Western hypocrisy: Khashoggi and Murtaja two deceased journalists but the world will only remember one

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/10/2018

Rushdi Sarraj [r], co-founder of Ain Media and Yaser Murtaja who was killed by an Israeli sniper in April

Yaser Murtaja was a Palestinian photojournalist who had gone to the Gaza fence with Israel to cover the second Friday of the Great Return March. He was killed by an IDF sniper on 7 April. There was modest coverage of his death coming on the second Friday of the Great Return March. The world was troubled by the deliberate targeting by highly trained Israeli snipers of Palestinian civilians who posed no threat, but Western governments were hesitant about criticising Israel for targeting men, women, children, medics and journalists. The young medic, Razan Al-Najjar was shot and killed weeks later while tending to the wounded at the Gaza fence. At the same time, Nikki Haley was plotting to scupper a UN Security Council resolution to protect Palestinian civilians.

In its most recent atrocity, Israel targeted and killed three children in Gaza. They identified as Khaled Bassam Mahmoud Abu Saeed, 14; Abdul Hameed Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Zaher, 13; and Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Sutari, 13.

I did not know Yasir, Razan, Khaled, Abdul Hameed or Mohammed. However, their loss and the grief I felt when they died lives with me to this day. Why has the world not sanctioned Israel for killing them? Why does it get a pass when it violates basic human rights while other states are held to account?

OPINION: Israel’s war on photographers and their images

Reaction to their killings is in sharp contrast to the disappearance and then confirmed killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October, which has captured the world’s imagination. I have not met a single person who has not been aware of the story or who has not followed with absolute horror the sordid details emerging from sources in the Turkish government about his murder and the possible mutilation of his body. Calls for sanctions on Saudi Arabia have been widespread, ranging from ordinary citizens to governments.

I was fortunate to meet Jamal and to chair a session at Middle East Monitor’s conference on the Oslo Accords the Saturday before his return to Istanbul to complete some paperwork at the Saudi Consulate to enable him to marry his fiancee Hatice Cengiz. Never did I or any of us present imagine how events would unfold hours later.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) at the Oslo25 Conference in London, on 29 September, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

There are many reasons for the coverage that Jamal’s murder received, which set him apart from other journalists that have been targeted for their writings or coverage of important world events including Syria, Iraq and Libya to name but a few. He was a loyal Saudi citizen who had been closely connected with the Royal family but one who felt his freedom to speak under the –effective- rule of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had been curtailed. He was a columnist for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s murder pitted two major Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Turkey – against each other. The murder was not carried out on the streets of Istanbul but inside a diplomatic mission. There were leaks and denials. There were different versions of what happened put out by Saudi Arabia which were at best inconsistent but which turned out to be lies. There was the theatre of Turkey’s President Erdogan’s widely advertised speech, which promised much detail but ended up a masterpiece of political prudence devoid of new information.  The fate of the Saudi Crown Prince and even the Saudi monarchy as we know it hangs in the balance.

To this day, Khashoggi’s body has not been recovered. Questions remain unanswered about who ordered the murder, how it was conducted, what has happened to the body and what actual evidence Turkey holds, leaving much room for speculation. Was Turkey eavesdropping on the Saudi Consulate and therefore was the actual murder recorded on audio or video?

READ: Details of the 11-minute audio recording of the torture and death of Khashoggi

Those are some of the reasons why Jamal’s murder has tantalised the world for the past couple of weeks and will do so as more details are leaked or if Turkey finally decides to make public its evidence, which may include identifying who in the Saudi hierarchy was the most senior person that ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Western countries have started imposing sanctions on individuals suspected of being part of the murder squad, effectively cancelling visas they may hold, and calls for imposing an arms embargoon Saudi Arabia have been made, especially in Europe. While these have been balanced against the strategic importance of trade with Saudi Arabia, it is at least an indication that Western countries can act to pressure other states accused of committing crimes.

The world moved to impose sanctions on Russia and Iran, while history shows other countries faced sanctions, including Iraq and Libya.

However, it seems that the world is reluctant to sanction Israel whatever it does. In fact, many western countries justify its crimes as a necessary means of “self-defence”. There is no talk of imposing a two-way arms embargo on Israel. The Americans have not considered an end to the $3 billion annual military aid for killing Razan or Yaser. This would be moral, but also a saving for the American taxpayer who does not choose for the American Administration to fund a self-declared Apartheid state with half its overseas aid budget.

The world is right to be outraged by journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and the manner in which it was carried out. It is right to ask for the truth and then for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for his horrible murder. However, its hypocrisy in only mildly criticising Israel for killing Palestinian journalists provides it with the impunity it has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. The life of a Palestinian, Saudi or Israeli journalist should be worth the same.

The world’s firmness in dealing with Jamal’s killers may well dissuade other states from committing crimes against journalists, except possibly Israel. No country should be able to act above the law, including Israel.

With no meaningful international plan, Khan Al-Ahmar needs a popular uprising to save it

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 11/10/2018

Israeli occupation forces storm the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank on 14 September 2018 [Ä°ssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli occupation forces storm the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank on 14 September 2018 [İssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinian Bedouin residents of Khan Al-Ahmar wake up every morning relieved that the Israeli occupation’s bulldozers did not arrive overnight to destroy their homes and their children’s school. They remain fearful, though, that it is only a matter of time before their village is destroyed and they are expelled from the land they have lived on for over 40 years. One can only imagine the horror that the residents, especially the children, experience because of this psychological terrorism to which Israel is subjecting them.

UNICEF expressed its alarm recently that that “the school in Khan Al Ahmar in the State of Palestine could be destroyed in the coming days or even hours.” The UN body added that, “The 167 children from that town and neighbouring village who are learning, dreaming and playing there have a right to access safe education wherever their communities and families are living, just like all the other children in the world.” UNICEF asked the Israeli authorities for “the interests of children [to] be a primary consideration in their decision making.”

Any assumption that Israel cares about the education or welfare of Palestinian children is simply not supported by the evidence of its daily conduct. Children are routinely abducted in the night, bundled into Israeli army vehicles, interrogated without parents or legal advisers present, tried before military courts in a language most don’t understand, and imprisoned for long periods. Furthermore, Israeli snipers have no compunction about pointing their rifles at children at the Gaza fence and killing them. In August, Defence for Children International reported that Israel had killed 37 Palestinian children since the start of 2018. The number continues to rise; the latest victim was 12-year-old Faris Al-Sirsawi.

Read: Israel settlers flood Khan Al-Ahmar with waste water

The village of Nabi Saleh found its way onto the international stage, becoming a must-visit part of the itinerary of not only international human rights activists but also Western politicians, not least because the Tamimis — young Ahed Tamimi in particular — rose to prominence there with their resistance to the Israeli occupation. That resistance culminated with the now famous slap of an Israeli soldier by Ahed, for which she paid with 8 months in jail.

Khan Al-Ahmar has captured the imagination of the international community not only because its demolition is simply the wrong thing to do on a humanitarian level, but also because of its actual location, which Western politicians understand could finally lay to rest any remaining prospect of a two-state solution. The argument is that if the village is destroyed and Israel proceeds to expand the illegal settlements in the “E1 corridor”, Jerusalem will be cut off from its West Bank hinterland completely and the contiguity needed for a Palestinian state would be lost.

The village has become a battleground between the international community and the Israeli authorities, who are now armed with a decision by the Supreme Court that the village can be demolished and could proceed with their plans at any moment. The Israelis argue that the villagers built their homes without permits. The residents point out that Israel refuses to grant permits to Palestinians to build on their own, illegally-occupied land, while colonies continue to be built for Jews within sight of their village. Only Israel regards the land on which the Bedouins live as “state land” rather than illegally-occupied territory, as the whole of the international community sees it. If the land is indeed state land, then it can only belong to the state of Palestine.

A number of politicians have “expressed concern” at the demolition plan, with some being moved to warn Israel that forced transfer of an occupied people could “amount to a war crime”. One of the most vocal has been Britain’s Minster for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, who has visited the village on a number of occasions. While warning Israel that it could be committing a “war crime”, Burt has not made the demolition and forced transfer of the local population a red line that, if crossed by Israel, would bring forth consequences for Britain’s relations with the Zionist state.

There were hopes that, during her recent visit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not only raise the issue of the village with her host Benjamin Netanyahu but would also go further. Reports initially suggested that Merkel would cancel her visit if the village was demolished before her arrival. However, once there, her reported response to the issue was typically weak of Western politicians. “This is an Israeli decision,” she said at a morning event at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, during which the University of Haifa conferred upon her an honorary doctorate. You’re wrong, Frau Merkel, it is not an Israeli decision. It is a failure of the international community to act to stop Israeli crimes that will lead to the village’s demolition.

The predicament of the community of Khan Al-Ahmar can be traced back to the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993. The 25th anniversary of the Accords was marked with a key conference organised recently by Middle East Monitor. Oslo failed to deal with the core issues that must be resolved if peace is to be achieved between Palestinians and Israelis. One of these is the issue of settlements and the illegal occupation. The lack of reference to international law in the Accords is a fundamental flaw therein. However, it is the lack of political will by the international community to pressure Israel to fulfil its undertakings under the agreement which continues to give Israel free rein to do whatever it wants.

Read: Imminent demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar ‘heartless’ and a ‘war crime’ says Amnesty

Israel will no doubt demolish Khan Al-Ahmar at a time of its choosing. The international community will express concern, disappointment and possibly condemnation of this. The EU might even ask Israel to compensate it for funds donated towards small projects in the village. However, no meaningful action will be taken against the state. At the end of the day, Israel will just move on to carry out another illegal act as it seeks to complete the Zionist occupation of the whole of historic Palestine, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

With no meaningful plan by the international community in place to protect the village, the only action that will end the uncertainty for the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar will be a popular uprising that sees thousands of Palestinians march there, determined to protect it for as many days or months as it will take either for Israel to abandon its plans or for the international community to realise that this tiny village will not only be a symbol of peaceful resistance, but will also raise the cost of the occupation for Israel to a point where it begins to come to its senses. That could see the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza fence, now in their eighth month, finally arrive in the West Bank. If Trump and his Zionist advisers can disrupt the status quo in favour of Israel, the Palestinian people can disrupt it in favour of their cause.

Israel’s demolition of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

First published by the New Arab on 7/9/2018

Labour's anti-Semitism controversy protecting Israel from criticism

Protesters lobbied Labour’s NEC members as they arrived to decide on the new definition [Getty]

The UK’s Labour party has been embroiled in a controversy over anti-Semitism, which broke soon after the socialist candidate for the party’s leadership, Jeremy Corbyn, won the contest.

There was no immediate accusation that he had ever harboured any dislike, let alone hatred for Jews. Corbyn is acknowledged to be a lifelong campaigner for human rights, who has defied his party on several occasions and voted against Tony Blair’s decision to sanction the war on Iraq in early 2003.

Corbyn has supported the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality for decades, leading many marches and speaking at numerous rallies, with passion, but never blaming British Jews for the actions of modern-day Israel. He also hosted many meetings in parliament, helping raise the Palestinian issue at the heart of Britain’s democracy.

He saw the comparisons between Israeli discriminatory policies and those of the Apartheid system which operated in South Africa. There too was a campaign of which he was a part until Apartheid fell, being arrested in the process in 1984. He was a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign prior to his election and has notably maintained that role.

At the heart of the current row in the party are accusations against Corbyn of not taking the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, an issue which was never raised as a major problem in the party before his election to the leadership.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand… to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism

The accusations have been led by UK organisations which claim to represent the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), but which also have a record of unwavering support for Israel. In addition, two pro-Israel organisations within the Labour Party – namely Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – have also taken up the fight against Corbyn.

The LFI was the subject of an undercover Al Jazeera investigation which showed it worked closely with the Israeli embassy in London.

The question of whether anti-Semitism was a real problem in the party or had been exaggerated for political purposes was clouded by the demand by pro-Israel organisations for public bodies, including political parties, governments and city councils to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism, produced by the 31-member International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which launched in 2016 as a non-legally bindingworking definition of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

While experts argued over those 38 words, it was the next part of the document that caused heated arguments among both supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian people.

“To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
 
Manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

This was followed by 11 illustrative examples, seven of which made reference to Israel. Two in particular raised major concerns about their impact on freedom of expression and the freedom for Palestinians to impart facts about their continuing injustice and how they and their supporters might act to deliver justice 71 years after Israel’s creation in their homeland through violent ethnic cleansing and terror.

Palestinians identified grave dangers in the example which claimed,“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” would be anti-Semitic.

For Palestinians it is clear that Israel was created as a homeland for Jews from any part of the world to move to, while 750,000 were violently expelled to neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes despite the UN passing resolution 194 in 1948 recognising their right to return peacefully.

They see the creation of this Israel as a racist endeavour but the application of the definition appears to be designed to label any Palestinian or supporter who wishes to impart this information to fellow citizens as an anti-Semite.

This danger was illustrated clearly by Joan Ryan, Chair of LFI, who wrote to Jeremy Corbyn in June asking him to clarify a tweet in which he said: “We must work for a real two state settlement to the Israel Palestine conflict, which ends the occupation and siege of Gaza and makes the Palestinian right to return a reality.”

Her argument was that the realisation of the Palestinian right of return “…would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination”. Palestinians claiming their legitimate right to return to their homes becomes an anti-Semitic demand, according to Ryan, based on the IHRA code.

The other example given by the IHRA which supporters of Israel will use to close down debate is one which states that “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Israel often claims that it is singled out for criticism and that this is done essentially because it is the only Jewish state in the world. This essentially relates to support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against it until meets legal and moral demands for an end to the occupation, equal treatment for all of its citizens and the promotion and implementation of the right of return.

It is of course difficult to find another state which has been in continuous occupation of another people for more than 51 years, which denies the refugees it expelled the right of return, which builds illegally on another people’s land and has just passed a law (the Nation State Law) which gives one part of its population a right to self-determination but denies this to any others.

While the Labour Party considered adopting the 38-word IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it also developed a code for dealing with any accusations that might come against members, which attempted to contextualise the examples in the definition and to protect free speech.

The pro-Israel community organisations in the UK were outraged that Labour had not simply adopted the IHRA definition with all 11 illustrative examples, arguing that the definition still made it possible to criticise Israel. They exerted severe pressure on the party and led what many of Corbyn’s supporters have described as a campaign to discredit him, which moved from accusing him from failing to deal with anti-Semitism to being an anti-Semite and racist himself.

Under mounting pressure and despite consulting with both Jewish and non-Jewish organisations including Palestinian organisations, and despite an opinion given by leading barrister Geoffrey Robinson QC – in which he claimed the IHRA definition was “not fit for purpose” – the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee adopted the full definition with the illustrative examples. A party spokesperson said: “The NEC has today adopted all of the IHRA examples of antisemitism, in addition to the IHRA definition which Labour adopted in 2016, alongside a statement which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

Corbyn had argued, “It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

However, there was insufficient support for this part of his longer statement and it was not put to a vote.

While this was a matter for the Labour Party, other public bodies will now be under pressure to adopt the IHRA definition under pressure from Britain’s Israel lobby. Protecting Israel from criticism and silencing Palestinian voices is at the heart of the campaign by the lobby for the adoption of the problematic definition.

In a letter to The Guardian published before the vote, Palestinians had argued that, “The fundamental right to free expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the Human Rights Act, is first and foremost the right to ‘receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’.”

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

That warning still stands, as it is inevitable that the pro-Israel lobby will now move to bring accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour members, citing the IHRA definition while working to pressure all public bodies to adopt it. However, what is important for Palestinians is that their supporters, who have been deflected from their campaigning work to try and influence Labour’s NEC, now refocus the effort on campaigning for the cause, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s administration works to impose a “deal of the century” that negates their rights.

 

Peaceful resistance is the Palestinian answer to Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

First published by the Arab Weekly on 22/7/2018

Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force.

Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

Resilient despite pressures. Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

International law states that a people under occupation are entitled to use all means of resistance — including armed resistance — to end the occupation. In their quest for freedom, justice and equality, the Palestinian people have used a multitude of forms, including armed resistance and continue to keep their options open.

However, facing an Israeli propaganda machine, which has largely succeeded in characterising both military and non-military Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” the Palestinians have explored other means that may bring greater support internationally and embarrass Israel when it deals violently and disproportionately with Palestinians.

The first intifada was a case in point. It started in 1987 and was peaceful. However, Israel dealt harshly with protesters, who were unarmed, at most throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces operating in their illegally occupied areas. Israeli troops killed more than 1,000 Palestinians during the intifada and images of Israeli brutality were flashed on TV screens across the world.

The uprising introduced the word “intifada” into dictionaries but importantly led to the Madrid conference in 1991 and the start of the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, which led to the Oslo Accords. The peaceful nature of the uprising brought great sympathy for the Palestinian cause from across the world. Who can forget the image of Israeli troops attempting to break the bones of young Palestinian protesters with rocks?

The second intifada started in September 2000, triggered by visit to al-Aqsa Mosque by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was much more violent, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. This brought less sympathy for Palestinians and Israel used the death of civilians to demonise Palestinians as a violent people.

In a variation on peaceful resistance, Palestinian activists established villages on strategically located, privately owned Palestinian land in defiance of the escalation of illegal settlement construction. Israel demolished them and evicted the activists. This included Bab al-Shams, which was established and demolished days later in 2013.

The summer of 2017 saw Israel seal al-Aqsa Mosque following an attack on troops and the subsequent stand-off between the state and Palestinians who refused to go through electronic gates it installed to “enhance security.” The peaceful protests succeeded in the gates being removed.

The recent Great Return March and the protests to save Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village due for demolition by Israel, have shown that peaceful popular resistance can cause Israel great embarrassment and put a spanner in the works of the US plan to settle the conflict through the “deal of the century.”

Whether Khan al-Ahmar is demolished or not, the planned demolition and the popular resistance that brought Palestinians to the village to stand up to the bulldozers elevated the issue on the international agenda, bringing enough pressure on Israel to postpone the demolition.

British Middle East Minister Alistair Burt recorded a video message from the village in which he appealed to Israel not to demolish it and that if it moved its residents elsewhere it could be considered forcible transfer and thus a possible war crime.

Strong words indeed.

The United Kingdom was not alone. All but the most ardent state supporters of Israel — such as the United States — tried to convince it that this was a step too far.

Perhaps the Great Return March and the Palestinians’ demand to return to the homes from which they were expelled, starting in 1948, played a role in delaying the release of the ultimate deal. The scenes at Khan al-Ahmar may have played a part in reminding foreign diplomats that the Palestinians are not going anywhere soon.

It is true to say that Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force and that any wins for Palestinians carry with them a heavy cost in lives and injuries. However, lacking military power to evict Israel from the occupied territories, peaceful popular resistance has its place in keeping the cause alive and visible to the international community.

The Palestinians can make this more effective. For that to happen, a national Palestinian strategy is needed, one that shows the Palestinians have learned from previous attempts and build on this.

It must be designed to raise the cost of the occupation on Israel both financially and politically.

The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity, harness the successes and empower the people to escalate it. Let it focus on disrupting the lives of the settlers in the West Bank through protests and blockades that stop them moving around freely. Alerts about potential demolitions should bring hundreds — if not thousands — to the site to force the occupiers to stop.

While some Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as part of the problem, a unified strategy combined with supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement and ending the security cooperation with Israel could give them hope that their leadership is moving closer to supporting them in their daily peaceful struggle.

The Palestinians may well find that as the growing support for their struggle escalates, the more peaceful their resistance and the more brutal Israel’s response.