brought. In fact, they cannot. On the contrary, their strategy for dealing with the issue, if they are serious, has failed. There is also no evidence that if Israel is not criticised, it will do the honourable thing and meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians.

If there is unfairness, it is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians which has gone on since its creation, not our criticism of it. In fact criticism is not enough, but action is needed to find a just solution.