I was interviewed by Press TV on 28/9/2017
مشاركتي يوم ٢١/٧/٢٠١٧ ببرنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/11/2016
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.
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.
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.
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/4/2016
Hardly a day goes by without Israel accusing Palestinian leaders of incitement against the state and its citizens. They argue that such incitement was one of the triggers for the seven-month long uprising which has seen forty Israelis killed by Palestinians, mostly in knife attacks, and over two hundred Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces, many executed while posing no threat to anyone. Such accusations Palestinian incitement extends all the way up to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He admitted recently that there is some incitement from the Palestinian side in his interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV. On other occasions, Saeb Erekat, General Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its chief negotiator has also accepted that there is some incitement from the Palestinians.
Incitement as far as Israel is concerned covers a wide spectrum, from calling those killed by Israel “martyrs” to objecting to repeated incursions by Jewish settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque, and including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign; seeking membership of international organisations such as the International Criminal Court; calling Israel out as an apartheid state; describing the horrific impact of the occupation to the UN General Assembly; and even reminiscing about the towns and villages (most of which have been wiped off the map by Israel) from where Palestinian refugees come and to which they long to return.
Israel has worked tirelessly to convince the so called “international community” to accept its definition of “terrorism” and make it cover any form of resistance that is quite legitimate, including throwing stones. Even attacks against Israeli soldiers maintaining an illegal occupation in Palestine are deemed to be “terrorism”. The international community now works according to Israel’s definitions and narrative and seems to require the victims, the occupied people, to be exemplary and simply curse their predicament but do nothing about it. How many victims of an acknowledged crime are required to protect the criminals? The Palestinians under Israeli occupation are.
The situation is the same across the Atlantic. US presidential candidates making their obligatory, embarrassing pilgrimage to the main pro-Israel lobby group conference, AIPAC, earlier this month joined in this nauseating spectacle of dancing to Israel’s tune. Their words were carbon copies of what an Israeli spokesman would say. They accused the Palestinians of raising their children to hate and of loving death more than life. Both are inaccurate and very racist accusations designed to pander to the lobby. Only Bernie Sanders skipped this festival of anti-Palestinian hatred and then took Clinton to task for barely mentioning the Palestinians in a recent debate between the two Democrat front-runners for the White House.
While Palestinians can understand why Israel trivialises the impact that the loss of their homeland in 1948 (the Nakba) and the occupation of the remaining 22 per cent in 1967 (they Naksa) have had on them, they cannot fathom how and why supposedly intelligent people like the presidential candidates can be so insensitive to this. The fact that they see the Palestinians as the villains and their Israeli colonisers and occupiers as the victims is like being stabbed in the heart. To call on them to submit to Israel’s brutal occupation is in itself a form of incitement.
If the Palestinians are guilty of incitement, then what does Israel’s 24/7 occupation amount to? What the Palestinians can do pales into insignificance when compared to Israel’s deliberate daily provocation and humiliation of subjugated people in the hope of a reaction, to which the so-called Israel Defence Forces (IDF) can “respond”. This provocation – and provocation is not a strong enough word to convey the impact it has — is the most significant incitement of young Palestinians to take matters into their own hands. If those calling on them not to react could put themselves in their position for even one day and be on the receiving end of what it is like to live under occupation, I am confident that they would understand why they might be driven to violence.
The list of examples of incitement by Israel is long.
When Zionists claim that historic Palestine belongs to the Jews and use this to argue not only that modern day European Jews with no connection to the land have a “right to return” but also deny the same right to Palestinian refugees driven out of their homes and land in 1948 by Jewish terror groups, that is incitement by Israel.
When Palestinian children are abducted in the night by the army of an occupying power; denied legal rights including representation; shackled when brought to court; and made to sign confessions in Hebrew, that is incitement by Israel.
When an Israeli armoured bulldozer accompanied by dozens of soldiers arrives and demolishes a Palestinian home in occupied East Jerusalem under the pretence of the lack of a building permit, then that is also incitement by Israel.
When illegal Jewish settlers protected by the security forces throw a family out of their home in Sheikh Jarrah, and move into it themselves, that is incitement by Israel.
When Israeli settlers break into the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the security forces and claim that the mosque site is theirs, then that is incitement by Israel.
When Muslims are barred from reaching their holiest mosque in Palestine at the whim of the Israeli security forces, then that is incitement by Israel.
When homes are built for Jewish Israelis on Palestinian land and the owner’s movement is restricted to allow them freedom of movement, then that is incitement by Israel.
When the IDF fires tear gas canisters into Palestinian schools causing the children to suffocate or faint, then that is incitement by Israel.
When the occupying state takes over the main mosque in Hebron and divides it between Jews and Muslims, and determines when Palestinians can and cannot pray in it, then that is incitement by Israel.
When the occupation authority builds roads which encroach on Palestinian land for use by Jewish settlers only, then that is incitement by Israel.
When Jewish settlers terrorise the local population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and even murder Palestinians such as Mohammed Abu Khdair and the Dawabshe family under the protection of the IDF, then that is incitement by Israel.
When Israel lays siege to 1.8 million human beings in the Gaza Strip for ten years with no prospect of the blockade ending, then that is incitement.
When the occupiers use the most powerful and devastating weapons on earth, save for nuclear weapons, to kill and maim in war after war against the Palestinians in Gaza, then that is incitement by Israel.
As far back as 2006, PLO Secretary General Dr Erekat said, “The Israeli ministry of defence is telling its citizens to carry weapons when trailing in the occupied West Bank near Palestinian villages.” This, he added, is an outrageous case of incitement to violence against Palestinians that reflects Israel’s official policy and mindset. “It should be of grave concern to the international community.”
Israeli incitement goes right to the top. In the 2015 general election campaign Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu incited the Jewish population against Israel’s Palestinian citizens when he said, “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” as if they were a swarm of cockroaches. He was also accused of incitement by Palestinian citizens when he promised Israeli Jews, “We will dramatically increase law enforcement services in the Arab sector.” Netanyahu told the press at the site of a shooting that Israel “will open new police stations, recruit more police officers, [and] go into all the towns and demand of everyone loyalty to the laws of the state.” Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev incited against African refugees claiming, “Heaven forbid [that] we compare Africans to human beings.”
At a recent conference to counter the BDS movement, an Israeli minister called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Even foreign political figures have been the subject of incitement as Saeb Erekat has noted. He strongly condemned the hateful Israeli campaign against Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom following her legitimate calls for an investigation into Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Palestinian civilians.
Those searching for a peaceful resolution to the injustice affecting Palestinian must recognise Israeli provocations and incitement as serious contributing factors to the violence. They cannot expect the occupied Palestinians, victims of Israel’s colonisation project, to turn the other cheek when slapped. That cheek is badly bruised and cannot take any more humiliation, provocation and, yes, incitement by Israel.
The Middle East Monitor published this article on 29/12/2015
The recent Israeli wedding video in which revellers danced with knives and guns, and stabbed pictures of Palestinian baby Ali Dawabsheh, who was burnt to death by Jewish settlers, should trouble Israel’s supporters and society. A wedding is an occasion for friends and family to celebrate the union of two people. Instead, this particular wedding was a festival of hate and murderous celebration of the burning alive of a Palestinian baby (and presumably his mother and father, both killed in the same attack). Instead of raising a glass to the happy couple, they raised guns and knives in hate and a determination to continue along this path.
Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who identified quickly the attack on the Dawabsheh family as “Jewish terror” has not pursued its perpetrators with the same vigour as his security forces chase Palestinians who are suspected of violent attacks against Israelis. Initially, he claimed that the government “believes they know who carried out the terrorist attack, but there is difficulty in putting them on trial.” He said that he hopes that, “we’ll find the evidence necessary in order to bring the perpetrator of this heinous attack to justice.”
However, while there has been some condemnation, including from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the outrage of ordinary Israelis does not match the seriousness of the incident. Netanyahu himself tried to play down this and other terrorist acts committed by Jews, refusing to equate them with Palestinian “terror”. “There is a difference between Arab terror and Jewish terror,” he claimed. “Here we condemn and they [the Palestinians] praise.” He was referring clearly to the terrorist attacks that resulted in deaths of Palestinians, those of the Dawabsheh family earlier this year and Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014.
According to Netanyahu, “Unlike Jewish terror, which is limited in scope, Arab terror attacks us incessantly and is widespread.” Israeli society condemns Jewish terror, he insisted, whereas “in the Palestinian Authority they name squares and streets after terrorists.” The reality, of course, is that Israel names boulevards and squares after Jewish terrorists, including Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
If one only counts the attacks on Abu Khdair and the Dawabsheh family as Jewish terror then it is possible to dismiss them as isolated incidents. However, there has been a worrying rise in settler violence, coordinated under the label of “price tag” attacks which target Palestinians on both sides of the Green (1949 Armistice) Line. They have included attacks on mosques and churches, the most recent of which was against the Church of Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee, which was damaged after being set on fire in a “price tag” attack by Jews.
In addition, there are almost daily incidents of settlers uprooting olive trees, attacking Palestinians tending to or harvesting their crops and, in the case of Hebron, attacking children on their way to school. The incidents in the West Bank included a worrying attack in which a Jewish extremist tried to stab a “rabbi for human rights”.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has also faced minor acts of vandalism. An army reserves post was ransacked by settlers at Yitzhar in April 2014. At the time, Ya’alon vowed “to fight domestic terrorism, against those outlaws who attack IDF commanders, soldiers and Border Police who are doing their utmost day and night to safeguard the country and citizens. The State of Israel will not tolerate such criminal activity, which is terrorism in all respects.”
The “arson” attack on Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab school in 2014 demonstrated that not only Palestinian establishments and property is at risk of Jewish terror; Jewish targets could also be attacked if the perpetrators judged them to be promoting peace or coexistence.
In June 2013, the Ynet website reported that there had been a “price tag epidemic” with 788 attacks having taking place in 18 months. Palestinian officials claimed that, by August, there had been 375 such attacks this year alone.
Jewish terror is not a new phenomenon. Israel itself was created as a result of the terror that drove 750,000 Palestinians out of their homeland in 1948. Terrorist organisations such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang epitomised this terror. Israeli MK Tzipi Livni, whose father Eitan served in the Irgun, considers him to have been a “freedom fighter”. The Irgun, though, was a terrorist organisation which carried out attacks not only against the British Mandate authorities but also Palestinian civilians.
The despicable murders of Abu Khdair and the Dawabsheh family are, therefore, only the tip of the iceberg of rising Jewish terror by which Israeli society has not been stirred sufficiently to call for major action against it by the security forces. I believe that this is part of a concerted effort by Israeli leaders to avoid labelling what they are acts that reasonable people would call terrorism; they want to deny that they have home-grown Jewish terrorists in a state which claims to be in an ongoing fight against terrorism. The Israeli media is also reluctant to use the term terrorist to refer to Jews who carry out violent acts against Palestinians; it prefers “rightists” or “extremists”. Israeli society needs to acknowledge that it has a problem, to understand it and to deal with it.
Writing in Haaretz, Samuel Heilman asks, “Who taught the Jewish radical settler youth to celebrate murder?” when discussing the settler wedding video. “Seeing these Jewish zealots of the hilltop youth and their supporters makes me think that education for incitement and hatred is going on no less in their schools and communities,” he observed. “The same calls that have been heard demanding that the Palestinians change and reform their children’s education if they truly want peace must now be issued in the Jewish community.” I believe that this is the kind of demand that Israelis of all political persuasions should be making in order to understand and then deal with settler hatred and violence.
As settlers develop a terror infrastructure, safe in the knowledge that the state basically condones it, those Israelis who want to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict could soon face settler violence for advocating any evacuation of settlements under a peace agreement. Many of the 600,000 illegal settlers now in East Jerusalem and the West Bank might even join the “price tag” enterprise to delay any evacuations, thus turning Israeli settlers against other Israelis. The Palestinians are already paying a heavy price for Jewish terrorism, but Israelis could also soon be paying a “price tag” for it.
Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He writes here in a personal capacity.
I took part in the Press TV debate on increased extremism and violence within Israeli society. Link here
I was interviewed by Press TV on 22/11/2015
Link can be found here.