What if Wales had been offered to the Jews as a homeland?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/11/2017

One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration backed Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Imagining if history had taken another turn offers a fresh perspective.


On 2 November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent zionist, which became known as the Balfour Declaration.

In it, the British government promised Palestine to the Zionists – and did so without consulting Palestinians, British Jews, or the wider British population. While Palestinian Arabs at the time made up 90 per cent of the territory’s 700,000 population, they were bizarrely only referred to as “existing non-Jewish communities”. The letter also said “that nothing should be done to prejudice” their “civil and religious rights”.

The declaration had a catastrophic impact on the Palestinians. It eventually led to the creation of Israel in1948, during which Palestinians were driven from their homes, mostly through Jewish acts of terror.

The least the Palestinians might expect on the 100th anniversary from the British would be some remorse and an apology. But Theresa May’s government has not only refused to apologise on behalf of the UK, it is also planning to “mark it with pride” as she told the pro-Israel lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel in December 2016.

This week she will be joined in London by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they mark the centenary alongside pro-Israel groups.

Britain had no right to offer Palestine to the Zionists. The claim that Jews have a perpetual right to live there is rejected by Palestinians. Do all Muslims have a right to “return” to Saudi Arabia? And what about a Christian “right of return” to Palestine? Israel is seen as a democracy by its supporters – but many others seen it as a colonialist settler state.

What if Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists?

If we assume that London wanted in 1917 to help a persecuted people find sanctuary, then surely it could have offered the Zionists a homeland in a territory that it controlled at the time?

They say that charity begins at home. David Lloyd George, a proud Welshman, was British prime minister at the time of the declaration. What if the Balfour Declaration had read: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine Wales of a national home for the Jewish people?”

Present day Wales covers 20,779 sq km. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip covers 20,770 sq km.

The population of Wales in 1917 would have been around 2.5 million while that of Palestine was around 1 million (Jews made up less than 10 percent of that number).

Had Balfour offered Wales to the Zionists, it is safe to say that the Welsh would have rejected the Declaration. Jews, though disappointed at failing to obtain Palestine, would soon have started arriving to settle the land.

There would likely have been tensions between the two groups. London would have tried to keep the peace but would likely have failed, especially given the ongoing fight in Ireland – which the British also controlled – for independence.

The Zionists would have set up armed militias to fight the Welsh. More and more Jews would have arrived in Wales during the early 1940s. The United Nations would then intervene in Wales, as it did in Palestine, and offer a partition plan that gave Jews 56 percent of the land, leaving the indigenous Welsh with only 44 percent.

Does anyone believe the Welsh would have agreed to give up an inch of their homeland to the Zionists? Or would they have resisted, including through armed struggle?

In 1948, the Zionists would declare their independence and establish Israel as a state. They would also start the process of expanding their hold on Wales. Welsh villages would be destroyed. Some two million Welsh refugees would flee to England, Scotland and Ireland. Some would even make it to France and Spain.

When the guns fell silent, Israel would extend the area of the former Wales that it occupies to 78 percent, well beyond that of the partition plan. The UN would issue a resolution calling on Israel to allow refugees to return – but Israel would refuse.

The world would call for a two-state solution in which Israel and Wales would live side by side, with Cardiff as a shared capital. In 1967, Israel would attack the Irish and the Scots, who try to help the Welsh resistance regain their occupied land. Eventually Israel would capture the whole of Wales and declare Cardiff as its eternal, united capital. More Welsh would be expelled to neighbouring countries such as Ireland.

For “security’ reasons” Israel would begin to build settlements for Jews in occupied Wales, near population centres such as Swansea. It would make it increasingly difficult for a two-state solution to be realised. Abandoned by the international community and seeing their land eroded further, the Welsh would start a ‘gwrthryfel Cymreig’ (the Welsh uprising, or intifada) in 1987, which would be suppressed by Israel by 1991.

In 1993, secret talks in Finland between the Welsh and the Israelis would result in the Helsinki Accords. The Welsh Liberation Organisation (WLO) would recognise Israel – but Israel would only recognises the (WLO) as the “sole representative of the Welsh people”.

Resistance from the Gwent Strip

There would be no genuine move towards peace, which would lead to a viable Welsh state by 1998. Instead Israel would increase its settlement enterprise and divide the occupied Welsh territories – including much of the former county of Dyfed – into areas A, B and C.

Israel would link the settlements in the occupied Welsh territories to each other and to Israel. It would apply military law to the Welsh but civil Israeli law to the illegal Jewish settlers.

The Welsh would see no end to their occupation. A second gwrthryfel would erupt in 2000. This time it would be more violent. The Welsh would be accused of being terrorists.

Israel would build a wall deep inside occupied Welsh areas, including Gwent, and increase the number of checkpoints to limit the movement of people, animals and goods. It would also capture most of the water resources and sell them to the Welsh at inflated prices.

The Gwent Strip would be particularly problematic and become a hub of resistance. Israel would decide to remove its settlers and then lay siege to the territory, a siege which would last to this day.

In Israel itself, Welsh citizens would be treated as second-class, subject to 60 discriminatory laws. They would be able participate in Israel’s democracy – but it would really be a democracy for Jews only.

In Cardiff, Israel would manipulate the population demographics to ensure that there was always a Jewish majority. The Welsh would be frustrated by a planning system which would not allow them to build houses in occupied Cardiff.

Eventually some would build homes without permission, only for the Israeli authorities to demolish their homes. The state would revoke their “residency” permits if they judge Cardiff not to be their “centre of life“.

The Welsh would not be allowed access to an airport or a seaport. To travel abroad they would have to use the border crossing into England and then fly from Bristol or Birmingham.

The Welsh catastrophe

And in the Middle East? Despite earlier Zionist wishes, Palestine was never promised as a Jewish homeland. Instead an independent Palestinian Arab state was established when the British mandate ended there in 1947.

Its capital is Jerusalem, where Muslims, Jews and Christians live happily to this day. The city has its own Welsh Solidarity Campaign, which works to support the legitimate rights of the Welsh people.

On 2 November 2017, in this alternative future, London will celebrate the centenary of the Welsh Balfour Declaration “with pride”.

But the British prime minister will refuse to apologise to the Welsh for Britain’s role in their dispossession and subsequent trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”).

Will the Welsh in the occupied territories likewise be celebrating?

– 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 British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. 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: Palestinians girls, relatives of 12-year-old Palestinian Waleed Abu Kamar who was killed during an Israeli attack, cry during his funeral in Rafah, south of Gaza city May 20, 2004  (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

The Palestinians too should take back control of their destiny

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016

Israeli soldiers in riot gear in East Jerusalem [file photo]

From the Middle East Monitor

2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.

The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?

In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.

Fatah’s seventh congress

Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.

Internal matters

The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.

External matters

Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.

Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.

In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?

Options for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.

Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.

The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.

The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.

A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.

On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.

As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.

This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results.  They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.

Israel’s ban on the Muslim call to prayer in Jerusalem is the tip of the iceberg

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/11/2016

Al-Aqsa mosque

Something is in the air in Jerusalem and if Israel has its way it soon won’t be; the Muslim call to prayer — the adhaan — is under threat. The state which is built upon the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people is inching its way towards banning the call for prayer, which was probably first heard in Jerusalem in 637 AD. That was the year in which Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab travelled to Palestine to accept its surrender from Patriach Sophronius, bringing a six-month siege of the Holy City to a peaceful end.

The required respect for people of other faiths was exemplified by one of Caliph Umar’s first acts upon entering Jerusalem. He understood the sensitivity surrounding religious sites and the potential danger of changing the status quo. He thus declined an invitation from Sophronius to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lest Muslims turn it into a mosque. Instead, he stepped outside the Church to perform the midday prayer; a mosque named after him was later built on the site and exists to this day. This is in sharp contrast to the establishment of Israel in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland at gunpoint. Villages and towns were ethnically cleansed and wiped from the face of the earth, and their mosques were also destroyed or turned into synagogues or museums; at least two became cafes and one became a cowshed.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and one of Israel’s first acts as the occupying power was to raze the 770-year old Moroccan Quarter of East Jerusalem in order to improve access to Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, in order to facilitate their prayers there. Just a year after issuing the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Britain had actually dismissed attempts by Chaim Weizmann to vacate the Moroccan Quarter and to place the Western Wall under Jewish ownership. Fifty years later, Israel had no qualms about bulldozing the Shaikh Eid Mosque which had stood since the time of Saladin.

Christian sites

Churches continue to come under attack by the Israelis. Benzi Gopstein, the leader of extreme right-wing Jewish group Lehava, voiced support for arson attacks against Christian churches in 2015; he has also called Christians “blood sucking vampires” who should be expelled from Israel.

Jewish extremists have on a number of occasions targeted churches in what are called “price tag” attacks. There was a particular rise in these in the lead-up to Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land in 2014. A top Catholic official received death threats and Hebrew graffiti appeared on the wall of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, the local headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church: “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel”.

At the end of last month, the Israeli flag was raised at the Eastern entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, enraging the Christian community and raising serious concerns about Israel’s commitment to protecting Christian sites. The Church fought a two-year battle with its water supplier which threatened to cut the supply due to unpaid bills, which was settled in 2012. Add to this Israel’s restrictions on visits by Christians to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and on Christians from Gaza visiting either Jerusalem or Bethlehem, and the difficulties faced by Palestinian Christians becomes clear.

Muslim sites

The situation for key Muslim sites in the occupied Palestinian territories is even more precarious than those of Christians. When East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, the Israeli flag flew for a short time over the holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque was set alight in 1969, reportedly by an Australian tourist; the damage included the complete destruction of a 1,000-year old pulpit.

An agreement between the Israelis and the Jordanian custodians of the holy sites, which covers the whole of the area on which Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, stated that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the compound and that Jews would be able to visit but not pray. The status quo has largely stood the test of time but in recent years has come under great strain, particularly since Ariel Sharon’s “visit” to the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in 2000, which triggered the Second Intifada. The visit seems to have given Jewish extremists the green light not only to dream about praying on what they call the “Temple Mount” but also to plan to build a Jewish temple thereon; the plans include the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the frequency and extent of incursions by extremists during which the use of the sanctuary by Muslim worshippers is restricted. This practice has increased tensions and prompted fears of a change to the “status quo”, moving the Jordanian government to act by withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest. Clashes have erupted frequently between Israeli security forces and Palestinians devoted to protecting their mosque. Israeli forces have also harassed worshippers, banning some from entering the Noble Sanctuary or withholding their Jerusalem ID cards, without which they struggle to move around the territories. Such practices were a major contributory factor to the ongoing year-long uprising in which individual Palestinians have attacked mainly security forces but in some instances Israeli civilians in what has been termed the “knife intifada”.

Another city that has suffered disproportionately, probably due to its religious significance, is Al-Khalil (Hebron). The city is home to 120,000 Palestinians whose lives are blighted by the planting of 700 particularly extreme Israeli settlers in the centre of the city; they are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and a system of closed military zones and checkpoints. The city is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarchs. The mosque was the scene of a terrorist attack in 1994 by a Jewish American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 Muslim worshippers while they were praying; although the murderous attack was condemned by the Israeli government it was — and is — applauded by some Israelis, particularly the extreme right-wing settlers. Israel’s response was — perversely — to impose greater restrictions on Palestinians and to divide the Ibrahimi Mosque physically, as well as to open it up exclusively to Jews for ten days of the year and to Muslims for another ten days.

Restricting the call to prayer

Israel’s restrictions on access to the holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron have recently been complemented with bans on the daily call to prayer. In Hebron, the practice has been ongoing for a number of years and included the call being silenced 49 times in January 2014, 52 times in December 2015 and 83 times last month.

The practice seems to be spreading to Jerusalem. Israel recently banned three mosques in Abu Dis from broadcasting the morning call. Lawyer Bassam Bahr, head of a local committee in Abu Dis, condemned the “unjustified ban”, saying that “Israel attacks Palestinians in all aspects of their lives.” It seems that the ban was a response to complaints from illegal settlers in nearby Pisgat Zeev who complained to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat about the “noise pollution” coming from local mosques. Both Barkat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are clearly set on applying the “unbearable noise” law to the call for prayer.

The mayor and prime minister know the importance of the call to prayer to the Muslim community; their plan to eradicate it from the air of Jerusalem to appease illegal settlers shows that neither has the wisdom of Caliph Umar. Their plan has not only enraged Palestinians, but also damaged yet further attempts to create a climate that will lead to peace; it is most definitely part of Israel’s attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and empty the Holy City of its Islamic and Christian heritage. The ban is, in fact, just the tip of the Judaisation iceberg.

As for the settlers objecting to the Muslim call to prayer are concerned, there is an easy solution. They could leave the houses that they have built — illegally — on land stolen from its Palestinian owners and either go back to where they came from in North America or Europe or live within the internationally recognised borders of the state whose citizenship they carry. That would be the most moral of solutions, although it is doubtful if they know what morality is.

Palestinians don’t attack Israeli soldiers in pursuit of ‘economic peace’

The Middle East Eye published this on 2/3/2016

Palestinians don’t attack Israeli soldiers in pursuit of ‘economic peace’

Following France’s stuttering attempt to restart the peace process, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman. This could lead to a meeting between Israel and the PA possibly in July, bringing together Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abbas is not against the idea.

However, Israel’s response was much more lukewarm. Deadly attacks by individual Palestinians, mostly on Israeli occupation forces, continue while the overall situation remains tense and could suddenly explode. Realising this, Israel decided to pacify Palestinians through the release of some tax revenues it has been withholding, some easing of travel restrictions, the reinstatement of a few VIP passes and by issuing some more work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. This was communicated to the Palestinians at a meeting between the Israeli and PA finance ministers.

However, the real driving force behind these measures is an attempt to shore up the Palestinian Authority which a number of Israeli politicians fear is near collapse.

Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin spelt this out in a speech he recently gave at Bar-Ilan University: “The question is not if the PA collapses but when it is going to collapse,” Elkin said. “It can happen in a month or two or a year or two tops.” He was concerned about the Israeli government’s lack of concern about this, saying, “I’m not sure that the government has passed the diagnostic stage and realised the dramatic change we are facing.” He was further concerned that Abbas’ “control on the ground is diminishing”.

A major fear the Israelis have about the collapse of the PA is the end of the security cooperation Israel has enjoyed. This has reduced both its financial and physical (personnel) burden substantially. Abbas himself is committed to this cooperation calling it “sacred”. However, both the Israelis and the PA know full well that the current “rising” has been characterised by attacks that are not coordinated in any way and that are not linked to any particular faction. They are acts by individuals who for reasons only known to them decide to carry out these attacks.

The recent “sweeteners” offered by Israel are unlikely to bring an end to what Palestinians claim to be an intifada which has lasted five months and has seen over 180 mostly young people lose their lives to Israeli fire. Neither these nor any talk of “economic peace” come anywhere near convincing the Palestinians that attaining their legitimate rights is around the corner.

Israel again either fails to grasp the reasons behind this intifada or knows full well what they are but chooses to deal with it in an illogical and brutal way, thinking this will end it. Take Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s claim at a recent Israeli cabinet meeting that Palestinians are not preventing their children from committing stabbing attacks because “they know parents of slain assailants receive a grant and a stipend from the Palestinian Authority”.

This claim that Palestinian parents prefer their sons and daughters executed at checkpoints in order for them to receive a monthly salary is preposterous. However, this is a man who is fine with killing Palestinians. He recently called for the murder of “anti-occupation fighters” adding that “We have to bury Palestinian anti-occupation fighters in secret cemeteries and knock down all the homes in their native villages”.

Neither denial of Palestinian rights nor brutal violence has delivered security to Israelis but neither have economic sweeteners. If Israel does not understand the motives of attackers then it should carefully read Muhannad Halabi’s posts on his Facebook account before he attacked four Israelis on 3 October 2015 and was executed on the spot. He asked “How long will this humiliation and shame last, for how long? Do we stay silent? Do we stay humiliated? Is there room for peaceful methods? In law, yes there is room in the law. You have the full right to defend yourself by any means against someone wielding a weapon in your face. The resistance is within the limits of the law and is legitimate.”

As I see it he was saying “the third intifada has started. What is happening to Al Aqsa is what is happening to all our sacred places and what is happening to the women of Al Aqsa is what is happening to our mothers and sisters. I do not think that a people can accept humiliation. The people will rise and they are rising.”

It is that continuing, daily sense of humiliation by Israel, and its leaders’ lack of acceptance that the Palestinians have any rights that needs to be fundamentally addressed. It is the continuing occupation, imprisonment, home demolitions, land grab, refusal to allow the refugees to return, the expansion of settlements, and settler violence amongst other violations of their rights that drives some Palestinians to violence.

In addition, it is the lack of any real success that peaceful resistance initiatives have delivered. The weekly protests against the separation wall in Bil’in and other locations are met with brutal force and have not succeeded in reversing land confiscations for the wall or for expansion of the illegal settlements.

Even on the international stage moves such as those taken in the US, France and the UK to “criminalise” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are seen as proof that even this peaceful tactic is closed to them and their supporters.

The Palestinians are not rising for economic gain or, ultimately, for an economic peace but for freedom and independence. When Palestinians set out to attack Israeli soldiers, knowing it will almost certainly result in death and the demolition of their family’s home, they do not do this to help secure a few more work permits for Palestinians or a martyr’s stipend for their family. They do it out of desperation and a belief, rightly or wrongly, that their collective acts will hurt Israel sufficiently that it will finally address their grievances.

The fact that Israel refuses to understand this and to continue to deny Palestinians their rights is a characteristic of its colonialist endeavour. However, for the international community to also fail to grasp this makes any attempt at restarting talks for economic peace simply futile. Former Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair tried this for the whole of his tenure and failed.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British/Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing 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.


Jerusalem at the heart of the conflict

My article was first published in Palestine News in February 2016

Jerusalem at the heart of the conflict

Violence has erupted in Jerusalem in recent months with scores of deaths and regular clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli Occupation Forces. Here Kamel Hawwash, a native of East Jerusalem and vice chair of PSC, explains why the future of the city lies at the heart of any peace agreement.

The issue of Jerusalem was one of the final status issues under the Oslo Accords, one that was so sensitive that the peace process may not have been set up if it had been one of the issues the Israelis and Palestinians had to tackle first. But after 22 further years of futile negotiations, the peace process has now failed in its entirety. Meanwhile, on the ground, Israel has created facts that make the achievement of peace based on what is termed “the two-state solution” unattainable.

Jerusalem has suffered more “facts on the ground” than most. This is because after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, it illegally annexed the city and successive Israeli governments have referred to it as the eternal united capital that will “never be divided.” They have pursued a policy of the Judaisation of East Jerusalem in an attempt to destroy its Palestinian Arab, Muslim and Christian character.

Fast forward to 2015/16 and, apart from the iconic skyline of Alaqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock compound, the city is unrecognisable. Many Israeli flags flutter over the city, both in the old part and where illegal settlements have been deliberately planted in what used to be completely Palestinian neighbourhoods like Attur and Silwan.

The settlements are built on Palestinian land which mainly ended up in the hands of settler organisations through shady deals, for example where Palestinians believe they are selling to other Palestinians but find they are victims of an act of deception. Israel also uses the law of absentees to confiscate Palestinian land and homes handing them over to settlers with Israeli courts generally approving these immoral acts.

In addition Israel has almost completely encircled Jerusalem with a belt of settlements built on illegally occupied land in the West Bank to cut the city off, making it impossible for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state. The rest of the area in the centre of the West Bank, often referred to as E1, is subject to regular Israeli plans for construction which the international community strongly opposes as filling the area with settlements would finally kill off any prospect of the two-state solution.

As well as building settlements, the Israelis have evicted many Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem neighbourhoods like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah because settler organisations claim they used to belong to Jews before 1948. Apart from the immorality of these acts, the effect is that space for Palestinians to build and develop is reduced and opportunities for young people to set up homes in their neighbourhoods are almost nonexistent. Meanwhile they are forced to watch Jewish Israelis develop their lives on land illegally taken from them as a people.

When Israel occupied East Jerusalem it issued the indigenous Palestinian population with special identity cards carried in a blue wallet which denoted residency rights. But the Israeli authorities can take away the “blue ID,” as it is known, at any time if they judge that Jerusalem is longer the “centre of your life.” This can be if a Palestinian moves to work in the West Bank or live or study abroad. A Jewish Jerusalemite who leaves the city to work elsewhere in Israel or to live abroad does not lose the right to live in Jerusalem.

Israel has also used the route of the separation wall to exclude tens of thousands of Jerusalemites from the city. They have to pass through checkpoints to reach services they used to access prior to the construction of the wall such as education or health. They pay taxes to the city’s council but do not receive services in their neighbourhoods and Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from offering alternative services. This leaves residents of areas such as Abu Dis and Alram in no man’s land.

Palestinians are also witnessing a replacement of Jerusalem’s Palestinian history with a Jewish one by stealth. This can be seen through road signs which no longer list the road or neighbourhood name in Arabic using its historical Arabic name but by a Hebrew replacement. So young Palestinians and visitors will use the Hebrew replacement thus providing further Judaisation of the city.

Under PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, the number of “visits” by Jewish settlers to Alaqsa mosque has increased. They take place without invitation or coordination with the Jordanian Waqf, which under the various agreements administers the Muslim Holy site. The settlers are accompanied by Israeli Occupation Forces and clashes erupt regularly between Palestinian worshippers and the settlers.

In order to facilitate the settler visits, Israel regularly bars Palestinians from entering the mosque. This has led Palestinians to believe that Israel plans eventually to divide the site between Jews and Muslims and to fear that the number of settlers who wish to replace Alaqsa with a Jewish temple is increasing both in number and influence in what is a settler-led government.

In Jerusalem Palestinians and Israelis interact regularly, unlike other parts of the West Bank. At times of rising tensions, this can lead to friction and in some cases outright violence. While Israelis are protected by the occupation forces, Palestinians feel vulnerable as they have no confidence in the occupation forces offering protection. Incidents such as the burning alive of Palestinian child Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014 and the lack of justice for him confirm these fears.

The impact of all these things has been to create a feeling among the Palestinians of Jerusalem that they are losing their city to the colonisers. Israel controls every aspect of their daily lives and does all it can to control the demography of the city to at best maintain the current proportions of Israeli Jews and Palestinians but at worst to change it over time to ensure a clear Jewish majority.

This has helped ferment a state of continuous Palestinian anger as they see their city being taken away from them. This anger can explain the recent Palestinian uprising which started in October in which over 150 Palestinians have lost their lives in alleged attacks against Israeli civilians and occupation forces. Because the Palestinian Authority, which exercises a security cooperation with Israel in the rest of the West Bank, has no presence in annexed East Jerusalem, it has paradoxically allowed the population to hit back at the occupation with acts of revenge that have at times been violent.

As the French try to initiate another attempt to find a way forward to peace, all stakeholders should see East Jerusalem Street as the barometer for the seriousness of any initiative. If Palestinians can see an end to the rabid Israeli colonisation of their city, then peace might have a chance of coming to the Holy Land. Without this, the current rise that started in Jerusalem could morph into a full intifada.

مقابلة مع قناة القدس عن فعاليات التضامن مع فلسطين

مقابلة مع قناة القدس عن فعاليات التضامن مع فلسطين
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