No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel 

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/5/2017

Israeli security forces break up Palestinian protests organised to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, in Ramallah, West Bank on April 23, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

As Palestinians mark a number of key, painful anniversaries in 2017, Israel is busy with not ending the occupation, but entrenching it and crying wolf claiming to be the victim in the decades-old conflict.

The Palestinians recently marked the 69th anniversary of the massacre of Deir Yassin in which tens of Palestinians were slaughtered by Zionist terror groups. They will shortly mark the Nakba and the creation of Israel on their homeland and against their will in 1948. June marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. June also marks the tenth anniversary of the siege on Gaza and, in November, the Balfour declaration will be 100 years old.

On the ground, prospects for a just peace are almost non-existent. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to move more of its citizens into these illegally occupied areas. Plans for more settlement units continue to surface and even the idea of settlers leaving their illegal housing units have brought accusations of “ethnic cleansing” by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem continues to be Judaised, and the lives of Palestinians in the holy city continue to be made miserable through restrictions on building, extortionate taxes, heavy handed security, house demolitions, evictions and the planting and expansion of Jewish only settlements in East Jerusalem. Extremist settlers continue to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, protected by Israeli security forces without coordination with the Jordanian endowment which administers the holy sanctuary. Even the sound of the Muslim call to prayer which has been heard in the city and the whole of Palestine for centuries is being suppressed.

Israel continues to impose an immoral blockade on Gaza and has the temerity to warn of a catastrophe in the enclave with Major General Yoav Mordechai warning that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 per cent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. This is compounded by recent action by the Palestinian Authority to cut salaries of workers and to refuse to support the supply of electricity to the troubled strip.

The feeling of helplessness by Palestinians, particularly the youth, continues to rise and the regular extrajudicial killing of Palestinians at check points shows no sign of abating. On 7 May, Israeli security forces killed 16-year-old Fatima Afeef Abdulrahman Hajeiji, spraying her body with 20 bullets at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, alleging she was about to attack them with a knife, which eye-witnesses strongly dispute.

In March, Israeli forces killed Basel Al-Araj, a Palestinian intellectual and opponent of the Israeli occupation in an area which the Oslo Accords designated as coming under PA security control, clearly confirming Israel has no respect for any accords or agreements it signs. The killing of the popular activist enraged Palestinians who directed their anger at both Israel and the PA whose security coordination was recently lauded by US President Donald Trump during his meeting with Abbas in Washington saying “they get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.”

The impact of the wall on the daily life of Palestinians is immeasurable, drawing concern and condemnation from many quarters including from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has spoken of his “profound grief and sorrow” after hearing the testimonies of Palestinians whose land has been put beyond their reach by the vast concrete wall Israel has built near Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Rising Jewish settler violence goes unchecked by Israel which continues to practice double standards when dealing with this when compared with Palestinian acts. Palestinian prisoners continue to be mistreated and have their legitimate rights denied by Israel, driving them to a mass hunger strike by 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 prisoners which recently entered its third week.

As for Palestinian citizens of Israel, they continue to be treated like second class citizens and to endure the effect of over 50 discriminatory laws. The Bedouin population in the Negev has been targeted for eviction and transfer, while Jewish settlements are built in their place.

In addition, the status of Arabic as an official language of the state is under threat as proposals have been approved by the Cabinet to downgrade it to having “a special status in the state” while the national language is “Hebrew”. This is part of the so called “Nation State Bill” which would also explicitly reserve “the right to realise self-determination in the State of Israel uniquely to the Jewish people.” In any other context, this would be seen as a racist move when at least 20 per cent of the population are not Jewish.

With such a litany of abuses, an objective assessment would conclude that not only is it legitimate to continue to criticise Israel for its policies, but also those western democracies which support it in order for them to rethink their support.

However, 2017 is proving to be the year of the absurd in the international community’s relationship with Israel. It is the year when Israel is pushing hard to change the discourse on the situation despite an escalation in its crimes. A year in which German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was snubbed by Netanyahu for choosing to meet NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

While 2016 ended with UN Security Council resolution 2334 which criticised the continuing illegal settlement enterprise, criticising Israel in 2017 for the same indiscretions as it committed in 2016 is now suddenly “unfair”.

Recently all 100 US senators signed a letter asking UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body. “Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing,” the letter said.

Amazingly it was lost on the senators, or more probably they chose to ignore, Israel’s refusal to adhere to the body’s multiple Security Council resolutions on the matter, including resolution 2334 which Israel said it would not respect and proceeded to announce further settlement building. This coincided with Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley choosing to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran in her first session holding the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hezbollah,” Haley told the Security Council Thursday. “For decades they have conducted terrorist acts across the region.”

The UK for its part put the UN Human Rights Council “on notice” at its last session accusing it of “bias against Israel”. “The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel undermines the council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

It is incumbent on all who have fallen for Israel’s hasbara propaganda about it being treated unfairly to point to any change in Israeli policy that their collective cowardice in dealing with it has brought. In fact, they cannot. On the contrary, their strategy for dealing with the issue, if they are serious, has failed. There is also no evidence that if Israel is not criticised, it will do the honourable thing and meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians.

If there is unfairness, it is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians which has gone on since its creation, not our criticism of it. In fact criticism is not enough, but action is needed to find a just solution.

Conference: Holding Palestine in the light

Lichfield is holding a conference entitled Holding Palestine in the Light 7-9 October.

This promises to be an excellent event and I am privileged to be contributing to it.

Details here

مقابلة تلفزيونية عن إضرابات المساجين الفلسطينيين عن الطعام في السجون الإسرائيلية

شاركت بمقابلة على قناة الميادين الفضائية عن تصعيد الإضرابات عن الطعام داخل السجون الإسرائيلية إحتجاجاً على مساندة لأسرى اضربوا عن الطعام لاعتقادهم إدارياً. كانت النقابلة ببداية نشرة الأخبار.

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Who singles out Israel, its critics or its apologists?

First published by the Middle East Eye

25/7/2016

Israel and its supporters often accuse supporters of Palestinian rights for unfairly singling Israel out for criticism. They suggest that with so many abusers of human rights around the world, the focus should be on them, with some suggesting that once all the other abusers have been dealt with then they might accept some criticism of Israel.

Their reasons for singling Israel out for special treatment are that it is the “‘only democracy in the Middle East”, with “most moral army in the world” and the “only Jewish state” struggling to exist in an unstable and dangerous Middle East. Just look at Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen they say. The Assad regime has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and the so-called Islamic State has slaughtered Muslims in their thousands in Iraq, Syria and Libya and continues to terrorise peaceful civilians around the world.

To support their claim further, they refer for example to the United Nations Human Rights Council which they argue has an “unbalanced focus” on Israel when it comes to human rights abusers. In 2007 Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of “a pathological obsession with Israel”. Even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticising the world body’s own Human Rights Council for “picking on Israel” as part of an agreement on its working rules. The council had decided to include a permanent item on its agenda specifically considering Israel’s action.

Israel’s supporters have recently added the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to their examples of Israel being singled out for boycott. Some, including former UK Justice Secretary Michel Gove went as far as calling the BDS movement anti-Semitic and worse than Apartheid. In recent months, the UK’s Labour Party was hit with claims of endemic anti-Semitism in its ranks, not because members had demonstrated hatred towards Jews because they are Jews but because they criticised Israel. Some demanded that a new term is adopted, “new anti-semitism” which they attributed to criticism of Israel. This was not endorsed by Labour’s inquiry into anti-Semitism, led by Shami Chakrabarti.

Let us consider the reasons Israel’s supporters give for singling it out for special treatment. The claim that it is a democracy is partly true. It offers a five-star democracy for its Jewish citizens but an inferior two-star democracy to other non-Jewish citizens. Its five-star democracy extends to those Jews residing illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements but not to the Palestinian population residing in the same geographic area. Israeli settlers live under civil Law while Palestinians live under military law. Furthermore, Israel passes the democratic rights of Palestinians under occupation to its convenient invention, the Palestinian Authority, while effectively controlling every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the claim that Israel is a democracy is a fallacy.

The claims of the morality of its army hardly stands up to scrutiny. It claims that during major attacks on Palestinians, it uses smart weaponry that reduces civilian casualties. However, a comparison of fatalities on both sides shows a hugely disproportionate number of civilian deaths on the Palestinian side when compared with Israelis. In recent months, the Israeli Defence Force has executed Palestinians at checkpoints for alleged attacks and inflicts unbelievable suffering on the Palestinians in Gaza.

The IDF carries out “operations” in the area designated “A” under the Oslo Accords, which it is not meant to enter. It also regularly mistreats the Palestinians it detains and abducts children from their beds in the early hours of the morning. It detains Palestinians under administrative detention without charge for indefinite periods. There is no question of the IDF being considered a “moral army” by the Lebanese people who endured an occupation and several wars that brought them into close contact with the IDF. The morality of the Israeli army is therefore another fallacy.

The last claim, that Israel is the only Jewish state and that it is singled out because it is the “Jewish homeland’”assumes that Israel’s critics en masse or a substantial proportion are simply anti-Semites. Supporters of Palestinians who campaign against Israeli policies do so because of Israel’s misdemeanours, not because it is the “only Jewish state”.

Many Jews around the world did not ask for it to be created and do not accept that Israel is their state or speaks on their behalf. Take for example the reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to French Jews to emigrate after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo paper. He was told in no uncertain terms by French Jews that this was not a welcome intervention. The claim that Israel is somehow targeted because it is the only Jewish state is a further fallacy.

If the claim that Israeli is singled out for criticism is over-exaggerated, do its supporters and apologists single it out for special treatment?

Consider the US for a start. Its support for Israel is not comparable to support for any other state. The US funds it to the tune of $3 billion per year. It wields the UN Security Council veto for no other state even when a resolution comes to condemn settlements, which it has consistently considered illegal or to request the setting of a date to end the occupation.

Various states have moved to introduce legislation to effectively ban boycotts of Israel, which are being introduced to protect only Israel. Senior US politicians make regular appearances at conferences organised by the pro-Israel lobby, attempting to outdo each other in their love and support for Israel. This charade only applies to Israel.

The EU refuses to suspend its EU-Israel Association Agreement, despite it consistently violating human rights. Israel is a member of the European football federation, UEFA, despite no part of its territories being in Europe, racism being endemic in Israeli football and it hindering the development of Palestinian football.

Israel is a member of the Eurovision song contest, an “honour” not bestowed upon other non-European state, including Palestine. However, more seriously, Israeli academia is a regular winner of funding from the EU’s research funding under Horizon2020 despite its complicity in Israel’s occupation.

The UK is particularly guilty of singling Israel out for special treatment. It continues to promote trade with Israel, particularly in arms, despite Israel’s occupation and repeated wars on other states and horrific attacks on Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition changed the Law on Universal Jurisdiction to protect Israeli officials accused of war crimes from being arrested to answer for their possible crimes.

The coalition did this for Israel and no other state. When this change was found wanting, British officials cleared the diary of a Foreign Office minister to meet suspected war criminal Tzipi Livni, who was on a private visit to the UK to provide her with diplomatic immunity. They did this only because Livni is Israeli.

The above illustrates that when singling out takes place it is by supporters of, and apologists for Israel. If Palestinians are accused of singling Israel out then they have every right to do so. Surely, apologists for Israel cannot really expect Palestinians to campaign for solving all the world’s ills before turning their attention on their occupier and oppressor.

– 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 Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at http://www.kamelhawwash.com. 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.