70 years of Nakba: Why can’t Palestinians walk home?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/5/2018

All who are interested in peace in historic Palestine must remember that we did not choose our occupiers; they chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, and we paid with our lives and rights

I would not be writing these words today if Israel had not been created in my homeland, Palestine, against the will of indigenous Palestinians. I might instead be writing to celebrate the independence of a democratic Palestine in which indigenous Jews, Christians and Muslims lived as equals, building the country together after the end of the British Mandate. Palestine would be a full member of the United Nations; it might even have been allowed to enter the Eurovision song contest and won.

Had Israel been created in Wales instead, against the will of Welsh people, I might be writing in solidarity as they commemorated their trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”). Thankfully for the great Welsh people, they were spared the creation of Israel in their homeland and the expulsion of their people to neighbouring countries.

Atrocious massacres

Palestinians are again in mourning, commemorating 70 years since their catastrophe, which resulted from the creation of Israel in their homeland. They are still seeking their legitimate rights, principally their right to return home.

Many words will be written about what happened in the lead-up to, and during, the Nakba. Those seeking to justify Zionist crimes will argue that it was the victims’ fault for fleeing their homeland, rather than the reality that they were driven out, many at gunpoint, seeking refuge from Zionist Jewish terror. Yes, it was Zionist Jewish terror that deliberately drove Palestinians away from Jerusalem, Yaffa, Haifa and Akka, along with villages such as Deir Yassin and Qibya, the scenes of atrocious massacres by Zionist terrorists.

Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return

Palestinians are not the first or only people to flee for their lives. You need only look at Syrians today to see what human beings do in order to survive and to ensure the safety of their children. They take whatever possessions they can carry and run, but always with the expectation to return once the violence ends.

Nobody would deny the Syrian people their absolute right to return to the homes they left, and if they were destroyed, they would be helped to rebuild them. The outcome of what happened in 1947-48 was a catastrophe, which non-Palestinians could only truly understand if it happened to them.

Denying the Nakba

The population of my city of residence, Birmingham, is 1.1 million – almost that of the entire Palestinian population that inhabited historic Palestine in 1948. I can imagine the catastrophe that Brummies (what residents of Birmingham are lovingly called) would have felt had more than half of that population been terrorised into leaving their beloved city, with most never being allowed to return, as their homes were handed over to non-Brummies. Their lives in Birmingham would have become memories overnight, while the trauma of their dispossession would have been carried through generations.

I have no doubt that Mancunians, Geordies, Liverpudlians and Londoners would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Brummies until they were allowed to return, welcoming them into their homes as they sought refuge from their tormenters.

Israeli security forces stand guard during a protest organised by Palestinians on 10 May 2018 (AFP)

This analogy can be applied to any group of people expelled by another group. However, what is different here is that the wrong committed by Zionism, and then by Israel, has never been righted. Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return.

Israel has neither given all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea equal rights, nor accepted the creation of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders to end its occupation, considered illegal under international law. In fact, it denies there is an occupation in any part of historic Palestine.

Israel has annexed territories it occupies illegally, including East Jerusalem, and has sought recognition of the whole of the holy city as its capital, rather than accepting that it could be the capital of Israel and Palestine. It continues to build illegally in the occupied territories and is considering legalising outposts it has thus far considered illegal.

Demonising Palestinians

Israel has continued its siege on Gaza, now in its 11th year. It controls all access to historic Palestine, including access to the occupied territories, and has implemented a policy to deny entry to human rights activists and campaigners who have supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Having failed to silence criticism of its policies, it has cynically sought to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Most significantly, perhaps, Israel has sought to demonise Palestinians. It portrays us as a lesser people, with violence as part of our DNA – a bunch of terrorists with limited intelligence. That, to me, is the most abhorrent of all the abhorrent actions Israel has taken against us since its creation.

What is troubling is that supposedly civilised westerners who claim they fight for equality and human rights, including those holding the highest offices of state, have adopted this narrative, or at least continue to support Israel despite the facts that are there for all to see.

While people across the globe sympathise with Palestinians and understand Israel’s crimes, the political elite refuse to represent their citizens and continue to support Israel when, had its actions been committed against their own citizens or against Jews, they would not rest until it was punished.

How can anyone explain to Palestinians the stance of the US in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s, but not Palestine’s, capital? How can western leaders support Israel’s claim to self-defence when it kills and maims thousands of Palestinians in major wars against Gaza, or the daily trickle of killings in the West Bank?

International silence

The world’s silence as Israeli snipers used sophisticated weapons, including some supplied by the West, to pick off Palestinian civilians one by one as they marched to return home through the Gaza border has been deafening. The silence in the face of the deaths and injuries of medics and journalists has been particularly galling.

I remind all who are interested in peace in historic Palestine that we did not choose our occupiers. They chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, but one that had a people – my people, Palestinians who have paid with their land, lives and rights.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district

Seventy years after the Nakba, Palestinians decided they could not wait any longer. Enough is enough. It was time to go home, and that was the reason for the Great Return March. If the refugees did go home, Gaza would no longer be the most densely populated place on earth; its population of two million would fall to 400,000, as 80 percent of its residents are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine.

They would not need large sums of money to be repatriated. They could simply walk to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948.

The Palestinians want to return in a climate of peace. It is in their interest and would be in compliance with UN Resolution 194. The existing residents would also need help to accept justice and 194. In most cases the houses were demolished and other houses built on their site. Clearly, negotiations  would need to take place to find a long term resolution that both sides agree to.

Take the example of Najd, a village just 14km north of Gaza City, whose population of 700 Palestinians was expelled in May 1948 by the Negev Brigade. Its inhabitants fled to Gaza. On its land, the Israelis built Sderot, a town that now has a population of 24,000.

Israeli officials take foreign dignitaries to show them the remains of “rockets” fired from Gaza that landed in or around the town, but they do not mention that they are actually standing on land that was once Najd, before it was ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district.

– 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 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: A girl raises a Palestinian flag as a boy holds a wooden key symbolising return at the Gaza border on 13 May 2018, during a demonstration commemorating the Nakba (AFP)

US embassy move is a day of mourning and a warning

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/5/2018

As Trump celebrates the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel should recognise that the next generation of Palestinians will never stop fighting back

The vultures are circling again, this time on a mission to take another bite out of Palestine’s heart, Jerusalem, 70 years after savaging her to create Israel and in the process driving any remaining doves of peace into the sea.

As Israel celebrates on Monday the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump believes that by doing so, the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom will be dealt the final fatal blow, forcing them to accept that it will never happen.

Failure to acknowledge the Nakba

The “leader of the free world” is sending his son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner; his special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt; and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, with Ambassador David Friedman to mark the embassy move and Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. All four – including his daughter, who converted to Judaism – would qualify for Israeli citizenship. Their hearts and minds are all firmly on Israel’s side.

To them, like the original Zionists who decided that Palestine would be theirs, indigenous Palestinians are at best an inconvenience and at worst a violent people driven by an inexplicable hatred towards their invaders and oppressors.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery

If Trump’s team had any morals or feelings for the Palestinian people, they would join them in commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, a day later. Neither they nor their hosts have acknowledged the wrongs done to Palestinians or shown any sensitivity towards them. The rush to move the embassy to coincide with the Israeli celebrations was deliberate, calculated and humiliating.

Palestinians can be excused for taking this to mean that far from wanting to see them attain their legitimate rights, they just hate them.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians by force in two stages: the western part in 1948 and the east in 1967. Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, yet it continues to keep it by force.

Its status as illegally occupied was reconfirmed by the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and UNESCO in 2017.

Israel’s facts on the ground

If Trump was genuine about finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to help the two sides peacefully share the land, he could have announced that the US recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

He could have subjected this to a set of conditions, including that the city must remain undivided, that illegal settlement-building must stop and be reversed, and that changes to the demography and Israel’s Judaisation policy must cease.

Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more ‘reality’ he will recognise

He could then have set a date by which a Palestinian state would be created on 1967 borders and a resolution reached to all outstanding issues between the two sides in accordance with international law.

Instead, Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more “reality” he will recognise. Only the staunchest supporters of Israel in his administration could have convinced him that this decision would bring peace any closer.

People walk near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street on 11 May 2018 (AFP)

The international community (minus the US and Israel) rejected his decision, both in statements and at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. However, it has taken no action to pressure Israel to return to genuine peace negotiations.

Trump’s decision unleashed anger and protests in every corner of the world, but the reality is that the protests could not be sustained beyond the initial few weeks after the announcement, and the anger has not been channelled into a strategy by Palestinians or their supporters to reverse it.

Entrenching the occupation

The decision, however, helped to precipitate the peaceful Great March of Return, in which Palestinians in Gaza camped at the fence separating them from the homes from which they were violently driven through Zionist Jewish terror in 1948. Palestinians once again reminded the world that they are still waiting to return to the parts of Mother Palestine from which they were expelled 70 years ago. They will never give up this right, whatever facts on the ground Israel creates.

Israel continues to deny them this right by force, with peaceful protesters, journalists and medics being gunned down by Israeli snipers who are heavily protected and hundreds of metres away. It will take whatever it gets, whenever it can, to entrench its occupation, and it will continue to oppress Palestinians and build on their land until the Zionist project is complete.

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Palestinians face reckoning with US administration in a shifting Middle East

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion thought that “the old will die and the young will forget” when asked what to do with those Palestinians who remained. Well, the old died, as did he, but the young have not forgotten.

Their unshakeable connection to every inch of Mother Palestine has been handed down from one generation to the next. Israel has to deal not only with the six million who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but another six million refugees who yearn for return. That is a reality that Trump does not understand, but the Israelis do, and they are continuously troubled by it.

Resistance lives on

Both of my parents were born in Jerusalem. My father has passed away; my mother is still alive, but has no right to return to her town of birth. A Jewish lady from any part of the world, with no connection to her city, can decide to move to Jerusalem today and be welcomed by Israel and given citizenship, but my mother can’t.

Peace will come to the holy land when my mother can return, and when Jewish Israelis see Palestinians as human beings like them with rights, and not inferior beings.

Trump’s US embassy move is a day of mourning for Mother Palestine, but also a day of warning to Israel that a younger Palestinian generation will take the baton to keep hope alive and resist until Palestinians attain their rights, living peacefully with all in their historic homeland, and Jerusalem is freed from the colonialist vultures.

– 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 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: A Palestinian protester stands over cartoons of US President Donald Trump and pictures of him defaced with a blue Star of David during a demonstration in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 20 December, 2017 (AFP)

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)

Al-Aqsa attack: Palestinians all but abandoned

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/7/2017

With a weak response from Arab and Muslim countries to unprecedented restrictions at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Palestinians are left alone to defend the holy site from Israel’s incursions


The implications of the deadly incident last Friday at Al-Aqsa go way beyond the right to prayer.

Five Israeli citizens were killed during the attack at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is the most sacred site in Judaism and is known as the Temple Mount. 

The three attackers, cousins from the Jabareen family, hail from the Arab Israeli city of Um Al-Fahm, which sits just inside the Green Line, and were on the security forces’ radar as a potential threat.

The two Israeli police officers killed in the incident were from Israel’s minority Druze community. One came from the mostly Druze but also Arab town of Maghar and the other from the Druze village of Hurfeish.

The bodies of the police officers were handed over quickly to the families and were buried on the same day, while Israeli officials are still holding those of the attackers.

The Jabareen family established three mourning tents in Um Al-Fahm which were quickly taken down on the orders of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested the attackers homes may be demolished.

The coming days may see a rise in tensions between the Palestinian and Druze communities in Israel following the attack. Druze participation in the Israeli security forces is resented by Palestinian citizens of Israel and by Jerusalem residents who often face them at Al-Aqsa’s entrances. 

Not since 1969

Immediately after the attack, the Israeli authorities cleared the Holy Sanctuary of all who had come to pray, religious leaders and the employees of the Waqf, the body which administers the site, and then closed it. The Friday prayers scheduled to take place were cancelled and the call for prayers were silenced.

That had not happened since an Australian set the mosque on fire in August 1969, two years after Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six Day War.


Israeli forces guard a road leading to the main entrance of Al-Aqsa on Monday. Streets and shops were empty as Palestinians protested the new security measures (MEE)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Netanyahu and “expressed his strong condemnation over the fatal Jerusalem shootout and the Israeli closure of the holy Islamic site of al-Aqsa mosque,” according to the Palestinian press agency WAFA.

Abbas stated his “rejection of any violent incidents from any side, especially in places of worship” and called on Netanyahu to “end the closure imposed on the holy site, warning of the consequences of such measures”. 

Netanyahu assured Abbas that the “status quo” would not change at the compound, calling for all sides to stay calm. Palestinians did not appreciate Abbas’ condemnation and his standing is likely to reduce further, making him an ever weaker partner for peace.

How we got to here

The “status quo” which was established after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the Holy Sanctuary, Muslims had a right to pray while non-Muslims, including Jews, could visit the site but not pray or perform other religious rituals there.

Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan which stated that Israel “respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem”.

But the treaty stops short of giving Jordan any legal, political or religious authority over Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly pushed the limits of the “status quo”, particularly through larger and more frequent visits by Jewish settlers, religious leaders and politicians to the sites which Palestinians and the Waqf see as incursions, because they are not coordinated with the Waqf. This has caused repeated tensions between Israel and Jordan, leading to concerns among Palestinians that Israel is working to impose its sovereignty over the site.

In 2003, fearing that Israel was changing the status quo in Jerusalem, Abbas signed an agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah which solidified Jordan’s custodianship of Muslim and Christian places in the holy city.

A statement from the Jordanian palace said: “In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The agreement also emphasised “the historical principles agreed by Jordan and Palestine to exert joint efforts to protect the city and holy sites from Israeli Judaisation attempts.”

Lukewarm regional reaction

While Jordan recalled its ambassador in 2014 in protest of Israeli practices at the site, its reaction to last Friday’s incident and the closure of the mosque has been rather low key.

King Abdullah condemned the attack in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, but slammed Israel’s two-day closure of the mosque and demanded it be reopened.

On Saturday evening, before he left for his state visit to France, Netanyahu said: “I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount. We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there.

“I decided that as of Sunday in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures.”

Netanyahu’s statement, in itself, is contradictory because the measures he detailed are not part of the status quo. However, there has been no further reaction from Jordan, which is of concern to Palestinians who had expected stronger action from the king.

However, Palestinians are also dismayed at what they see as a broader, low key reaction to the closure of the mosque from the Arab and Muslim world with the exception of Qatar whose minister of foreign affairs said the closure was “a severe violation of holy Islamic sites and a provocation to millions of Muslims around the world”.

The Arab League called for Al-Aqsa to be opened immediately and for any change in the status quo to be stopped. Egypt and Turkey put out rather mild statements. Turkey expressed its regret over the incident, insisted the site must stay open and Israel’s closure immediately cancelled.

Concern for the third holiest site to Muslims usually triggers demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries in which protestors chant, “We would sacrifice our lives and our blood for you Al-Aqsa”. That chant was heard in Jerusalem and Jordan, but nowhere else.

In fact, the overall response from the Arab and Muslim world ranks amongst the weakest ever recorded. This may be an outcome of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, which was brought about by US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region and the focus during that visit on terror. 

After Riyadh

While Palestinians will argue that for a people under a 50-year illegal occupation, attacks against “the occupation forces” are legitimate forms of resistance and therefore not terror, the prevailing climate following the Riyadh conference is less supportive.

The issue of terror, though no clear definition has emerged of what it is, is at the heart of the unprecedented standoff between Qatar and four other Arab states including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

While the Palestinians are angered by Israel’s interference in their right to unimpeded access to Al-Aqsa, which Israel may gradually reinstate, albeit under stricter security arrangements, the situation will not return to what it was prior to the attack unless Jordan acts decisively.

With an the Arab world which favours Israel and America’s normalisation-led approach to regional peace, Jordan may feel it lacks the support of its Arab brothers to secure a return to the status quo.

The conclusion for the Palestinian people, especially the residents of Jerusalem, is that they have been abandoned.

Not only have they lost the backing of their Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters in their pursuit of liberation, independence and freedom, the defence of Al-Aqsa, cherished by 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, has been left to the 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who face a most brutal and merciless occupier.

Israeli ministers will be exchanging high fives for making the most of an opportunity to take over the revered site, but history shows that humiliating Palestinians and leaving them with little hope will lead to more violence.
Photo: Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian youth during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound, due to newly-implemented security measures by Israeli authorities which include metal detectors and cameras, in Jerusalem’s Old City on 17 July 2017 (AFP)

Who singles out Israel, its critics or its apologists?

First published by the Middle East Eye

25/7/2016

Israel and its supporters often accuse supporters of Palestinian rights for unfairly singling Israel out for criticism. They suggest that with so many abusers of human rights around the world, the focus should be on them, with some suggesting that once all the other abusers have been dealt with then they might accept some criticism of Israel.

Their reasons for singling Israel out for special treatment are that it is the “‘only democracy in the Middle East”, with “most moral army in the world” and the “only Jewish state” struggling to exist in an unstable and dangerous Middle East. Just look at Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen they say. The Assad regime has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and the so-called Islamic State has slaughtered Muslims in their thousands in Iraq, Syria and Libya and continues to terrorise peaceful civilians around the world.

To support their claim further, they refer for example to the United Nations Human Rights Council which they argue has an “unbalanced focus” on Israel when it comes to human rights abusers. In 2007 Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of “a pathological obsession with Israel”. Even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations on Wednesday in criticising the world body’s own Human Rights Council for “picking on Israel” as part of an agreement on its working rules. The council had decided to include a permanent item on its agenda specifically considering Israel’s action.

Israel’s supporters have recently added the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to their examples of Israel being singled out for boycott. Some, including former UK Justice Secretary Michel Gove went as far as calling the BDS movement anti-Semitic and worse than Apartheid. In recent months, the UK’s Labour Party was hit with claims of endemic anti-Semitism in its ranks, not because members had demonstrated hatred towards Jews because they are Jews but because they criticised Israel. Some demanded that a new term is adopted, “new anti-semitism” which they attributed to criticism of Israel. This was not endorsed by Labour’s inquiry into anti-Semitism, led by Shami Chakrabarti.

Let us consider the reasons Israel’s supporters give for singling it out for special treatment. The claim that it is a democracy is partly true. It offers a five-star democracy for its Jewish citizens but an inferior two-star democracy to other non-Jewish citizens. Its five-star democracy extends to those Jews residing illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements but not to the Palestinian population residing in the same geographic area. Israeli settlers live under civil Law while Palestinians live under military law. Furthermore, Israel passes the democratic rights of Palestinians under occupation to its convenient invention, the Palestinian Authority, while effectively controlling every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the claim that Israel is a democracy is a fallacy.

The claims of the morality of its army hardly stands up to scrutiny. It claims that during major attacks on Palestinians, it uses smart weaponry that reduces civilian casualties. However, a comparison of fatalities on both sides shows a hugely disproportionate number of civilian deaths on the Palestinian side when compared with Israelis. In recent months, the Israeli Defence Force has executed Palestinians at checkpoints for alleged attacks and inflicts unbelievable suffering on the Palestinians in Gaza.

The IDF carries out “operations” in the area designated “A” under the Oslo Accords, which it is not meant to enter. It also regularly mistreats the Palestinians it detains and abducts children from their beds in the early hours of the morning. It detains Palestinians under administrative detention without charge for indefinite periods. There is no question of the IDF being considered a “moral army” by the Lebanese people who endured an occupation and several wars that brought them into close contact with the IDF. The morality of the Israeli army is therefore another fallacy.

The last claim, that Israel is the only Jewish state and that it is singled out because it is the “Jewish homeland’”assumes that Israel’s critics en masse or a substantial proportion are simply anti-Semites. Supporters of Palestinians who campaign against Israeli policies do so because of Israel’s misdemeanours, not because it is the “only Jewish state”.

Many Jews around the world did not ask for it to be created and do not accept that Israel is their state or speaks on their behalf. Take for example the reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to French Jews to emigrate after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo paper. He was told in no uncertain terms by French Jews that this was not a welcome intervention. The claim that Israel is somehow targeted because it is the only Jewish state is a further fallacy.

If the claim that Israeli is singled out for criticism is over-exaggerated, do its supporters and apologists single it out for special treatment?

Consider the US for a start. Its support for Israel is not comparable to support for any other state. The US funds it to the tune of $3 billion per year. It wields the UN Security Council veto for no other state even when a resolution comes to condemn settlements, which it has consistently considered illegal or to request the setting of a date to end the occupation.

Various states have moved to introduce legislation to effectively ban boycotts of Israel, which are being introduced to protect only Israel. Senior US politicians make regular appearances at conferences organised by the pro-Israel lobby, attempting to outdo each other in their love and support for Israel. This charade only applies to Israel.

The EU refuses to suspend its EU-Israel Association Agreement, despite it consistently violating human rights. Israel is a member of the European football federation, UEFA, despite no part of its territories being in Europe, racism being endemic in Israeli football and it hindering the development of Palestinian football.

Israel is a member of the Eurovision song contest, an “honour” not bestowed upon other non-European state, including Palestine. However, more seriously, Israeli academia is a regular winner of funding from the EU’s research funding under Horizon2020 despite its complicity in Israel’s occupation.

The UK is particularly guilty of singling Israel out for special treatment. It continues to promote trade with Israel, particularly in arms, despite Israel’s occupation and repeated wars on other states and horrific attacks on Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition changed the Law on Universal Jurisdiction to protect Israeli officials accused of war crimes from being arrested to answer for their possible crimes.

The coalition did this for Israel and no other state. When this change was found wanting, British officials cleared the diary of a Foreign Office minister to meet suspected war criminal Tzipi Livni, who was on a private visit to the UK to provide her with diplomatic immunity. They did this only because Livni is Israeli.

The above illustrates that when singling out takes place it is by supporters of, and apologists for Israel. If Palestinians are accused of singling Israel out then they have every right to do so. Surely, apologists for Israel cannot really expect Palestinians to campaign for solving all the world’s ills before turning their attention on their occupier and oppressor.

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