Criticise Israel and you immediately trigger its army of outraged partisans

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

An army of social media trolls are at the ready to denounce legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise
Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

While access to the nuclear button is normally reserved for the head of state, any pro-Israel civilian can launch the bullying trigger button, and they are encouraged to do so by Israel. An army of social media trolls linked to Israeli missions abroad have their fingers hovering over this button, ready to defend as soon as they perceive an attack. It’s a button they have pressed repeatedly in recent days.

Take the case of Airbnb. The holiday property listings company enraged the bullying army by withdrawing listingsfor properties built in illegal Israeli settlements from its website. Pro-Israel critics claimed that Airbnb was singling out Jewish Israeli properties, and therefore, this was anti-semitic.

Breaking international law

The reality is that the settlement enterprise itself is racist, because homes are only built for Jewish Israelis. Imagine the outcry if Britain built homes only for white Christians, banning other inhabitants of Britain from acquiring them. Settlements are also illegal under international law.

Airbnb said it took action because settlements were at the “core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.

A statement from the company noted: “US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories. At the same time, many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.

A reasonable person would see clear logic in that stance. However, the bullying trigger button was pressed, and an illegal settler is now bringing a lawsuit against Airbnb. Consider that for a moment: an illegal settler is suing a company for a moral and legal act.

It was then the turn of British Quakers to enrage the pro-Israel lobby. Their crime? Divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation. Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said in a statement: “With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.”

More pressure needed

This time, it was the Board of Deputies of British Jews that pressed the bullying trigger button. In a statement, the board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, condemned the decision: “The appalling decision of the Friends House hierarchy to divest from just one country in the world – the only Jewish state – despite everything else going on around the globe, shows the dangers of the obsessive and tunnel-visioned approach that a narrow clique of church officials have taken in recent years.”

Any reasonable person who knows the Quakers would realise that they would have reflected seriously before making such a decision, and that it was based on their deep knowledge of the situation over decades. Divesting from companies that profit from an illegal occupation is moral and legal.

Israel does not recognise that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deemed it absurd to talk of an occupation, and the long-advertised US “deal of the century” will likely reflect this by avoiding a call to end the occupation.

This will certainly not lead to peace. What is needed is more pressure on Israel to comply with international law and to finally end the occupation of Palestinian land. Airbnb was correct to identify the settlements as a core issue, and it is time that others follow suit.

Whither free speech?

The bullying trigger button will now be pressed regularly, judging by the number of moves to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Chile’s congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that the government “forbid the entry of products manufactured and coming from Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory”. This follows hot on the heels of Ireland’s senate passing a bill banning the import of products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The vicious attack on CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, fired for standing with Palestinians, shows that Israel is being singled out not for criticism, but rather for protection from accountability.

Free speech, it seems, is a value that most claim to uphold – except those who blindly support Israel. Speak if you want to, they say, but the price will be high. The bullying trigger button can be pressed by anyone in defence of Israeli apartheid. 

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.

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.

netanyahu_1_0_0

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.

UNRWA-Gaza-Reuters

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.