Israel is sleepwalking towards tyranny not practising democracy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 28/7/2017

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Let me start by acknowledging that democracy is in short supply in the Middle East. However, only one state claims to be a democratic state. In fact, Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world”.

Increasingly, extremist Israeli governments with no respect for international law, international humanitarian law or international norms have been using the pretence of democracy to entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and to place the state’s Jewish identity above democracy. The Nation State Bill, making its way through the Knesset, seeks to do just that, despite claims a future draft would tone this down.

All is not well with democracy in Israel. Every so often former, senior Israeli politicians or retired security personnel warn that Israel is edging towards apartheid and even more recently towards tyranny.

Former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that Israel’s policies are leading towards naked apartheid; Barak said as recently as last month that Israel was on a “slippery slope towards apartheid”.

Former Israeli officials were blind to the impact of their policies while in office. After all, the settlement project saw a major expansion during Barak’s reign. How is it that he could not see the devastating effect of this on the prospects for peace? It is also true that when it comes to settlements, current Prime Minister Netanyahu needs no excuse to expand the enterprise but still uses this as punishment for perceived Palestinian indiscretions such as joining world bodies or conventions.

To many observers the label of apartheid is already justified. Anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron can testify that they saw apartheid, felt it and smelt it.

In April former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon warned that the country’s political system had sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”. They were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery that was threatened with closure after hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ayalon explained that “incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy anymore,” adding that “this is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late”.

Attacks on human rights organisations within Israel are nothing new. Breaking the Silence,B’TselemAl-Haq, Peace Now and Yesh Din have all been demonised and individuals issued with death threats. MK David Bitan called for the citizenship of B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad to be revoked simply because he criticised Israel’s occupation to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2017 Israel passed a law compelling NGOs to reveal their foreign funding which would allow the government to lobby those states that fund these critical NGOs. This scrutiny does not to extend to those that support and fund illegal settlements.

Israel’s targeting of the media is constant and is hardly a sign of democracy. It regularly raids offices of Palestinian radio and TV stations and confiscates equipment. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed Israel 91st out of 180 countries, way behind many Western-style democracies that it claims to emulate including Germany (16), France (39), UK (40) and the US (43). Palestine was ranked 135th.

During assaults on Gaza, Israel deliberately attacked buildings housing media channels, which caused damage and casualties. Israel’s most recent attack on the media came during the recent coverage of protests and Israeli army violence at Al-Aqsa. The Israeli Prime Minister threatened to close Al Jazeera’s offices accusing its journalists of “inciting violence,” a claim the Qatari owned network strongly rejects.

In recent months Israel has escalated its war on freedom of speech both at home and abroad, particularly in relation to proponents of the BDS movement. While it generally claims the movement is ineffective, it has appointed Gilad Erdan as minister for strategic affairs to combat individuals and organisations that pursue this tactic for pressuring Israel.

At the 2016 Yediot Achronot conference which attacked BDS, Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Thankfully, Barghouti is still alive but he was banned from travelling abroad for a period of time and was recently arrested on allegations of tax evasion, which he denied.

Israel has also turned its attention to critics abroad. In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law that would empower the immigration authorities to deny proponents of the BDS movement abroad entry to Israel. Commenting on the new law Erdan said “the rules of the game have changed,” and that organisations seeking to harm Israel’s “national security” through boycotts would be denied entry to the country.

A few days after the law was passed Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Hugh Lanning, was denied entry to Israel. A few days later I was travelling with my wife and son to visit family in East Jerusalem when I was also denied entry. This was particularly ironic given it is the year Britain plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The first question I was asked during my interrogation was whether I had heard of the new BDS law. I believed that I was denied entry because of my role in PSC where I am a member of the executive committee, and our promotion of BDS. I did wonder at the time whether the law would be applied equally to Jews holding foreign passports and residing abroad who supported BDS or a more limited boycott of the illegal settlements.

When campaign director for Code Pink, Ariel Gold, made it into Israel recently I noted that a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and of BDS had been allowed in. However, she was ‘outed’ in the press and accused of “tricking” her way into the country, which she denied. She is now worried about being denied entry in the future.

At least Gold made it to Tel Aviv. On the 23 July Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise and two other faith leaders were not allowed to board a flight to Tel Aviv by Lufthansa on the orders of Israel. Wise is from Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s important to remember that Israel has a Law of Return for Jews but denies the right of return to Palestinians.

Israel’s borders extend as far as it wants them to and in Alissa’s case they extended all the way to Washington and will be coming to an airport near you if critics of Israel decide to visit. Israel has developed criterion for entry denial and will demand that airlines deny boarding to individuals in their country of departure.

The implications for critics of Israel and organisations that promote BDS are clearly significant in term of accessing the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. However, they are unlikely to be perturbed about campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and promoting BDS, unless Israel’s lobby in key countries succeeds in wrongly criminalising BDS as the US is currently attempting to do.

In reaction to recent events around Al-Aqsa, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi – a key Netanyahu ally – threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba”. The reference here is to the Arabic term for catastrophe or the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and then 1967. How democratic is that?

It seems to me that Israel has found it difficult to reconcile its role of delivering the Zionist project and acting as a democracy. It has to deal with non-Jews that it wishes had all been ethnically cleansed in 1948. Their sheer existence is a demographic threat and as we saw recently in Jerusalem, if they had all gone the ‘third Temple’ would have been built by now in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a state only for Jews.

Israel claims to be Jewish and democratic but the reality is that it is a settler, colonialist and apartheid state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons to boot.  It seems that if democracy does not deliver its colonialist aims then – as some of its own senior citizens fear – it will head towards tyranny. I acknowledge that Israel is not there yet but the direction of travel worries me as a Palestinian and should worry Israelis who want to make peace with their neighbours.

Those that support Israel in the West should also worry. Will they heed the fears of former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon, or will they only know it when it is too late.

برنامج وراء الحدث: جمعة الغضب نصرة للأقصى

مشاركتي يوم ٢١/٧/٢٠١٧ ببرنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد

https://youtu.be/0v7TbpBmGRE

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)

Interview: ‘Netanyahu wanted to send a message to Iran to end its hostility towards Israel’

Interview published by Muslim Press on 18/12/2016

In an interview with Muslim Press, British Palestinian academic and writer on Middle East Affairs Kamel Hawwash said, “Netanyahu wanted to send a message to Iran to end its hostility to Israel hinting that any attack would be costly and that Israel is a ‘tiger not a rabbit’.”

Read the full text of the interview:

Muslim Press: Benjamin Netanyahu became the first incumbent Israeli prime minister to visit Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. What’s the significance of these visits for Israel?

Kamel Hawwash: Israel has been concerned about its increasing isolation around the world as activists develop the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to pressure it to end its criminal and illegal practices. Although its relations with most Western governments remain strong, ordinary people are lobbying their governments to in turn pressure it to operate in accordance with International Law rather than above it. The BDS movement is strong in Europe and worried about losing trade with the EU, Israel has decided to develop new markets both in Africa and Central Asia in particular, hence Netanyahu’s visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. However, it is also a move by Netanyahu to send a message to Arab and Muslim countries that it is possible to be supportive of the Palestinians but to normalize ties with it. This is something all but Jordan and Egypt have resisted and have instated joined efforts to bring the Arab peace plan into effect, something Israel rejects. More specifically, Netanyahu wanted to send a message to Iran to end its hostility to Israel hinting that any attack would be costly and that Israel is a ‘tiger not a rabbit’.

MP: Do you think he is trying to forge closer ties to the region?

Kamel Hawwash: Yes, this is a deliberate policy to expand Israel’s trade links in case the BDS movement succeeds in further isolating Israel particularly targeting goods form its illegal settlements.

MP: Could his efforts end the regime’s isolation?

Kamel Hawwash: Israel feels emboldened by President-elect Trump’s win and believes that he will support its policies including illegal settlement building and will in turn pressure other countries to change their relationships with Israel thus reducing its isolation. However, its continued colonization and oppression of the Palestinians will ensure its existing isolation will continue until it comes to its senses.

MP: With a few exceptions – Egypt, Jordan and central Asia republics – Muslim nations neither have diplomatic relations nor any other official encounters with Israel. Do you think those countries that develop ties with Israel are betraying the Palestinian cause.

Kamel Hawwash: Israel claims that it has good ‘developing relations’ with some countries in the Arab world, particularly as it plays on their fears from what some see as Iran’s interface in the Arab countries, particularly Syria, Iraq and Yemen. These developing relations do not seem to be flourishing particularly since the nuclear agreement was signed with Iran, reducing the fears of many of these countries. There is no doubt that the current turmoil in the Arab world has placed issues like Syria in the spotlight, relegating the Palestinian cause somewhat to a lower prominence. Palestinians though continue to rely on political and financial support from the Arab world and therefore have to act carefully taking the region’s status into account. It is probably in Gaza where the Palestinians would go furthest in expressing their frustration with the Arab world but that is due to the siege they have been under for almost 10 years which the Arabs have failed to end.

Netanyahu turns to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and sophistry to justify Israel’s criminal acts

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/9/2016

Having failed to convince most of the world to accept its colonisation of Palestine, Israel has been busy redefining the long standing meaning of words and phrases in the hope that their new definition becomes the accepted norm. Words and phrases such as terror, anti-Semitism, security, existential threat and, most recently, ethnic cleansing have been through the Israeli mill and there seems to be no end in sight of this desecration of the English language. Thankfully, the Israeli tactic is transparent and reasonable people can see through it clearly.

Terror

As far as the term “terror” is concerned, it is reported that the Oxford Dictionary first defined it as “government by intimidation”. Established definitions of this include, “extreme fear”, “the use of extreme fear to intimidate people” and “a person or thing that causes extreme fear”. A more explicit definition related to the reporting of violent incidents in recent years is “the unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

Israel regularly uses this to define attacks by Palestinians not only on Israeli civilians but on Israeli soldiers or security personnel in the occupied territories. However, security personnel are armed instruments of the Israeli state, operating on the land of another people, be it in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza or the Golan Heights. They are enforcing an illegal occupation and, in the process, are oppressing, abducting and killing both adults and children. As such, Israel has been redefining the term “terror” to incite world opinion against Palestinians and to justify its harsh treatment of them, including extrajudicial killing. It uses “terror” conveniently to justify its illegal acts, as a part of the so-called “global war on terror”.

Israel has also been stretching the meaning of the term. Current Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman labelled attempts by the Palestinian leadership to get upgraded membership of the United Nations as “political terror”. Then Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Danon dubbed the same peaceful moves as “diplomatic terror”. In both cases they equated entirely peaceful and legitimate political steps with physical harm to individuals through violence.

More recently, Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked labelled another peaceful initiative, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “the new face of terrorism” at a Jewish National Fund (JNF) conference in New York. This is both outrageous and bizarre when you consider that BDS does not call for any violent act to be carried out against anyone. Shaked’s colleague, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, called moves by the EU to boycott organisations and companies located in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories as “economic terror”. Again, it was an attempt to equate non-violent political activism with violence.

Democracy

Israel regularly stretches the meaning of the word democracy by claiming that it is the only democratic state in the Middle East, when its Jewish citizens enjoy a five-star democracy — even when residing in illegal settlements — while its Palestinian citizens enjoy perhaps a two-star version. Some five million Palestinians in the occupied territories enjoy no democracy at all, as “democratic” Israel controls every aspect of their lives with its military occupation.

Security

This is one of the terms that Israel stretches to mean anything it likes in order to justify its actions designed to entrench the occupation. It has convinced its main backers that far from rights driving a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel’s security that trumps Palestinian rights, including human rights. It claims that the Apartheid Wall it has been building is a security measure when in fact it is used both to protect illegal settlements and as a land grab mechanism. It confiscates Palestinian land regularly and turns it into “military zones” in the name of security, often only to turn it over to settlers to build more illegal colony-settlements. Israel cuts down olive trees in the West Bank and clears farmland in Gaza in the name of security, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians. It also couples the use of “security” with “self-defence” to justify its regular wars on Gaza, when the evidence shows that this results in what has been called a disproportionate number of Palestinian to Israeli casualties.

Anti-Semitism

The well-known pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines anti-Semitism as beliefs or behaviour hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says that it means “prejudice against or hatred of Jews”. However, the government of Israel and its supporters have been attempting to redefine the term to include reference to the state. Many refer to the “EUMC working definition of antisemitism”. This defunct and discredited definition, which was never adopted by the EU, states that, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” It goes on to say that “in addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

This takes what was a clear and accepted definition in a new direction for political reasons, to shield Israel from being held accountable for its illegal practices and crimes. Criticising Israel, according to such a definition, immediately brings charges of anti-Semitism rather than requiring it to adhere to accepted norms and international law.

Two-state solution

Israel and indeed its supporters claim that they want a two-state solution to the conflict when, in fact, it is a euphemism for a continuation of the occupation and a rejection of equal rights for Jews and non-Jews residing in historic Palestine. Settlements have made a two-state solution impossible to achieve and most prominent Israeli politicians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has uttered the words, suggesting that he approved, but then insisted during the 2015 election campaign that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch. What a two-state solution really means needs to be demystified.

Ethnic cleansing

The Oxford Dictionary defines ethnic cleansing as “the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another”. Palestinians understand this term completely. The creation of Israel in 1948 led to the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their historic homeland, and no other ethnic group. Netanyahu recently claimed that removing Jewish settlers from illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine amounts to “ethnic cleansing”. UN General SecretaryBan Ki-moon called his remarks “outrageous” and even the head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, thought that this was crass. “Sorry Bibi,” he told Netanyahu, “the Palestinians are not ‘ethnic cleansing’ Jewish settlers”.

Truth

Finally, the word “truth”. When the prime minister of Israel tells you that he is telling you the truth, be very cautious. Not only have Israeli politicians questioned his honesty — as Tzipi Livni did when she asked him, “When was the last time you told the truth to yourself, your ministers, the voting public?” — but even a staunch supporter of Israel and former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, told President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is a liar.

As he embarked on a trip to address the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the Israeli leader said, “I will then address the United Nations General Assembly. I will present Israel’s case, Israel’s truth, Israel’s justice and also Israel’s heroism – the heroism of our soldiers, our police officers and our citizens, who are waging an uncompromising struggle against brutal terrorism.” With his track record, particularly exaggerating, if not actually lying, about Iran’s readiness to produce a nuclear bomb, everyone should be careful about believing anything that Netanyahu says.

Whether it is terrorism, ethnic cleansing or truth, Israel has been trying to redefine terms that have stood the test of time in order to engage in malicious sophistry. We should always be very wary when Israel claims that a term means something that it has not done in the past. It could just be using it to justify its criminal acts.

Faced with a choice of peace and BDS, Israel chooses BDS

first published by the Middle East Monitor on 10 August 2016

Israel’s recent decision to form a taskforce to target Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists for deportation is in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent claim that BDS had been defeated. Speaking at a special session of the State Control Committee on the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s public diplomacy, Netanyahu dismissed claims of Israeli failures against the BDS movement. Instead he claimed “we are acting against BDS and this is why they are on the defensive.” He noted that “anti-Israel activists” around the world are now being forced to fight over the issue of whether they even have a right to boycott Israel. “They are taking hits of many fronts. We have beaten them.”

It seems rather bizarre then that on Sunday 7 August, Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan decided to form a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. They stated that “we must not allow BDS activists to enter the State of Israel. This is a necessary step, given the malicious intentions of these activists to delegitimise and spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region.” Erdan added that the boycott movement against Israel “must have a price.”

“Fighting against Israeli boycott starts by fighting those who undermine the State of Israel,” Deri said. “We have a responsibility to do everything possible to crush any boycott and to state clearly that we will not allow the State of Israel to be harmed. Forming the task force is an important step in that direction.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee strongly condemned the establishment of the taskforce. Abdulrahman Abunahel, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee, commented that “deporting BDS activists in order to silence them and undermine their principled support for Palestinian human rights is not only anti-democratic; it is yet another incident of Israel shooting itself in the foot. If anything, we expect such acts of heightened repression to boost support for boycotting Israel back in these activists’ home countries.”

“This latest weapon in the intensifying Israeli legal, espionage and propaganda war against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights is a strong indicator of how desperate and irrational Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has become in its futile attempts to hinder the impressive growth of the BDS movement around the world.”

Israel, it seems, is struggling to find a solution to its continually declining reputation despite throwing millions of shekels at it in recent years. Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Sima Vaknin told Israeli lawmakers recently that Israel is perceived a “pariah state” in the international community. Vaknin made her comments during a meeting of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information. She committed to “reversing this stance in the next decade”, adding that “victory for me will be a change of narrative in the world toward Israel – that the narrative in the world won’t be that Israel equals apartheid,” Vaknin said. “[T]oday in the countries of the world, Israel is a pariah state. Our goal is that in 2025 no one in the world will question Israel’s right to exist.”

It seems the penny is finally dropping in Israel that a major effort is needed to deal with its declining image.  However, as it has done in the past, its strategy is flawed because it once again plans to deal with the effect and not the fundamental cause. It sees BDS as a strategic threat which it claims delegitimises the state. How can a peaceful movement which has at its core three legal and moral demands be a strategic threat to one of the strongest military states in the world? How can calls for ending the illegal occupation, for equality for all citizens and the respect and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees be a strategic threat?

The strategic threat to Israel, if it exists at the alarming level it claims, comes from its own policies, which are designed to entrench its illegal occupation and which have in my view ended any prospect for the long touted two-state solution. It comes from its continual pursuit of discriminatory roles and actions against its own non-Jewish citizens. Fundamentally though it comes from Israel’s refusal to acknowledge the wrong committed against the Palestinian people through its creation on their land and without their consent. For as long as it continues to refuse to see Palestinians both under occupation and its own citizens as equal to its Jewish citizens it will fail to sell a narrative of a “normal state” that is a victim.

Israel delegitimises Palestine and the Palestinian people on a daily basis, fighting tooth and nail to wipe away our history, culture and snuff our aspirations for freedom, independence and return. Its strategy will fail because of the steadfastness of the Palestinians and the growing support for their cause. When US Secretary of State John Kerry launched his last round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in 2013, he warned Israel that if the talks failed it would face boycotts on steroids. Israel is now facing this because when it has been called on to choose between a just peace and BDS, it chooses BDS and then blames others for its self-inflicted delegitimisation strategy.