Israel’s ban on the Muslim call to prayer in Jerusalem is the tip of the iceberg

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/11/2016


Al-Aqsa mosque

Something is in the air in Jerusalem and if Israel has its way it soon won’t be; the Muslim call to prayer — the adhaan — is under threat. The state which is built upon the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people is inching its way towards banning the call for prayer, which was probably first heard in Jerusalem in 637 AD. That was the year in which Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab travelled to Palestine to accept its surrender from Patriach Sophronius, bringing a six-month siege of the Holy City to a peaceful end.

The required respect for people of other faiths was exemplified by one of Caliph Umar’s first acts upon entering Jerusalem. He understood the sensitivity surrounding religious sites and the potential danger of changing the status quo. He thus declined an invitation from Sophronius to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lest Muslims turn it into a mosque. Instead, he stepped outside the Church to perform the midday prayer; a mosque named after him was later built on the site and exists to this day. This is in sharp contrast to the establishment of Israel in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland at gunpoint. Villages and towns were ethnically cleansed and wiped from the face of the earth, and their mosques were also destroyed or turned into synagogues or museums; at least two became cafes and one became a cowshed.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and one of Israel’s first acts as the occupying power was to raze the 770-year old Moroccan Quarter of East Jerusalem in order to improve access to Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, in order to facilitate their prayers there. Just a year after issuing the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Britain had actually dismissed attempts by Chaim Weizmann to vacate the Moroccan Quarter and to place the Western Wall under Jewish ownership. Fifty years later, Israel had no qualms about bulldozing the Shaikh Eid Mosque which had stood since the time of Saladin.

Christian sites

Churches continue to come under attack by the Israelis. Benzi Gopstein, the leader of extreme right-wing Jewish group Lehava, voiced support for arson attacks against Christian churches in 2015; he has also called Christians “blood sucking vampires” who should be expelled from Israel.

Jewish extremists have on a number of occasions targeted churches in what are called “price tag” attacks. There was a particular rise in these in the lead-up to Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land in 2014. A top Catholic official received death threats and Hebrew graffiti appeared on the wall of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, the local headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church: “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel”.

At the end of last month, the Israeli flag was raised at the Eastern entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, enraging the Christian community and raising serious concerns about Israel’s commitment to protecting Christian sites. The Church fought a two-year battle with its water supplier which threatened to cut the supply due to unpaid bills, which was settled in 2012. Add to this Israel’s restrictions on visits by Christians to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and on Christians from Gaza visiting either Jerusalem or Bethlehem, and the difficulties faced by Palestinian Christians becomes clear.

Muslim sites

The situation for key Muslim sites in the occupied Palestinian territories is even more precarious than those of Christians. When East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, the Israeli flag flew for a short time over the holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque was set alight in 1969, reportedly by an Australian tourist; the damage included the complete destruction of a 1,000-year old pulpit.

An agreement between the Israelis and the Jordanian custodians of the holy sites, which covers the whole of the area on which Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, stated that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the compound and that Jews would be able to visit but not pray. The status quo has largely stood the test of time but in recent years has come under great strain, particularly since Ariel Sharon’s “visit” to the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in 2000, which triggered the Second Intifada. The visit seems to have given Jewish extremists the green light not only to dream about praying on what they call the “Temple Mount” but also to plan to build a Jewish temple thereon; the plans include the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the frequency and extent of incursions by extremists during which the use of the sanctuary by Muslim worshippers is restricted. This practice has increased tensions and prompted fears of a change to the “status quo”, moving the Jordanian government to act by withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest. Clashes have erupted frequently between Israeli security forces and Palestinians devoted to protecting their mosque. Israeli forces have also harassed worshippers, banning some from entering the Noble Sanctuary or withholding their Jerusalem ID cards, without which they struggle to move around the territories. Such practices were a major contributory factor to the ongoing year-long uprising in which individual Palestinians have attacked mainly security forces but in some instances Israeli civilians in what has been termed the “knife intifada”.

Another city that has suffered disproportionately, probably due to its religious significance, is Al-Khalil (Hebron). The city is home to 120,000 Palestinians whose lives are blighted by the planting of 700 particularly extreme Israeli settlers in the centre of the city; they are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and a system of closed military zones and checkpoints. The city is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarchs. The mosque was the scene of a terrorist attack in 1994 by a Jewish American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 Muslim worshippers while they were praying; although the murderous attack was condemned by the Israeli government it was — and is — applauded by some Israelis, particularly the extreme right-wing settlers. Israel’s response was — perversely — to impose greater restrictions on Palestinians and to divide the Ibrahimi Mosque physically, as well as to open it up exclusively to Jews for ten days of the year and to Muslims for another ten days.

Restricting the call to prayer

Israel’s restrictions on access to the holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron have recently been complemented with bans on the daily call to prayer. In Hebron, the practice has been ongoing for a number of years and included the call being silenced 49 times in January 2014, 52 times in December 2015 and 83 times last month.

The practice seems to be spreading to Jerusalem. Israel recently banned three mosques in Abu Dis from broadcasting the morning call. Lawyer Bassam Bahr, head of a local committee in Abu Dis, condemned the “unjustified ban”, saying that “Israel attacks Palestinians in all aspects of their lives.” It seems that the ban was a response to complaints from illegal settlers in nearby Pisgat Zeev who complained to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat about the “noise pollution” coming from local mosques. Both Barkat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are clearly set on applying the “unbearable noise” law to the call for prayer.

The mayor and prime minister know the importance of the call to prayer to the Muslim community; their plan to eradicate it from the air of Jerusalem to appease illegal settlers shows that neither has the wisdom of Caliph Umar. Their plan has not only enraged Palestinians, but also damaged yet further attempts to create a climate that will lead to peace; it is most definitely part of Israel’s attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and empty the Holy City of its Islamic and Christian heritage. The ban is, in fact, just the tip of the Judaisation iceberg.

As for the settlers objecting to the Muslim call to prayer are concerned, there is an easy solution. They could leave the houses that they have built — illegally — on land stolen from its Palestinian owners and either go back to where they came from in North America or Europe or live within the internationally recognised borders of the state whose citizenship they carry. That would be the most moral of solutions, although it is doubtful if they know what morality is.

Interview on Voice of the Cape radio

23 May 2016

I was interviewed by Voice of the Cape radio about my my article in the Middle East Eye ‘It just ain’t cricket: how Israel transfers Palestinian land to settlers

Here is the link to the interview 

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

This was first published by the Middle East Eye on 21 May, 2016

It just ain’t cricket: How Israel ‘transfers’ land from Palestinians to settlers

image from Middle East Eye

The cricket season is in full swing in England and this was possibly playing on my mind when I read this headline in Haaretz “Israel seized Palestinian family’s East Jerusalem land behind Its back, gave it to settler NGO.”

My immediate reaction was this is simply not cricket, a British term used to describe an act that is unfair, not honest or immoral. Israel should know all about this as it has a cricket team and one that is a member of the European Cricket Council. In fact, Israel expropriated the land from the Abu Ta’ah family in East Jerusalem without a tender and against the rules, then handed it over to Amana, an organisation that works to establish settlements and outposts for Jews. A double whammy! Not only was the land taken from the family, it was given to an organisation that exists to take over as much Palestinian land as possible through any means, especially in occupied East Jerusalem, but worse was that – it will use it to establish its headquarters in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Amana was formed as an offshoot of the messianic Zionist movement Gush Emunim, and is run by Ze’ev Hever, a convicted terrorist. It has a long and chequered history of fabricating documents to take Palestinian land and property under the pretence that it once belonged to Jews or that it had been bought legally from previous owners. It was formed in 1976 with the goal of “establishing communities” only for Jews in the occupied territories. An investigation into its subsidiary Al-Watan (Arabic name for homeland), a company run by Hever, revealed that 14 out of 15 supposed real estate acquisitions it made were forged. That isn’t cricket.

Elad is another group which works to takeover Palestinian property and land in East Jerusalem and settle it with Jews. It received $115 million in donations between 2006 and 2013 which according to a Haaretz investigation, came mostly from companies registered in global tax shelters like the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and the Seychelles, and it is unclear who controls them. Another group which benefits from these donations is Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli Jewish organisation which works for the creation of a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

One of its main funders is American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz. In around 2000, Ateret Cohanim and Elad began to acquire land in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem outside the Old City and particularly around what they call the “City of David” area, which is part of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Stories abound of Palestinian families in Silwan waking up to find Jewish settlers moving into homes in Silwan protected by Israeli security forces.

The methods used to take over land or property belonging to, or rented for decades by Palestinians are many. One is to claim that Jews owned them prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and that they should revert to the state. The Palestinian families are evicted and the property turned over to settler organisations that would move Jewish settlers into them, despite not being descendants of the supposed original Jewish owners. Appeals to the Israeli courts usually fail to reverse the takeover and the “transfer” stands. Palestinians not only see this as a deliberate policy to replace them with Jews with no connection to the properties but a form of incitement. That isn’t cricket.

Another hotspot and focus for settler takeover of Palestinian homes is the Palestinian city of Alkhalil (Hebron). Ever since the first settlement was created there shortly after the Six Day War, and the planting of settlers in the centre of the city, settler groups and organisations have been working to occupy buildings to gently change the “demographics” in its centre.

An example of this was the takeover by dozens of settlers of parts of a Palestinian property on the sensitive Shuhada street, which they claimed they had bought legally. Protected by the Israeli army, the settlers are known to terrorise the local population of 200,000 inhabitants in order to push as many of them as possible to leave. Israel has also divided the Ibrahimi mosque which it claims as the Cave of the Patriarch against the will of the almost wholly Muslim population of the city. That isn’t cricket.

The practice of enticing Palestinians with substantial amounts of money to sell their properties to settler organisations is well established and where the direct approach fails, attempts to achieve this through devious and backhanded means are well known to Palestinians. This normally involves using Palestinians as front men to a sale to gain trust but in reality the sale was always to settler organisations or individuals. Palestinians deal harshly with those who sell their property to settlers and when found the rogues who facilitate these shady deals are also targeted.

Another means of taking over Palestinian property and transferring it to Jewish settlers is the use of what is called the absentee property law. This framework allows Israel to confiscate Palestinian property where the owners had left or was forced to flee as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and had not been able to (that is not allowed) to return. Initially, Israel had not applied this to East Jerusalem, but this changed in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that it could be applied to East Jerusalem, thus making it “legal” for homes to be taken and essentially handed over to settlers by the state. This is in defiance of international law, which is clear that East Jerusalem is illegally occupied.

Estimates of how much of Israel’s territory is confiscated under the Absentee Law is uncertain. However, the Independent’s Robert Fisk reported that when he interviewed the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, he estimated this to be up to 70 percent of the territory of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

What the above demonstrates is that Israel as a state and those organisations setup to increase the population of Jews living in the occupied Palestinian territories together use a combination of laws, forgeries, deception and outright brute force to take over Palestinian property to increase the presence of Jews especially in East Jerusalem and Hebron. The case of the Abu Ta’ah land in Sheikh Jarrah takes this a step further. The state itself was alleged to have used every trick in the book to complete this transfer which the Palestinians see as blatant fabrication and theft.

As the French work to convene an international peace conference to restart another round of futile talks between Palestinians and Israelis, there will be talk of confidence and trust building measures to create an atmosphere that helps both sides make the “necessary concessions”.  Israel could start with ending its determined effort to replace Palestinians with settlers, suspend the absentee property law and return the Abu Ta’ah land to its rightful owners. That would be cricket.

– 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 Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. 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.

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israel-killing-two-state-solution-and-britain-helping-it-323357064#sthash.RJP6l663.dpuf

Is Netanyahu’s divide and rule strategy unravelling?

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert enjoyed periods of rule during which the Palestinians, or to be more accurate Fatah and Hamas, have been divided. The divisions which started in 2007 have remained largely intact since then and through pretty turbulent times in the Middle East. Repeated attempts at reconciliation under the auspices of a number of Arab countries failed. That is until President Abbas realised that the ‘peace talks’ were faltering and Israel was acting to ensure they failed.

Events moved quickly then and suddenly the two factions came to what seemed an uncomfortable truce. This was the. Quickly followed with the announcement of a Palestinian Unity Government, which had no partisan ministers. Netanyahu had to quickly invent the phrase ‘backed by Hamas’ as he could not say including Hamas. Either way Netanyahu quickly demonstrated that who ever sat in front of him from the Palestinian side either to administer the territories or to negotiate was not acceptable. In fact anything resembling a just peace would be unacceptable.

Netanyahu’s attempts to pressure the International Community to boycott the new Government failed because his actions during the talks had even pushed the Americans to the limit. They deiced to work with the new Government and to judge it by its actions. That continued until three Israelis went missing in the West Bank, hitch hiking back to their homes.

Israel responded as expected, with intimidation and collective punishment of the Palestinians in Hebron but then more widely in the West Bank and even in Gaza. The claim was that the Israelis were taken by Hamas in the West Bank. This, five days later is still unproven. Even Abbas is warning of consequences to the reconciliation deal if it is proven that Hamas was behind the incident.

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Abbas has appealed for the release of the settlers and warned of the dire consequences to the Palestinain Authority of failure to do so speedily. Netanyahu responded with his usual arrogance, belittling this effort despite the acknowledgement of good cooperation between the two security forces. He has called on Abbas to end the unity Government as a demonstration of his seriousness. But Netanyahu can hardly place the blame for the incident on the Unity Government. It has only been place for days, has ministers with no political affiliation and Abbas said it was following his policies. So why call for its end? What would this achieve?

The division between Hamas and Fatah has for years resulted in a low cost occupation and a lack of seriousness, to put it mildly, by Israel to negotiate for peace. The recent incident in Hebron and Israel’s reaction can easily trigger a third intifada. That will further unite the Palestinians.

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Netanyahu is on a run of failed policies including that of rallying support for an attack on Iran. His attempt to drive a wedge between Hamas and Fatah seems to be a continuation of his recent failure. It looks like the divide and rule policy is also unravelling.