With no meaningful international plan, Khan Al-Ahmar needs a popular uprising to save it

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 11/10/2018

Israeli occupation forces storm the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank on 14 September 2018 [Ä°ssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli occupation forces storm the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank on 14 September 2018 [İssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinian Bedouin residents of Khan Al-Ahmar wake up every morning relieved that the Israeli occupation’s bulldozers did not arrive overnight to destroy their homes and their children’s school. They remain fearful, though, that it is only a matter of time before their village is destroyed and they are expelled from the land they have lived on for over 40 years. One can only imagine the horror that the residents, especially the children, experience because of this psychological terrorism to which Israel is subjecting them.

UNICEF expressed its alarm recently that that “the school in Khan Al Ahmar in the State of Palestine could be destroyed in the coming days or even hours.” The UN body added that, “The 167 children from that town and neighbouring village who are learning, dreaming and playing there have a right to access safe education wherever their communities and families are living, just like all the other children in the world.” UNICEF asked the Israeli authorities for “the interests of children [to] be a primary consideration in their decision making.”

Any assumption that Israel cares about the education or welfare of Palestinian children is simply not supported by the evidence of its daily conduct. Children are routinely abducted in the night, bundled into Israeli army vehicles, interrogated without parents or legal advisers present, tried before military courts in a language most don’t understand, and imprisoned for long periods. Furthermore, Israeli snipers have no compunction about pointing their rifles at children at the Gaza fence and killing them. In August, Defence for Children International reported that Israel had killed 37 Palestinian children since the start of 2018. The number continues to rise; the latest victim was 12-year-old Faris Al-Sirsawi.

Read: Israel settlers flood Khan Al-Ahmar with waste water

The village of Nabi Saleh found its way onto the international stage, becoming a must-visit part of the itinerary of not only international human rights activists but also Western politicians, not least because the Tamimis — young Ahed Tamimi in particular — rose to prominence there with their resistance to the Israeli occupation. That resistance culminated with the now famous slap of an Israeli soldier by Ahed, for which she paid with 8 months in jail.

Khan Al-Ahmar has captured the imagination of the international community not only because its demolition is simply the wrong thing to do on a humanitarian level, but also because of its actual location, which Western politicians understand could finally lay to rest any remaining prospect of a two-state solution. The argument is that if the village is destroyed and Israel proceeds to expand the illegal settlements in the “E1 corridor”, Jerusalem will be cut off from its West Bank hinterland completely and the contiguity needed for a Palestinian state would be lost.

The village has become a battleground between the international community and the Israeli authorities, who are now armed with a decision by the Supreme Court that the village can be demolished and could proceed with their plans at any moment. The Israelis argue that the villagers built their homes without permits. The residents point out that Israel refuses to grant permits to Palestinians to build on their own, illegally-occupied land, while colonies continue to be built for Jews within sight of their village. Only Israel regards the land on which the Bedouins live as “state land” rather than illegally-occupied territory, as the whole of the international community sees it. If the land is indeed state land, then it can only belong to the state of Palestine.

A number of politicians have “expressed concern” at the demolition plan, with some being moved to warn Israel that forced transfer of an occupied people could “amount to a war crime”. One of the most vocal has been Britain’s Minster for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, who has visited the village on a number of occasions. While warning Israel that it could be committing a “war crime”, Burt has not made the demolition and forced transfer of the local population a red line that, if crossed by Israel, would bring forth consequences for Britain’s relations with the Zionist state.

There were hopes that, during her recent visit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not only raise the issue of the village with her host Benjamin Netanyahu but would also go further. Reports initially suggested that Merkel would cancel her visit if the village was demolished before her arrival. However, once there, her reported response to the issue was typically weak of Western politicians. “This is an Israeli decision,” she said at a morning event at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, during which the University of Haifa conferred upon her an honorary doctorate. You’re wrong, Frau Merkel, it is not an Israeli decision. It is a failure of the international community to act to stop Israeli crimes that will lead to the village’s demolition.

The predicament of the community of Khan Al-Ahmar can be traced back to the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993. The 25th anniversary of the Accords was marked with a key conference organised recently by Middle East Monitor. Oslo failed to deal with the core issues that must be resolved if peace is to be achieved between Palestinians and Israelis. One of these is the issue of settlements and the illegal occupation. The lack of reference to international law in the Accords is a fundamental flaw therein. However, it is the lack of political will by the international community to pressure Israel to fulfil its undertakings under the agreement which continues to give Israel free rein to do whatever it wants.

Read: Imminent demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar ‘heartless’ and a ‘war crime’ says Amnesty

Israel will no doubt demolish Khan Al-Ahmar at a time of its choosing. The international community will express concern, disappointment and possibly condemnation of this. The EU might even ask Israel to compensate it for funds donated towards small projects in the village. However, no meaningful action will be taken against the state. At the end of the day, Israel will just move on to carry out another illegal act as it seeks to complete the Zionist occupation of the whole of historic Palestine, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

With no meaningful plan by the international community in place to protect the village, the only action that will end the uncertainty for the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar will be a popular uprising that sees thousands of Palestinians march there, determined to protect it for as many days or months as it will take either for Israel to abandon its plans or for the international community to realise that this tiny village will not only be a symbol of peaceful resistance, but will also raise the cost of the occupation for Israel to a point where it begins to come to its senses. That could see the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza fence, now in their eighth month, finally arrive in the West Bank. If Trump and his Zionist advisers can disrupt the status quo in favour of Israel, the Palestinian people can disrupt it in favour of their cause.

Israel’s demolition of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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.