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.

Razan perdió su vida; mientras tanto, Nikki Haley perdía su humanidad

Primero publicado en Monitor De Oriente on 5/6/2018

Razan murió como una orgullosa palestina lleno de humanidad y será recordada con el mismo nombre con el que nació. Por el contrario, Nimrata Randhawa, será recordada por su nombre adoptado, Nikki Haley, ocultando su herencia india. Elshamy/Anadolu Agency]

El pasado viernes, 1 de junio, una médico voluntaria palestina, Razan Al Najar, mientras ayunaba, atendía a los heridos en la verja artificial que separa a Gaza de Israel. A miles de kilómetros, la embajadora de Estados Unidos en la ONU, Nikki Haley, maquinaba en nombre de Israel en el organismo internacional. El día acabó con Razan glorificada y convertida en mártir y en Nikki humillada y avergonzada.

Como hacía cada día desde el comienzo de la Gran Marcha del Retorno el 30 de marzo, Razan se despidió de su familia y se dirigió a la frontera, consciente de que sus habilidades serían necesarias para tratar a los palestinos que se disponían a marchar hacia la valla que separa artificialmente a Gaza del resto de la Palestina histórica. Marchan para ejercitar su derecho a regresar a los hogares de los que proceden y de donde las fuerzas israelíes les expulsaron en 1948. Sin duda, los conocimientos médicos de Razan serían necesarios, ya que Israel había decidido desplegar a decenas de francotiradores profesionales para asesinar a palestinos. El número de víctimas ha alcanzado las 119 y más de diez mil heridos; algunas estimaciones elevan esta cifra a más de 13.000.

Una publicación de Facebook – cuya exactitud no puedo verificar – afirma que, en sus últimas palabras, Razan le pidió a su madre que hiciera hojas de parra rellenas para la ruptura del ayuno al anochecer. Se despidió y marchó a encontrarse con sus compañeros médicos en la valla. En aquel momento, Nikki Haley estaría probablemente desayunando antes de dirigirse a la ONU y decidir cómo lidiar con los 15 miembros del Consejo de Seguridad. No había llegado a un acuerdo sobre ninguna declaración respecto a los acontecimientos en la frontera de Gaza desde el comienzo de las marchas, a pesar del alto número de víctimas. Aquel día, el Consejo decidía si respaldar una resolución presentada por Kuwait pidiendo protección para el pueblo palestino, o respaldar una resolución estadounidense condenando a Hamás por una serie de cohetes disparados desde la Franja de Gaza en respuesta a los crímenes israelíes.

Razan, de 20 años, era la mayor de seis hermanos. Tenía un título en enfermería general y había completado unos 38 cursos de primeros auxilios. Aunque no tenía asegurado un trabajo remunerado, se ofrecía como voluntaria en hospitales, ONGS y organizaciones médicas, desarrollando habilidades y experiencia que la convirtieron en una gran ayuda durante la Gran Marcha.

En una entrevista con el The New York Times el mes pasado, Razan explicaba por qué se había ofrecido voluntaria para ayudar en la Gran Marcha del Retorno, sobre todo como mujer. “Ser médico no es sólo un trabajo de hombres”, dijo Razan, “también es de mujeres”.

También atestiguó los momentos finales de algunos heridos de muerte. “Me rompe el corazón que algunos de los jóvenes que resultaron heridos o fueron asesinados me dijeran a mí su última voluntad”, contaba a Al Jazeera. “Algunos incluso me daban objetos suyos [como regalo] antes de morir.”

En una publicación en su cuenta de Facebook el 16 de mayo, Razan negaba las acusaciones de que ella y otros voluntarios habían sido coaccionados para ir a la frontera.

El 1 de junio, un francotirador israelí la disparó por la espalda, según informó la organización activista Al Mezan, citando a testigos oculares y a sus investigaciones. En el momento de recibir el disparo, se encontraba a 100 m. de la valla y llevaba ropas que claramente la identificaban como médico. Su chaleco médico manchado de sangre la acompañó a la tumba durante el funeral masivo que se celebró para ella al día siguiente.

Comparemos los actos humanos y desinteresados de Razan, de 21 años, con oportunidades limitadas de conseguir paz y justicia para su pueblo, con los intentos vergonzosos y descarados de la embajadora Nikki Haley en el Consejo de Seguridad para denegar la protección al pueblo de Razan. Mientras que Kuwait proponía una resolución al Consejo para cumplir su responsabilidad ante un pueblo oprimido y garantizar su protección, Haley proponía una resolución para denunciar a Hamás por los cohetes lanzados contra zonas israelíes tras los ataques y bombardeos mortales de Israel en el enclave asediado.

La votación sobre ambos textos se produjo poco después de la muerte de Razan. Haley no consiguió más votos que el suyo para su resolución; tres países votaron en contra y 11 se abstuvieron. Una total humillación para Estados Unidos y personalmente para Haley que hizo que los analistas revolvieran los registros históricos hasta encontrar otra ocasión en la que una resolución sólo hubiera contado con el apoyo del país que la proponía. En el momento de escribir este artículo, aún no han encontrado ninguna.

Una vez más, Haley quedó aislada cuando Estados Unidos vetó una resolución para proteger a los palestinos. Con su poder en Israel, ha dado la espalda a un pueblo palestino mayoritariamente pacífico que se enfrenta al ejército de Israel, ayudado por el hardware militar de EEUU, con un valor de miles de millones de dólares. En una reunión previa del Consejo respecto a los asesinatos de Israel contra manifestantes palestinos, decidió salir en cuanto su representante comenzó hablar. Supuso una clara violación del protocolo y produjo grandes críticas. Dado su desempeño general como embajadora de los Estados Unidos, el presidente Trump debería despedir a Haley inmediatamente. Ha provocado el aislamiento y la humillación de su país; todo por el bien de un aliado inmerecido, Israel.

El 1 de junio de 2018, Razan perdió su vida mientras Nikki Haley perdía su humanidad al defender las acciones terroristas de un Estado criminal, Israel. Razan murió como una palestina orgullosa, llena de humanidad, y será recordada con el mismo nombre que le pusieron al nacer. Al contrario, Nimrata Randhawa, hija de inmigrantes sij, un día fallecerá y será recordada por su nombre adoptivo, Nikki Haley, con el que oculta su herencia india. Razan será recordada por su voluntariado desinteresado, mientras que Haley será recordada por apoyar y proteger al único Estado de apartheid del mundo.

Razan no podía hacer mucho por cambiar el mundo y conseguir la paz en tierra santa, mientras que Haley, desde una de las oficinas más poderosas de la política mundial, podría haber ayudado a proteger a los palestinos y llevar la paz a la región. Si Razan hubiera tenido un cargo tan alto, el mundo sería un lugar mejor.

Descansa en paz, Razan Al-Najar. Vales más que un millón de Nikki Haleys.

 

 

While Razan lost her life, Nikki Haley lost her humanity

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 3/6/2018

Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations votes during a UN Security Council meeting following the United States, United Kingdom and France attacks on chemical weapons positions in Syria at United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States on 14 April, 2018 [Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency]

Razan died a proud Palestinian full of humanity and will be remembered with the same name she was born with. In contrast, Nimrata Randhawa, will be remembered by her adopted name, Nikki Haley, hiding her Indian heritage. Elshamy/Anadolu Agency]

Last Friday, 1 June, a Palestinian volunteer medic, Razan Al Najar, was fasting and tending to the wounded at Gaza’s artificial fence with Israel. Thousands of miles away, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was scheming on behalf of Israel at the world body. The day ended with martyrdom and glory for Razan and shame and humiliation for Nikki.

Just like she had done since the start of the Great March of Return on 30 March, Razan said goodbye to her family to go to the border, knowing that her skills would undoubtedly be called upon to treat Palestinians planning to march to the fence that artificially separates Gaza from the rest of historic Palestine. They have been marching to exercise their right of return to the homes they and their families hail from and which Israel and its terrorist gangs had expelled them from in 1948 and continued to do since then. Razan’s medical skills would surely be needed because Israel decided to deploy tens of highly trained snipers to kill Palestinians. The number killed has now reached 119, with over ten thousand injured; some estimates put this figure at over 13,000.

File photo of 21-year-old Razan Al-Najar, a volunteer medic in Gaza, killed on June 1, 2018, during the 10th week of the ‘Great March of Return’ protests at the Gaza-Israel border

A post on Facebook whose accuracy I cannot verify says that her last words to her mother were to ask her to cook stuffed vine leaves for her breaking of the fast meal at sunset. She said her goodbyes and left to join her medical colleagues at the fence. Nikki Haley would at that time probably been having her breakfast before heading to the UN to decide how to deal with the 15-member Security Council. It had failed to agree on any statement regarding the events at the Gaza fence since the start of the marches, despite the high number of casualties. The choice for the Council that day was whether to back a resolution tabled by Kuwait calling for protection for the Palestinian people or to back an American resolution condemning Hamas for a volley of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in response to Israeli crimes.

Twenty-one-year-old Razan was the eldest of six siblings. She had a diploma in general nursing and had completed some 38 first aid courses. Although she had not secured paid work, she volunteered in hospitals and with NGOs and medical organisations, building skills and experience that made her an asset when it came to the Great March.

In an interview with The New York Times last month, Razan explained why she had volunteered to help with the Great Return March, especially as a woman. “Being a medic is not only a job for a man,” Razan said. “It’s for women, too.”

She also bore witness to the final moments of some of those who were fatally wounded. “It breaks my heart that some of the young men who were injured or killed made their wills in front of me,” she told Al Jazeera. “Some even gave me their accessories [as gifts] before they died.”

In a post on her Facebook account on the 16 May, Razan denied claims that she and others went to the fence under duress.

On 1 June, she was shot in the back by an Israeli sniper, the human rights group Al Mezan stated, citing eyewitnesses and its investigations. She was100m from the fence the moment she was shot and was wearing clothing which clearly identified her as a medic. Her blood stained medical vest accompanied her to her grave during what was a massive funeral the following day.

Contrast the humane and selfless acts of 21-year-old Razan, with limited opportunities to bring peace and justice to her people, with the shameful and brazen attempts in the Security Council by US Ambassador Nikki Haley to deny another people, Razan’s people, protection from Israeli terror. While Kuwait had brought a resolution to the Council to call on it to fulfil its responsibility to an oppressed people and ensure their protection, Hayley was bringing a resolution to denounce Hamas for the volley of rockets that were launched into other Israeli controlled areas following the deadly attacks at the fence and bombings of the beleaguered enclave.

Votes on the two texts came shortly after Razan’s death. Haley failed to garner any votes for the resolution except her own, with three countries voting against it and 11 abstaining. A complete humiliation for the US and for Haley personally, leaving observers scrambling through historical records to find another occasion when a resolution only had the support of the country proposing it. None were found at the time of writing this piece.

Palestinians attend the funeral ceremony of Razan Ashraf Najjar, 21, a female paramedic who was shot dead by Israeli forces while healing wounded demonstrators during ‘Great March of Return’ protests in Khan Yunis on Friday, in Huzaa neighbourhood of Khan Yunis, Gaza on June 02, 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

Hayley was again isolated when the US vetoed a resolution to protect Palestinians. With her Israel proxy, she had turned her back on a largely unarmed Palestinian people, facing the might of Israel’s military, aided by American military hardware worth billions of dollars. She had walked outof a previous Council meeting on Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters when their representative began to speak. It was a clear breach of protocol which brought heavy condemnation.  Given her overall performance as US ambassador, President Trump should, without delay, sack Hayley. She has brought isolation and disgrace to her country; all for the sake of an undeserving ally, Israel.

On 1 June 2018, Razan lost her life while Nikki Hayley lost her humanity defending the terrorist actions of a rogue state, Israel. Razan died a proud Palestinian full of humanity and will be remembered with the same name she was born with. In contrast, Nimrata Randhawa, the daughter of Sikh immigrants will one day pass away to be remembered by her adopted name, Nikki Haley, hiding her Indian heritage. Razan will be remembered for her selfless volunteering while Hayley will be remembered for her astonishing role, supporting and shielding the world’s only apartheid state.

Razan had little power to change the dynamics and bring peace to the holy land, while Hayley, from one of the most powerful offices in world politics, could have helped protect Palestinians and bring peace to the region. If only Razan had such a high profile office, the world would be a better place.

Rest in peace Razan Al-Najar, you are worth more than a million Nikki Haleys.

112 Palestinians were killed in #Gaza by Israeli forces from 30th March to 15 May 2018

Read more: ow.ly/wwyF30k7j4A

MEMO infographic by The White Canvas …

See more

184

21

130

UNRWA, the US Embassy move and the Israeli occupation

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 24/4/2018

Gazan's gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA's funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Gazan’s gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA’s funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

This will be remembered as the year when the United States of America broke with the international consensus by moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognising the Holy City as the capital of Israel. The deliberate timing of the move to coincide with next month’s 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation in historic Palestine —the Nakba (Catastrophe) — has angered Palestinians whose faith in the US as an honest broker in the peace process has always been low but is now non-existent.

Palestinian anger has been fuelled further by the Trump administration’s removal of references to Palestinian land captured by Israel in 1967 as “occupied” from its latest annual human rights report. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017” broke with previous policy by changing the section on the human rights situation in Israel and Palestine from “Israel and the Occupied Territories” to “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza”. At a stroke, the US State Department has removed reference to the occupation of any land taken by force by Israel in 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights.

US threats of aid cuts - Cartoon [Arabi21News]

It is rather ironic that the report still claims: “Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Such a change runs counter to international law. Washington’s alleged commitment “to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty” can certainly not be seen as applying to the Palestinian people.

This US administration is chipping away shamelessly at the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which they have demanded for 70 years. Trump claims to have taken Jerusalem off the table, that there is no occupation and that the settlements are no longer referred to as “illegal”. This leaves just one more issue to take off the table, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 194 in which it resolved that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

OPINION: The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

There are now 5.5 million Palestinian refugees clinging to this right; the Great March of Return has seen tens of thousands of them marching peacefully to the border area in Gaza to reaffirm it. While they wait for that right to be implemented, they continue to be supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency was established in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for “Palestine refugees in the Near East”. UNRWA began its operations on 1 May 1950 and its services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict. They are delivered in the main countries where the Palestinian refugees continue to live: the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Gaza, UNRWA provides services to refugees who make up 80 per cent of the population.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States. It also receives some core funding from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used mostly for international staffing costs.

READ: UNRWA gets cash injection after US cuts

The agency is facing a funding crisis, exacerbated by the US decision to cut its contribution. 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.

When asked what major changes the US Administration asked of UNRWA to continue its funding, the official spokesman was unable to point to specific requirements. Speaking at a meeting in the British parliament organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, Chris Gunness expressed the agency’s surprise at the defunding given that last November US officials had praised UNRWA’s high impact, accountability and flexibility.

The PRC meeting looked at Britain’s relationship with UNRWA. Gunness praised the government’s ongoing financial support but then set out the problems that the agency is facing, which he described as an “unprecedented financial and existential crisis.” He told the meeting that the Trump administration is actually “defunding UNRWA to the tune of $305 million” having only paid $60m in January when $360m was expected. Despite having already started to procure food and non-food items in the expectation of receiving the full amount from the US, UNRWA was told by the State Department that no more would be forthcoming.

US embassy might be moved to Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Gunness described the scale of UNRWA’s work in numbers: it educates 525,000 children, for example, 270,000 of whom are in Gaza. Its health projects offer 9 million patient consultations a year. It employs 33,000 people, including 22,000 teachers and education staff, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees themselves; this gives a huge boost to the economy in Palestinian refugee camps. It also supports small-scale projects through micro finance. “UNRWA is not a light bulb you can turn on or off,” insisted Gunness. “You cannot just offer a third of an education to half a million children.”

UNRWA’s resources have been stretched by the crisis in Syria, the spokesman pointed out. Additional needs have been generated by the 150,000 Palestinian refugees who were among more than half a million living in Syria to flee to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Gunness warned that even after the recent Rome conference which sought to raise $466 million for UNRWA, only $110m was raised, including $50m from Qatar alone. Although Saudi Arabia subsequently pledged another $50 million, the agency only has sufficient funds to see it through to July of this year.

The real problem, he said, is the lack of a political solution; this is a conversation that the donor community “is not prepared to have. They seem to believe dialogue about reform somehow replaces it, but it does not. Their focus continues to be on how efficient UNRWA is in delivering its services and the rising costs.” The costs are rising, he added, because there has been 70 years of unaddressed dispossession and 50 years of occupation. “That is what drives the bill up. There are more and more refugees because there is an unresolved political plight and the children of refugees have become refugees.” This “protracted refugee situation” also applies to UNHCR.

When asked what would happen to the refugees if UNRWA collapsed, Gunness said, “Palestinian refugees are human beings with rights.” Those rights do not disappear if UNRWA is not around. “Their options will remain as integration wherever they are, third country repatriation or repatriation, which means going home.” He confirmed that the preferred remedy for dealing with refugees by UNHCR is the right of return in that it produces the most stable outcome.

READ: 100 days since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, the facts

Speaking at the same meeting, Oxford-based Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi warned that the US defunding of UNRWA is designed to “dismantle it”. Professor Nabulsi argued that UNRWA was created by the UN following the “dismantlement of our country and destruction of our society” under its watch. “It was,” she reminded the audience, “initially meant to exist for 6 months to a year but with the passing of time, it had become ‘stabilised’.”

The current crisis, she insisted, is more extreme than those previously, “because it goes at the heart of who we are as a people and that we are a people.” UNRWA, she said, “is the only institution that recognises our inalienable rights and our status as refugees and the obligation of the UN to uphold those and protect us. Its demise would be like you have wiped us off the face of the earth.”

She contrasted the reaction to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem with the UNRWA funding cut. There was pushback by the international community, including the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, against the embassy move. “The attack on UNRWA, however, has happened very quietly. Not many people understand it or see how important it is.”

Nabulsi reminded the audience that the US Embassy move, the siege on Gaza and other Israeli policies are classic settler-colonialism, which the Palestinians have experienced for a century. “Colonialism displaces the people and sets up a new country instead. It is a process not an event.”

Nevertheless, Professor Nabulsi finished by sharing a reason for optimism. “Because it is an ongoing event, we have a chance to stop it,” she pointed out. “It is not over.”

The Great March of Return: An opportunity for Palestinians to return to Najd or is it Sedrot?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/3/2018

There is nothing like a trip to Beirut and a visit to Palestinian refugee camps to remind visitors of the nub of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba which refugees continue to endure to this day. They were thrown out of their homeland simply because another people wanted to make it their own and were prepared to use all means possible to have it, regardless of the catastrophic impact this would have on fellow human beings. The Palestinians did not ask to be occupied by the British or the Zionists and did not offer their land for another people, who would?

The 750,000 expelled in 1948 have now grown to nearly six million, most of whom are refugees living in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The others are not formally refugees but like their fellow Palestinians – who are formally refugees according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have an unshakeable connection to historic Palestine and wish to realise their right to return peacefully to their towns and villages in historic Palestine.

In 1948, 100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon. According to UNRWA their numbers grew to an estimated 452,000 by 2015, living in 12 refugee camps. However, a consensus carried out by Lebanon in 2017 reported a much lower figure of 174,000. Asked to explain the difference the Agency’s spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP: “UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon”.  In addition to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the consensus found that 17,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria had also moved into refugee camps in Lebanon as a result of the security situation there.

I am currently in Lebanon and ahead of Land Day, which is marked today, I took the opportunity to visit Sabra and the Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The names are infamous for a massacre that was carried out by Lebanese militia under the watch of the Israeli army during their devastating invasion of Lebanon between 16 and 19 September 1982. Estimates of how many were massacred vary between 800 and 3,500 mostly Palestinian civilians but also some Shias. The man in control of the area was none other than Ariel Sharon who went on to become Israeli prime minister.

I visited the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp last year and was therefore better prepared for what I was about to see than I was last year. To reach the Shatila camp from Sabra, you walk through a busy market which winds its way to the entrance where you are met with Palestinian flags and those of some of the factions. Images of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, abound, though there are far more of the man Palestinians lovingly call Abu Ammar than there are of Abu Mazen.

If you have just come from some of the affluent neighbourhoods in Beirut, entering the camp is like a time warp into a different era. No smart blocks, no wide roads or shops selling designer clothes and certainly no Porsches or Jaguars. Mopeds are the most common means of transport and even they have to occasionally slow down to pass one coming in the other direction. You encounter row upon row of winding alleys hardly large enough for two people to pass at the same time. But it is the electricity cables that hang overhead that characterise the camps. I had hear about them but seeing them is a different thing.

Israel and its supporters would want you to blame Lebanon for the conditions in the camps, which the government acknowledges are desperate. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a “duty” towards Palestinians and acknowledged, “Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels,” However, he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalisation. Hariri knows, neither do they.

They want to return to Palestine and they have a right to return according to UN Resolution 194, which resolved on 11 December 1948 that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

However, Israel has always refused to implement it – as it has countless other UN resolutions – claiming it would spell the end of the state. The international community is also complicit in the plight of the refugees for it has not acted in 70 years to pressure Israel to allow them to return. The Arab countries have also been found wanting. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative –which the Palestinian Authority accepts – lowered the ceiling from the right of all refugees to return to finding a “just solution”. What could be more just than their unconditional return?

The refugees have therefore been left with no alternative but to take matters into their hands. This started in 2011 when, on 15 May, refugees made their way to the border with Israel in a number of bordering countries. In Lebanon, their protests were met with live fire from Israeli border soldiers which resulted in the death of 11 civilians and injuries to 100. Israel’s claimed Lebanese forces shot them.

Frustrated by the lack of progress to deliver their rights, Palestinians are once again on the move to remind the world of this unfinished business, their return. This time they have chosen Land Day and the besieged Gaza Strip to be the theatre for this latest episode in their quest to return, the “Great March of Return”. Figures show that 80 per cent of the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. They include those refugees from Najd, a Palestinian village bordering Gaza that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and on whose land an Israeli settlement was created. It is called Sderot a city that is home to 24,000 Israelis and lies less than a mile from the border. Readers will recognise it as a colony that has received many rockets fired from Gaza and has become part of itinerary of visitors to Israel who stand and sympathise with the residents without giving a second’s though to the Palestinians just across the border on whose land it now exists.

Organisers of the Great March of Return insisted it will be a peaceful procession and that “it is a procession of human right that demands an implementation of the right of return.” according to spokesman Ahmed Abu Rteime. He insisted the Palestinians would only be armed with “the camera and the word” assuring that “there will be no burning of tyres, stone throwing or any confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces”. He said that the protestors would keep a 700 metre distance from the border.

“We are talking about a new style of peaceful resistance. Our goal is to revive our cause politically and peacefully,” said Abu Rteima.

The Israeli army’s response has been typically belligerent warning “these demonstrations might be used as a cover to damage the security infrastructure or harm the Israeli citizens or soldiers.” The Israeli army vowed that its forces would respond with a strong hand against such attempts. Israeli planes dropped leaflets and flyers in Arabic to the eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, warning residents not to approach the borders fence.

Israel, which killed disabled and wheelchair bound Ibrahim Abu Thuraya in December 2017, is certainly prepared to use live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Palestinians will bravely bring their plight to the attention of the world today but those of us looking on from the outside fear for their safety.

Instead of the Israeli army attacking the Palestinian refugees, the residents of Sedrot should be inviting those hailing from Najd to return to their hometown. That would be a much better way to mark Land Day. It would also give great hope to the refugees in Shatila camp and others.

 

Israel, Occidente y la hipocresía

Publicado por primera vez por Monitor de Oriente el 21/3/2018

La actual crisis entre Reino Unido y Rusia nos presenta un ejemplo más de la flagrante hipocresía de Occidente a la hora de lidiar con Israel y, prácticamente, la de todos los demás países. ¿Por qué mencionar a Israel en el caso del intento de asesinato de dos personas en las calles británicas en el que está involucrada Rusia, no Israel? Lo hago para señalar la preocupación repentina por las leyes internacionales que ha reaparecido dentro de los círculos políticos occidentales.

Junto con el secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg, el secretario de Exteriores británico, Boris Johnson, pronunció unas declaraciones acusando a Rusia de utilizar un agente químico militar, y afirmó que ambos tenían claro que “el uso de este agente es una clara violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas y de las leyes internacionales”. Un día antes, declaró en el BBC’s Andrew Marr Show que Rusia llevaba 10 años incumpliendo las leyes internacionales, acumulando reservas del agente químico nervioso. Brendan Lewis, presidente del Partido Conservador, en una entrevista en Pesto on Sunday, también se refirió a las acciones de Rusia como una ruptura con las leyes internacionales.

Johnson fue respaldado por los ministros de Exteriores de la UE, que emitieron un comunicado de apoyo al Reino Unido. “Todo uso [del agente nervioso] supone una violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas, de las leyes internacionales, y del orden reglamentario internacional”, declararon.

Poco después del envenenamiento de Sergei Skripal y su hija, Estados Unidos, Francia, Alemania y Reino Unido emitieron un comunicado conjunto condenando el ataque, que se produjo en la pequeña ciudad inglesa de Salisbury: “Es un ataque contra la soberanía británica, y cualquier uso de este agente por parte de un Estado es una clara violación de la Convención de Armas Químicas y de las leyes internacionales”.

Rusia ha sido acusada antes de saltarse la ley internacional respecto a sus acciones contra Ucrania y a lo que Occidente considera la ocupación de Crimea, que Rusia niega. En marzo de 2017, la Misión Estadounidense en la Organización para la Seguridad y Cooperación en Europa declaró que “Estados Unidos se muestra profundamente preocupado por las constantes violaciones de las leyes internacionales por parte de Rusia y de los principios y compromisos de nuestra misión en Crimea.”

El comunicado también acusó a las autoridades de ocupación rusas de “cometer continuos abusos contra los tártaros de Crimea, los ucranianos étnicos y demás grupos que se oponen a la ocupación rusa de la península”.

Cuando el fallecido Saddam Hussein envió a sus tropas a Kuwait en 1990, la comunidad internacional sólo permitió que esa ocupación durara siete meses. El dictador iraquí había anexionado Kuwait, declarándolo la 19ª provincia de su país. Sin embargo, se formó una coalición de fuerzas de 35 países para liberar Kuwait, con la que se expulsó a los iraquíes a principios de 1991. En aquel entonces, nadie se refirió a la resistencia kuwaití contra la ocupación iraquí como “terrorismo”.

Tanto Irak como Rusia recibieron sanciones por lo que la comunidad internacional consideró actos ilegales en Kuwait y Ucrania, respectivamente. Ahora, hay quien habla de más sanciones impuestas a Rusia tras el ataque en Salisbury. Incluso se ha pedido que el equipo de fútbol inglés boicotee el Mundial de Fútbol de la FIFA, que se celebrará en Rusia este verano. Respondiendo a una pregunta formulada en la Cámara de los Comunes, Boris Johnson declaró ante sus compañeros diputados que si Rusia está implicada, “será complicada una representación normal de Reino Unido en el Mundial”.

En Occidente, muchos se preguntan cómo Rusia puede seguir ocupando un asiento como miembro permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, gracias al cual tiene permitido ejercer un veto cuando lo desee. Eso significa que puede rechazar cualquier resolución que critique a Moscú o a sus aliados, o incluso que simplemente considere imponer sanciones contra, por ejemplo, el gobierno sirio por sus acciones.

Aquí nos encontramos con la hipocresía de Occidente, que parece estar dispuesto a todo con tal de otorgar a Israel una protección especial ante las críticas o ante sanciones, a pesar de llevar 50 años ejerciendo una ocupación ilegal de territorios palestinos, sirios y libaneses, y 70 llevando a cabo una limpieza étnica del pueblo palestino. Al igual que Rusia e Irak, Israel ha anexionado tierras ocupadas ilegalmente, incluidos Jerusalén Oriental y los Altos del Golán.

Estados Unidos ha criticado duramente a Rusia por utilizar su veto respecto a Siria e Irán. En 2015, la entonces embajadora estadounidense en la ONU, Samantha Power, afirmó que los vetos rusos “ponen en peligro la legitimidad del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU”. Su sucesora, Nikki Hayley, llegó a amenazar con que, si Rusia continúa utilizando su veto, Estados Unidos tendría que tomar medidas unilaterales en Irán. Hayley hizo esta advertencia después de que Rusia vetara una resolución que condenaba a Irán por violar un embargo de armas a los líderes hutíes en Yemen. La hipocresía particular de EEUU reside en su propio uso del poder del veto en 43 ocasiones para apoyar a Israel. En la última ocasión, lo usó para protegerse de las críticas contra su propia decisión de reconocer Jerusalén como la capital del Estado sionista en diciembre del año pasado. Esto no incluye todas las veces que la amenaza del veto estadounidense ha resultado en que ni siquiera se haga una votación respecto a las resoluciones en el Consejo de Seguridad, entre ellas una ocasión en la que la OLP intentó conseguir el reconocimiento de Palestina como Estado en 2014.

La hipocresía de Reino Unido se refleja en su apoyo a las sanciones contra el régimen de Saddam Hussein en Irak y contra Rusia, pero su absoluta negativa a la hora de considerar sancionar a Israel por cualquiera de sus acciones, incluida su ocupación colonial y sus asentamientos ilegales, los crímenes de guerra y crímenes contra la humanidad de los que ha sido acusado. Reino Unido se ha opuesto a todo boicot o sanción contra un Estado acusado de Apartheid por un informe de la CESPAO que fue retirado bajo presión de Estados Unidos e Israel.

Importantes miembros del gobierno británico y de los Amigos Conservadores de Israel trabajan horas extra para proteger a Israel. El secretario de Medio Ambiente, Michael Gove, para su total desgracia, describió como “antisemita” al movimiento pacífico de Boicot, Desinversiones y Sanciones (BDS), cuyo objetivo es presionar a Israel para que cumpla las leyes internacionales. Gove ha llegado a pedir a Reino Unido que desplace su embajada a Jerusalén, algo que violaría todas las leyes y convenciones internacionales.

Ahora, el Reino Unido ha indicado que, probablemente, no enviará a miembros de la familia real al Mundial de Rusia, pero ha anunciado que el príncipe William – segundo en la línea de sucesión del trono – hará una visita oficial a Israel este año, a pesar de la ocupación ilegal que ejerce el país en terreno palestino, su anexión ilegal de Israel, su muro de apartheid y su asedio ilegal de Gaza, que constituye un castigo colectivo y, por lo tanto, se trata de un crimen de guerra.

Por lo tanto, los palestinos y sus partidarios tienen muchas razones para increpar a la comunidad internacional por su hipocresía a la hora de tratar con Israel, cuyas acciones ilegales y violaciones de la ley internacional han sido constantes durante sus 70 años de existencia. Recuerden esto la próxima vez que un político occidental defienda las rupturas de Israel de las leyes como un “acto de defensa propia”. Es el único país del mundo al que los miembros permanentes del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU y demás países de Occidente proporcionan una inmunidad excepcional.

Israel, the West and shameless hypocrisy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2018

UK British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson [Financial Times/Flickr]

The current crisis between Britain and Russia offers yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Israel and almost any other country. Why bring Israel into the attempted murder of two people on the streets of Britain in which Russia, not Israel is implicated? I do so because of the sudden regard for international law that has resurfaced in Western political circles.

Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russia of using military-grade nerve agent and stated that the two were clear, “that the use of such agent is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a flagrant breach of international law.” A day earlier, he claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had been in breach of international law for the past 10 years because it had been stockpiling nerve agent during that period. Conservative Party chairman Brendan Lewis, speaking on Peston on Sunday, also referred to Russia’s action as being in breach of international law.

Johnson was backed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers who adopted a statement of support for Britain. “Any such use [of nerve agent] is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

Shortly after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the US, France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place in the small English city of Salisbury: “It is an assault on UK sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.”

Accusations that Russia has been in breach of international law have in the past related to its action against the Ukraine and what the West sees as its occupation of Crimea, which Russia disputes. In March 2017, the US Mission in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that, “The United States remains deeply concerned about ongoing Russian violations of international law and defiance of OSCE principles and commitments in Crimea.”

The statement further accused the Russian occupation authorities of “continuing to commit serious abuses against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all others who oppose Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.”

When the late Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990, the international community only allowed that occupation to stand for seven months. The Iraqi dictator had annexed Kuwait, declaring it to be his country’s 19th province. However, a coalition of forces from 35 countries was formed to free Kuwait, which ejected the Iraqis in early 1991. No one then talked of the Kuwaiti resistance against Iraq’s occupation as “terrorism”.

Both Iraq and Russia faced sanctions for what the international community regarded as illegal acts in Kuwait and Ukraine respectively. There is talk now about further sanctions against Russia following the attack in Salisbury. There are even calls for the English football team to boycott the FIFA World Cup, due to take place in Russia this summer. Responding to a question in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told fellow MPs that if Russia is implicated then he thought it would be “difficult to see how UK representation at the World Cup can go ahead in the normal way.”

Some in the West are questioning how Russia can continue to hold a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to wield a veto whenever it chooses. This, it is argued, means it can vote down any resolution that criticises Moscow or its allies, or even considers imposing sanctions on, say, the Syrian government for its actions.

Here, then, is the hypocrisy of the West, which seems hell-bent on singling Israel out for exceptional protection from criticism or meaningful sanctions despite its 50-year long illegal occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, and its 70-year ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Just like Russia and Iraq, Israel has annexed illegally-occupied land, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The US has been severely critical of Russia for its use of the veto when it comes to Syria and Iran. In 2015, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, claimed that Russian vetoes were “putting the UN Security Council’s legitimacy at risk.” Her successor Nikki Hayley even threatened that if Russia continues to use its veto then the US may have to take unilateral action against Iran. This was after Russia vetoed a resolution that had been watered down from a condemnation of Iran for violating an arms embargo on Houthi leaders in Yemen to “noting with particular concern”.The particular hypocrisy of the US lies in its own use of the veto power on 43 occasions in support of Israel, the last of which was against criticism of its own action in recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Zionist state in December last year. This does not include the number of times that the threat of the US using its veto resulted in resolutions not even making it to a Security Council vote, including an attempt by the PLO to secure recognition of Palestine as a state in 2014.

Britain’s hypocrisy can be demonstrated in its support for sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its support for sanctions against Russia but its absolute refusal to consider sanctioning Israel for any matter, including its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK has actually worked to oppose any boycott or sanction against a state that stands accused of Apartheid by an ESCWA report which was sanctioned by the UN but was then taken down under pressure from the US and Israel.

Prominent members of the British government and long-established members of Conservative Friends of Israel work overtime to shield Israel. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to his utter disgrace, labelled the peaceful and moral Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to pressure Israel to comply with international law, as “anti-Semitic”. Gove has even called for Britain to move its Embassy to Jerusalem in a move that would be against international laws and conventions.

Britain has now indicated that it might not send members of the Royal family to the World Cup in Russia but has announced that Prince William — second in line to the throne — will make an official visit to Israel this year despite its continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, its Apartheid Wall and its illegal siege on Gaza which has been said to constitute collective punishment and is thus a war crime.

Palestinians and their supporters, therefore, have ample reason to call out the international community for its hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with Israel, whose illegal actions and breaches of international law have accompanied its whole 70-year existence. Remember this fact the next time that a Western politician defends Israel’s breaches of international law as “acts of self-defence”. It is the only country in the world to which the permanent members of the UN Security Council and others in the West grant such exceptional immunity.