Debate on British Palestinians’ letter to the Guardian on their right to freedom of speech

I joined a debate on RT UK on this letter in the Guardian which I signed on 1/8/2018

Palestinians in the UK speak out for the right to freedom of speech

This letter was published in the Guardian on 31 July 2018

Leading figures, including Prof Karma Nabulsi, Prof Kamel Hawwash, and Dr Ghada Karmi, put their community’s point of view

The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to “receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”. We write to provide news of our existence, in the face of current attempts to negate it.

As British Palestinians, some citizens, others still stateless refugees, we remain bound by our common history, when previous generations of Palestinians were violently denied the right to self-determination by the British colonial power ruling Palestine from 1918. Deprived of our sovereign rights to our land, we were dispossessed of it by force in the establishment of the state of Israel, which the British colonial occupation oversaw through 1947 to 1948. There exist vast bodies of publicly available records, scholarly evidence and official testimonies to affirm these facts.

The reality of the Palestinian people’s ongoing dispossession belongs to the public space: Palestinian people have the right to impart information about these present and past injustices, as every British citizen has the right to hear this information, along with the ideas and arguments that emerge directly from it.

Accordingly, any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to our dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights. First, the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protected by international laws and conventions; and second, the rights of all those British citizens who stand by our side, in the solidarity of a common humanity.

We call on public bodies to actively protect and to promote accurate information about current and past events in the life of the Palestinian people, as part of Britain’s ongoing, and outstanding, colonial debt.

Omar Al-Qattan Chairman of the board of trustees, AM Qattan Foundation, Atallah Said Chairman, British Palestinian Policy Council, Professor Kamel Hawwash University of Birmingham, Professor Karma Nabulsi Univerity of Oxford, Nadia Hijab Author and human rights advocate, Dr Aimee Shalan Charity chief executive, Ben Jamal Director, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mazen Masri Managing director, Edgo, philanthropist, Sawsan Asfari Philanthropist, founder educational charities, Zaher Birawi Chairman, Europal Forum, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub Barrister, Professor Suleiman Sharkh University of Southhampton, Professor Izzat Darwazeh UCL, Dr Adam Hanieh Reader in development, Soas, Dr Dina Matar Soas, Fares Abu Helal Editor-in-chief, journalist, Dr Nimer Sultany Senior lecturer in public law, Soas, Dr Ghada Karmi Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, Akram Salhab Refugee and migrant organiser, Karl Sabbagh Author and publisher

Israel challenges the world: I am an Apartheid state, what are you going to do about it?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/7/2018

2013_12_3-Palestinian-Shuafat-refugee-camp281114_MUA_00-2 (1)

View of a Palestinian refugee camp behind Israel’s apartheid wall in east Jerusalem on 3 December 2014 [Muammar Awad/Apaimages]

Remember the date, 19 July 2018 is when Israel’s pretense of democracy, the Knesset  passed the Nation State Bill, which could more aptly be called, the “Jewish State Apartheid Law” where Jews dominate the Israeli Palestinian Arabs who are lesser than them, even if they are citizens. I deliberately did not say Israeli Jews because the law gives all rights in historic Palestine to Jews, not only in Israel but across the world, including those Jews that do not identify with the state.

My mother, who was born in Jerusalem before Israel was created, has no rights in the Holy city or her homeland but a Jewish lady with no connection to Israel can “return”, to a place she does not come from. The invaders, since they were not invited into our homeland, have enshrined the right to have my Palestinian homeland as theirs in law and also annulled my mother’s right to return, which is enshrined not in state but in international law. I can hear cries of “this is the Jewish homeland because we were here thousands of years ago”, really? If Jews – and it is only Zionists – believe they are entitled to return after thousands of years -which I reject – then how can they deny Palestinians the right to return after 71 years? In fact UN resolution 194 enshrined in international law gives Palestinians the Right of Return but there is no reference in international law to Jews having a “right to return” to historic Palestine.

Let me be clear, I am not denying Jewish, Christian or Muslim connection to holy sites in historic Palestine. However, Palestinians reject the notion of singling Jews out for a “right of return” to our homeland now and forever. No other people are afforded the right to a freehold on a plot of land forever and Jews should be no different.

Israel’s prime minister pushed the adoption of this bill now as he sees an opportunity to make major wins while US President Trump is in office and has given Israel carte blanche to implement any policies it wishes.

“A hundred and twenty-two years after [the founder of modern Zionism Theodore] Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that this is a “defining moment” for Israel.

“Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.”

What Netanyahu did not tell us was were exactly are the borders of this state? What rights do its non-Jewish but indigenous Palestinian citizens have within its internationally recognised borders? Netanyahu and supporters of Israel should remember that the 20 per cent “minority” that they form would not have been a minority if it had not been for the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 of their brothers and sisters in 1948. Had they not been forced out through Jewish terror, their numbers would have been equal if not larger than the Jewish Israelis that now reside in historic Palestine. It would have been Jews that formed the minority.

Netanyahu also failed to explain the status of the occupied Palestinians who are not afforded citizenship in this state. What rights do they have? They are not citizens of Israel or Palestine.

Netanyahu

Much has been written since the Nation State Law was approved, but there has been insufficient outrage. The law has mostly been seen at worst as “controversial”. Israel has challenged the world to say no to state racism and Apartheid but the world has only expressed concern that the law could impede the now long dead peace process and wait for it, the two-state solution. Netanyahu challenged the world and the world is not ready for a fight for basic equality between citizens of a state.

Through its silence, the world arguably agrees that historic Palestine is homeland only for Jews. It agrees that the indigenous Palestinians have no rights, except those that the Jewish state agrees to give them out of the goodness of its heart and only if Israeli Jews agree. Jews can build settlements only for Jews and admissions committees can decide whether to allow the people whose land it is, the Palestinians, to live amongst them. They can decide whether Palestinian children can play in kindergartens with Jewish children and whether they can swim together in one pool.

By confirming “United Jerusalem” as their eternal capital, Israeli Jews can decide for how long Al-Aqsa Mosque can remain, majestically from a Palestinian point of view,  on the “Jewish Jerusalem” skyline. Who can forget the image of the notorious Palestinian hater and so called US Ambassador David Friedman beaming as he held a poster showing a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock?

Perhaps the US has already obtained assurances from some Arab and Muslim leaders that since Muslims already have two holy mosques in Makkah and Madina and Jews do not have one, that it would be acceptable to give Al-Haram Al-Sharif up for that purpose. After all it seems protection from the Iranian threat carries a heavy price. The installation of the Jewish temple could be part of the “deal”. I of course do not know if that is the case, but we live in bizarre times.

Israel has already curtailed the calling of the Muslim call for prayer, the Athan, because it disturbs the illegal Jewish settlers. Now, the language in which the call is made, Arabic, has been demoted from an official language of the state to having “a special status”. Another attack on the indigenous Palestinians.

If Israel was not a racist endeavour when created, it is now most certainly a racist state, unless of course a new definition of racism has been created which gives exception to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. A racist state deserves to be criticised, ostracised and isolated until it repents and removes all its racist laws. This law is only one of tens of laws that already discriminate against non-Jews.

However, what is most bizarre is that confirmation by Israel that it is a racist entity through the passing of the law could, according to the so called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism label as anti-Semites anyone daring to call it a racist or Apartheid entity.

There is no excuse for the world’s lack of action against racist Israel.

How can the US, the land of the free, support it now? The Zionist and Israel apologist Trump trio of Greenblatt, Kushner and Friedman have not issued any statement on this law. They, especially Greenblatt who is effectively tweeting for Israel, helped Israel with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and are working to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return. Their vision for peace almost supports the rapid implementation of the new law rather than condemn it.

The EU has, true to form, talked the talk but not walked the walk, expressing concern but no condemnation.

The Palestinian leadership has sleepwalked into this, typically with no strategy to counter it. The appropriate response to the passing of the law in the early hours of the 19th of July should have been for the PLO to declare an end to the disastrous Oslo Accords, to dissolve the Palestinian Authority with an immediate effect including an end to the immoral security coordination with the Apartheid state. The PLO has been mandated to de-recognise Israel by its Palestine National Council. That time has come. How can the Palestinians continue to recognise an Apartheid state which also denies all their rights and then sit with its representatives to negotiate a two-state solution which this law prohibits?

It is time for the Palestinians to review their struggle and adopt a call for equal rights for all who inhabit historic Palestine and a return for the refugees to their homes. The struggle would continue until these rights are realised.

#ApartheidState

All states, but particularly those that claim to be western style democracies, should have severed relations with Apartheid Israel, including those Arab states that have established relations with it.

As for the rest of those that support Israel both as individuals and organisations, enough is enough. This Israel is not a state that anyone can support or declare a friend. In particular, “friends of Israel” groups in UK political parties should shut themselves down or rename themselves appropriately as “Friends of Apartheid Israel”. That is what it should say on the tin. Honourable and Right Honourable members should then resign from these racism-supporting groups and instead join the BDS movement.

If Apartheid Israel is tolerated, next it will be Apartheid Myanmar and the door will be open for other states to court Apartheid. For the sake of our children let us not allow racism to be tolerated anywhere.

Israel’s most famous human shield is its defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/6/2018

Palestinian protestors seen at the Gaza-Israel border during the protests called "commemorating the Naksa", along the border fence, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza-Israel border during the Great March of Return on June 8, 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

 

The Israeli propaganda machine has been in full swing since 30 March when the Great Return March saw tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza march to the fence with Israel demanding that they be allowed to return to their home towns and villages and for an end to the 11-year immoral siege on Gaza. The object is to once again dehumanise the Palestinians, presenting them as violent people intent on attacking and killing Israelis, rather than people with the backing of international law articulated in UN Resolution 194 which gives them the right to return.

Israeli hasbara was working overtime to deny the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and their origin as a grassroots movement. Even before the first march to the fence, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) circulated a document entitled “Hamas-led Confrontation Campaign”, which detailed the main talking points for Israel’s public diplomacy on the march. As the title of the document implies, Israel wanted to strip the march of its peaceful and civilian framing calling it a “provocation” and claiming that “Hamas is spending more than $10 million to finance the current confrontation campaign, paying Gazans to get them to participate”. There is of course no evidence that Hamas did such a thing. Palestinians (not Gazans) marched under their own free will. Families went out to the camps with their children in the hope that they could walk peacefully through the fence to their homes.

Another talking point was that “Israel has the right to defend its borders and to prevent infiltration into its sovereign territory”. What the document fails to explain is where exactly Israel’s borders are. Since Israel continues to occupy Gaza, controlling ingress and access for both people and goods, as well as keeping the population registry, the fence at which its troops were placed is artificial. It also has not built a wall along the whole border to allow it easy access to the besieged strip to flatten crops and to carry out murderous attacks against the population at will.

Israel reacted to the peaceful marches with tear gas and live ammunition that has resulted in 120 deaths and over 10,000 injuries. There has not been a single injury to an Israeli citizen, military or civilian during the marches.

The Israeli MFA document also goes on to claim that “Hamas continues to exploit the civilian population of Gaza as human shields”. This is an accusation it makes regularly to deflect the world’s attention from its crimes and to blame Hamas, not its murderous actions, for the death and maiming of Palestinians. During the 2014 war on Gaza, it claimed Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas, even from civilian homes, schools and hospitals.

Israel claims Hamas has been paying Palestinians to go to the border, risking life and limb, taking their children, all to serve as human shields to provide cover for its operatives, planning attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinians reject this claim, stressing that it is the organisers of the march that determine its development, not Hamas, and that Palestinians go to the fence of their own free will.

Israel even had the temerity through the publication of a misleading, edited video clip to smear 21-year-old medic Razan Al-Najjar accusing her of throwing an object at the fence and of acting as a human shield for Hamas. In fact, what Razan said in the full interview was “I act as a human shield as a rescuer for the injured on the front lines”.

The claim of Israel that Palestinians use Palestinians as human shields is false. In fact, Israel uses both Palestinians and Jews as human shields. The Israeli Army regularly uses Palestinians as human shields as outlined by B’Tselem. This includes ordering them to “remove suspicious objects from roads, to tell people to come out of their homes so the military can arrest them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter shoot from behind them, and more. The Palestinian civilians were chosen at random for these tasks, and could not refuse the demand placed on them by armed soldiers”.

In 2010 two Israeli soldiers were convicted of using an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield in Gaza when they used him to open bags suspected of being booby trapped.

What may not be so apparent to observers is that the largest group of human shields in historic Palestine are Israeli settlers. Since its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has built colonies for Jews only, which it placed strategically, both for political and military reasons. The political reason is to make it impossible for a viable and contiguous Palestinian state to ever emerge. It is also a means of judaising Jerusalem and Hebron. By planting settlers illegally into Palestinian neighbourhoods, Israel deliberately puts them in harm’s way for political reasons, whether as pawns or human shields. When settlers occupy a Palestinian home in Hebron or Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, they are political human shields.

It was Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who articulated the military rationale. He claims that from his perspective, “it’s clear that the settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and those here in the area of Jericho and the Dead Sea are the State of Israel’s true defensive wall”. This is therefore an admission, that the settlers that populate these colonies are used as human shields by Israel to protect what is until now a state without definitive borders. Lieberman has been championing the settlement enterprise and has indeed vowed to continue to build illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The rise in settler terrorism is another use of the settlers as pawns to provoke Palestinian retaliation and to push Palestinians off their land. The army stands behind them as they carry out their terror, effectively using them as human shields.

The false claim that Hamas has used 40,000 civilians as human shields comes nowhere near Israel’s use of 700,000 human shields that are the illegal settlers. With a settler-led Israeli government there are plenty of prominent Israeli leaders that live in illegal settlements, making them human shields for Israel’s political and military goals.

Avigdor Lieberman, the former nightclub bouncer from Moldova now Israel’s defence minister, is himself a settler residing in the illegal Nokdim settlement in Gush Etzion.  It turns out Israel’s most famous human shield is its defence minister.

برنامج وراء الحدث: جمعة الغضب نصرة للأقصى

مشاركتي يوم ٢١/٧/٢٠١٧ ببرنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد

https://youtu.be/0v7TbpBmGRE

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.