How the US is sidelining Palestinian refugees

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/8/2018

Dual approach involves starving UNRWA of funding and trying to strip Palestinians of their refugee status

There are indications that a truce between Hamas and Israel is close to being concluded, bypassing the Palestinian Authority.

The main commercial access point to Gaza, Kerem Shalom crossing, has been reopened after a period of closure amid recent heightened tensions. But whatever short-term relief this provides for Palestinians in Gaza will not address Palestinians’ long-term demands.

The US continues to work on a “peace plan” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without the input of Palestinians. Elements have already been implemented, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the defunding of services for Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Concealing the occupation

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has also been arguing that there is no illegal occupation. He wrote to the State Department last December, asking it to drop the terms “occupation” and “Israeli-occupied territories”.

He suggested using the term “West Bank,” which he described as “more neutral”. Friedman is a major donor to the the illegal settlement of Beit El and serves as president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the US fundraising arm of a number of institutions in the illegal settlement. He is also known to be against the two-state solution.

It was noticeable that the State Department’s 2017 human rights report replaced references to the “occupied territories” with “Israel,” “Golan Heights,” “West Bank” or “Gaza”.

Friedman does not recognise Palestinian refugees’ right of return, enshrined in  UN Resolution 194. His personal view is that “the goal ought to be to enable them to acclimate and to enter society in wherever they landed”.

Friedman prefers the UNHCR definition, which does not refer to the descendants of refugees, to the UNRWA definition, which states that “the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration”.

UNRWA began operations in 1950 in response to the needs of about 750,000 Palestinian refugees; today, more than five million are eligible for its services.

‘Existential crisis’

The US appears to have turned its focus to “disappearing” Palestinian refugees from the issues to be resolved. But how can the Americans do this, while still appearing to offer a “deal of the century”?

What is emerging is a dual approach, which involves both starving UNRWA of needed funds and removing the issue of refugees altogether. Both are demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has argued that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue.

The US has gone along with this by slashing $300m in funding to the agency. In a radio interview last month, spokesperson Sami Mushasha said UNRWA was facing an “existential crisis“. An effort to raise additional funds, including conferences in Rome and New York, has still left the agency with a deficit of more than $200m, although concerns that Palestinian schools would not open in September have been allayed.

Palestinian refugees and Bedouins receive medical checkups and aid from UNRWA in the occupied West Bank on 9 August 2018 (AFP)

According to Mushasha, the emergency budget for Gaza and the West Bank had almost “disappeared overnight” because of the US cuts. Only life-saving food provisions to Palestinian refugees in Gaza would be funded. UNRWA, which employs 13,000 staff in the occupied Palestinian territories, has cut 113 positions in Gaza and 154 in the West Bank. In the ensuing protests, one Gaza man tried to set himself on fire.

But UNRWA has survived, which could be why the US special envoy for the Middle East, Jared Kushner, has been looking for ways to strip refugees of their status. In internal emails to senior US administration officials, Kushner said: “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

Right of return

According to an article in Foreign Policy, Palestinian officials revealed that Kushner pressed Jordan in June “to strip its more than two million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there”.

Ali Huweidi, the general manager of a Lebanon-based refugee rights organisation, told MEE that Jordan’s Palestinian refugees make up more than 40 percent of the refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation. If the agency were to cease providing these services, he said, Palestinian refugees would be transferred to UNHCR, which “would then seek to resettle Palestinian refugees in third countries. Once they are granted citizenship, their status as refugees falls.”

Both Jordan and Lebanon have rejected moves to transfer the provision of services for Palestinian refugees from UNRWA to host governments. Huweidi noted that Jordan views the agency as “an important strategic partner”. Lebanese officials have also indicated that the state could not take on UNRWA’s role, particularly in the areas of education and health.

The Palestinian refugees I met on a recent trip to Lebanon all told me that they would not accept anything short of a return to their homes, a sentiment echoed by those participating in Gaza’s Great March of Return. Only then will peace come to the holy land.

How the US and Israel are working to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state

First published by the Middle East Eye on 26/7/2018

Trump’s team is focusing on how to force the Palestinians in Gaza – and Hamas – to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery

PALESTINIAN-GAZA-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-PROTEST

The heat is on – again – in Gaza, as Israel tightens its siege and continues to kill and maim at will. If the two million Palestinians in the world’s largest prison camp – Gaza – were seen as humans by the world, the 11-year-long immoral siege on the tiny slither of land would be lifted immediately.

Israel controls all access to the strip by land and sea, while Egypt joins in by regularly closing the Rafah crossing, denying the imprisoned population the right to the free movement in and out of their country that we all enjoy. There is no justification for Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing.

Vital means of life

The main commercial access from Israel, the Kerem Shalom crossing, was suddenly closed by Israel on 9 July, denying the strip of the vital means of life, including fuel, which powers the electricity generating station, reducing the supply of electricity to at most six hours a day. The distance fishermen could sail within to catch their fish was also reduced from six to three nautical miles.

Palestinians are forced to buy drinking water at six times the standard rate from private companies because, according to experts, 97 percent of the water is contaminated by sewage and/or salt.

Israel partially opened the crossing through which it “will be possible to transfer gas and fuel into the Gaza Strip, in addition to food and medicine”. However, fish swimming more than three nautical miles off the shore of Gaza remain safe.

Gaza’s residents continue to bury their dead, with over 150 now killed since the start of the peaceful Great Return March four months ago, shot or bombed by Israel at the fence that separates them from their homes, from which they were forcibly transferred in 1948.

Back in 2015, the United Nations

warned that Gaza may become uninhabitable in 2020. That is less than 18 months away but a quick search on the internet reveals no attempt to rehabilitate it or – as I wrote recently – to rescue its children.

Sinai-map (1)

The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza has also been exacerbated by the continuing Palestinian division which shows no sign of ending. Recent months have even seen the Palestinian National Authority imposing sanctions on Gaza in an effort to yield concessions from Hamas.

Price of geopolitical change

The changing geopolitical situation in the Arab world is also piling pressure on the Palestinians to accept what Arab leaders know the Palestinians could not accept as a resolution to their struggle for freedom, justice and equality. A resolution that is being cooked up between Tel Aviv and Washington.

In short, Gaza seems to be under constant attack as US President Trump’s team develop the “ultimate deal” to bring peace to the holy land while laying all the blame for a lack of peace at the door of Hamas and none at Israel’s door.

Any objective assessment of causes of the current situation would conclude that it is the lack of a just resolution to the conflict rather than the actions of Hamas or any other faction that causes the instability. Israel continues to illegally occupy the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and people under occupation have every right to resist until this occupation ends.

Efforts to end the conflict through US-sponsored talks have thus far failed to bring the justice and security the Palestinians deserve, 71 years after Israel was created in their homeland and against their will. There are no signs that the current “dream team” put together by Trump to bring peace to historic Palestine will succeed.

They are committed Zionists and firm supporters of Israeli policies, including the settlement enterprise. Jared Kushner is an assistant and senior adviser to Trump. Jason Greenblatt is an assistant to the president and special US representative for international negotiations. David Friedman is US ambassador to Israel. Each of them qualifies for Israeli citizenship.

The Zionist trio wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which, rather than setting out their vision for peace for the whole of historic Palestine, focused solely on Gaza and was essentially an attack on Hamas for Gaza’s ills, laying no blame at Israel’s door.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May 2018 (AFP)

In fact, it is revealing that their article made no mention of any of the ingredients which the international community has largely agreed would lead to peace, including a halt to settlement activity, a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a just resolution to the refugee issue.

The Republic of Gaza?

Clearly, the Nation State Bill, passed into law on 19 July and which claims the land of Israel as the Jewish homeland, giving any Jew from any part of the world a right to move to Israel, has helped focus the Trump team’s work on Gaza.

Working in cahoots with Israel, it seems Trump’s team is leaving issues related to the West Bank to Israel and focusing on how to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state or perhaps more clearly the Republic of Gaza.

Israeli hardliners will never accept the emergence of a state called Palestine but they could live with a label such as Gaza, perhaps expanded with land from the Sinai. While Israel would love to have the land of Gaza back as part of Israel, it would not want to have the two million Palestinians that inhabit it back with it.

The rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which Zionists call Judea and Samaria, is off the table. While Israel will continue to consider ways of emptying these areas – and indeed areas inside the Green Line – of the indigenous Palestinians, that is a longer term headache that it can work to resolve, including by transferring them to Jordan.

In simple terms, if Hamas could be removed or convinced to accept the Trump deal, economic peace would come to Gaza.

The level of naivety demonstrated by the Trump trio should not surprise anyone, as it is a true reflection of the dearth of experience in politics or diplomacy that their CVs reveal.

Their politics come straight off Netanyahu’s desk, where – seemingly – the “ultimate deal” was drafted, just like the US policy on the Iran nuclear deal before it. Their diplomacy appears restricted to how they can convince the Gulf states to pay for the economic peace they think they can deliver.

Supremacist ideology

While the “ultimate deal” has not been released, elements of it have already been implemented: the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the death of any meaningful two-state solution, and the threat to declassify the descendants of Palestinian refugees coupled with the systematic closure of the UN refugee agency.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is under attack because the Israelis believe it “perpetuates” the conflict. In January, the State Department announced that it was withholding $65m out of its $125m interim aid package earmarked for UNRWA stating that “additional US donations would be contingent on major changes” by the agency.

UNRWA-Gaza-Reuters

Palestinian employee of UNRWA hold a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Gaza City on Monday (Reuters)

Downsizing its operations to deal with the resulting deficit UNRWA faces was cited as the reason for the dismissal of hundreds of workers in the agency’s emergency programme. This has led to major protests by UNRWA’s workers and one worker threatening to burn himself.

Gaza’s beleaguered economy can hardly take another hit with UNRWA job losses and a reduction in its programmes, which provide vital sustenance, health and educational services.

As the Freedom Flotilla makes its way gingerly to the Gaza shores to bring basic medical supplies and solidarity with the Palestinian people, Israel and America are working to force the Palestinians and Hamas to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery.

The naive American trio will find that their immoral plans will fail as many before them have. Therefore, if they want a place in history as those who brought peace to historic Palestine, they need to come round to realising that once they see Palestinians as a whole, and those in Gaza in particular, as human beings with equal rights to Jews and others and not as a demographic threat to Zionism, peace is very possible.

For the sake of peace that we all crave, it is not Hamas or Fatah that need to go, but the supremacist ideology of Zionism.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinians prepare to set fire on an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza city, on 13 April, 2018 (AFP)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel as a violent entity

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

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

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

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

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

Immovable Hamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mirage of the ‘ultimate deal’

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

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

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

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

A challenge for Trump: Pull out of the UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support from Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haley’s ‘extraordinary’ letter

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Accountability gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

US veto is Israel’s veto

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

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

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

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

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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

 

Six million Palestinians are a fact Trump and Netanyahu can’t ignore forever

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/6/2018

Abandoned by the world, Palestinians could find strength in demographics

The political climate is ripe for Israel to achieve, in only a matter of months, victories it would once have only dreamed of attaining over a number of decades. The primary reason for this? Donald Trump.

During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House in February 2017, the US president dismissed longstanding policy on the political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one… As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

With regards to the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, he said at the time: “I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care – great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens. Okay?”

Two-state solution

All of the above is contrary to international law and longstanding international consensus. The international community’s long-time position has called for a two-state solution with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital, and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.

Trump’s key advisers, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt, have collected thousands of air miles on trips to the region, mostly to Israel and Palestine – but also to key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Visits to Palestine were a smokescreen.

It appears that instead of working on a just peace deal, Trump’s team was working on ways to implement, one step at a time, Netanyahu’s vision for “peace”. A crucial prerequisite was to convince key Gulf states that to secure US support against the Iranian threat, they had to befriend or deepen their friendship with Netanyahu.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE obliged. While the two Gulf states publicly distanced themselves from any dialogue with Israel, clandestine engagements were taking place – facilitated, it seems, by Kushner. Far from the Palestinian issue remaining front and centre of the Arab world’s agenda, Trump’s team managed to convince them that it was an impediment to their plans.

They began to deliver for Trump and Netanyahu within months of the American president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which was about telling the Arab and Muslim world that he was boss. The chequebooks were out, with billions promised on the spot. Shortly after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went there too, to be told to accept Trump’s deal.

Silence of Arab leaders

The Arab regimes also acceded to Trump’s demand that they contain the anger of the Arab street when he announced his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there. Again, they obliged. Yes, there were demonstrations, but there was no significant individual or collective action either by the Arab or Muslim world. “The sky’s still up there. It hasn’t fallen,” beamed Nikki Haley, US representative to the UN.

Even when the move coincided with Israel’s 70th anniversary of what it calls its independence – which the Palestinians call the Nakba – and when more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, Arab leaders were silent save for cursory condemnations.

Donald and Melania Trump with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP/Saudi royal palace/Bandar al-Jaloud)

Guatemala and Honduras followed the US lead, as was expected – and again, not a whisper from the Palestinian people’s historical backbone. The UK and most EU states took what appeared to be a principled stand and boycotted – though they would not describe it as that – the opening of the US embassy. But that stance turned out to be only symbolic, as the UK’s Foreign Office confirmed that British officials would meet their US counterparts in the embassy. While the EU has not officially announced its stance on using the embassy, it would be surprising to see it break away and stand up to the US.

Netanyahu can tick off one of the main goals he wanted to achieve, and which Trump has delivered: US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He can mark as a “work in progress” the elimination of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, which Trump is attacking through the defunding of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

In US ambassador David Friedman, Israel has an ally on the ground. He is working hard to erase the term “occupation” from the State Department’s vocabulary, claiming that settlements amount to less than two percent of the West Bank. It seems that no one in the administration sees these settlements as illegal; Greenblatt believes they are not an obstacle to peace.

A race against time

In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump gave substantial weight to facts on the ground, and almost no weight to international law. This is music to the ears of Israeli politicians, for whom international law is an inconvenience. With a US president prepared to ignore the law and longstanding agreements, Israeli politicians are pushing ahead with new demands to recognise more facts on the ground.

They appear to be in a race against time to extract as much as they can while Trump and his pro-Israel team are in office. Next on the list of demands is US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz claimed that the subject was “topping the agenda” in talks with the Trump administration. He used the Iran card to justify this, saying: “The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognise Israel’s Golan sovereignty with an American statement, a presidential proclamation.”

If all that was not enough, perhaps the biggest prize would be recognition of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque and US support for the building of a Jewish temple on the site. A stake has been placed in the ground, with the image of a beaming Freidman being presented with a poster showing the compound with a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. While the US embassy dismissed the significance of the image, Friedman’s record thus far has been staunchly pro-Israel and unconventional to say the least.

Non-violent resistance

Faced with all this and an ailing president devoid of any meaningful strategy, what are Palestinians to do? The Palestinian Authority could take former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice to “hold on and be strong”, and not yield to Trump’s demands.

They could finally begin the process of bringing Israeli leaders to account for crimes committed against Palestinians through the International Criminal Court, which would take time, and might well not end in success. They could also escalate their non-violent resistance, taking encouragement from the Great March of Return.

The most troubling facts on the ground for Israel, however, are the Palestinians – every one of the six million who remain in historic Palestine, plus the collective memory and attachment of the other six million in the diaspora. It may feel it is winning with Trump’s support, but it is losing the demography.

Unlike Israeli leaders, I see human beings as individuals, not numbers in a political game. However, in the absence of justice for Palestinians through traditional peaceful means, perhaps their numbers in historic Palestine constitute a winning card.

How about a national Palestinian strategy for strengthening their hand with more babies? More demographic facts on the ground will eventually “trump” Israel and Trump’s recognition of Israeli facts on the ground.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Protesters waving Palestinian flags stamp on burning prints of US flags and President Donald Trump during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on 15 May 2018 (AFP)

70 years of Nakba: Why can’t Palestinians walk home?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/5/2018

All who are interested in peace in historic Palestine must remember that we did not choose our occupiers; they chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, and we paid with our lives and rights

I would not be writing these words today if Israel had not been created in my homeland, Palestine, against the will of indigenous Palestinians. I might instead be writing to celebrate the independence of a democratic Palestine in which indigenous Jews, Christians and Muslims lived as equals, building the country together after the end of the British Mandate. Palestine would be a full member of the United Nations; it might even have been allowed to enter the Eurovision song contest and won.

Had Israel been created in Wales instead, against the will of Welsh people, I might be writing in solidarity as they commemorated their trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”). Thankfully for the great Welsh people, they were spared the creation of Israel in their homeland and the expulsion of their people to neighbouring countries.

Atrocious massacres

Palestinians are again in mourning, commemorating 70 years since their catastrophe, which resulted from the creation of Israel in their homeland. They are still seeking their legitimate rights, principally their right to return home.

Many words will be written about what happened in the lead-up to, and during, the Nakba. Those seeking to justify Zionist crimes will argue that it was the victims’ fault for fleeing their homeland, rather than the reality that they were driven out, many at gunpoint, seeking refuge from Zionist Jewish terror. Yes, it was Zionist Jewish terror that deliberately drove Palestinians away from Jerusalem, Yaffa, Haifa and Akka, along with villages such as Deir Yassin and Qibya, the scenes of atrocious massacres by Zionist terrorists.

Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return

Palestinians are not the first or only people to flee for their lives. You need only look at Syrians today to see what human beings do in order to survive and to ensure the safety of their children. They take whatever possessions they can carry and run, but always with the expectation to return once the violence ends.

Nobody would deny the Syrian people their absolute right to return to the homes they left, and if they were destroyed, they would be helped to rebuild them. The outcome of what happened in 1947-48 was a catastrophe, which non-Palestinians could only truly understand if it happened to them.

Denying the Nakba

The population of my city of residence, Birmingham, is 1.1 million – almost that of the entire Palestinian population that inhabited historic Palestine in 1948. I can imagine the catastrophe that Brummies (what residents of Birmingham are lovingly called) would have felt had more than half of that population been terrorised into leaving their beloved city, with most never being allowed to return, as their homes were handed over to non-Brummies. Their lives in Birmingham would have become memories overnight, while the trauma of their dispossession would have been carried through generations.

I have no doubt that Mancunians, Geordies, Liverpudlians and Londoners would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Brummies until they were allowed to return, welcoming them into their homes as they sought refuge from their tormenters.

Israeli security forces stand guard during a protest organised by Palestinians on 10 May 2018 (AFP)

This analogy can be applied to any group of people expelled by another group. However, what is different here is that the wrong committed by Zionism, and then by Israel, has never been righted. Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return.

Israel has neither given all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea equal rights, nor accepted the creation of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders to end its occupation, considered illegal under international law. In fact, it denies there is an occupation in any part of historic Palestine.

Israel has annexed territories it occupies illegally, including East Jerusalem, and has sought recognition of the whole of the holy city as its capital, rather than accepting that it could be the capital of Israel and Palestine. It continues to build illegally in the occupied territories and is considering legalising outposts it has thus far considered illegal.

Demonising Palestinians

Israel has continued its siege on Gaza, now in its 11th year. It controls all access to historic Palestine, including access to the occupied territories, and has implemented a policy to deny entry to human rights activists and campaigners who have supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Having failed to silence criticism of its policies, it has cynically sought to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Most significantly, perhaps, Israel has sought to demonise Palestinians. It portrays us as a lesser people, with violence as part of our DNA – a bunch of terrorists with limited intelligence. That, to me, is the most abhorrent of all the abhorrent actions Israel has taken against us since its creation.

What is troubling is that supposedly civilised westerners who claim they fight for equality and human rights, including those holding the highest offices of state, have adopted this narrative, or at least continue to support Israel despite the facts that are there for all to see.

While people across the globe sympathise with Palestinians and understand Israel’s crimes, the political elite refuse to represent their citizens and continue to support Israel when, had its actions been committed against their own citizens or against Jews, they would not rest until it was punished.

How can anyone explain to Palestinians the stance of the US in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s, but not Palestine’s, capital? How can western leaders support Israel’s claim to self-defence when it kills and maims thousands of Palestinians in major wars against Gaza, or the daily trickle of killings in the West Bank?

International silence

The world’s silence as Israeli snipers used sophisticated weapons, including some supplied by the West, to pick off Palestinian civilians one by one as they marched to return home through the Gaza border has been deafening. The silence in the face of the deaths and injuries of medics and journalists has been particularly galling.

I remind all who are interested in peace in historic Palestine that we did not choose our occupiers. They chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, but one that had a people – my people, Palestinians who have paid with their land, lives and rights.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district

Seventy years after the Nakba, Palestinians decided they could not wait any longer. Enough is enough. It was time to go home, and that was the reason for the Great Return March. If the refugees did go home, Gaza would no longer be the most densely populated place on earth; its population of two million would fall to 400,000, as 80 percent of its residents are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine.

They would not need large sums of money to be repatriated. They could simply walk to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948.

The Palestinians want to return in a climate of peace. It is in their interest and would be in compliance with UN Resolution 194. The existing residents would also need help to accept justice and 194. In most cases the houses were demolished and other houses built on their site. Clearly, negotiations  would need to take place to find a long term resolution that both sides agree to.

Take the example of Najd, a village just 14km north of Gaza City, whose population of 700 Palestinians was expelled in May 1948 by the Negev Brigade. Its inhabitants fled to Gaza. On its land, the Israelis built Sderot, a town that now has a population of 24,000.

Israeli officials take foreign dignitaries to show them the remains of “rockets” fired from Gaza that landed in or around the town, but they do not mention that they are actually standing on land that was once Najd, before it was ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A girl raises a Palestinian flag as a boy holds a wooden key symbolising return at the Gaza border on 13 May 2018, during a demonstration commemorating the Nakba (AFP)

US embassy move is a day of mourning and a warning

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/5/2018

As Trump celebrates the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel should recognise that the next generation of Palestinians will never stop fighting back

The vultures are circling again, this time on a mission to take another bite out of Palestine’s heart, Jerusalem, 70 years after savaging her to create Israel and in the process driving any remaining doves of peace into the sea.

As Israel celebrates on Monday the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump believes that by doing so, the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom will be dealt the final fatal blow, forcing them to accept that it will never happen.

Failure to acknowledge the Nakba

The “leader of the free world” is sending his son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner; his special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt; and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, with Ambassador David Friedman to mark the embassy move and Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. All four – including his daughter, who converted to Judaism – would qualify for Israeli citizenship. Their hearts and minds are all firmly on Israel’s side.

To them, like the original Zionists who decided that Palestine would be theirs, indigenous Palestinians are at best an inconvenience and at worst a violent people driven by an inexplicable hatred towards their invaders and oppressors.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery

If Trump’s team had any morals or feelings for the Palestinian people, they would join them in commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, a day later. Neither they nor their hosts have acknowledged the wrongs done to Palestinians or shown any sensitivity towards them. The rush to move the embassy to coincide with the Israeli celebrations was deliberate, calculated and humiliating.

Palestinians can be excused for taking this to mean that far from wanting to see them attain their legitimate rights, they just hate them.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians by force in two stages: the western part in 1948 and the east in 1967. Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, yet it continues to keep it by force.

Its status as illegally occupied was reconfirmed by the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and UNESCO in 2017.

Israel’s facts on the ground

If Trump was genuine about finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to help the two sides peacefully share the land, he could have announced that the US recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

He could have subjected this to a set of conditions, including that the city must remain undivided, that illegal settlement-building must stop and be reversed, and that changes to the demography and Israel’s Judaisation policy must cease.

Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more ‘reality’ he will recognise

He could then have set a date by which a Palestinian state would be created on 1967 borders and a resolution reached to all outstanding issues between the two sides in accordance with international law.

Instead, Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more “reality” he will recognise. Only the staunchest supporters of Israel in his administration could have convinced him that this decision would bring peace any closer.

People walk near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street on 11 May 2018 (AFP)

The international community (minus the US and Israel) rejected his decision, both in statements and at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. However, it has taken no action to pressure Israel to return to genuine peace negotiations.

Trump’s decision unleashed anger and protests in every corner of the world, but the reality is that the protests could not be sustained beyond the initial few weeks after the announcement, and the anger has not been channelled into a strategy by Palestinians or their supporters to reverse it.

Entrenching the occupation

The decision, however, helped to precipitate the peaceful Great March of Return, in which Palestinians in Gaza camped at the fence separating them from the homes from which they were violently driven through Zionist Jewish terror in 1948. Palestinians once again reminded the world that they are still waiting to return to the parts of Mother Palestine from which they were expelled 70 years ago. They will never give up this right, whatever facts on the ground Israel creates.

Israel continues to deny them this right by force, with peaceful protesters, journalists and medics being gunned down by Israeli snipers who are heavily protected and hundreds of metres away. It will take whatever it gets, whenever it can, to entrench its occupation, and it will continue to oppress Palestinians and build on their land until the Zionist project is complete.

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Palestinians face reckoning with US administration in a shifting Middle East

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion thought that “the old will die and the young will forget” when asked what to do with those Palestinians who remained. Well, the old died, as did he, but the young have not forgotten.

Their unshakeable connection to every inch of Mother Palestine has been handed down from one generation to the next. Israel has to deal not only with the six million who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but another six million refugees who yearn for return. That is a reality that Trump does not understand, but the Israelis do, and they are continuously troubled by it.

Resistance lives on

Both of my parents were born in Jerusalem. My father has passed away; my mother is still alive, but has no right to return to her town of birth. A Jewish lady from any part of the world, with no connection to her city, can decide to move to Jerusalem today and be welcomed by Israel and given citizenship, but my mother can’t.

Peace will come to the holy land when my mother can return, and when Jewish Israelis see Palestinians as human beings like them with rights, and not inferior beings.

Trump’s US embassy move is a day of mourning for Mother Palestine, but also a day of warning to Israel that a younger Palestinian generation will take the baton to keep hope alive and resist until Palestinians attain their rights, living peacefully with all in their historic homeland, and Jerusalem is freed from the colonialist vultures.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A Palestinian protester stands over cartoons of US President Donald Trump and pictures of him defaced with a blue Star of David during a demonstration in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 20 December, 2017 (AFP)