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

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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.

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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)

 

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

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

Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong words indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El escudo humano más famoso de Israel es Avigdor Lieberman, su ministro de Defensa

primero publicó el monitor de Oriente en 13/6/2018

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Palestinos participan en las protestas contra la ocupación y el bloqueo israelí en la frontera entre Gaza e Israel, en la localidad de Khan Younis, el pasado viernes 8 de junio de 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

La maquinaria propagandística de Israel lleva funcionando a pleno nivel desde el 30 de marzo, cuando comenzó la Gran Marcha del Retorno y decenas de miles de palestinos de Gaza marcharon hacia la valla que les separa de Israel para exigir su derecho a regresar a sus ciudades y pueblos de origen, además del fin de los 11 años de asedio inmoral a Gaza. Una vez más, el objetivo es deshumanizar a los palestinos, retratarlos como personas violentas que pretenden atacar y asesinar a los israelíes, en vez de como a un pueblo respaldado por la ley internacional articulada en la Resolución 194 de la ONU, que otorga su derecho al retorno.

La hasbará israelí ha trabajado horas extras para tratar de ocultar la naturaleza pacífica de las manifestaciones y su origen como movimiento de base. Incluso antes de producirse la primera marcha a la valla, el ministro israelí de Asuntos Exteriores distribuyó un documento llamado “La Campaña de Confrontación liderada por Hamás”, que detallaba los principales factores expuestos por la diplomacia pública de Israel respecto a la marcha. Tal y como implica el título del documento, Israel quiso despojar a la marcha de su encuadre pacífico y civil, tachándola de “provocación” y afirmando que “Hamás ha gastado más de 10 millones de dólares en financiar la actual campaña de confrontación, pagando a los ciudadanos de Gaza para que participen”. Por supuesto, no existen pruebas que respalden estas afirmaciones. Todos palestinos (no sólo los ciudadanos de Gaza) marcharon por su propia voluntad. Muchas familiar salieron a las calles con sus hijos con la esperanza de poder atravesar pacíficamente la valla y volver a sus hogares.

Otra de las cosas que afirmaban es que “Israel tiene derecho a defender sus fronteras e impedir infiltraciones a su territorio soberano”. Pero el documento no explica cuáles son exactamente las fronteras de Israel. Dado que Israel sigue ocupando Gaza, donde controla la entrada tanto de personas como de bienes y cuenta con un registro de población, la valla en la que se colocaron sus tropas es artificial. Tampoco ha construido un muro a lo largo de toda la frontera, para permitir un fácil acceso a la franja sitiada para aplastar los cultivos y asesinar a la población a voluntad.

Israel reaccionó a las marchas pacíficas con gas lacrimógeno y munición que han provocado 120 muertos y más de 10.000 heridos. Ni un solo ciudadano o militar israelí ha resultado herido durante las marchas.

El documento del ministro de Exteriores israelí también afirma que “Hamás sigue utilizando a la población civil de Gaza como escudo humano”. Es una acusación que hace a menudo para desviar la atención mundial de sus crímenes y culpar a Hamás, no a sus acciones asesinas, de las víctimas y los heridos palestinos. Durante la guerra de 2014 en Gaza, afirmó que Hamás disparaba cohetes desde zonas civiles, incluso desde casas, escuelas y hospitales.

Israel asegura que Hamás ha pagado a los palestinos para que vayan hasta la frontera, arriesgando su vida y su integridad física, llevándose a sus hijos, tan sólo para actuar como escudos humanos que protejan a sus operativos, que planean ataques contra los ciudadanos y soldados israelíes. Los palestinos niegan estas acusaciones, subrayando que son los organizadores de la marcha los que determinan su desarrollo, no Hamás, y que los palestinos acuden a la valla por su propia voluntad.

112 palestinos fueron asesinados en #Gaza por fuerzas israelíes del 30 de marzo al 15 de mayo de 2018

Read more: ow.ly/RxA530k7jVN

BY The White Canvas

Israel incluso tuvo la desfachatez de publicar un vídeo editado para acusar a Razan Al-Najjar, una médica de 21 años, de lanzar un objeto a la valla y actuar como escudo humano de Hamás. En realidad, lo que dice Razan en la entrevista completa es “actúo como escudo humano para los heridos en el frente de batalla”.

Las afirmaciones de Israel de que los palestinos utilizan a los palestinos como escudo humano son falsas. De hecho, Israel utiliza tanto a palestinos como a judíos como escudo humano. A menudo, el ejército israelí usa a palestinos como escudos humanos, según ha informado la organización pacifista israelí B’Tselem. Les ordenan “retirar objetos sospechosos de las carreteras, decir a la gente que salgan de casa para que el ejército pueda arrestarla, ponerse delante de los soldados mientras estos últimos disparan detrás de ellos, y demás. Los ciudadanos palestinos que desempeñan estas tareas son escogidos al azar, y no pueden rechazar las obligaciones que les imponen los soldados armados”.

En 2010, dos soldados israelíes fueron condenados por utilizar a un chico palestino de 11 años como escudo humano en Gaza, ordenándole que abriera bolsas que se sospechaba que eran trampas bomba.

Lo que no resulta tan evidente para los analistas es que el mayor grupo de escudos humanos en la Palestina histórica son los colonos israelíes. Desde que ocuparon Cisjordania y Jerusalén Oriental en 1967, Israel ha construido colonias exclusivas para judíos, localizadas estratégicamente en base a razones tanto políticas como militares. La razón política consiste en imposibilitar que alguna vez emerja un Estado palestino viable y contiguo. Su objetivo también es judaizar Jerusalén y Hebrón. Al colocar ilegalmente a colonos en barrios palestinos, Israel les pone en peligro por razones políticas, ya sea como peones o como escudos humanos. Cuando los colonos ocupan un hogar palestino en Hebrón o en el barrio jerosolimitano de Sheikh Jarrah, se convierten en escudos humanos políticos.

Fue el ministro de Defensa de Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, quien articuló la lógica militar. Afirma que, desde su punto de vista, “está claro que los asentamientos en Judea y Samaria [Cisjordania] y los de las zonas de Jericó y del Mar Muerto son el verdadero muro defensivo del Estado de Israel”. Así, admitió que los colonos que habitan estas colonias están siendo utilizados como escudos humanos de Israel para proteger lo que, hasta el momento, es un Estado sin fronteras definitivas. Lieberman ha defendido los asentamientos y se ha comprometido a seguir construyendo colonias judías ilegales en Cisjordania, Jerusalén Oriental y los Altos del Golán.

El ascenso del terrorismo colono es otro uso de los colonos como peones, para provocar represalias palestinas y expulsar a los palestinos de su territorio. El ejército se pone detrás de ellos mientras se dedican a sembrar el terror, utilizándolos efectivamente como escudos humanos.

La acusación falsa de que Hamás ha utilizado a 40.000 ciudadanos como escudos humanos no está ni cerca del uso israelí de 700.000 escudos humanos: los colonos. Con un gobierno israelí liderado por colonos, hay muchos líderes importantes de Israel que viven en asentamientos ilegales, lo que les convierte en escudos humanos que protegen los objetivos políticos y militares de Israel.

El propio Avigdor Lieberman, ex portero de clubes nocturnos de Moldavia y ahora ministro de Defensa israelí, es un colono que reside en el asiento ilegal de Nokdim, en Gush Etzion. Resulta que el escudo humano más famoso de Israel es su ministro de Defensa.

 

Britain must not reward Israel for its abuse of Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on Sunday 10/6/2018

Britain appears to be developing closer relations with Israel on many fronts.

Breaking with the norm? Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince William arrive as she hosts a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London, on May 31. (AP)

Prince William’s visit to Israel this month, the first official British royal visit to the country, could not come at a more inappropriate time.

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since March 30, when mass protests near the Gaza-Israel border broke out to highlight the plight of the besieged enclave and the rights of refugees. More than 10,000 people have been reportedly injured.

Among the fatalities was Razan Al-Najar, a 21-year old volunteer medic who was shot in the back while tending to injured protesters near the Israeli fence. Her death caused international outrage. Nicolai Miladinov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, tweeted: “Medical workers are #NotATarget!”

Israel, however, has not been held accountable. A resolution tabled at the UN Security Council to provide protection for the Palestinian people was vetoed by the United States hours after Razan’s death.

Britain’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, who was visiting the Palestinian territories and Israel, tweeted: “Circumstances of dreadful death of young Palestinian medic yesterday require urgent clarification.”

The world community failed to condemn Israel for the use of live ammunition fired by highly trained snipers, when less lethal force could have been used. There were no reports of injuries either to Israeli army personnel or nearby settlers.

Britain called for an independent inquiry into Israel’s killings of Palestinians only to abstain in the UN Human Rights Council when a resolution setting up the required inquiry was tabled.

Criticism of Britain’s U-turn on an independent inquiry grew when Burt said he could not verify how British weapons would be used once delivered to Israel. This raised concerns that British weapons may have been used by the Israeli military to kill Palestinian protesters, which is in contravention of the licences that allowed their sale.

Burt explained that once a risk assessment had been conducted, the licences were issued and no further checks made.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade said the United Kingdom issued approximately $300 million worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel, substantially more than the $115 million sold last year and the $27 million licensed in 2015.

Over the past five years, Israel has bought more than $450 million worth of British military hardware, making Israel the eighth largest market for UK arms companies. Last year’s sales included targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. This makes it possible that snipers were using British rifles to kill and maim civilian protesters at the Gaza fence.

Britain appears to be developing closer relations with Israel on many fronts.

Britain’s Royal Air Force took part in a flyover to mark Israel’s Independence Day last month, even though it coincided with the Palestinians’ commemoration of 70 years of their Nakba.

Last December, HMS Ocean, a flagship of the British Royal Navy, docked in Haifa. It took part in exercises with the Israeli Navy and Air Force. To encourage British-Israeli business cooperation, particularly in the high-technology sector, the United Kingdom created the UK Israel Tech Hub. Its website confirms that it focuses on “tech areas with the potential to contribute to growth in both the UK and Israel.”  The areas include cyber-security, biomed, clean tech and fintech.

The United Kingdom is also firmly against placing pressure on Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has attempted to stop British local authorities excluding companies complicit in Israel’s occupation from applying for contracts or for their pension schemes to invest in such companies.

Israel is on a list of ten countries the United Kingdom is targeting for trade deals post Brexit and the United Kingdom appears to be exercising caution in taking any action against Israel that may put such a deal in jeopardy.

Prince William’s visit to the region is to include stops in Jordan and the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the visit, however, it is likely to be a only courtesy call in Ramallah, rather than a “meet the people” affair. The pomp and pageantry will be with the Israelis. Significantly, the prince will not visit Gaza to see first-hand the effect of the siege — imposed by the leaders whose hands he will shake and whose wine he will drink — on 2 million people.

It is the norm that royal visits avoid politics but by choosing to make such a visit in the current climate, every step and every word uttered by the prince will matter.

To avoid the many pitfalls, it would have been better for this visit to take place after a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis, rather than after the significant loss of life in the Great March of Return.