While Arab states normalise relations with Israel, British voters lobby MPs for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 3/12/2018

November was an extraordinary month for normalisation between Arab states and Israel. You would think that Israel had settled its disputes with its neighbours — perhaps accepting and implementing the Arab peace initiative, for example, — and that a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was close to reality. In fact, though, Israel has challenged the world to call out its Apartheid status following the passing of the Nation State Law; continues to build illegal colonies on Palestinian land; imprisons thousands of Palestinians; demolishes Palestinian-owned homes and other buildings; and kills peaceful protesters at the nominal border with the Gaza Strip on a weekly basis.

The Sultanate of Oman hosted an official state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife. It then gave a conference platform to Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz to outline his state’s vision for a railway linking Haifa with the Gulf. Israeli sports teams competed in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, while Bahrain indicated its desire to establish diplomatic channels with Israel. To cap it all, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was given support for his position from Netanyahu. This is the same Saudi Arabia that recently banned Palestinians holding valid travel documents from visiting Makkah and Madinah for pilgrimage, presumably on the orders of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques, King Salman. Who would have thought it possible?

The Palestinians know of and rely on the long standing support of the Arab people but it has now become clear that support from a substantial number of their governments is tokenistic. In fact, the Arab states’ role has become more like cheerleaders for Donald Trump’s still to be announced “deal of the century”, and to be ready to put a few million dollars into the kitty to cajole them into accepting the ultimate surrender deal.

READ: Normalisation and a ‘regional solution’ are back on the agenda 

The Arab people — including Palestinians — are oppressed by their own governments, which deny them their civil and political rights. They have little or no influence on the decisions made in their names by their unelected governments and are therefore hardly able to influence the decisions which have an impact on the Palestinian cause.

While wanting to see the Arabs return to their unwavering support for the cause, the Palestinians look increasingly elsewhere, particularly where they can influence government decisions, even if the effect is not immediately obvious. A good example of this is in Britain, where demonstrations in support of the Palestinians in Gaza have been held since the start of the Great March of Return protests in the territory since 31 March. Furthermore, many British voters lobby their MPs and government on behalf of the people of Palestine.

The annual pro-Palestine lobby of parliament in Westminster takes place on or near the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, 29 November. The UN introduced this in 1977 to coincide with the passing of UN resolution 181, the Partition Plan, in 1947.

This year’s lobby was again organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The objective was for ordinary British people to meet their MPs and discuss the Palestinian issue with a particular focus. This year the two issues that constituents were asked to raise with their MPs were related to Palestinian child prisoners and an end to the arms trade with Israel. An Early Day Motion (EDM) 563 on military detention of Palestinian children, is the fourth most signed EDM in this parliamentary session. EDM 1305, meanwhile, calls for “a suspension of arms sales to Israel”.

Just under 3,000 members of the British public participated in the lobby last week. They contacted 600 out of the 650 MPs to express concern about child prisoners and the arms trade. Other MPs whose constituents were not able to travel to Westminster attended various briefings arranged by the PSC both to show their support and to learn more. Most of the parties with MPs were represented at these events.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) on an official diplomatic visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 25 October 2018 [PM of Israel/Twitter]

At a rally held after the lobby, many MPs spoke in support of the Palestinian cause, highlighting the need for actions more than words. It was noticeable that those who had visited Palestine and Israel to see the situation for themselves were the most outspoken.

The new Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Husam Zomlot, expressed appreciation of the Palestinian people to the “heroes” involved in the lobby. He stressed the importance of such efforts, especially the timing, “because of the campaign by the extreme right wing groups who are adamant to be anti-internationalist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic values, anti-solidarity and anti-openness.” In particular, the Ambassador commended the pro-Palestine activists for focussing on the “upholding of international law.” While noting that the issues of Palestinian children and the arms trade with Israel are important, he also highlighted Israel’s illegal settlement building and the position of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees. He referred to the importance of enforcing the law in Britain under which, he argued, “importing settlement produce is illegal.”

Zomlot called for the British government to recognise the state of Palestine and claimed that “no act will be more relevant, would be more effective in bringing peace and justice.” He pointed out that the Palestinians do not understand the reluctance to offer such recognition. “We do not understand what is taking the government so long. We do not understand why, given that the British people expressed their will through their elected parliamentarians four years ago, recognition remains unimplemented.” He then reminded the audience of Britain’s historic responsibility and the motion for recognition tabled by Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, the Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

The Palestinian Ambassador spoke after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry insisted that a future Labour Government will “immediately recognise the state of Palestine, and will urge our international friends to follow suit, not in due course, not when the time is right or whatever formula this current Tory Government comes up with.” She also committed to Britain hosting an emergency international conference to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and all of those displaced from their homes or forced into refugee camps abroad as a result of Israeli actions. Most importantly, perhaps, she called for the shortfall caused by Trump’s callous move to cut funding for UNRWA to be filled.

READ: Students from 30 UK universities protest against investment in Israel occupation 

Thornberry also emphasised that Britain must use its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to “demand action when Israel breaks international law.” She stated that it was time to expose the hypocrisy of the US and others “who demand actions and independent investigations when other countries break those laws but then turn a blind eye when it comes to Israel. It is not good enough. We must be even handed and it is about time we started being a little braver and a little bolder when it comes to peace in the Middle East.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary stated that a Labour government “will be prepared to say out loud that it shames the United Nations and it shames the Security Council that for decades Israel has been able to ignore with impunity all the resolutions that the UN has passed and demand effective actions to enforce them.” Since the US has effectively shut itself out from being a broker for peace, Thornberry said that Britain and other countries should step in to revive talks between the parties based on clear principles and a clear timeline to deliver a two-state solution.

Protest in Tunisia against the normalisation of Israel [File photo]

One long-term supporter of Palestinian rights, Andrew Slaughter MP, emphasised the importance of Thornberry’s participation in the rally, which may not have been possible just a few short years ago. He called for a ban on settlement goods, but not a boycott of settlements per se.

The final speaker at the rally thought that this was inadequate. Lubnah Shomali, of BADIL — the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights — contended that it was not enough to speak in solidarity, to recognise Palestine and to ban settlement products. She went further and argued that, since Israel does not distinguish between Israeli and settlement products, neither should we; in fact, we should be boycotting all Israeli products. She also argued for sanctions on Israel as other states are obligated to hold it to account for its breaches of international laws and conventions.

Shomali will take back to Palestine the tremendous support for Palestinian rights that she witnessed among British citizens, who put pressure on their elected representatives not only at the parliamentary lobby but also throughout the year. It is sad to say that she would not be able to take back the same sort of experience after a visit to any of the Arab states falling over themselves to normalise relations with Israel. The people there may want to show solidarity with the Palestinians and put pressure on their governments to act in support of Palestine, but they live under political systems that do not have any representative democratic institutions. The will of the people in such countries is, therefore, ineffectual at the moment.

Israel implements a deliberate policy to terrorise Palestinian children

First published by the Middle East Eye on 4/1/2018

At the start of the second intifada in 2000, an iconic image emerged of Muhammad al-Durra, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, as he was being shielded from Israeli fire by his father who begged the soldiers to stop shooting. The bullets, however, continued and al-Durra died from the wounds he sustained.

Almost a month later, another image of a Palestinian child, caught in the conflict, went viral.

Fares Odeh, 14, was caught on camera fearlessly throwing stones at an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip. Odeh was killed by Israeli forces on 8 November that same year.

Sheer hatred

On Wednesday, the Israeli army killed Musab Firas al-Tamimi, 17, from the village of Deir Nitham, in the West Bank, making him the first Palestinian to be shot dead by Israeli forces in 2018.

Israeli cruelty, and what Palestinians view as sheer hatred for their children, was epitomised by the killing in 2004 of 13-year-old Iman Darweesh Al Hams. She was shot by Israeli army soldiers from an observation post in what Israel claimed was a “no-man” zone near the Philadelphi Route in Rafah.

As if that was not enough, the Israeli army commander of the soldiers fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into Hams’s body. A year later, that commander during trialexpressed no regret over his actions and said he would have “done the same even if the girl was a three-year-old”.

He was cleared of all major charges.

According to the Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), 595 children were killed during the second intifada, during which the above killings took place.

Palestinian children ride their bike past Israeli soldiers patrolling in the old city of Hebron in the West Bank in December 2005 (AFP)

In recent years, Gaza’s children have suffered repeatedly at the hands of the Israeli army, particularly during the past three major wars. The 2008-9 war resulted in the death of 280 children. The death toll in the 2012 war was 33 children and in the most recent war, in 2014, 490 children were killed by Israeli fire.

In the period between 2000 to 2017 the DCIP reports that 2,022 Palestinian children lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli forces, an average of 25 per month. During that same period, 137 Israeli children were killed by Palestinians.

It is of course not about counting numbers but this does give an indication of the terrible impact of the Israeli occupation and repeated wars on the Palestinians, particularly on the children.

It is important to note that unlike Israeli children killed in the conflict, most Palestinian children killed by Israel are anonymous and become part of the death count. Israeli media ensures the names and images of dead Israeli children are transmitted as widely as possible. Palestinians do not have the same reach.

Children in military courts

There are currently no Israeli children being detained by Palestinians. However, there are some 450 Palestinian children who have been placed in detention by Israel. They are tried in military courts, brought to face the military judges in shackles – as the world saw after 16-year-old Ahed al-Tamimi was abducted in the early hours of 20 December last year.

According to the DCIP, 500 to 700Palestinian children are detained by Israel every year. The most common charge is stone throwing. The DCIP, however, says that since 2000 at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system.

The DCIP reports that in 590 cases documented between 2012 and 2016, 72 percent of Palestinian child detainees reported physical violence and 66 percent faced verbal abuse and humiliation.

According to Khaled Quzmar, DCIP’s general director, “despite ongoing engagement with UN bodies and repeated calls to abide by international law, Israeli military and police continue night arrests, physical violence, coercion, and threats against Palestinian children”.

 

Once bundled into an Israeli army vehicle, they are manhandled and in some cases are taken into Israel which is against international humanitarian law. They are often interrogated without the presence of a parent or a lawyer and are often asked to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read.

Disproportionately targeted

Children in Jerusalem and Hebron seem to have been disproportionately targeted. A video of the Israeli army detaining a five-year-old boy in Hebron made headlines around the world. Another six-year-old child was detained for five hours in Jalazun refugee camp in the West Bank.

Tareq Abukhdeir, a Palestinian-American teen who was beaten savagely by Israeli police, was not offered any assistance by the US consulate in East Jerusalem. His cousin Mohammed was burnt alive by Jewish terrorists earlier that year.

It seems that Israel is implementing a deliberate policy to terrorise Palestinian children to dissuade them from engaging in Palestinian resistance as they grow into adulthood.

However, in many cases the arrest process begins with the first abduction in the early hours, snatching them from their beds.

A child’s bed, his/her home are the place where children should feel secure, but not Palestinian children. The knock on the door, the shouting of a name, the forced entry into a bedroom, can happen to any Palestinian child and without warning. No regard for age or circumstance is given.

Many Palestinian children are now on “Israel’s books”. This makes it easier for Israel to call on them at any time either for suspicion of involvement in stone throwing or to extract evidence against others.

A long list

Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi now joins a long list of detainees. Instead of trying to understand why Ahed lashed out at the soldier who came uninvited into her illegally occupied village, the Israeli education minister suggested she and other Palestinian girls should “spend the rest of their days in prison”.

While prominent Israeli journalist Ben Caspit wrote that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.

Israel often accuses Palestinians of incitement that encourages children and young adults to resist the occupation, including through violence. Ending incitement has been added to an ever growing list of Israeli demands they place on the Palestinians.

A photo of Palestinian teen Fawzi Al-Junaidi being arrested, taken by the Palestinian photographer Wisam Hashlamoun, went viral on social media on 7 December 2017 (Twitter/@marro_lb)

However, children need no incitement from anyone when they experience occupation and humiliation on a daily basis.

While many Palestinian children inspire others through their steadfastness and resistance, other Palestinian children also represent a beacon of hope as they struggle on different fronts, by winning international competitions. Seventeen-year-old Afaf Sharif beat 7.4 million contestants to win this year’s title as the champion of the Arab Reading Challenge.

In 2015 Dania Husni al-Jaabari, 14, and Ahmad Ayman Nashwieh, eight, won first and second place respectively in the Intelligent Mental-Arithmetic Competition in Singapore, beating 3,000 other children. Two years earlier, 14-year-old Areej El Madhoon won the same competition.

Palestinian children born in the diaspora have also inspired others. Fifteen-year-old British-Palestinian Leanne Mohamad won a 2015-16 Speak Out regional challenge in London speaking about the effect of the Nakba on Palestinians. We will never know if she would have won the main competition as her award was withdrawn by the organisers under pressure from pro-Israel groups.

Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion once said about the Palestinians: “The old will die and the young will forget.” How wrong was he about the Palestinian people.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing 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 commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe 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: A Palestinian girl holds a placard showing a picture of a child crying during a demonstration in support of the children of the Gaza Strip in July 2014 in the West Bank northern city of Nablus (AFP)

UK Parliament debates Palestinian child prisoners 

UK Parliament debates Palestinian child prisoners 

Labour MP Sarah Champion secured a debate in Parliament on 6/1/2016 on Palestinian child prisoners. This was held in West Minister Hall, not in the main chamber and attracted around 50 MPs. Sarah had recently visited Palestine with CAABU and MAP and gave an excellent, authoritive and in places shocking speech. 

Israel commits war crimes on an industrial scale.

  
The debate unfortunately demonstrated that the U.K. Parliament has a number of MPs who will defend Israel regardless of the issue being discussed or the gravity of its criminal behaviour. Their hatred for Palestinians was evident, ignoring the occupation and arguing that Palestinian incitement was to blame. Unfortunately, nothing will change their views, which come straight from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s manual.

Here is a link to the debate