Debate on British Palestinians’ letter to the Guardian on their right to freedom of speech

I joined a debate on RT UK on this letter in the Guardian which I signed on 1/8/2018

Israel challenges the world: I am an Apartheid state, what are you going to do about it?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/7/2018

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View of a Palestinian refugee camp behind Israel’s apartheid wall in east Jerusalem on 3 December 2014 [Muammar Awad/Apaimages]

Remember the date, 19 July 2018 is when Israel’s pretense of democracy, the Knesset  passed the Nation State Bill, which could more aptly be called, the “Jewish State Apartheid Law” where Jews dominate the Israeli Palestinian Arabs who are lesser than them, even if they are citizens. I deliberately did not say Israeli Jews because the law gives all rights in historic Palestine to Jews, not only in Israel but across the world, including those Jews that do not identify with the state.

My mother, who was born in Jerusalem before Israel was created, has no rights in the Holy city or her homeland but a Jewish lady with no connection to Israel can “return”, to a place she does not come from. The invaders, since they were not invited into our homeland, have enshrined the right to have my Palestinian homeland as theirs in law and also annulled my mother’s right to return, which is enshrined not in state but in international law. I can hear cries of “this is the Jewish homeland because we were here thousands of years ago”, really? If Jews – and it is only Zionists – believe they are entitled to return after thousands of years -which I reject – then how can they deny Palestinians the right to return after 71 years? In fact UN resolution 194 enshrined in international law gives Palestinians the Right of Return but there is no reference in international law to Jews having a “right to return” to historic Palestine.

Let me be clear, I am not denying Jewish, Christian or Muslim connection to holy sites in historic Palestine. However, Palestinians reject the notion of singling Jews out for a “right of return” to our homeland now and forever. No other people are afforded the right to a freehold on a plot of land forever and Jews should be no different.

Israel’s prime minister pushed the adoption of this bill now as he sees an opportunity to make major wins while US President Trump is in office and has given Israel carte blanche to implement any policies it wishes.

“A hundred and twenty-two years after [the founder of modern Zionism Theodore] Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that this is a “defining moment” for Israel.

“Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.”

What Netanyahu did not tell us was were exactly are the borders of this state? What rights do its non-Jewish but indigenous Palestinian citizens have within its internationally recognised borders? Netanyahu and supporters of Israel should remember that the 20 per cent “minority” that they form would not have been a minority if it had not been for the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 of their brothers and sisters in 1948. Had they not been forced out through Jewish terror, their numbers would have been equal if not larger than the Jewish Israelis that now reside in historic Palestine. It would have been Jews that formed the minority.

Netanyahu also failed to explain the status of the occupied Palestinians who are not afforded citizenship in this state. What rights do they have? They are not citizens of Israel or Palestine.

Netanyahu

Much has been written since the Nation State Law was approved, but there has been insufficient outrage. The law has mostly been seen at worst as “controversial”. Israel has challenged the world to say no to state racism and Apartheid but the world has only expressed concern that the law could impede the now long dead peace process and wait for it, the two-state solution. Netanyahu challenged the world and the world is not ready for a fight for basic equality between citizens of a state.

Through its silence, the world arguably agrees that historic Palestine is homeland only for Jews. It agrees that the indigenous Palestinians have no rights, except those that the Jewish state agrees to give them out of the goodness of its heart and only if Israeli Jews agree. Jews can build settlements only for Jews and admissions committees can decide whether to allow the people whose land it is, the Palestinians, to live amongst them. They can decide whether Palestinian children can play in kindergartens with Jewish children and whether they can swim together in one pool.

By confirming “United Jerusalem” as their eternal capital, Israeli Jews can decide for how long Al-Aqsa Mosque can remain, majestically from a Palestinian point of view,  on the “Jewish Jerusalem” skyline. Who can forget the image of the notorious Palestinian hater and so called US Ambassador David Friedman beaming as he held a poster showing a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock?

Perhaps the US has already obtained assurances from some Arab and Muslim leaders that since Muslims already have two holy mosques in Makkah and Madina and Jews do not have one, that it would be acceptable to give Al-Haram Al-Sharif up for that purpose. After all it seems protection from the Iranian threat carries a heavy price. The installation of the Jewish temple could be part of the “deal”. I of course do not know if that is the case, but we live in bizarre times.

Israel has already curtailed the calling of the Muslim call for prayer, the Athan, because it disturbs the illegal Jewish settlers. Now, the language in which the call is made, Arabic, has been demoted from an official language of the state to having “a special status”. Another attack on the indigenous Palestinians.

If Israel was not a racist endeavour when created, it is now most certainly a racist state, unless of course a new definition of racism has been created which gives exception to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. A racist state deserves to be criticised, ostracised and isolated until it repents and removes all its racist laws. This law is only one of tens of laws that already discriminate against non-Jews.

However, what is most bizarre is that confirmation by Israel that it is a racist entity through the passing of the law could, according to the so called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism label as anti-Semites anyone daring to call it a racist or Apartheid entity.

There is no excuse for the world’s lack of action against racist Israel.

How can the US, the land of the free, support it now? The Zionist and Israel apologist Trump trio of Greenblatt, Kushner and Friedman have not issued any statement on this law. They, especially Greenblatt who is effectively tweeting for Israel, helped Israel with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and are working to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return. Their vision for peace almost supports the rapid implementation of the new law rather than condemn it.

The EU has, true to form, talked the talk but not walked the walk, expressing concern but no condemnation.

The Palestinian leadership has sleepwalked into this, typically with no strategy to counter it. The appropriate response to the passing of the law in the early hours of the 19th of July should have been for the PLO to declare an end to the disastrous Oslo Accords, to dissolve the Palestinian Authority with an immediate effect including an end to the immoral security coordination with the Apartheid state. The PLO has been mandated to de-recognise Israel by its Palestine National Council. That time has come. How can the Palestinians continue to recognise an Apartheid state which also denies all their rights and then sit with its representatives to negotiate a two-state solution which this law prohibits?

It is time for the Palestinians to review their struggle and adopt a call for equal rights for all who inhabit historic Palestine and a return for the refugees to their homes. The struggle would continue until these rights are realised.

#ApartheidState

All states, but particularly those that claim to be western style democracies, should have severed relations with Apartheid Israel, including those Arab states that have established relations with it.

As for the rest of those that support Israel both as individuals and organisations, enough is enough. This Israel is not a state that anyone can support or declare a friend. In particular, “friends of Israel” groups in UK political parties should shut themselves down or rename themselves appropriately as “Friends of Apartheid Israel”. That is what it should say on the tin. Honourable and Right Honourable members should then resign from these racism-supporting groups and instead join the BDS movement.

If Apartheid Israel is tolerated, next it will be Apartheid Myanmar and the door will be open for other states to court Apartheid. For the sake of our children let us not allow racism to be tolerated anywhere.

Backlash after Israeli forces prepare to demolish Palestinian village

I was interviewed by RTUK on 4/7/2018 about the impending demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank

Palestine- Israel two-state solution is off the rails

First published by the Arab Weekly on 15/4/2018

Whatever the real motives, the outcome would be an entrenchment of Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Another brick in the wall. A 2016 file picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara during an inauguration ceremony of Hahemek rail line. (AP)

Early in his administration, US President Donald Trump stated that he would support whatever the parties agreed to in relation to a one-state or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was a major departure for the United States, which had consistently stated that the two-state solution was the only way to achieve peace. Former Secretary of State John Kerry had argued in December 2016 that if Israel’s choice was “one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic. It cannot be both.”

During the 2015 election campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised there would be “no Palestinian state under his watch.” His coalition partners agree either implicitly or explicitly that the two-state solution is not on the table, particularly following Trump’s election and the formation of a US negotiating team that is wholly pro-Israeli, both in tone and in action.

The Trump administration is still working on the “ultimate deal” that it claims will be difficult for both Palestinians and Israelis to accept. The undertones to the Palestinians are that this will be for “implementation, not negotiation.”

The United States angered Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cutting funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the agency tasked with delivering services to Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas severed ties with the US team, arguing the United States cannot be an honest peace broker having made these two critical decisions. However, his efforts to convince other countries or the European Union to take a lead and his call for an international peace conference to take place in mid-2018 have not borne fruit.

The Great March of Return has seen tens of thousands of Palestinians camp and demonstrate on the Gaza border with Israel calling for implementation of their right of return, which the Israelis met with violence, killing tens of protesters and injuring thousands.

Israel refuses to allow the refugees to return, 70 years since UN Resolution 194 giving them this right was adopted. The Gaza march has highlighted the Palestinian refugee problem to the US team, making it clear that, unless the issue is resolved, there will be no peace, whether in one or two states.

The Palestinian leadership clings to the two-state solution despite the ever-increasing number of settlements and settlers in the West Bank. Israel is making it impossible to achieve. It is expanding settlements and key members of Netanyahu’s coalition, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have called for annexing the West Bank.

In any case, Israel has been acting as if it has sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Its latest project demonstrates this clearly. Reports claim that it is starting construction of a railway that would cross into occupied territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The three-phase project would see the railway established on 200 hectares of land. Palestinian agricultural land, trees and water sources would be destroyed in the process. The plan includes building 11 West Bank railways with a length of 475km and 30 stations, some of which would be in illegal settlements.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the Israeli government for the project.

It is likely that the plan would encourage further settlement construction, as housing in illegal colonies is generally cheaper than it is in Israeli towns and cities. This, together with fast railway connections, would lead to more Israelis residing in illegal settlements. Their opportunities for interaction with the Palestinians would be further limited because it is not clear how Israeli security concerns would be addressed to allow Palestinians to use the railway.

Going further, Reuters reported that Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz recently proposed linking Israel’s freight network with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a project he presented to Trump Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt. He claimed this could benefit the Palestinians “If the Palestinians connect to a railway system, the entire area will get a significant economic boost,” he said.

Whatever the real motives, the outcome would be an entrenchment of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and an erosion of the last possibilities for a Palestinian state.

Israel claims it does not want to see one state emerge as a long-term solution to the conflict. However, these projects are a clear indication that it is creating a one-state reality that can either mean equal rights for all in one state or an apartheid state in which Jewish Israelis dominate Palestinians. It is derailing the two-state solution.

Israel’s encroachment on Hebron is devastating to Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 11/3/2018

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them.
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)

It has been 24 years since Jewish Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshipers in Alkhalil Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque, known to Jews as Cave of the Patriarchs. The attack happened during dawn prayers in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Goldstein was an immigrant from New York to Israel who was active in the extremist Kach political movement in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and he was known to Israeli intelligence. He was found and beaten to death by a crowd soon after the massacre.

Unlike attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, Israeli authorities did not demolish the home of the perpetrator. Rather, his grave has become a shrine for the Jewish extremists and the inscription on his tomb reads: “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.”

The city has never been the same since.

Following the massacre, the Israeli government enhanced security for settlers across occupied Hebron. In addition, the Ibrahimi mosque was divided, with Muslim access reduced to approximately 40% of the site. The other 60% was allocated to Jewish worshippers, who entered the site from a separate entrance. The Palestinians saw this as a reward for Israeli terrorism.

The security measures, which prevail to this day, saw parts of the city near illegal Israeli settlements closed to Palestinian residents.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, which the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and some 800 illegal Jewish settlers, which Israel moved into the old quarter of the city after its occupation in 1967. The settlers are protected by an entire military brigade.

The Hebron Protocol, signed by Binyamin Netanyahu in January 1997, during his first term as Israeli prime minister divided the city into two sections: H1, 80% of the city under full Palestinian control; H2, where four Jewish neighbourhoods are located under full Israeli control but includes 40,000 Palestinian residents.

Since 2015, Israel has declared various parts of the old city “closed military zones,” forcing Palestinian shops to close. Up to 18 military checkpoints have been set up around the entrance to the mosque and to control access to Palestinians and visitors to the old quarter.

The security arrangements bring continuous misery to the Palestinian residents who face daily oppression through the need for permits to enter their homes, restrictions on vehicle movement causing them difficulties in bringing in goods and materials to homes and businesses.

Hebron makes a major contribution to the Palestinian economy, including 40% of its GDP and 40% of its exports, the Palestine Economy Portal stated. Hebron contributes one-third of animal production in the West Bank. However, Israel’s repeated closures and restrictions on economic activity have restricted the city’s potential to lead Palestine’s economic development and is heavily affected by the occupation.

Its centre has been devastated through the forced closure of businesses, including those on the famous Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare and commercial hub of Hebron (next to which three of the four Jewish neighbourhoods are located). The street, which is closed to Palestinian traffic, looks like a scene from a ghost town.

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them. Children in the centre of the city often need to be accompanied to school to protect them from settler abuse and violence. Rather than the Israeli military protecting the children, they protect the settlers.

Since the Palestinian uprising in 2015, the Israeli military has carried out several extrajudicial killings in Hebron, alleging potential knife attacks by Palestinians. This includes the Elor Azaria’s infamous killing of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying on the ground heavily injured. The shooting was captured on camera and outraged Palestinians and their supporters.

Israel’s providing full protection and access to Jewish settlers in the city and designating roads as settler-only have brought accusations that it implements discriminating policies in the city.

The city’s future is likely to see further restrictions on the lives of Palestinians and an embodiment of the settlers, particularly following the naked bias of the US administration in favour of Israel through its recent decisions that culminated in its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel is likely to reinforce its grip on the city, making the lives of Palestinians in its centre so miserable that they will move out to escape the terror of the settlers and the military.

Israel may expand the presence of the settlers, helping to take more Palestinian homes and to build new illegal housing units as it did in 2017 following the UNESCO decision to list Hebron’s old city as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

The Palestinians face a battle with Israel not only over Jerusalem but also over Hebron.

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Palestine must push back against loss of traditional allies

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/8/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

 

When the PLO asked the United Nations General Assembly for an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state” on 29th November 2012, the motion was passed by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The vote was met with ecstatic celebrations by the Palestinian delegation and disappointment on the faces of Israeli diplomats. The Israelis knew this could be a game changer, for although they, together with their American ally had scuppered the attempt in the Security Council (UNSC) for full recognition of Palestine as a state, the new status would offer the Palestinians the opportunity to pursue their ‘internationalisation’ strategy.

Having failed to make progress in direct peace negotiations under the auspices of the Americans, the Palestinians used their newly found status to join an array of international organisations and conventions. Palestine had already secured membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the previous year, which resulted in Israel freezing its $2 million annual contribution to it.

On 12th April 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the relevant documentation to join 15 treaties and conventions including the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol. Perhaps the most important organisation Palestine was able to join as a result of its upgraded status was the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it formally joined in April 2015. Joining the ICC allows Palestine to bring cases against Israeli officials for alleged crimes, including the 2014 war on Gaza and continued illegal settlement construction.

While Palestine struggles to have resolutions passed in the UN Security Council due to the likelihood that the US will wield its veto to protect Israel, in other forums where the veto does not exist, it has generally secured enough support to pass relevant motions. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regularly investigates Israeli human rights abuses and passes resolutions condemning its practices. UNESCO has passed important resolutions regarding Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and the status of Hebron’s old city and Al Aqsa Mosque that have raised severe criticism by Israel and its American backer; they were, however, unable to block these without the weapon of a US veto.

Despite these successes, support for the Palestinians in international forums is under threat from a sustained diplomatic effort by Israel to dissuade states and organisations traditionally hostile to it and supportive of the Palestinians to change course.

A Palestinian statehood resolution at the UNSC in December 2014 seemed to have secured enough votes to force the Obama administration to wield the US veto. That was until Nigeria, which has traditionally supported the Palestinians had a last minute change of heart and abstained; meaning the US did not need to exercise its veto. That was despite France, China and Russia voting in favour of the resolution. Nigeria’s Ambassador echoed the US position stating that the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution”. This came after heavy pressure on the Nigerians which included telephone calls to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

In another first, India’s Narendra Modi made the first state visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister last July. Commenting on a visit in which he physically embraced Prime Minister Netanyahu he said that India and Israel shared a “deep and centuries-old” connection. Suffice to note that that connection had not translated into a similar visit by a sitting Indian Prime Minister since Israel’s creation in 1948. Furthermore, it is worth noting that India is now Israel’s biggest arms market worth about $1bn per annum.

Israel’s relations with China have been developing since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. China has moved from support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel to support for a nebulous “just and peaceful resolution” to the issue instead.

Football’s governing body, FIFA, which had been due to sanction Israel for allowing teams from the illegal West Bank settlements to participate in Israel’s league, against FIFA’s own rules. The move was kicked this into the long grass following a telephone call from Israel’s Netanyahu to FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino.

In recent months, particularly following US President Trump’s visit to the region, even Arab states that had unreservedly supported the Palestinians have shown signs of change. Netanyahu insists relations with Arab states which have largely been hostile to Israel is shifting. There has even been talk of limited normalisation by some Gulf States to incentivise Israel to halt settlement construction and re-engage in the “peace process” with Palestinians.

An even greater danger for the erosion of Palestinian support lies in Africa. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long been pursuing closer relations and support from the African continent. On a visit to Kenya in 2016, he said “There are 50 countries in Africa”, “Just about all of them,” he continued “could be allies of Israel. They vote at international forums, and I know people don’t believe this, but I think we can change the automatic majorities in the UN and so on if you begin to shift this.”

The next step in Netanyahu’s pursuit of this change is the forthcoming ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ which has been called for 23- 24 October in Lome, Togo. The Summit’s website sells it as a “framework that will permit the leaders of the trade, security and diplomatic sectors of Africa and Israel to meet, network and collaborate”. It quotes Netanyahu saying Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel”. The last time the Israeli and Togo leaders were due to meet was at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Summit in Monrovia, Liberia back in June. However, the meeting was cancelled following a scuffle between the two leaders’ body guards.

Netanyahu’s attendance at the annual conference was to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other forums and to “dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies”. The conference saw Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe named the new chairperson of ECOWAS in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

Although the Africa-Israel Summit is still on schedule, pressure to cancel it appears to be growing. Morocco and the Palestinian Authority have reportedly been pressuring the Togolese President to cancel the summit and African countries to boycott it. This pressure must grow rapidly to avoid Israel reaping the fruits of its efforts in Africa, the continent which experienced apartheid in South Africa and which until relatively recently saw its fall. How can Africa, in particular, entertain Israeli apartheid?

The Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has labelled Israeli policies as Apartheid for over a decade. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” he said in a statement in 2014. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

The Palestinians may have assumed that Africa would resist Netanyahu’s charm offensive. However, increasingly it seems economic considerations trump human rights. The PLO has representative offices in 20 African countries. Apart from the North African Arab countries and other member states of the Arab League, Palestine has in South Africa and the African National Congress in particular strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. South Africa has been considering downgrading its embassy in Tel Aviv in protest at the lack of progress towards peace and Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership must use every ally to push back against Israel’s diplomatic offensive in Africa or face further erosion of support where it matters for the just Palestinian cause.