Israel has done nothing to deserve normalisation with the Arab world

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/11/2018

Growing normalisation has left Palestinians struggling to understand what happened to the Arab world’s support for the Palestinian cause

 

Our Arab brothers – as none of our leaders are women – have stabbed us in the front and the back, abandoning us politically while embracing Israel.

Israeli flags could soon be flying in the skies of some Gulf states, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a “peace” deal that is unacceptable.

I say this as a Palestinian who has watched sickening images of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu – the leader of an oppressive apartheid state, with bucketloads of Palestinian and other Arab blood on his hands – being welcomed with open arms, together with his wife, by the ailing sultan of Oman.

Enshrining apartheid

Setting aside his leadership of the settlement enterprise, repeated wars on Gaza and the killing of hundreds of peaceful Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, Netanyahu recently dismissed the five-decade occupation of the Palestinian territories as “nonsense”. He also fast-tracked Israel’s nation-state law, enshrining apartheid into Israel’s basic law.

Netanyahu’s surprise trip to Oman was closely followed with a visit to the sultanate by Israeli Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. At the International Road Transport Union meeting in Muscat, he outlined Israel’s plan for a railway that would link the Gulf states via Jordan with the Mediterranean through the port of Haifa. This is the same extremist minister who called for the “targeted killings” of leaders of the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in 2016.

Haifa is just 130 kilometres south of Beirut. A united Arab world, working for its people, should be making Beirut the Mediterranean destination of the train line, bringing Syria into the project and bypassing Israel. It could use the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as the precondition for linking to an Israeli port.

As if welcoming two Israeli ministers to Oman was not enough, Israel scored a normalisation hat-trick with the bizarre visit of Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev to the United Arab Emirates, where she laughed and joked with her hosts in the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi. This is the same extremist minister who labelled African asylum seekers as “a cancer in our society”.

Israeli flag raised in Abu Dhabi

Regev was in the UAE to see the Israeli Judo team compete in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. A gold medal for Israel’s Sagi Muki saw the Israeli flag raised and the national anthem, Hatikva, played for his win. Back in Jerusalem and Hebron, Israel sought to silence the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, because it disturbs the illegal settlers’ sleep.

Qatar recently hosted the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and allowed an Israeli team not only to participate, but also to display Israeli national emblems. Qatar was one of the first Arab countries to open an official Israeli trade mission in 1996, and its news channel, Al Jazeera, was the first Arab TV station to host Israelis, citing its mission to allow both sides of the story to be told.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in October (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said in February that he had met with Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa of Bahrain in Tel Aviv while he was visiting Israel. Kara said they met “to strengthen the relationship between our two countries”, boasting of the encounter as a sign of growing relations between Israel and Bahrain. In July, Bahrain hosted Israeli diplomats attending a UNESCO conference.

There have also been examples of Saudi officials visiting Israel or openly engaging with Israeli officials in other countries, including Prince Turki Bin Faisal and retired General Anwar Eshki. There were rumours the Saudi crown prince himself had visited Tel Aviv, though Saudi Arabia denied this. Saudi Arabia has also allowed Air India to fly through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv, in what may be a prelude to opening Saudi Arabia’s skies to Israeli carrier El Al.

Growing ‘Iranophobia’

This is normalisation on steroids, checked only by a small number of countries. In the Gulf, only Kuwait continues to oppose any warming of ties with Israel, while Tunisia and Algeria stand out in North Africa. Israel has formal ties and peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan, which have endured various stresses and strains but brought neither country the same benefits Israel has gained, particularly in terms of security and quiet on its borders.

With this growing normalisation, we Palestinians are entitled to ask why. What has Israel done to deserve this? What happened to the steadfast Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinian cause? What about the slogan that Palestine is not just a Palestinian issue, but an Arab and Muslim issue? Whatever happened to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002?

There is no doubt that on the Arab street’s support for Palestinian rights is still strong. It is at the regime level where the once-clandestine ties with Israel are now out in the open. Israel has successfully frightened the Gulf states in particular into a form of “Iranophobia”, sending them running for protection to the US, which has in turn convinced them that Israel is not an enemy but an ally.

US President Donald Trump has been quite brutal in reminding them how vulnerable they are – not only to an Iranian threat, but to any threat. He recently told King Salman of Saudi Arabia: “You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military.”

Former Saudi King Abdullah offered Israel the Arab “peace initiative” in 2002, while Yasser Arafat was under siege in Ramallah. It offered Israel a normalisation of relations with the Arab world if peace was achieved between Israel and Palestine. Israel never accepted this plan, and the Arabs have now bypassed it, without even an Arab League summit to bury it.

Changing course

In return, Israel has offered nothing, except for a shared fear of the Iranian threat and increasing supplies of security software and military hardware. It continues to threaten the sanctity of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron and to deny Palestinians their legitimate rights. It has no plans to accept a just peace with Palestinians or to return the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

If the normalising Arabs think that Israel would send its jets to protect their thrones in the unlikely event of an Iranian attack, then they are deluded, or at best, badly advised. It will sit back and enjoy seeing their respective countries destroyed, as it did watching the powerful Syria and Iraq reduced to rubble. I do not want to see that happen.

The situation is recoverable. They can change course and reinstate a united Arab front in support of Palestine and against apartheid Israel. They need look no further for inspiration than Paraguay, which had initially announced it would follow the US in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only to reverse that decision.

That did, of course, come after a change in Paraguay’s leadership.

– 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 a regular columnist and appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Sultan Qaboos in Oman in October (Handout)

UN General Assembly brings no respite for Palestinians

First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018

Between Donald Trump touting a two-state solution and Benjamin Netanyahu preoccupied with Israel – the plight of the Palestinians was once again largely ignored at the UN.

All eyes were on US President Trump during the UN General Assembly this year as he made his second address to the world body.

His speech will be remembered for the outburst of laughter when he tried to laud his administration’s achievements which he claimed “accomplished more than almost any…in the history of our country”.

Trump went on to claim that world leaders were laughing with him and not at him,” which simply is not supported by images from the whole, the whole world saw.

In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was again on-form recounting his achievements in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He affirmed his belief that he “had taken Jerusalem off the table,” defunded the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, closed the PLO Mission in Washington DC and ceased all funding to the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had broken off all contact with the US Administration following its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and the US Embassy move.

Sitting next to Trump, Netanyahu seemed pleased.

But he certainly wasn’t expecting what came next and perhaps even Trump’s advisors didn’t either, judging by some of the images of his son-in-law and Special Advisor, Jared Kushner.

Trump suddenly announced “I like the two-state solution”, a position he had not taken when the two leaders first met in 2017 and indeed one that Netanyahu has major problems with as he does not believe in a two-state solution.

“That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling,” he continued.

Looking at the Israeli PM, Trump acknowledged Netanyahu’s rejection saying “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.”

Netanyahu did not respond.

While reporters were picking their jaws off the floor at the remarks, Trump then qualified his remarks saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he concluded, “I can live with either one.”

The Trump Administration had given Netanyahu so much that he must have felt that the issue of a Palestinian state was also off the table as far as Trump was concerned.

However, the US president continues to remind the world that he is a property tycoon who sees everything as a business deal wher historic Palestine is a piece of real estate to be negotiated, detached from history and rights.

Both Palestinians and Israelis sit atop sixty years of conflict which amply shows that this is much more than just a piece of real estate – and Trump has so far failed to convince either side to see it his way: if you don’t get the contract, you simply move onto the next potential deal.

For both sides, history shows that it is a matter of survival, of life and death.

Netanyahu, props, and little substance

With both Netanyahu and Abbas yet to speak to the UN General Assembly, analysts and commentators were wondering how the respective speeches would be rewritten following Trump’s comments.

Netanyahu did not wait and told reporters that “everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.”

He had in the past questioned what sovereignty means and talked of a Palestinian state ‘minus’. He defined this by saying “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us”.

Netanyahu expects Trump to accept the Israeli approach where any possible peace scenario would leave security control of territories west of Jordan, in Israel’s hands. He also added that he assumed any American plan would reflect this principle.

When it came, Netanyahu’s speech made little reference to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He restricted his comments to the demonisation of the Palestinians and accused the Palestinian Authority of paying families of Palestinian prisoners and ‘terrorists’ as he called them.

Netanyahu hoped “the day will soon arrive when Israel will be able to expand peace, a formal peace, beyond Egypt and Jordan to other Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu defended the Israeli Knesset’s passing of the Nation State Bill—which many commentators claim cements Israel’s status as an Apartheid state—that gives only Jewish people in Israel the right to self-determination.

He claimed that condemnation of Israel for racism is “the same old antisemitism with a brand new face.”

The main focus of Netanyahu’s speech, as it frequently is, was Iran. He had his usual prop, maps and images of what he claimed was the location and entrance to an Iranian nuclear site.

A weak representative

Abbas spoke before Netanyahu, and it was billed to be historic, but it failed to live up to its billing and it was noticeable that the hall was not as full as it normally is.

Certainly not as full as when Abbas applied, and was granted, an upgrade to Palestine’s status to a non-member state in 2012.

Abbas told the GA that there would be no peace without “an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital” and stressed the capital would be East Jerusalem, not in East Jerusalem, countering leaks from the ‘deal of the century’ suggesting Abu Dis as the future capital. He opened his speech with “Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining”.

Abbas referred to the Palestine National Council, which instructed him “to suspend the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel until Israel recognises in its turn the State of Palestine on the fourth of June, 1967 borders.”

Parliament had also instructed him “to approach international courts, including the International Criminal Court (the ICC) to investigate Israel’s breaches of treaties and the aggressions by the Israeli occupying forces and settlers against our people, on our land and our holy sites.”

Abbas referred to Israel’s Nation State Law, explaining that “this law will inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and thus nullifies the two-state solution.”

He reminded the GA that “the United Nations had condemned the apartheid South African state in several resolutions in the past,” and then challenged anyone to define Israel’s borders.

Abbas reserved some of his strongest criticism for the American Administration which he claimed had reneged on all the commitments between the two sides.

He said, “it’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the deal of the century, but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions, because when they remove off the negotiation table, Jerusalem, refugees and security – what is left?”

Abbas called on countries that do not recognise Palestine to do so, especially those that support a two-state solution and recognise Israel but not Palestine.

“No. You have to recognize both states. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to remind you again that Israel has not implemented any one of the hundreds of General Assembly resolutions. There are 705 resolutions issued by the General Assembly since 1947 to date and Security Council resolutions since 1948 to date not a single resolution has been implemented by Israel.”

Abbas warned that Israeli aggression, supported by its legal system, is now threatening the status of Al Aqsa mosque claiming, “now we are told that the Israeli Supreme Court will issue a decision to divide Al-Aqsa, spatially and time-wise.”

The Palestinian president also criticised Hamas for failing to agree to the recent efforts by Egypt to secure reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah and Hams, laying the blame at Hamas’s door.

He called on the Palestinians to “remain patient, steadfast and to continue to sacrifice until we achieve independence and self-determination and to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital and not in Jerusalem”.

Fend for yourselves

And so the annual UN pilgrimage ends with the Palestinians weak and divided, pleading for protection for innocent civilians losing their lives at the hands of their brutal occupiers. Their Arab and Muslim allies continue to be cajoled into believing improving relations with Israel would endear them to Trump’s America and will bring protection from the Iranian threat.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ has turned into the ‘slap of the century’ for Palestinians left with little to negotiate for.

A strong and emboldened Israel can continue expanding and entrenching its hold on Israel-occupied territories. Abbas’s hopes for an international peace conference that broadens and better reflects the international community’s interests in resolving the conflict did not gain any traction.

It is only through their numbers—nearly 13 million strong—and their steadfastness and resistance, that Palestinians can keep their cause alive. They are in this for the long term and they will not allow Israel to complete the Zionist project.

They will outlast Trump and his administration, which while giving Israel quick wins now, will in the long term bring harm not only to Palestinians, but to peace for everyone in the region.

Trump’s Administration will fail to break the Palestinians

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 11/9/2018

Trump and Netanyahu are now brothers in arms in racism against the Palestinians

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017 [Daniel Bar On/Anadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump (L) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in Tel Aviv on 22 May 2017 [Daniel Bar On/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinian people and their cause are facing an existential threat in their homeland. Anyone who thinks that this an exaggeration should remember how many times since US President Donald Trump took office that the phrase “I can’t believe what he has just done” was used. People said that when he appointed his anti-Palestinian “dream peace team” made up of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, former company lawyer Jason Greenblatt and former bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman. All three are ardent supporters of Zionism, Israel and the settlement enterprise. Unbelievably he recently added war monger and Palestinian-hater John Bolton as National Security Adviser.

They said that it was unbelievable that Trump broke with every previous American president since Bill Clinton by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December last year. He followed this by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in record time. His daughter and son-in-law inaugurated it on the 70st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba as over 60 Palestinians were murdered at the Gaza fence marching peacefully to return to the homes they were expelled from in 1948. Trump had the audacity to claim that his move would bring peace closer because it would take Jerusalem “off the table”.

They said it was unbelievable when Trump initially cut and recently ended the US contribution to UNRWA, the UN agency which has delivered vital services to the most vulnerable Palestinians, the refugees. Rather than exert pressure on Israel to allow them to peacefully return to their homes, Trump parroted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the agency “perpetuates” the refugee problem by passing this status from one generation to another. Facing severe financial difficulties as a result of this immoral US move, the agency’s schools which reopened recently for the new academic year warned that they may have to close at the end of September unless the $217 million deficit is plugged by others. Palestine was recently reported to have one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world.

Read: Trump cuts aid to Palestinian hospitals in occupied Jerusalem

Jared Kushner was reported to have tried to pressure King Abdullah of Jordan to remove the status of some two million Palestinian refugees residing in his Kingdom, which the King refused to do.

They said it was unbelievable when the US cut funding to the Palestinian Authority by $200 million but kept funding for the security services, which secure |Israel, not the Palestinians. What was even more unbelievable was the American administration’s decision to cut its $25 million of funding for the treatment of cancer in Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. This sickening decision hits the most vulnerable with immediate effect.

It should be unbelievable that the neither the US nor the EU have condemned Israel’s racist and Apartheid confirming Nation-state Law. However, we all remember which side the US and EU took when blacks in South Africa were fighting for their freedom and the end of Apartheid there.

Perhaps less unbelievable was the decision to close the PLO Office in Washington. This has been on the cards for some time, but presumably Sheldon Addison and AIPAC could not bear seeing the Palestinian flag lying in Washington. However, what is unbelievable is that Congress still considers the PLO a terrorist organisation, despite the White House rolling out the red carpet for first Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas on a number of occasions and despite the famous signing of the Oslo Accords and the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawns in 1993. Trump himself met Abbas in Bethlehem on his first visit as president to the region last year. The reason given for the closure was the PA’s refusal to return to meaningless negotiations and to dare to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

It was therefore not unbelievable, though it should be, to watch John Bolton rubbish and threaten the ICC with sanctions in his recent speech. He directly threatened judges if they actually do their work and bring to justice not just American citizens but Israelis suspected of war crimes. He warned: “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” adding: “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

Read: The debate on UNRWA takes focus away from the realities of Palestinian refugees

Working in cahoots with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Bolton clearly does not consider the West Bank or East Jerusalem as occupied. In his speech he referred to the construction of illegal Israel settlements as simply “Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank”, which he castigated the ICC for even considering prosecuting Israeli leaders for sanctioning and funding. Unbelievable too was Israeli high court proclamation that settlers acted “in good faith” when they built illegally on Palestinian land.

With Jerusalem “off the table”, settlements just construction projects, no right of return for Palestinian refugees, no recourse for Palestinians to the ICC and UN Security Council paralysed by an Israeli veto (yes) and an administration that is content with supporting Israel both politically and to the tune of $3 billion per year, the Palestinian cause faces an existential threat.

However, not only is the cause facing an existential threat, the Palestinians themselves are facing an existential threat. Israel’s Nation State Law gave only Jews the right to self-determination within whatever borders Israel claims for itself but not to Palestinians. It further recognised Jewish only settlements as a “national value”. If only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel then they could decide they do not want any Palestinians in the area Israel rules.

A racist Israeli state is now supported by an American administration that is racist against the Palestinian people. It sees them as having no rights whatsoever, apart from any crumbs that Netanyahu and his extremist government will give them but only if that does not impact Israel’s security, whatever that means.

#UNRWA

Having failed to “encourage” Palestinians to leave of their own accord through 70 years of oppression, it may be the right moment for Israel to put all Palestinians on busses to Jordan and “Greater Gaza”, which has been talked about as part of Trump’s “ultimate deal”. Is that beyond belief? Just think who would act to stop it if it tried? It certainly won’t be America, the EU or the Arab states. It also won’t be the UK as this will be a further fulfilment of the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary it celebrated last year.

The only thing that will stop it, which Trump has not built in as a factor in his immoral “ultimate deal” is the resilience of the Palestinian people, all 13 million of them. He should have realised this on the day the embassy was moved when over 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. That has not stopped them going to the fence again and again and again as they have done since 30 March. The Palestinians will outlast Trump’s administration. However long it takes they will stay and fight for their very existence in their homeland and those in the diaspora will not give up on their right to return. After all they are the people of the land not Israeli settler colonialists whose resilience will waiver and whose hold on the land is only maintained through the barrel of a gun.

With Israel’s Nation State Law in place, violence against Palestinians will get worse

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/8/2018

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinian during a protest in Nablus West Bank on 15 February 2018 [Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency]

Ever since Israel passed the Nation State Law, Palestinians and neutral observers have been wondering about its possible impact on the substantial Palestinian minority in Israel as well as those living under occupation in the rest of historic Palestine. The law says that Israel is the state for Jews all over the world and that only Jews have a right to self-determination therein. It also demoted the status of Arabic, which has up to now been recognised as an official language. The law further proclaimed illegal Jewish settlements to be a national value. The Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or living under its occupation, did not feature.

The signal going out to Jewish Israelis is that this is their land, even though its borders remain undefined, albeit they are assumed to be from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. Non-Jewish Israelis have no rights in the land, despite the fact that the Palestinians are the indigenous people. The natural conclusion to this “logic” is that they should leave of their own accord, otherwise ways will be found to make their lives so unbearable that they leave out of fear, as happened in the 1948 Nakba when the majority of the Palestinians were expelled.

The world’s shameful silence at Israel’s open declaration that it is a de facto Apartheid state was deafening. If a state can pass such a discriminatory law and get away with it, then it can do anything.

Netanyahu: Nation state law grants all Jews ‘automatic’ immigration rights to Israel

It is worth noting that Israel passed this law shortly after a bill was disqualified from being tabled in the Knesset; that proposed legislation called for equal rights for all Israeli citizens, something we take for granted in real democracies. Readers are reminded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered “Arabs” voting in the last elections as such a threat that he appealed to his supporters to go out and vote, because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.” So much for the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East”. The reality is that Palestinian citizens of Israel — 20 per cent of the population — have always been seen as a threat rather than an asset. Israel is very aware of the “demographic threat” that they pose, simply for having beautiful babies.The Israeli government can now use the Nation State Law as a backdrop to expand the gap further between its Palestinian citizens and their fellow citizens who happen to be Jews, particularly in relation to creating more settlements within the 1948 borders and further restricting building in Palestinian communities. Jew-only communities can use entirely legal “admissions committees” to ban Palestinian Israelis from moving in, fearing that they may sully their neighbourhood. The recent demonstration in the northern town of Afula against the sale of one house to a Palestinian family is testament to the increasingly racist nature of Israeli society.Sadly, it does not stop at demonstrations or the pretence of a state that upholds international norms for a democracy or a fair legal system. Palestinians, both citizens and occupied, face increasing violence simply for who they are and that they remain in their land.

At Haifa’s Kiryat Haim beach recently, three Palestinian Israeli citizens from Shafram were approached by a group of Jewish Israelis who asked them if they were “Arabs”. Their answer in the affirmative resulted in the inquisitors leaving only for a group of eight to return with weapons, attack them violently and yell, “You are Arab dogs, do not stay here.” They explained later that they were not doing anyone any harm on the beach, but that the attackers “just decided to hit us without cause. They almost killed us. We asked them to stop but they continued. They were removed only after other people arrived at the scene. We hope the police find them.” The Palestinians acknowledge that it was other Israeli Jews who came to their rescue.

They worry about nationalist attacks. “Unfortunately, despite the various condemnations against racism, it persists,” they added. “Who will be next?” The Israeli police have arrested a 23-year-old resident of Kiryat Haim on suspicion of attacking the three men.

Poll: 58% of Israelis support the Jewish ‘nation state law’

This incident is particularly worrying because it was an unprovoked attack on Palestinian Israelis just weeks after the passing of the Nation State Law. The only official condemnation reportedly came from President Reuven Rivlin, not Netanyahu.

This was not the first incident of such attacks by Israeli Jews on Palestinians. In May, bus driver Adham Badir, 38, was pepper sprayed and assaulted between Petah Tikva and Kafr Qasem by three young settlers simply for asking them to wait for the next bus as his was too full for them to bring their electric bikes on board.

A number of attacks have been carried out by members of far-right Jewish group Lehava, which is against romantic relationships between Palestinian men and Jewish girls. In April last year, five Israeli men and one juvenile, all of them Jews, were charged in connection with a series of brutal assaults on Palestinian men in the southern city of Be’er Sheva. The suspects confirmedthat they had been involved in at least six separate incidents between December 2016 and 6 April 2017 carried out with the aim of stopping their targets from pursuing romantic relationships with Jewish women.

In the Occupied Territories, settler violence has been a feature of the daily lives of Palestinians for years. The most high profile incidents were the murders of Mohammed Abu Khdair in Jerusalem in 2014 and the burning to death of the Dawabsheh family a year later. Added to this is a long list of daily attacks on property, crops and olive trees, normally overseen by the Israel Defence Forces, the self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world”. IDF soldiers openly admit that they are there to protect the illegal settlers, not the Palestinians.

Netanyahu promises to ease house demolitions in Druze communities post-Nation State Law

The soldiers recently faced a dilemma when 10 Jewish Israeli settlers attacked 4 Jewish Israeli peace activists from Ta’ayush who were documenting illegal construction in the unauthorised Jewish outpost of Mitzpe Yair. Just who do they protect? In the event, injuries occurred only on the peace activists’ side, leaving us to draw our own conclusion about which side the soldiers are on.

It is particularly worrying that Israel is “relaxing the rules” on gun ownership and allowing up to 500,000 more civilians to carry lethal weapons. This would allow veterans of Israel’s infantry units to obtain licenses more easily, as well as officers and commanders who have completed their reserve duty to keep their weapons. The implication is that the overwhelming majority of those who will benefit will be Jewish Israelis. This poses a real threat to Palestinians across historic Palestine — Israel and the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem —from trigger-happy Israeli Jews.

International solidarity activists have also faced violence from settlers and the IDF. Norwegian activist Kristen Foss, 43, was shot with rubber bullets on two occasions by soldiers, in the abdomen on 18 August and in the ankle almost a week later. She was taking part in demonstrations in Kafr Qaddum to express solidarity with the residents’ demand for the reopening of the direct road to Nablus and access to their farmland.

Calls for violence against Palestinians including “death to the Arabs” are a regular feature of right-wing rallies and extremist gangs. Thousands chanted this in Rabin Square in 2016 as the crowd gathered in support of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier filmed executing 21 year old Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif in illegally occupied Hebron, even though the young Palestinian was already incapacitated having been shot by other soldiers following an alleged knife attack. Azaria was convicted of manslaughter, though in the event he only served only half of his 18-month sentence. Even more troubling was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated calls for Azaria’s pardon.

Hebron shooter Azaria: ‘I have no remorse whatsoever’

Upon his release in May, Azaria received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the scene of the crime. Activists of the far-right Otzma Yehudit group organised his homecoming.

Far from showing any remorse for what he did, Azaria has said, “I have no remorse. I am completely at peace with myself. I acted as needed. I went with my own [inner] truth. I acted in the most proper way possible and what happened afterwards [his trial and conviction] should not have happened.” What message does that send to other young Israelis?

The lack of condemnation or even concern by Israeli leaders about rising Jewish Israeli violence against Palestinians serves to embolden the extremists. Israel’s leadership feels emboldened and protected by US President Trump and his administration, as well as the silence of the Arab and Muslim world; Netanyahu now feels that he can do whatever he wants with complete impunity.

The future, post the passing of the Nation State Law, is worrying for Palestinians across historic Palestine. They need protection from Israeli violence, which is currently going unchallenged. Is the so called “international community” willing to help, or even capable of doing so?

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

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

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

PALESTINIAN-GAZA-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-PROTEST

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

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

Vital means of life

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

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

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

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

Back in 2015, the United Nations

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

Sinai-map (1)

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

Price of geopolitical change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Republic of Gaza?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supremacist ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ireland’s decision to advance boycott bill could be the tipping point for justice for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/7/2018

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Construction workers build illegal settlements in Jerusalem [Sliman Khader/Apaimages]

The Palestinian people are in need of some good news to boost their morale at an extremely difficult time in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

There has been little good news, particularly since US President Trump took office, recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israelmoved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv in record time, defunded UNRWA and leaks of his “ultimate deal” for resolving the conflict indicated it could not be accepted by the Palestinian people.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to march to the fence separating them from their occupiers to demand that they be allowed to return peacefully to their homes on the other side. Their peaceful endeavour has been met with brutal force resulting in over 130 killed mostly by Israeli snipers and over 10,000 injured with some sustaining horrendous injuries and others losing limbs.

Most Western governments expressed concern about the level of casualties but none acted in a way that would send a strong message to Israel to refrain from its murderous acts. As in past episodes of Israeli aggression, it was left to ordinary people all over the world to show solidarity with the Palestinians, knowing that real change in Israeli behaviour would only come when governments took action that translated words into real pressure on Israel.

Most western powers, including the UK and other EU countries hid behind the tiresome and ineffective “we are against boycotts as they are unhelpful when we are trying to bring the two sides round the negotiating table”. In other words, they did not have the bottle to call Israel’s ambassadors in to say, in no uncertain terms, that unless Israel stopped the violence and its illegal policies, it would face sanctions.

The recent escalation in demolition of Palestinian properties, particularly targeting Bedouin Palestinians in what Oslo defines as “Area C”, brought howls of displeasure but no action. The strongest the UK could muster for example was a warning that if the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahamr was demolished and its residents forcibly transferred, this could amount to a war crime. At the time of writing, the village had a brief reprieve as the Israeli courts revisit the decision to allow the demolition but the expectation is that Israel will demolish the village soon.

Demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar: Another chapter in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

The demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar is linked to the settlement enterprise, which Israel uses to tighten its grip on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). The international community considers the settlements “illegal under international law”.

Bizarrely, this position has not resulted in what Palestinians and their supporters see as the logical extension of this, which is that trade with the illegal settlements is illegal too. Goods and products from the settlements have had little trouble making their way to the EU market. The strongest action taken to distinguish between products from the settlements and those from within the internationally recognised Israeli areas has been to label them, thus providing consumers with information on which to base their decision as to whether to buy the products or to shun them. The extent to which this has made any impact on the ground is difficult to assess. However, it is reasonable to conclude that it has had little or no difference as Israel has not been squealing about it.

Funding for Settlements - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli banks “profit” from the illegal settlements as they “help support, maintain, and expand” them by “financing their construction in the occupied West Bank.”

In reality, change will only come when governments begin to exert real pressure on Israel, which could come through reassessing relations with it, perhaps reducing diplomatic representation as South Africa has done, or imposing sanctions on it when it acts illegally. The settlement enterprise is an open and shut case. They are illegal and trade with them sustain them and should end to help dismantle them if those governments are serious about peace.

Almost all western governments see boycotts, including those of the illegal settlements as unhelpful and in some countries those promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) have faced hostility, been accused of anti-Semitism and efforts to implement boycotts of companies that are complicit in the settlement enterprise have come under attack, as in the UK. Bizarrely, those same countries say that the settlements are “harming” the chances of a two-state solution, are an “obstacle to peace” and in the case of the E1 area, which provides the only access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians, would “deal a fatal blow” to the two-state solution.

If the world is serious about helping end the conflict then governments must act. The EU can play a role in this but is refusing to do so. It was therefore left to one of its smaller members, Ireland to show leadership and for a brave independent Senator, Frances Black, to bring to Senate a bill to ban the import of settlement goods.

Under pressure from Israel, the Irish Government, which does not support boycotts, postponed an initial attempt to bring the bill to a vote in January of this year. However, on the 11th of July the “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018” was debated and passed. The vote was 25 in favour, 20 against and 14 abstaining. While there are still a number of stages to get through before it becomes law; this now paves the way for Ireland to become the first EU country to ban the import of products from the illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

#LandGrab

Israel’s response was as expected. Its Foreign Ministry slammed Ireland after it passed the bill, stating that the “Irish Senate has given its support to a populist, dangerous and extremist anti-Israel boycott initiative that hurts the chances of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians”. It further claimed that the law will “have a negative impact on the diplomatic process in the Middle East,” and that it will “harm the livelihood of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.”

Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, congratulated Ireland on the decision to pass the bill, stating that he wished to

extend our sincere appreciation to the Irish Seanad for standing tall for the principle of justice by approving this historic motion banning trade with the illegal Israeli colonial-settlements in Occupied Palestine.

It is important that the Irish Government now listens to the Irish people and moves to supporting this bill as it actually supports the two-state solution and the illegality of the settlements policy on the conflict. If it does that and successfully navigates its way through any legal difficulties this may pose, then Ireland, a friend of the Palestinian people, could be the pioneering country that begins to deliver justice to the Palestinian people and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will of course come under pressure from Israel, its strong lobby and even the EU to find a way of pulling back from the brink of implementing an ethical boycott of an illegal enterprise. However, it must stand firm and remember that the others have no credible policy to resolve the conflict, including the United States. Israel has had decades of appeasement and faced no accountability for its breaches of international law. It is time this began for peace.

Ireland could be providing the necessary tipping point that others could rally round, especially the EU, which has in the past talked the talk but never intended to walk the walk to deliver justice to the Palestinian people.

As for Israel and its shameful backers in its illegal endeavours, the countdown to the end of the illegal settlement enterprise started in Dublin on the 11th of July. The clock is ticking.

Israeli forces displaced 1,347 Palestinians in the occupied #WestBank last year… all from home demolitions!

#HomeDemolitions #Palestine #ZionistState #OccupiedPalestine

MEMO infographic by QUAD Business House –https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170509-israel-denies-h…/

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A challenge for Trump: Pull out of the UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support from Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haley’s ‘extraordinary’ letter

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Accountability gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

US veto is Israel’s veto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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