Peaceful resistance is the Palestinian answer to Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

First published by the Arab Weekly on 22/7/2018

Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force.

Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

Resilient despite pressures. Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

International law states that a people under occupation are entitled to use all means of resistance — including armed resistance — to end the occupation. In their quest for freedom, justice and equality, the Palestinian people have used a multitude of forms, including armed resistance and continue to keep their options open.

However, facing an Israeli propaganda machine, which has largely succeeded in characterising both military and non-military Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” the Palestinians have explored other means that may bring greater support internationally and embarrass Israel when it deals violently and disproportionately with Palestinians.

The first intifada was a case in point. It started in 1987 and was peaceful. However, Israel dealt harshly with protesters, who were unarmed, at most throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces operating in their illegally occupied areas. Israeli troops killed more than 1,000 Palestinians during the intifada and images of Israeli brutality were flashed on TV screens across the world.

The uprising introduced the word “intifada” into dictionaries but importantly led to the Madrid conference in 1991 and the start of the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, which led to the Oslo Accords. The peaceful nature of the uprising brought great sympathy for the Palestinian cause from across the world. Who can forget the image of Israeli troops attempting to break the bones of young Palestinian protesters with rocks?

The second intifada started in September 2000, triggered by visit to al-Aqsa Mosque by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was much more violent, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. This brought less sympathy for Palestinians and Israel used the death of civilians to demonise Palestinians as a violent people.

In a variation on peaceful resistance, Palestinian activists established villages on strategically located, privately owned Palestinian land in defiance of the escalation of illegal settlement construction. Israel demolished them and evicted the activists. This included Bab al-Shams, which was established and demolished days later in 2013.

The summer of 2017 saw Israel seal al-Aqsa Mosque following an attack on troops and the subsequent stand-off between the state and Palestinians who refused to go through electronic gates it installed to “enhance security.” The peaceful protests succeeded in the gates being removed.

The recent Great Return March and the protests to save Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village due for demolition by Israel, have shown that peaceful popular resistance can cause Israel great embarrassment and put a spanner in the works of the US plan to settle the conflict through the “deal of the century.”

Whether Khan al-Ahmar is demolished or not, the planned demolition and the popular resistance that brought Palestinians to the village to stand up to the bulldozers elevated the issue on the international agenda, bringing enough pressure on Israel to postpone the demolition.

British Middle East Minister Alistair Burt recorded a video message from the village in which he appealed to Israel not to demolish it and that if it moved its residents elsewhere it could be considered forcible transfer and thus a possible war crime.

Strong words indeed.

The United Kingdom was not alone. All but the most ardent state supporters of Israel — such as the United States — tried to convince it that this was a step too far.

Perhaps the Great Return March and the Palestinians’ demand to return to the homes from which they were expelled, starting in 1948, played a role in delaying the release of the ultimate deal. The scenes at Khan al-Ahmar may have played a part in reminding foreign diplomats that the Palestinians are not going anywhere soon.

It is true to say that Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force and that any wins for Palestinians carry with them a heavy cost in lives and injuries. However, lacking military power to evict Israel from the occupied territories, peaceful popular resistance has its place in keeping the cause alive and visible to the international community.

The Palestinians can make this more effective. For that to happen, a national Palestinian strategy is needed, one that shows the Palestinians have learned from previous attempts and build on this.

It must be designed to raise the cost of the occupation on Israel both financially and politically.

The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity, harness the successes and empower the people to escalate it. Let it focus on disrupting the lives of the settlers in the West Bank through protests and blockades that stop them moving around freely. Alerts about potential demolitions should bring hundreds — if not thousands — to the site to force the occupiers to stop.

While some Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as part of the problem, a unified strategy combined with supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement and ending the security cooperation with Israel could give them hope that their leadership is moving closer to supporting them in their daily peaceful struggle.

The Palestinians may well find that as the growing support for their struggle escalates, the more peaceful their resistance and the more brutal Israel’s response.

Gaza’s children deserve to be rescued like the boys in Thailand

First published by the Middle East Eye 12/7/1018

Palestinian children see the efforts put into the rescue of the Thai boys and wonder why nobody cares as much about them

The whole world rejoiced when 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand were rescued alongside their football coach. Divers from around the world risked their lives to help the children, a truly remarkable and selfless act. One died in the process.

The darkness, uncertainty, hunger and hopelessness that the children must have experienced reminded me of the predicament of Palestinian children in Gaza – trapped through no fault of their own. Their only crime is being born Palestinian under occupation by a state that sees them as an irritant, a demographic threat and collateral damage if they die at the hands of Israeli forces, as some did in the Great March of Return.

A whole generation born under siege, they have not seen the villages from where most of their families hail. They hear of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa, Haifa, Yaffa, Jericho, Nablus and Hebron, but they have not seen them, even though these places are just a short distance away.

Israel as a violent entity

These children march with their families to the fence with Israel, demanding to return to their villages. Instead, they are met with the brutality of the occupier, as dozens are killed and thousands injured. They see posters of the martyred, including 21-year-old medic Razan al-Najjar, and ask why they were shot dead.

The answer, always, is because this is what Israel does. Their experience with Israel shows it as a violent entity, not the democracy that its spokespeople try to spin.

The daily lives of children in Gaza are miserable, as they have little access to electricity or clean water, but plenty of exposure to Israeli bombs and that unmistakable sound of Israel’s terror drones, which occupy Gaza’s sky.

They see what the world looks like on TV, but quickly realise that at the current rate, they have no chance of ever experiencing it for themselves. They aspire to go to university, but quickly realise that the pride they will one day feel at graduating will be followed by great disappointment as they struggle to find employment.

Their Thai counterparts eventually saw freedom, but the children of Gaza and their families cannot see their own freedom coming any time soon.

Immovable Hamas

Gaza is a prison with two land crossings: one to Israel and the other to Egypt, both almost continuously sealed. More than a decade of an immoral siege has not brought a capitulation by Hamas or an uprising against it by those it rules.

Hamas in Gaza is a fact on the ground that is immovable. The siege only hurts the people, inciting Gaza’s children to hate Israel for the death and the destruction it has heaped on their tiny sliver of land, the most densely populated in the world.

Boys from the Palestinian Bakr family, who survived an Israeli attack in 2014 war, walk on the beach in Gaza (AFP)

These children have grown up amid divisions between Fatah and Hamas. They hear of imminent reconciliation between the two factions, but see their president impose sanctions on them. They hear that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 – but they will tell you to come and see it today, look them in the eye, and say it is still habitable now.

They see the efforts put in to rescue the Thai boys and wonder why nobody cares as much about them. They hear that US President Donald Trump has a plan to help them and that his most senior advisers are on the case, but conversations in the besieged enclave fill them not with hope, but with fear that their leaders are being pressured to abandon their struggle and surrender if they want a better daily life under permanent occupation.

After claiming to have taken Jerusalem “off the table” by recognising it as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there, Trump’s team has been consulting further in the region on the administration’s plan to deliver “peace” to the holy land. But the US action has failed to create a climate for peace, as evidenced by the ongoing Great March of Return and Palestinians’ decision to sever contact with the Americans.

The mirage of the ‘ultimate deal’

Despite the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to discuss the deal, the Americans appear to be moving to implement the second stage of the yet-unpublished plan – that of bringing economic relief to Gaza, funded by some of the Gulf states. If the Trump team believes that Palestinians in Gaza are simply looking for some economic relief, then they are as naive now as when they began their sordid endeavours.

Gaza’s children are even more confused after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently opted to tighten the noose around them by closing the “commercial crossing” at Kerem Shalom as punishment for the continuing rudimentary kites and balloons launched from Gaza, which have damaged crops on the Israeli side of the fence. Israel has attacked those launching what they bizarrely call “terror kites”.

If the heavy sacrifices made by Gaza’s Palestinians since the Great March of Return began on 30 March are not sufficient evidence that “economic peace” is a mirage, then the US, Israel and their new Arab allies have underestimated Palestinians’ resilience and their insistence on attaining their rights. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Americans will not be able to use Gaza to prop up their heavily damaged “ultimate deal”.

The Trump administration should take inspiration from the rescue of the Thai boys, planned meticulously to end their predicament, not to serve an ideological goal of helping Israel to entrench its control over the whole of historic Palestine. They should act to end the suffering of the two million Palestinians in Gaza, without preconditions, and give its children some hope for an end to their imprisonment – just as the brave divers did for the Thai boys in the cave.

Ireland’s decision to advance boycott bill could be the tipping point for justice for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/7/2018

2011_1-8-Labourers-work-in-the-jewish-settlement-SL00-12

Construction workers build illegal settlements in Jerusalem [Sliman Khader/Apaimages]

The Palestinian people are in need of some good news to boost their morale at an extremely difficult time in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

There has been little good news, particularly since US President Trump took office, recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israelmoved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv in record time, defunded UNRWA and leaks of his “ultimate deal” for resolving the conflict indicated it could not be accepted by the Palestinian people.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to march to the fence separating them from their occupiers to demand that they be allowed to return peacefully to their homes on the other side. Their peaceful endeavour has been met with brutal force resulting in over 130 killed mostly by Israeli snipers and over 10,000 injured with some sustaining horrendous injuries and others losing limbs.

Most Western governments expressed concern about the level of casualties but none acted in a way that would send a strong message to Israel to refrain from its murderous acts. As in past episodes of Israeli aggression, it was left to ordinary people all over the world to show solidarity with the Palestinians, knowing that real change in Israeli behaviour would only come when governments took action that translated words into real pressure on Israel.

Most western powers, including the UK and other EU countries hid behind the tiresome and ineffective “we are against boycotts as they are unhelpful when we are trying to bring the two sides round the negotiating table”. In other words, they did not have the bottle to call Israel’s ambassadors in to say, in no uncertain terms, that unless Israel stopped the violence and its illegal policies, it would face sanctions.

The recent escalation in demolition of Palestinian properties, particularly targeting Bedouin Palestinians in what Oslo defines as “Area C”, brought howls of displeasure but no action. The strongest the UK could muster for example was a warning that if the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahamr was demolished and its residents forcibly transferred, this could amount to a war crime. At the time of writing, the village had a brief reprieve as the Israeli courts revisit the decision to allow the demolition but the expectation is that Israel will demolish the village soon.

Demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar: Another chapter in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

The demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar is linked to the settlement enterprise, which Israel uses to tighten its grip on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). The international community considers the settlements “illegal under international law”.

Bizarrely, this position has not resulted in what Palestinians and their supporters see as the logical extension of this, which is that trade with the illegal settlements is illegal too. Goods and products from the settlements have had little trouble making their way to the EU market. The strongest action taken to distinguish between products from the settlements and those from within the internationally recognised Israeli areas has been to label them, thus providing consumers with information on which to base their decision as to whether to buy the products or to shun them. The extent to which this has made any impact on the ground is difficult to assess. However, it is reasonable to conclude that it has had little or no difference as Israel has not been squealing about it.

Funding for Settlements - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli banks “profit” from the illegal settlements as they “help support, maintain, and expand” them by “financing their construction in the occupied West Bank.”

In reality, change will only come when governments begin to exert real pressure on Israel, which could come through reassessing relations with it, perhaps reducing diplomatic representation as South Africa has done, or imposing sanctions on it when it acts illegally. The settlement enterprise is an open and shut case. They are illegal and trade with them sustain them and should end to help dismantle them if those governments are serious about peace.

Almost all western governments see boycotts, including those of the illegal settlements as unhelpful and in some countries those promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) have faced hostility, been accused of anti-Semitism and efforts to implement boycotts of companies that are complicit in the settlement enterprise have come under attack, as in the UK. Bizarrely, those same countries say that the settlements are “harming” the chances of a two-state solution, are an “obstacle to peace” and in the case of the E1 area, which provides the only access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians, would “deal a fatal blow” to the two-state solution.

If the world is serious about helping end the conflict then governments must act. The EU can play a role in this but is refusing to do so. It was therefore left to one of its smaller members, Ireland to show leadership and for a brave independent Senator, Frances Black, to bring to Senate a bill to ban the import of settlement goods.

Under pressure from Israel, the Irish Government, which does not support boycotts, postponed an initial attempt to bring the bill to a vote in January of this year. However, on the 11th of July the “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” was debated and passed. The vote was 25 in favour, 20 against and 14 abstaining. While there are still a number of stages to get through before it becomes law; this now paves the way for Ireland to become the first EU country to ban the import of products from the illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

#LandGrab

Israel’s response was as expected. Its Foreign Ministry slammed Ireland after it passed the bill, stating that the “Irish Senate has given its support to a populist, dangerous and extremist anti-Israel boycott initiative that hurts the chances of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians”. It further claimed that the law will “have a negative impact on the diplomatic process in the Middle East,” and that it will “harm the livelihood of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.”

Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, congratulated Ireland on the decision to pass the bill, stating that he wished to

extend our sincere appreciation to the Irish Seanad for standing tall for the principle of justice by approving this historic motion banning trade with the illegal Israeli colonial-settlements in Occupied Palestine.

It is important that the Irish Government now listens to the Irish people and moves to supporting this bill as it actually supports the two-state solution and the illegality of the settlements policy on the conflict. If it does that and successfully navigates its way through any legal difficulties this may pose, then Ireland, a friend of the Palestinian people, could be the pioneering country that begins to deliver justice to the Palestinian people and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will of course come under pressure from Israel, its strong lobby and even the EU to find a way of pulling back from the brink of implementing an ethical boycott of an illegal enterprise. However, it must stand firm and remember that the others have no credible policy to resolve the conflict, including the United States. Israel has had decades of appeasement and faced no accountability for its breaches of international law. It is time this began for peace.

Ireland could be providing the necessary tipping point that others could rally round, especially the EU, which has in the past talked the talk but never intended to walk the walk to deliver justice to the Palestinian people.

As for Israel and its shameful backers in its illegal endeavours, the countdown to the end of the illegal settlement enterprise started in Dublin on the 11th of July. The clock is ticking.

Israeli forces displaced 1,347 Palestinians in the occupied #WestBank last year… all from home demolitions!

#HomeDemolitions #Palestine #ZionistState #OccupiedPalestine

MEMO infographic by QUAD Business House –https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170509-israel-denies-h…/

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Backlash after Israeli forces prepare to demolish Palestinian village

I was interviewed by RTUK on 4/7/2018 about the impending demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank

A challenge for Trump: Pull out of the UN

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/6/2018

If it’s really ‘America first’, why is the US remaining in an organisation simply to act as Israel’s chief defender?SWITZERLAND-SYRIA-CONFLICT-UN-rights

President Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

I challenge him to pull the country out of the UN entirely.

Trump’s decision to leave the UN rights council was announced by US ambassador Nikki Haley and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Haley gave two reasons for the decision: that “human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council” and that the council has become “a cesspool of political bias”.

Haley also pointed to a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility” towards Israel. She called the 47-member international council “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”.

Support from Netanyahu

A day earlier, UN rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein urged Washington to stop separating migrant children from their parents at the US border, saying: “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”

Only Israel came out fully in support of the US pullout, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking Trump, Pompeo and Haley for their “courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council”.

“For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organisation that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the decision “regrettable” but said the UK was “here to stay” – despite the UK putting the council on notice last year for its criticism of Israel through the inclusion of a standard agenda item that considers Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.

“We share the view that the dedicated Agenda Item 7, focused solely on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace – and unless things change, we shall vote next year against all resolutions introduced under Item 7,” Johnson said.

This will be interesting, as one of the resolutions normally reaffirms the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Would the UK really vote against this right?

Haley’s ‘extraordinary’ letter

Twelve rights and aid groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote to Pompeo to warn that the withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world”.

Haley responded in a letter that Iain Levine, the deputy executive director for programme with Human Rights Watch, described as “extraordinary”. He argued that Haley was seeking to hold HRW and other human rights groups “responsible for the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council”.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, noted in a statement: “It is not surprising that the United States administration who gives orders to snatch crying babies from their parents’ arms and who partners with Israel, a cruel and belligerent military occupier that holds an entire nation captive, has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press together with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the U.S.'s withdrawal from the U.N's Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington

US ambassador Nikki Haley accused the UN rights council of hostility towards Israel (Reuters)

 

She continued: “The problem is not with the just and functioning global order, but with Israel who (sic) persists in committing lethal violations and war crimes against the Palestinian people. The US administration’s blind commitment to Israel and its proven track record of human rights violations will succeed in isolating it in the international arena and undermining its influence and standing globally.”

The US withdrawal from the council is not without precedent. Last October, the US withdrew from the UN education and culture organisation UNESCO, claiming it harboured “anti-Israel bias”. Then, too, Israel applauded the US decision as “courageous and moral”, while Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said it showed the US administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel.

Accountability gap

The US is not a member of the International Criminal Court, established to “bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”, when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.

It would be natural to assume that a world power, which claims to be committed to human rights, would be a member of the ICC. The fact that it is not brings into question its real commitment to ensuring individuals who commit human rights abuses are accountable for their crimes.

Israel is currently awaiting a decision on whether the ICC, at the request of the PLO, will open proceedings against some of its military and political leaders for alleged violations, including the attacks on Gaza and the illegal settlements. It would be safe to assume that if the US were a member, it would leave the ICC if this happened, citing bias against Israel.

The US administration claims that the UN is dysfunctional, but then obstructs its work in order to protect Israel, including using its veto and withdrawing from its agencies. While it claims the UN singles Israel out for criticism, the US singles it out for protection from accountability for its crimes.

The US recently obstructed a UN Security Council resolution to provide protection for Palestinians participating in the peaceful Great Return March against violence by Israel, whose forces have killed 130 people, including medics and journalists. However, the US lost a similar resolution at the UN General Assembly, where it does not have a veto.

This mirrored the situation after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haley vetoed a Security Council resolution rejecting the recognition, while the General Assembly adopted a similar resolution.

US veto is Israel’s veto

If Trump believes the UN – 22 percent of whose budget is funded by the US – is dysfunctional, anti-Israel and disrespectful, he should leave the organisation entirely, just as he left the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

It is likely that if America could leave the General Assembly but remain in the Security Council, it would – but that is not possible. It is all or nothing.

But even if for a moment Trump considered leaving the Security Council, Israel and its lobby would soon bring him to his senses. After all, the US veto is Israel’s veto on the council.

For a man who claims to put “America first”, I challenge the US president to withdraw his country from the UN.

– 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 a 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: The United Nations Human Rights Council is pictured on 13 March 2018 in Geneva (AFP)