While Arab states normalise relations with Israel, British voters lobby MPs for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 3/12/2018

November was an extraordinary month for normalisation between Arab states and Israel. You would think that Israel had settled its disputes with its neighbours — perhaps accepting and implementing the Arab peace initiative, for example, — and that a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was close to reality. In fact, though, Israel has challenged the world to call out its Apartheid status following the passing of the Nation State Law; continues to build illegal colonies on Palestinian land; imprisons thousands of Palestinians; demolishes Palestinian-owned homes and other buildings; and kills peaceful protesters at the nominal border with the Gaza Strip on a weekly basis.

The Sultanate of Oman hosted an official state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife. It then gave a conference platform to Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz to outline his state’s vision for a railway linking Haifa with the Gulf. Israeli sports teams competed in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, while Bahrain indicated its desire to establish diplomatic channels with Israel. To cap it all, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was given support for his position from Netanyahu. This is the same Saudi Arabia that recently banned Palestinians holding valid travel documents from visiting Makkah and Madinah for pilgrimage, presumably on the orders of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques, King Salman. Who would have thought it possible?

The Palestinians know of and rely on the long standing support of the Arab people but it has now become clear that support from a substantial number of their governments is tokenistic. In fact, the Arab states’ role has become more like cheerleaders for Donald Trump’s still to be announced “deal of the century”, and to be ready to put a few million dollars into the kitty to cajole them into accepting the ultimate surrender deal.

READ: Normalisation and a ‘regional solution’ are back on the agenda 

The Arab people — including Palestinians — are oppressed by their own governments, which deny them their civil and political rights. They have little or no influence on the decisions made in their names by their unelected governments and are therefore hardly able to influence the decisions which have an impact on the Palestinian cause.

While wanting to see the Arabs return to their unwavering support for the cause, the Palestinians look increasingly elsewhere, particularly where they can influence government decisions, even if the effect is not immediately obvious. A good example of this is in Britain, where demonstrations in support of the Palestinians in Gaza have been held since the start of the Great March of Return protests in the territory since 31 March. Furthermore, many British voters lobby their MPs and government on behalf of the people of Palestine.

The annual pro-Palestine lobby of parliament in Westminster takes place on or near the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, 29 November. The UN introduced this in 1977 to coincide with the passing of UN resolution 181, the Partition Plan, in 1947.

This year’s lobby was again organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The objective was for ordinary British people to meet their MPs and discuss the Palestinian issue with a particular focus. This year the two issues that constituents were asked to raise with their MPs were related to Palestinian child prisoners and an end to the arms trade with Israel. An Early Day Motion (EDM) 563 on military detention of Palestinian children, is the fourth most signed EDM in this parliamentary session. EDM 1305, meanwhile, calls for “a suspension of arms sales to Israel”.

Just under 3,000 members of the British public participated in the lobby last week. They contacted 600 out of the 650 MPs to express concern about child prisoners and the arms trade. Other MPs whose constituents were not able to travel to Westminster attended various briefings arranged by the PSC both to show their support and to learn more. Most of the parties with MPs were represented at these events.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) on an official diplomatic visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 25 October 2018 [PM of Israel/Twitter]

At a rally held after the lobby, many MPs spoke in support of the Palestinian cause, highlighting the need for actions more than words. It was noticeable that those who had visited Palestine and Israel to see the situation for themselves were the most outspoken.

The new Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Husam Zomlot, expressed appreciation of the Palestinian people to the “heroes” involved in the lobby. He stressed the importance of such efforts, especially the timing, “because of the campaign by the extreme right wing groups who are adamant to be anti-internationalist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic values, anti-solidarity and anti-openness.” In particular, the Ambassador commended the pro-Palestine activists for focussing on the “upholding of international law.” While noting that the issues of Palestinian children and the arms trade with Israel are important, he also highlighted Israel’s illegal settlement building and the position of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees. He referred to the importance of enforcing the law in Britain under which, he argued, “importing settlement produce is illegal.”

Zomlot called for the British government to recognise the state of Palestine and claimed that “no act will be more relevant, would be more effective in bringing peace and justice.” He pointed out that the Palestinians do not understand the reluctance to offer such recognition. “We do not understand what is taking the government so long. We do not understand why, given that the British people expressed their will through their elected parliamentarians four years ago, recognition remains unimplemented.” He then reminded the audience of Britain’s historic responsibility and the motion for recognition tabled by Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, the Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

The Palestinian Ambassador spoke after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry insisted that a future Labour Government will “immediately recognise the state of Palestine, and will urge our international friends to follow suit, not in due course, not when the time is right or whatever formula this current Tory Government comes up with.” She also committed to Britain hosting an emergency international conference to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and all of those displaced from their homes or forced into refugee camps abroad as a result of Israeli actions. Most importantly, perhaps, she called for the shortfall caused by Trump’s callous move to cut funding for UNRWA to be filled.

READ: Students from 30 UK universities protest against investment in Israel occupation 

Thornberry also emphasised that Britain must use its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to “demand action when Israel breaks international law.” She stated that it was time to expose the hypocrisy of the US and others “who demand actions and independent investigations when other countries break those laws but then turn a blind eye when it comes to Israel. It is not good enough. We must be even handed and it is about time we started being a little braver and a little bolder when it comes to peace in the Middle East.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary stated that a Labour government “will be prepared to say out loud that it shames the United Nations and it shames the Security Council that for decades Israel has been able to ignore with impunity all the resolutions that the UN has passed and demand effective actions to enforce them.” Since the US has effectively shut itself out from being a broker for peace, Thornberry said that Britain and other countries should step in to revive talks between the parties based on clear principles and a clear timeline to deliver a two-state solution.

Protest in Tunisia against the normalisation of Israel [File photo]

One long-term supporter of Palestinian rights, Andrew Slaughter MP, emphasised the importance of Thornberry’s participation in the rally, which may not have been possible just a few short years ago. He called for a ban on settlement goods, but not a boycott of settlements per se.

The final speaker at the rally thought that this was inadequate. Lubnah Shomali, of BADIL — the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights — contended that it was not enough to speak in solidarity, to recognise Palestine and to ban settlement products. She went further and argued that, since Israel does not distinguish between Israeli and settlement products, neither should we; in fact, we should be boycotting all Israeli products. She also argued for sanctions on Israel as other states are obligated to hold it to account for its breaches of international laws and conventions.

Shomali will take back to Palestine the tremendous support for Palestinian rights that she witnessed among British citizens, who put pressure on their elected representatives not only at the parliamentary lobby but also throughout the year. It is sad to say that she would not be able to take back the same sort of experience after a visit to any of the Arab states falling over themselves to normalise relations with Israel. The people there may want to show solidarity with the Palestinians and put pressure on their governments to act in support of Palestine, but they live under political systems that do not have any representative democratic institutions. The will of the people in such countries is, therefore, ineffectual at the moment.

Israel’s botched operation in Gaza comes with consequences

First published by the Arab Weekly on 18/11/2018

The Palestinian group behind that attack scored a public relations victory because it refrained from firing until Israeli soldiers left the bus.

War advocacy. Israeli residents from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon demonstrate against the Gaza ceasefire, on November 14. (AFP)

War advocacy. Israeli residents from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon demonstrate against the Gaza ceasefire, on November 14. (AFP)

A botched Israeli operation 3km inside Gaza resulted in both physical and political casualties, the latter including Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned to protest what he said was a lack of determination in the Israeli government to inflict a major blow on Hamas

Lieberman also objected to the transfer of $15 million, donated by Qatar, to pay the salaries of Hamas-employed public servants, which the Palestinian Authority had refused to pay.

What started as a limited covert operation — Israeli media reported that members of the elite unit were disguised in women’s clothes — to abduct or assassinate a commander in the armed wing of Hamas’ armed wing Ezzeldin al-Qassam ended with seven Palestinian fighters dead.

However, the Palestinians killed the Israeli group’s commander and one of his companions. Israeli helicopters scrambled to evacuate the unit and Israeli jets destroyed the vehicle they used for the operation close to the Gaza fence.

Israel thought it could conduct a limited operation, leave the Gaza Strip with its attack team intact and withstand a small reaction of the firing of a limited number of rockets from Gaza. It would then present itself as the victim of Palestinian terror.

It once again failed to account for the resilience of the Palestinians, particularly in the tiny besieged strip, into its risk assessment before the operation. Not only did Palestinian groups fire back with nearly 400 rockets causing tens of injuries, images of a bus carrying soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence that was targeted with apparent ease made a mockery of Israel’s security provision.

The Palestinian group behind that attack scored a public relations victory because it refrained from firing until Israeli soldiers left the bus, controlling the amount of damage that could have been inflicted — and possible consequences.

The incident was shown on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, which was targeted and its main building demolished by an Israeli strike.

Far from inflicting a severe blow on Hamas, Israel is at war with itself, with Lieberman’s resignation and his calls for others to consider their positions possibly leading to the collapse of the coalition government and perhaps early elections.

A week is a long time in politics. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu started the week making a surprise official visit to Oman.

Two other ministers followed on open trips to the Gulf. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev visited the United Arab Emirates and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz attended a transport conference in Oman. The Israeli flag was raised in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

There were rumours of possible diplomatic relations being established between Bahrain and Israel. A possible long-term truce with Hamas appeared to be near completion and plans were presented to create a sea route between Gaza and Cypress, to ease the siege on Gaza.

The Americans were said to be readying themselves to reveal the Deal of the Century, US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, in early December.

By the end of the week, Netanyahu was back in Tel Aviv to deal with the fallout from the botched operation and the ensuing violence. He cut short his visit to France, where he was pictured in the front row of commemorations of the centenary of the Armistice Day. On his return to Israel, he was met with images of Israeli citizens burning tyres in protest of the decision to end the bombardment of Gaza. This is a measure of the effect of the failed operation.

Yet another truce appears to have been secured between Israel and the Palestinian groups in Gaza. This was met with celebrations in Gaza, which saw this and the resignation of Lieberman as a victory for the Palestinian resistance. The truce will bring relief to Israelis in the neighbouring settlements, despite their protests.

The Israeli operation showed friendly Arab countries that normalising relations with Israel would not encourage Israel to engage in serious efforts for peace with the Palestinians. Also, Israel will not go to the aid of Arab states in the unlikely event of an Iranian strike against them.

The messy operation should be a wake-up call for Arabs to review their strategies towards Israel.

Gaza strikes: Israeli impunity grows as Arab states normalise ties

First published by TRT World on 13/11/2018

 

The botched Israeli operation, and airstrikes, in Gaza, comes while a truce is under discussion with Hamas. Is bombing the Palestinians into submission, Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea of a negotiation?

Israel is quite literally playing with fire.

It launched a botched operation 3km into the Gaza strip, whose objectives are still unclear, but which seems to have been an attempted abduction or assassination of a senior member of the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The special forces unit used a civilian vehicle, and its members were reportedly disguised in women’s clothes. The alleged target, Nour Baraka was killed, as were six other resistance fighters.

Israeli forces lost one of their commandos, and another was reported injured. Things could have been much worse for Israel if it had not been for the overwhelming firepower it used to rescue its forces out of Gaza.

Hamas and Israel have since exchanged attacks, with Palestinian resistance groups firing tens of projectiles into Israel with reports of tens of injuries, while in return Israel launched rounds of airstrikes, which targeted among others, the homes of Hamas leaders, including Gaza’s speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Bahar.

Israel also bombed and destroyed the building that houses the Al Aqsa television station in Gaza City. A 19-year-old Israeli soldier was severely wounded after “an anti-tank missile” hit a bus in southern Israel’s Shaar HaNegev regional council area, Haaretz reported.

Israeli representatives have been laying blame at Hamas’s door for the escalation. However, Israel triggered it, and on this occasion, it is firmly to blame for the death on both sides.

The incident is in keeping with Israel’s reputation for negotiating with one hand and murdering with another. It just cannot be trusted.

It is not clear why Israel chose this moment to escalate matters. It decided to do this while a truce with Hamas was being negotiated through Egypt, which would have brought some relief to the besieged strip.

There was the talk of a sea route from Cyprus to Gaza to be installed to allow relatively free movement of cargo and presumably people in and out of Gaza that the Qataris had been negotiating. The two million besieged Palestinians were enjoying nearly 16 hours of electricity per day for the first time in years.

The Qatari Ambassador Mohammed al Emadi brought suitcases full of cashtotalling around $15 million to pay for the salaries of Hamas workers, who had not been paid in six months. In return, he could be heard asking a senior Hamas representative to “ensure calm.”

This was an explicit reference to scaling back the Great Return March to the Gaza fence, which has continued unabated since March.

Palestinians suffer as the world cosies up to Netanyahu

Further afield, Israel was enjoying quite sensational normalisation with Gulf states, with whom it has no official diplomatic ties.

Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have warmed, even leading Netanyahu to stress the importance of Saudi Arabia’s stability, in what analysts saw as clear reference to protecting the Saudi Crown Prince from any accountability for the Jamal Khashoggi urder in the Kingdom’s Istanbul Embassy.

Benjamin Netanyahu was on the front row for the commemoration of centenary of Armistices day in France. US President Trump’s special Adviser, Jason Greenblatt has been briefing pro-Israel supporters about the long rumored ‘ultimate deal’ which he told supporters of Israel in London would be made public as soon as the beginning of December.

Having handed Israeli recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and worked overtime to close UNRWA—both long desired by Netanyahu—it is almost certain the ‘deal’ would provide Israel with more gifts and be impossible for the Palestinians to accept.

Israel was winning the diplomatic and PR war, while the Palestinians were increasingly isolated. This makes it even more bizarre that it would seek to ignite a war on Gaza just as it was making such wins.

The botched attack forced Netanyahu to scupper home from France to decide on the next steps to yet again punish Gaza for the Israelis breaching a ceasefire or understanding of a ceasefire. As he was on his way, it was reported the Israeli military was requiring Tel Aviv airport to change flight routings in fear of rockets from Gaza reaching its main airport.

It seems Israeli leaders are now so certain of complete impunity—not only provided by the West but a normalising Arab world—that it can diplomatically win without any costs while exercising state terror on the Palestinians to perhaps finally beat them into submission.

Israel perhaps hopes this will send them scuttling to Trump to accept any deal both in Ramallah and Gaza.

Having failed to quell the peaceful Great Return March, Israel is back to her old tricks of crying wolf and painting Palestinians as terrorists to justify its violence. The normalising Arab states should take note. Israel cannot be trusted, especially under the current Netanyahu regime.

Whatever calculations Netanyahu and his extremist government made when they sanctioned the attack in Khan Younis, they once again failed to factor in the bravery and resilience of the Palestinian people.

As Israeli tanks amass at the Gaza fence, Israel can be sure that yes it can kill tens, hundreds or thousands with its American supplied weapons, but it will not break the Palestinians.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

Israel has done nothing to deserve normalisation with the Arab world

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/11/2018

Growing normalisation has left Palestinians struggling to understand what happened to the Arab world’s support for the Palestinian cause

 

Our Arab brothers – as none of our leaders are women – have stabbed us in the front and the back, abandoning us politically while embracing Israel.

Israeli flags could soon be flying in the skies of some Gulf states, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a “peace” deal that is unacceptable.

I say this as a Palestinian who has watched sickening images of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu – the leader of an oppressive apartheid state, with bucketloads of Palestinian and other Arab blood on his hands – being welcomed with open arms, together with his wife, by the ailing sultan of Oman.

Enshrining apartheid

Setting aside his leadership of the settlement enterprise, repeated wars on Gaza and the killing of hundreds of peaceful Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, Netanyahu recently dismissed the five-decade occupation of the Palestinian territories as “nonsense”. He also fast-tracked Israel’s nation-state law, enshrining apartheid into Israel’s basic law.

Netanyahu’s surprise trip to Oman was closely followed with a visit to the sultanate by Israeli Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. At the International Road Transport Union meeting in Muscat, he outlined Israel’s plan for a railway that would link the Gulf states via Jordan with the Mediterranean through the port of Haifa. This is the same extremist minister who called for the “targeted killings” of leaders of the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in 2016.

Haifa is just 130 kilometres south of Beirut. A united Arab world, working for its people, should be making Beirut the Mediterranean destination of the train line, bringing Syria into the project and bypassing Israel. It could use the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as the precondition for linking to an Israeli port.

As if welcoming two Israeli ministers to Oman was not enough, Israel scored a normalisation hat-trick with the bizarre visit of Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev to the United Arab Emirates, where she laughed and joked with her hosts in the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi. This is the same extremist minister who labelled African asylum seekers as “a cancer in our society”.

Israeli flag raised in Abu Dhabi

Regev was in the UAE to see the Israeli Judo team compete in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. A gold medal for Israel’s Sagi Muki saw the Israeli flag raised and the national anthem, Hatikva, played for his win. Back in Jerusalem and Hebron, Israel sought to silence the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, because it disturbs the illegal settlers’ sleep.

Qatar recently hosted the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and allowed an Israeli team not only to participate, but also to display Israeli national emblems. Qatar was one of the first Arab countries to open an official Israeli trade mission in 1996, and its news channel, Al Jazeera, was the first Arab TV station to host Israelis, citing its mission to allow both sides of the story to be told.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in October (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said in February that he had met with Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa of Bahrain in Tel Aviv while he was visiting Israel. Kara said they met “to strengthen the relationship between our two countries”, boasting of the encounter as a sign of growing relations between Israel and Bahrain. In July, Bahrain hosted Israeli diplomats attending a UNESCO conference.

There have also been examples of Saudi officials visiting Israel or openly engaging with Israeli officials in other countries, including Prince Turki Bin Faisal and retired General Anwar Eshki. There were rumours the Saudi crown prince himself had visited Tel Aviv, though Saudi Arabia denied this. Saudi Arabia has also allowed Air India to fly through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv, in what may be a prelude to opening Saudi Arabia’s skies to Israeli carrier El Al.

Growing ‘Iranophobia’

This is normalisation on steroids, checked only by a small number of countries. In the Gulf, only Kuwait continues to oppose any warming of ties with Israel, while Tunisia and Algeria stand out in North Africa. Israel has formal ties and peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan, which have endured various stresses and strains but brought neither country the same benefits Israel has gained, particularly in terms of security and quiet on its borders.

With this growing normalisation, we Palestinians are entitled to ask why. What has Israel done to deserve this? What happened to the steadfast Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinian cause? What about the slogan that Palestine is not just a Palestinian issue, but an Arab and Muslim issue? Whatever happened to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002?

There is no doubt that on the Arab street’s support for Palestinian rights is still strong. It is at the regime level where the once-clandestine ties with Israel are now out in the open. Israel has successfully frightened the Gulf states in particular into a form of “Iranophobia”, sending them running for protection to the US, which has in turn convinced them that Israel is not an enemy but an ally.

US President Donald Trump has been quite brutal in reminding them how vulnerable they are – not only to an Iranian threat, but to any threat. He recently told King Salman of Saudi Arabia: “You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military.”

Former Saudi King Abdullah offered Israel the Arab “peace initiative” in 2002, while Yasser Arafat was under siege in Ramallah. It offered Israel a normalisation of relations with the Arab world if peace was achieved between Israel and Palestine. Israel never accepted this plan, and the Arabs have now bypassed it, without even an Arab League summit to bury it.

Changing course

In return, Israel has offered nothing, except for a shared fear of the Iranian threat and increasing supplies of security software and military hardware. It continues to threaten the sanctity of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron and to deny Palestinians their legitimate rights. It has no plans to accept a just peace with Palestinians or to return the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

If the normalising Arabs think that Israel would send its jets to protect their thrones in the unlikely event of an Iranian attack, then they are deluded, or at best, badly advised. It will sit back and enjoy seeing their respective countries destroyed, as it did watching the powerful Syria and Iraq reduced to rubble. I do not want to see that happen.

The situation is recoverable. They can change course and reinstate a united Arab front in support of Palestine and against apartheid Israel. They need look no further for inspiration than Paraguay, which had initially announced it would follow the US in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only to reverse that decision.

That did, of course, come after a change in Paraguay’s leadership.

– 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 a regular columnist and 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: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Sultan Qaboos in Oman in October (Handout)

Western hypocrisy: Khashoggi and Murtaja two deceased journalists but the world will only remember one

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/10/2018

Rushdi Sarraj [r], co-founder of Ain Media and Yaser Murtaja who was killed by an Israeli sniper in April

Yaser Murtaja was a Palestinian photojournalist who had gone to the Gaza fence with Israel to cover the second Friday of the Great Return March. He was killed by an IDF sniper on 7 April. There was modest coverage of his death coming on the second Friday of the Great Return March. The world was troubled by the deliberate targeting by highly trained Israeli snipers of Palestinian civilians who posed no threat, but Western governments were hesitant about criticising Israel for targeting men, women, children, medics and journalists. The young medic, Razan Al-Najjar was shot and killed weeks later while tending to the wounded at the Gaza fence. At the same time, Nikki Haley was plotting to scupper a UN Security Council resolution to protect Palestinian civilians.

In its most recent atrocity, Israel targeted and killed three children in Gaza. They identified as Khaled Bassam Mahmoud Abu Saeed, 14; Abdul Hameed Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Zaher, 13; and Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Sutari, 13.

I did not know Yasir, Razan, Khaled, Abdul Hameed or Mohammed. However, their loss and the grief I felt when they died lives with me to this day. Why has the world not sanctioned Israel for killing them? Why does it get a pass when it violates basic human rights while other states are held to account?

OPINION: Israel’s war on photographers and their images

Reaction to their killings is in sharp contrast to the disappearance and then confirmed killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October, which has captured the world’s imagination. I have not met a single person who has not been aware of the story or who has not followed with absolute horror the sordid details emerging from sources in the Turkish government about his murder and the possible mutilation of his body. Calls for sanctions on Saudi Arabia have been widespread, ranging from ordinary citizens to governments.

I was fortunate to meet Jamal and to chair a session at Middle East Monitor’s conference on the Oslo Accords the Saturday before his return to Istanbul to complete some paperwork at the Saudi Consulate to enable him to marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz. Never did I or any of us present imagine how events would unfold hours later.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) at the Oslo25 Conference in London, on 29 September, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

There are many reasons for the coverage that Jamal’s murder received, which set him apart from other journalists that have been targeted for their writings or coverage of important world events including Syria, Iraq and Libya to name but a few. He was a loyal Saudi citizen who had been closely connected with the Royal family but one who felt his freedom to speak under the –effective- rule of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had been curtailed. He was a columnist for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s murder pitted two major Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Turkey – against each other. The murder was not carried out on the streets of Istanbul but inside a diplomatic mission. There were leaks and denials. There were different versions of what happened put out by Saudi Arabia which were at best inconsistent but which turned out to be lies. There was the theatre of Turkey’s President Erdogan’s widely advertised speech, which promised much detail but ended up a masterpiece of political prudence devoid of new information.  The fate of the Saudi Crown Prince and even the Saudi monarchy as we know it hangs in the balance.

To this day, Khashoggi’s body has not been recovered. Questions remain unanswered about who ordered the murder, how it was conducted, what has happened to the body and what actual evidence Turkey holds, leaving much room for speculation. Was Turkey eavesdropping on the Saudi Consulate and therefore was the actual murder recorded on audio or video?

READ: Details of the 11-minute audio recording of the torture and death of Khashoggi

Those are some of the reasons why Jamal’s murder has tantalised the world for the past couple of weeks and will do so as more details are leaked or if Turkey finally decides to make public its evidence, which may include identifying who in the Saudi hierarchy was the most senior person that ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Western countries have started imposing sanctions on individuals suspected of being part of the murder squad, effectively cancelling visas they may hold, and calls for imposing an arms embargoon Saudi Arabia have been made, especially in Europe. While these have been balanced against the strategic importance of trade with Saudi Arabia, it is at least an indication that Western countries can act to pressure other states accused of committing crimes.

The world moved to impose sanctions on Russia and Iran, while history shows other countries faced sanctions, including Iraq and Libya.

However, it seems that the world is reluctant to sanction Israel whatever it does. In fact, many western countries justify its crimes as a necessary means of “self-defence”. There is no talk of imposing a two-way arms embargo on Israel. The Americans have not considered an end to the $3 billion annual military aid for killing Razan or Yaser. This would be moral, but also a saving for the American taxpayer who does not choose for the American Administration to fund a self-declared Apartheid state with half its overseas aid budget.

The world is right to be outraged by journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and the manner in which it was carried out. It is right to ask for the truth and then for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for his horrible murder. However, its hypocrisy in only mildly criticising Israel for killing Palestinian journalists provides it with the impunity it has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. The life of a Palestinian, Saudi or Israeli journalist should be worth the same.

The world’s firmness in dealing with Jamal’s killers may well dissuade other states from committing crimes against journalists, except possibly Israel. No country should be able to act above the law, including Israel.

Israel’s anti-BDS actions reveal that the boycott might just be working

First published by TRT World on 19/10/2018

Israel fears nothing more than the power of boycotts, it realises that it has the power to penalise Israeli actions while the international community looks on at its lawless actions.

Lara Al Qassem, a Palestinian-American student was detained at Tel Aviv airport on the 2 of October as she went to pursue a master’s degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

She was finally released and admitted to Israel just over 16 days later. The Supreme Court upheld her appeal criticising the authorities for their decision which gave “the unavoidable impression” that she was barred for her political opinions.

Lara will now be able to join her Masters course at the Hebrew University.

Her lawyers said in a statement that, “The supreme court’s decision is a victory for free speech, academic freedom, and the rule of law.”

However, Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin called the court decision “shameful” and said that with their decision, the justices “were continuing to act against Israeli democracy and the clear lawmaking of the Knesset”.

The Israeli authorities had denied her entry despite having an official student visa prior to travelling. The reason given was her role as president of a small local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida, which has engaged in boycotts against Israeli products in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Her entry denial, which subsequently resulted in her detention was ordered by the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri.

On the 9 of October, Erdan tweeted that that if Lara “declares in a clear and explicit manner that she erred in the past and she believes today that support for a boycott on Israel and the BDS [movement] is a mistake and illegitimate, and that she regrets having served in the past as head of the branch of a boycott group, we will reconsider our stance regarding her entry into Israel,”

Clearly this was unacceptable to Lara who went on to fight her case in the Israeli courts.

Reactions to the story in Israel have been mixed.

The National Council of Young Israelis supported the Israeli Government’s decision claiming “every country has the ability to regulate who can enter its borders and Israel should be no different in that regard.”

The Hebrew University has been supportive of Lara’s entry and in an unusual step asked to join her appeal to the Jerusalem District Court.

Knesset members from the Meretz party visited Lara and leader Tamar Zandberg tweeted, “just visited Lara Alqasem, 22 year old American student detained in Ben Gurion airport for 6 days now because a right wing website didn’t like her past political activity. Israeli borders should be of a liberal democracy without thought police”.

I myself was denied entry to Israel in April 2017 following the passing of the same law under which Israel has denied entry to Lara.

The law was passed in March last year and gives the authorities power to deny entry to any foreign national engaged in supporting of boycotts either of settlement goods, or Israel, within its internationally recognised boundaries.

In my case, I was separated from wife and son who were allowed entry and I was placed on a flight back to the UK hours after my arrival. A few days later Anwar Makhlouf, another Palestinian and head of the Palestinian Federation of Chile was also denied entry under the same law, this time at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan.

Restricting BDS is backfiring

The BDS call was made in 2005 by over 150 civil society organisations. According to its website, “It works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

Its three key demands are an end of the occupation, an end to the discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel, and the promotion of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Each of these is a moral and legal demand.

Israel’s claim that it is an anti-Semitic movement because it targets ‘the world’s only Jewish state’ is false, because the Palestinians can only target their occupiers, who happen to be Jewish.

They did not choose their occupiers, they chose Palestine.

In addition to entry denial for BDS supporters, in 2011 Israel passed the law for “Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott.”

This allows an individual or organisation proposing a boycott to be sued for compensation by any individual or institution claiming that it could be or has been damaged by such a call.

Evidence of actual damage would not be required.

This law was recently used by three Israeli teenagers to sue two New Zealand-based supporters of BDS—one Jewish and one Palestinian—over a cancelled concert by New Zealand singer, Lorde.

A judge at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that, the two women must pay $12,000 in damages to the teenagers.

While the New Zealand justice minister saw this as a political stunt, the Israeli law office, Shurat HaDin which filed the suit, has said it fully intends to pursue enforcing the court’s ruling, and believes Israel’s legal agreements with New Zealand will allow it to do so.

This action has misfired as the two New Zealanders, Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, decided to raise funds, and to date have raised at least $18,000, not to pay the fine they had been ordered to pay but rather to give to the Gaza Mental Health Foundation instead.

In the US a number of anti-BDS laws have been passed that would prohibit companies that boycott Israel from securing public projects while in the UK, the government has attempted to stifle local authority pension funds from divesting from companies complicit in the oppression of Palestinians.

It is difficult to assess whether these have had a real impact in countering the BDS movement. However, there is fear in Israel of a growing ‘silent boycott’ including by artists and academics who simply turn down or do not respond to invitations to participate in activities organised by Israeli institutions or to perform in Israel.

There are calls for the 2019 EUROVISION song contest to be boycotted and it appears that having tried to host it in Jerusalem, Israel is now planning to move the event to a different location.

It seems that Israel’s anti-BDS policies have not succeeded in combatting this growing movement, particularly through legal means.

Israel also continues to send mixed messages about whether BDS poses a real threat. It cannot have it both ways. It is either effective and a threat to its policies, or it is not.

Israeli politicians and Israeli supporters abroad often characterise the BDS movement as ineffective. However, in reality, Israel is investing millions to counter it and has assigned a minister, Gilad Erdan, and changed the law to both ban BDS proponents from entering and to allow those that claim to have been harmed by specific actions to sue those behind the actions.

The growing success of the BDS movement does however come at a price for Palestinians like Lara al Qassem and myself, who are now denied entry to Palestine because Israel controls all entry points to historic Palestine.

This is unless we renounce their principles including speaking out against the Israeli government’s policies and in support of BDS.  It would appear that this is what Lara had to do, or at least, imply.

This is doubly painful because as Palestinians we are denied entry to our homeland, while Jews from any part of the world, and with no real connection to the land, are allowed not only to visit but to settle there.

Our determination to campaign peacefully for justice for Palestinians should not come at such a high price and if international law were just, it would force the occupier to allow us all to enter, to visit and to settle.

We are still unable to exercise our Right of Return, enshrined in international law but we are also discriminated against as we are denied entry while our fellow citizens from the country whose nationality we now hold can enter unimpeded.

Israel could, of course, meet the BDS movement’s demands, which include our right to return.

That would end the reason for BDS and would bring peace to the holy land.