Israel is pushing its luck with the EU

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/10/2017

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks during US President Donald Trump’s (R) visit to Israel on 23 May 2017. [Israeli Government Press Office/Haim Zach/Handout]

When it comes to the various stakeholders in the Israeli Palestinian conflict Israel has guaranteed American support in almost whatever it does. Other stakeholders, including the EU, have consistently criticised Israeli government policy but consistently failed to back it up with any action. That is, possibly, until now.

The Obama administration was castigated by the pro-Israel lobby for its supposed lack of support for Israel despite granting it a 10-year $38 billion military aid package, the likes of which no other state could dream to secure. In fact, over half the aid the US hands to other states goes to Israel.

Obama missed a trick on not making the aid package conditional upon any progress in the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, or a halt to settlement construction, which the US sees as “illegitimate”. Neither Netanyahu’s brazen snub to Obama when he addressed the US Congress without coordination with the White House, nor the humiliation of American Vice President Biden – who while on a visit to Jerusalem in 2010 was met with an announcement that Israel planned to build 1,600 home for Jewish Israelis in units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo which is attached to Jerusalem – was enough to trigger such conditioning.

The US is a member of the Middle East Quartet now renamed the ‘Office of the Quartet,’ which brings the EU, Russia and the United Nations together. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood”. The Quartet’s last key report was published in 2016. The report focussed on violence and incitement, Gaza and Palestinian governance and settlement expansion, land designations, and denial of Palestinian development.

In the area designated C under the Oslo Accords, Israel maintains full control over both security and planning. The denial of Palestinian development is enacted mostly through the denial of permits for building construction. The Quartet noted that “only one permit for Palestinian housing construction in Area C was reportedly approved in 2014, and there do not appear to have been any in 2015. In the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, only 34 building permits were approved for Palestinians in Area C, out of at least 2,000 submissions”.

The report further noted that there were over 11,000 demolition orders pending against Palestinian structures, three quarters of which are on private Palestinian land. The report acknowledged that “as Palestinians are consistently denied permits to build legally, they are left with few options but to build without permits”.

There was a significant increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished across the West Bank in the first four months of 2016, with some 500 demolitions of Palestinian structures by the Israeli authorities and nearly 800 Palestinians displaced, more than what was carried out throughout the entire year of 2015. Although many of these were not dwellings, the loss of structures such as water wells, solar panels, and animal shelters has impacted the livelihoods of over 2,500 people in the first half of 2016. The trend continued in 2017 and to this day.

Israeli security forces gather around as a Palestinian home is being demolished in Jerusalem on 14 March 2017 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel makes no distinction between structures it considers to be illegal that are funded by Palestinians and those that are funded by non-Palestinians, those built without planning permission or those agreed upon in bilateral agreements with the Palestinians.

Gaza’s International Airport, which opened in 1998, was destroyed by Israel in 2001. It was built with funding from Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Germany. To this day the airport remains in ruins and no sanctions were ever taken against Israel by either Germany or Spain.

In January of this year Israeli forces demolished some 15 structures in Khirbet, including homes and the only school in the small hamlet, which is located on the outskirts of the village of Beit Furik in the Jordan Valley in the north-eastern occupied West Bank.

In July the Dutch government lodged a protest with Israel over the confiscation of electricity equipment, which was said to be a hybrid power system of both diesel and solar power. The electrification project in the southern Bethlehem region was donated by the Dutch government and cost about 500,000 euros ($590,806), 350,000 euros ($413,564) of which went to Jubbet Al-Dhib, according to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The Dutch Foreign Ministry requested Israel return the equipment and is “currently assessing what next steps can be taken,” the ministry’s statement to Haaretz said.

In August Israeli troops dismantled a structure built for a nursery for 25 Palestinian children in the village of Jabal Al-Baba near Jerusalem claiming it was built without a permit. This followed the demolition a few days earlier of a small primary school in the southern West Bank and the removal of solar panels used to power another school. This drew criticism from the EU which expressed “strong concern about the recent confiscations of Palestinian school structures undertaken by Israel in Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank,” adding that “every child has the right to safe access to education and states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right, by ensuring that schools are inviolable safe spaces for children”.

But has Israel pushed its luck too far with the EU?

Despite Israel’s destruction of facilities funded by the EU, history shows it has protested to Israel but has not taken action. However, this could be about to change.

Reports have emerged that eight EU countries, led by Belgium, have drafted a letter to be delivered to senior Foreign Ministry officials demanding compensation amounting to €30,000 ($35,456) for confiscating and demolishing structures and infrastructure built by them in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. This follows Israel’s refusal to return the confiscated equipment as demanded by the eight countries which are members of the ‘West Bank Protection Consortium,’ a body through which they coordinate humanitarian assistance to Area C.

The letter stresses that “the demolition and seizure of humanitarian equipment, including school infrastructure, and the interference in the transfer of humanitarian assistance contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law and causes suffering to the Palestinian residents”.

However, Israel claims that European activity in Area C is not humanitarian assistance but “illegal development that is being done without coordinating with Israel and with the aim of strengthening the Palestinians’ hold on Area C”. This claim was previously made in 2015 by Benjamin Netanyahu who ordered the demolition of some 400 Palestinian structures built in the West Bank with European funding.

While the international community has often talked the talk about Israeli crimes, this is a rare example of action that could at least make Israel think twice before acting. While this is a small step by eight EU countries it could mark a significant and necessary change in policy from condemnation of Israeli policies to tangible action. EU citizens should be outraged that contributions from their taxes to alleviate Palestinian suffering and build peace, are being wasted by Israel while goods from illegals settlements continue to make their way to EU supermarket shelves.

If the EU is serious about peace and its support for a two-state solution then it can use existing instruments to exercise its influence. This includes suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement for Israel’s failure to adhere to a clause which states that “relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles”.

Israel’s clear failure to respect Palestinian human rights should finally trigger a suspension of this agreement.

The US kicks the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal into the long grass

First published by the Middle East Eye on 30/8/2017

Just days after a US delegation visit to Israel and Palestine, Netanyahu declares that Israel will no longer uproot settlements. Any dreams of peace anytime soon are a long way off

 

Say what you want about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he doesn’t mince his words.

“We are here to stay, forever,” he said earlier this week during an event in the settlement of Barkan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace. We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.”

Coming just days after the visit of US President Donald Trump’s “peace team” to the region, led by his senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the timing of Netanyahu’s comments are highly significant.

The readout from the US team’s meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu was largely devoid of content. However, as brief as it was, it confirmed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warnings that Trump’s peace process plans – and perhaps his White House overall – are in turmoil.

“I have met with Trump envoys about 20 times since the beginning of his term as president of the United States,” Abbas reportedly told delegates from the Israeli political party Meretz during a recent visit.

“Every time they repeatedly stressed to me how much they believe and are committed to a two-state solution and a halt to construction in the settlements. I have pleaded with them to say the same thing to Netanyahu, but they refrained. They said they would consider it but then they didn’t get back to me,” Abbas said, according to the delegates’ notes.

“I can’t understand how they are conducting themselves with us … Inside [Trump’s] country, there is chaos in the administration.”

The administration may indeed be in chaos, but whether intentionally or out of incompetence, it has kicked the peace process into the long grass and emboldened the Israelis in the process.

A peace plan mystery

Kushner and the rest of the Trump team’s recent visit to the Holy Land was preceded by a whistlestop tour of key Arab countries. It is important to note that no substantive messages emerged about Trump’s proposed peace plan.

The US embassy rstatement from the 23 August meeting between the Americans and Jordan’s King Abdullah II omitted any reference to discussions about the much vaunted two-state solution.

However, quoting a statement from the Royal Court, Jordanian media reported that “talks focused on efforts to push forward the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and relaunch serious and effective negotiations between the two sides based on the two-state solution, which is the only way to end the conflict”.

A subsequent report in Al-Hayat newspaper, attributed to a PA source, said that Trump’s team had indicated that a settlement freeze could not be a precondition for resumed peace talks and that building would continue.

However, a senior White House official told the Times of Israel that Al-Hayat’s report was “nonsense” and said that the comments were never made.

In their meeting with the Palestinians, the visiting delegation reportedly asked for a three to four month grace period to present their ideas. A former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath also said that the Palestinians told the Americans that its demands are “the end of the occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the resolution of all permanent status issues, including the right of return for [Palestinian] refugees.”

These demands are the longstanding position of the Palestinians and have not shifted at all.

No room in ‘Netanyahu land’

While the Palestinian position remains consistent, Netanyahu, perhaps feeling emboldened more than ever, continues to harden Israel’s position.

When he promised during the 2015 elections that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch, those seeking to shield Israel from criticism claimed it was just electioneering.

However, this week, Netanyahu went further when he said there would be “no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel”. Netanyahu is not talking about two states with land swaps. He is not talking about “keeping the settlement blocks” along the Green Line. He is talking about all settlements. This has nothing to do with electioneering but rather his long-held beliefs.

There is no room in Netanyahu land for a Palestinian state.

In fact, in June, Israel recently laid the foundations for a new settlement. “After decades, I have the honour to be the first prime minister to build a settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said at the time, referring to the occupied West Bank with its biblical name.

Netanyahu sees the land of historic Palestine from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea as Israel. There is no room in “Netanyahu land” for a Palestinian state.

Increasingly emboldened by the lack of pressure from the international community to move seriously towards peace or face sanctions, Netanyahu is moving the debate from the real issue – how to end a 50-year long occupation – to Israel’s security needs.

He told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on his first visit to the Holy Land this week that Israel’s “most pressing problem” is Hezbollah and Syria, claiming that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had smuggled weapons into Lebanon for Hezbollah.

“I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate,” Guterres responded, adding that the “idea, intention or will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective.”

Netanyahu also called upon Gutteres to “end the discrimination against Israel in some branches of your organisation”, an accusation shared by the US administration and frequently raised by US Ambassador to the UN Nicky Hayley who has promised to end it several times.

On Wednesday, two days after his meeting with Netanyahu, Gutteres called for Israel’s blockade against Gaza to end. It seems their meeting may not have gone as well as the Israeli president thought.

Sign of things to come

While it is dangerous to predict the future, I will take this risk today. As Netanyahu and Abbas prepare to address the UN General Assembly in September, we can read the signs from this week to guess what they will say.

Abbas will plead with the UN to bring decades of Palestinian of suffering to an end, halt illegal settlements and help protect the (non-existent) two-state solution. He is likely to be armed with a recent petition signed by thousands of Palestinian pupils calling on Gutteres and all defenders of human rights to intervene to protect them from Israel’s daily violations which Palestinians have endured for 50 years.

Abbas may ask for the UN to recognise the state of Palestine and may also indicate that if the peace process fails, he will be left with no options but to head to the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, may focus on the unfair criticism of Israel, on the real issues as he sees them – which amount to Israel’s self-defined and elastic-security needs. He will talk about the threats from Iran in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the failure of the UNIFIL to do its job and the need to rearticulate its mandate.

On peace with the Palestinians, he will say that settlements are not an obstacle to peace and argue that neither the unilateral actions by Palestinians, nor the imposition of a solution will bring peace. The real obstacle to peace, he will claim, is the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

He will laud the growing “under the table” relations with key Arab countries which share his concerns about Iran, but he will still portray Israel as the victim, not the Palestinians.

It seems that the ultimate deal President Trump seeks is a long way off and, any peace initiative, when it comes, will be biased in Israel’s favour.

Israel will continue to colonise and the Palestinians will continue to suffer a lack of peace or hope for the current and the next generation, neither of which will bring Israel any security.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as 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: US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Language discrimination, another blow at Jewish- Arab equality in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 6/8/2017

Israel has been replacing Arabic road names with the Hebrew names.

 

The Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation recently approved a draft bill that would end Arabic’s status as an official language of the country, despite an Arabic-speaking population that includes 20% of the state’s citizens.

This would have significant practical and moral implica­tions for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians in Je­rusalem who are not citizens but whom Israel labels “residents.”

It would be a further blow to their fight for equality and to remain in their homeland regard­less of what state exists on it. It will add to their insecurity as citizens who may be transferred to a future Palestinian state either politically or physically or stripped of their citizenship to fulfil extremist Israeli politicians’ desire to make the country a purely Jewish state.

Arabic is used when certain services are provided and when Palestinians are required to com­plete official forms applying for official documents or services.

Israel has been replacing Arabic road names, particularly in East Jerusalem, with the Hebrew names that appear on signs in both Hebrew and Arabic, includ­ing “Al Quds” being listed as “Yerushalayim” in Arabic.

This, Israel hopes, will be im­planted in the minds of Palestin­ians and visitors who will become accustomed to the Hebrew names rendering the Arabic version as part of some distant history.

It is worth remembering that Is­raeli Arabs are a minority only be­cause of the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the area when Israel was created in 1948. The discrimination and insecurity felt by Palestinian citizens of Israel is palpable.

The Centre for Arab Minor­ity Rights in Israel (Adalah) said Israel has enacted more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state. They include a “citizenship law” that bars Palestinian citizens from marrying Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian terri­tories and taking them to live in Israel.

Israeli society itself discrimi­nates against them through “admissions committees,” which Jewish communities can use to bar Palestinian citizens from liv­ing among them.

As for Bedouin citizens of Israel, the situation is dire. Israel has not recognised 45 villages they inhabit, depriving the areas of es­sential services. It has embarked on a plan to transfer them to a smaller number of locations and, in some cases, to build settle­ments for Jews only on sites they inhabited.

Even the Muslim call for prayer has been under attack and the government moved to silence its projection outside mosques be­cause it “disturbs” illegal settlers who moved into predominantly Muslim areas.

Contrast this with Canada where French is the mother tongue of 22% of the population but when Canadian Prime Minis­ter Justin Trudeau addresses news conferences abroad, he repeats his remarks in French, recognising the minority speaking part of his fellow Canadians.

Israel, on the other hand, is moving ahead with a “nation-state bill” that gives primacy to Jewish citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that “there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.”

Any rational and fair-minded observer would reject that as­sertion and see this bill and the stripping of Arabic of its status as an official language as further proof, if any was needed, of Israeli policies that discriminate against a sizeable minority of its citizens and one that erodes visible signs of the historic Palestine’s Arab heritage.

A famous Arab song says: “The land speaks Arabic,” which people in historic Palestine still do but Israel wants them to only speak Hebrew. Rather than enrich Israel, it would be the poorer for the ac­tions of an extremist exclusionary government.

As printed

Palestine must push back against loss of traditional allies

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/8/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

 

When the PLO asked the United Nations General Assembly for an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state” on 29th November 2012, the motion was passed by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The vote was met with ecstatic celebrations by the Palestinian delegation and disappointment on the faces of Israeli diplomats. The Israelis knew this could be a game changer, for although they, together with their American ally had scuppered the attempt in the Security Council (UNSC) for full recognition of Palestine as a state, the new status would offer the Palestinians the opportunity to pursue their ‘internationalisation’ strategy.

Having failed to make progress in direct peace negotiations under the auspices of the Americans, the Palestinians used their newly found status to join an array of international organisations and conventions. Palestine had already secured membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the previous year, which resulted in Israel freezing its $2 million annual contribution to it.

On 12th April 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the relevant documentation to join 15 treaties and conventions including the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol. Perhaps the most important organisation Palestine was able to join as a result of its upgraded status was the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it formally joined in April 2015. Joining the ICC allows Palestine to bring cases against Israeli officials for alleged crimes, including the 2014 war on Gaza and continued illegal settlement construction.

While Palestine struggles to have resolutions passed in the UN Security Council due to the likelihood that the US will wield its veto to protect Israel, in other forums where the veto does not exist, it has generally secured enough support to pass relevant motions. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regularly investigates Israeli human rights abuses and passes resolutions condemning its practices. UNESCO has passed important resolutions regarding Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and the status of Hebron’s old city and Al Aqsa Mosque that have raised severe criticism by Israel and its American backer; they were, however, unable to block these without the weapon of a US veto.

Despite these successes, support for the Palestinians in international forums is under threat from a sustained diplomatic effort by Israel to dissuade states and organisations traditionally hostile to it and supportive of the Palestinians to change course.

A Palestinian statehood resolution at the UNSC in December 2014 seemed to have secured enough votes to force the Obama administration to wield the US veto. That was until Nigeria, which has traditionally supported the Palestinians had a last minute change of heart and abstained; meaning the US did not need to exercise its veto. That was despite France, China and Russia voting in favour of the resolution. Nigeria’s Ambassador echoed the US position stating that the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution”. This came after heavy pressure on the Nigerians which included telephone calls to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

In another first, India’s Narendra Modi made the first state visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister last July. Commenting on a visit in which he physically embraced Prime Minister Netanyahu he said that India and Israel shared a “deep and centuries-old” connection. Suffice to note that that connection had not translated into a similar visit by a sitting Indian Prime Minister since Israel’s creation in 1948. Furthermore, it is worth noting that India is now Israel’s biggest arms market worth about $1bn per annum.

Israel’s relations with China have been developing since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. China has moved from support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel to support for a nebulous “just and peaceful resolution” to the issue instead.

Football’s governing body, FIFA, which had been due to sanction Israel for allowing teams from the illegal West Bank settlements to participate in Israel’s league, against FIFA’s own rules. The move was kicked this into the long grass following a telephone call from Israel’s Netanyahu to FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino.

In recent months, particularly following US President Trump’s visit to the region, even Arab states that had unreservedly supported the Palestinians have shown signs of change. Netanyahu insists relations with Arab states which have largely been hostile to Israel is shifting. There has even been talk of limited normalisation by some Gulf States to incentivise Israel to halt settlement construction and re-engage in the “peace process” with Palestinians.

An even greater danger for the erosion of Palestinian support lies in Africa. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long been pursuing closer relations and support from the African continent. On a visit to Kenya in 2016, he said “There are 50 countries in Africa”, “Just about all of them,” he continued “could be allies of Israel. They vote at international forums, and I know people don’t believe this, but I think we can change the automatic majorities in the UN and so on if you begin to shift this.”

The next step in Netanyahu’s pursuit of this change is the forthcoming ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ which has been called for 23- 24 October in Lome, Togo. The Summit’s website sells it as a “framework that will permit the leaders of the trade, security and diplomatic sectors of Africa and Israel to meet, network and collaborate”. It quotes Netanyahu saying Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel”. The last time the Israeli and Togo leaders were due to meet was at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Summit in Monrovia, Liberia back in June. However, the meeting was cancelled following a scuffle between the two leaders’ body guards.

Netanyahu’s attendance at the annual conference was to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other forums and to “dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies”. The conference saw Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe named the new chairperson of ECOWAS in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

Although the Africa-Israel Summit is still on schedule, pressure to cancel it appears to be growing. Morocco and the Palestinian Authority have reportedly been pressuring the Togolese President to cancel the summit and African countries to boycott it. This pressure must grow rapidly to avoid Israel reaping the fruits of its efforts in Africa, the continent which experienced apartheid in South Africa and which until relatively recently saw its fall. How can Africa, in particular, entertain Israeli apartheid?

The Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has labelled Israeli policies as Apartheid for over a decade. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” he said in a statement in 2014. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

The Palestinians may have assumed that Africa would resist Netanyahu’s charm offensive. However, increasingly it seems economic considerations trump human rights. The PLO has representative offices in 20 African countries. Apart from the North African Arab countries and other member states of the Arab League, Palestine has in South Africa and the African National Congress in particular strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. South Africa has been considering downgrading its embassy in Tel Aviv in protest at the lack of progress towards peace and Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership must use every ally to push back against Israel’s diplomatic offensive in Africa or face further erosion of support where it matters for the just Palestinian cause.

Israel’s double standards about boycotts do not advance peace

First published by the Arab Weekly on 16/7/2017

It is quite hypocritical for Israel to reject BDS while boycotting others for taking legal and moral positions in support of the Palestinians.


 Peaceful expression. An Egyptian man shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of banners with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo at the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo. (AP)

The movement to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Arab land, to treat all its citizens equally regardless of race, religion or creed and to imple­ment UN Resolution 194 allowing the Palestinian refugees to return home is 12 years old.

It was called by more than 150 Palestinian civil society organisa­tions to achieve these demands using a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel.

The movement, its website states, “works to end interna­tional support for Israel’s oppres­sion of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with interna­tional law.” Its call for freedom, justice and equality is moral and legal. The movement drew on the lessons learnt from the effort to boycott South Africa until it dismantled its apartheid regime.

Since its launch in 2005, the BDS movement has raised awareness about the plight of the Palestinians and placed pressure on companies and individuals to review their relationship with Israel as an occupying power and to question their role either in its continuation or smoothing its image.

The BDS movement can point to major successes. European companies Veolia, Orange and CRH have withdrawn from Israel.

Significant artists, including Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Lauryn Hill, Faithless, Marianah, U2, Bjork, Zakir Hussain, Jean- Luc Godard, Snoop Dogg, Cat Power and Vanessa Paradis, cancelled performances in Israel or declined to perform there.

Institutional investors includ­ing the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, the Dutch pension fund manager PGGM and the Norwe­gian, Luxembourg and New Zealand governments have divested from companies over their role in Israeli violations of international law.

Initially, Israel dismissed BDS as a failure and labelled its effects as insignificant but that approach recently changed. It appointed a minister and ministry to combat those effects and supported the effort to the tune of $50 million. It labelled the movement an anti-Semitic movement and its supporters in the West, particu­larly in the United States, have sought to legislate against companies or organisations that participated in the campaign. Israel recently passed a law that bans supporters of the BDS movement from entering the country, even if their effort is directed at the illegal settle­ments.

Israel’s vigorous opposition to boycotts as a means of achieving political change could be under­stood if it was consistent in this view when it came to exerting political pressure on others. That is not the case, however. Israel regularly imposes sanctions by withholding funds due to the Palestinian Authority (PA) from taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf to signal disapproval of actions such as joining UN agencies, including UNESCO.

The minister responsible for combating the BDS movement, Gilad Erdan, boycotted a visiting German delegation because its members refused to meet him in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu boycotted the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for meeting with Israeli NGOs he disapproves of. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has been boycotted for her views on Israeli policies.

It is quite hypocritical for Israel to reject BDS as a peaceful means of exerting pressure on it to end its illegal policies while boycott­ing others for taking legal and moral positions in support of the Palestinians and the pursuit of peace. As the saying goes: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

If Israel put as much energy and effort into meeting the moral and legal demands of the BDS move­ment as it does opposing it, peace would be much closer than it is now.

As Britain pledges to celebrate Balfour, Israel denied my Easter homecoming to Palestine

First published by the Middle East Eye on 13/4/2017

On 7 April, I travelled with my wife, Lina, and my five-year-old son, Adam, to Palestine to spend Easter with family and friends, mainly in Attur, East Jerusalem.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Tel Aviv airport and made our way to passport control. I was asked about the purpose of my journey which I explained. A minute later, an officer arrived to take me away for questioning while my wife, who holds a Jerusalem ‘residency’ ID card and my son, traveling on a British passport, were told they could go through.

I explained that they would wait for me while I was questioned and they were directed to a waiting room near passport control, one with which we are very familiar.

‘Problem people’

The first officer asked me a couple of questions and directed me back to the waiting room for a colleague of his to call me in soon after that. He was clearly waiting for me as my name was clearly on a list of ‘problem people’. He did not accept that I was on a family visit, not a political one, and told me that I ‘have a problem’.

He asked me if I knew about the new law banning those that promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset last month. I explained that I did. In fact, I wrote about my views on this in Middle East Eye at the time.

He then asked if I was involved in any “anti-Israel” organisation. I explained that I was involved in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and had been vice chair until last January. I stated that I saw PSC as a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli policy organisation rather than an anti-Israel organisation. He did not accept that.

The waiting room in the Tel Aviv Airport (MEE/Kamel Hawwash)

 

He then referred to a pile of papers printed in Hebrew and claimed they were some of my tweets. He claimed that I called Palestinian terrorists shaheeds (martyrs). Since I do not read Hebrew, I could not comment on any specific tweet and I asked for him to produce the tweets in English, which he did not.

Separated from family

We then had a long conversation (about half an hour) about the situation and the lack of hope for Palestinians and the reasons for the lack of peace – just the sort of discussion with Israelis that denying entry to those who are working for peace will prevent as a result of this new law.

I soon realised that the officer was going to deny me entry, especially when rather than giving me the entry visa slip, he started printing out documents. He confirmed that I was to be denied entry and then asked me the most difficult question of the day: “Will your wife return with you or go through?”

He even said, “Of course your wife is an Israeli citizen, so she can go through.” My wife is not an Israeli citizen but a stateless person, made stateless by Israel. In addition to her Jerusalem “residency” permit, she has an Israeli travel document and a Jordanian travel document for travel outside her homeland. I told him I would ask her what she wanted to do and was taken back to the waiting room.

As I returned to the room, my wife shuffled in her seat to get herself ready. She thought I had been given an entry visa until I told her that I would not be allowed in. She could not believe this and broke down. My son was bewildered, but ran to hug his mum who was weeping.

Lina and Adam in the waiting room (MEE/Kamel Hawwash)

I, of course, was never going to deny my wife the opportunity to go home to see her family and so, about an hour later, she left with my son and I was left reflecting on what had just happened.

Humiliation as a weapon

I contacted the British Embassy for help, but none was forthcoming. However, my local MP Richard Burden very kindly contacted the embassy in Tel Aviv and I had a call back from the British Consul who wanted to ensure that I was ok and that I could contact him if my situation changed.

I then waited for my flight which was not until 5am on 8 April. A couple of hours before that, I was taken for a full body search. It is interesting that the state which sells technology to other states resorted to a body search of someone who had been through security in Birmingham and Brussels and had not exited the airport.

But this was not about security: it was about humiliation, something Israel is a world expert at and which it has been meting out to Palestinians since its creation.

 

Document that the author was given at the airport (MEE/Kamel Hawwash)

 

I was taken to my flight half an hour before departure and my passport was handed to the pilot. This – and later being met by Belgium’s police –  made me feel like a criminal. When I asked why I could not have my passport, the officer calmly told me, “Because you are still in Israel.”

Upon arrival in Brussels, I was met by the police and taken to the police station. I was treated well and handed my passport without delay and I then made arrangements for my return to Birmingham.

Denials and hypocrisy

On 7 April, Israel stabbed me in the heart. It not only denied me entry and separated me from my family. It denied me my right to enter my homeland. That humiliation is something only Palestinians can understand.

The state which was created in my homeland and against the will of the indigenous Palestinian people not only denies Palestinian refugees the right to return from their camps, but also regularly denies those with Western passports the ability to visit.

Meanwhile, Israel’s illegal settlers are allowed to live on stolen land and travel to Western-style democracies unimpeded. They should be banned from entry to the UK, including Israeli ministers.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman himself lives in an illegal settlement but has the red carpet rolled out when he visits the UK. Contrast this with human rights activists who visit the Palestinian areas to bear witness to Israel’s atrocities and are now to be denied entry to see the situation for themselves.

Palestinian citizens of Western states should also not be impeded and banned from visiting their homeland and their remaining family members.

The British government’s reaction to any denial of entry by Israel was articulated by the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently when he said, “It is a sovereign decision for Israel as to who is allowed to enter the country.” It’s a statement that the British ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey, has reiterated to me.

It is important to note here that Israel is now sovereign over the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights and that access to these areas is only possible through Israel which controls the whole of historic Palestine.

Not only is my government not willing to demand that Israel shelves its discriminatory law, it has also promised to celebrate the centenary of the very document that has directly resulted in the denial of my right to live and work in my homeland and in the continuing plight and Nakba of my people.

Dancing on Palestinian graves

Our prime minister had the temerity to tell the Conservative Friends of Israel that the UK would celebrate the Balfour Declaration with pride. She has invited the Israeli prime minister to London for the celebrations and even promised a royal visit to coincide with the celebrations. In so doing, Theresa May is dancing on our graves as Palestinians. Palestinians do not have justice and we continue to be murdered by Israel on an almost daily basis under the pretence of security.

If her Majesty the Queen or his Royal Highness Prince Charles makes a royal visit, he will be within touching distance of Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre recently commemorated – and many others. He will drive past houses that belonged to Palestinians and from which they were ethnically cleansed.

He will be near the British Consulate in Sheikh Jarrah and will be able to see Palestinians homes that have been demolished and others that had their Palestinian owners thrown out to be replaced by illegal settlers.

And if he visits his grandmother’s grave again at the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives, as he did back in October, he won’t seek permission to do so from Palestine, but from the occupying power, Israel. He would, of course, be welcomed with open arms in Palestine once it is free and independent with its capital in East Jerusalem, where his grandmother’s grave is located.

 

In January 2011, Israeli bulldozers, working under police protection, demolish the former Hotel Shepherd complex in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for 20 new homes for Jewish settlers (AFP)

By refusing to take any action against Israel for its continued illegal occupation or its new law, which impacts directly on British citizens, the British government fails the Palestinian people again, but also provides Israel with continued cover to entrench the occupation and to liquidate the Palestinian cause. It also severely damages the UK’s reputation further as it looks towards the world.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

UN resolution 2334 must be seen as a tool, not just a victory

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/7/2017

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinians were set to conclude that their cause had been severely damaged in 2016 when the UN Security Council delivered a timely Christmas gift on 23 December: Resolution 2334. The resolution declared the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied illegally and that Israeli settlements in both areas are in contravention of international law. Furthermore, it distinguished between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967.

While it was a major surprise to everyone when Egypt circulated a draft text of the resolution on the 22 December, prospects for it to be agreed looked good until the Egyptians announced that they were postponing the resolution. The decision was made under pressure from Israel as well as, significantly, the incoming Trump administration.

The following day brought a further surprise when four member states of the Security Council decided to bring the resolution to a vote; it was passed with fourteen out of the fifteen council members voting in favour while the United States refrained from using its veto to protect Israel. Rather than voting for a resolution which matched decades of official US policy regarding the illegality of settlements, the American ambassador to the UN abstained. The result of the vote was greeted with an unusual round of applause ringing around the famous Security Council chamber. Predictably,the Israelis were outraged; they rejected the resolution, called it “shameful” and accused the outgoing Obama administration of stabbing them in the back by abandoning the long-held US position to protect Israel from “one-sided resolutions” by wielding its veto.

Those proposing the resolution quickly incurred the wrath of Israel, which recalled its ambassador from New Zealand and cut aid to Senegal. Ambassadors of other members of the council, including permanent members, were summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry — on Christmas Day — while the US ambassador was called in for a meeting with Prime and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has to be said that while Israeli religious leaders were banning Christmas trees in Israel, the other SC — Santa Claus — who has not been over-generous with gifts to the Palestinians in recent years, ensured that resolution 2334 brought them some Christmas cheer. However, the question that has arisen since is whether or not the Palestinians will harness the opportunity presented or squander it as their leadership has done on at least two previous critical occasions.

On 9 July 2004, for example, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an unambiguous Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. One of its key rulings was that, “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, to cease the construction of the Wall, to dismantle its structures, and to repeal or render ineffective all related legislative and regulatory acts; Israel is further under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the Wall.”

Despite initial celebrations by the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians, this judgement lay largely underutilised by the former. Twelve years on and Israel has not suffered any consequences for its continued breaches. On the tenth anniversary of the judgement, 86 legal experts wrote to then UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions highlighting continued Israeli breaches and recommending ways by which Israel’s impunity could be challenged.

Moreover, following Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza in 2008/9, the UN Human Rights Council commissioned a report into the war which was headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone. The report contended that the blockade on Gaza was (and, therefore, still is) “collective punishment”, concluding that the attack on Gaza had been directed at the “people of Gaza as a whole.”Some of Israel’s actions constituted war crimes, it found, and the denial of rights of the Palestinians in Gaza “could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.” The report also accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

Once again the Palestinians had an opportunity to use an independent statement both to highlight criminal Israeli policies and to seek legal means to punish it for its crimes. However, the PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas caused outrage by delaying a vote in the UN Human Rights Council at the time, under pressure from the Americans. The Goldstone Report has lain unused ever since; in fact, under yet more external pressure the author subsequently retracted parts of it.

An objective assessment of the performance of the Palestinian leadership in the international arena more recently shows that it has secured some important victories. The most important was perhaps the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the UN when it was elevated to a “non-member observer state” in 2012. The overwhelming vote, with 138 states in favour to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau and the US) not only gave a much-needed boost to Palestinians but allowed Palestine to seek membership of dozens of international organisations and accords. Crucially, it paved the way for it to seek justice for Palestinians through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Indeed, the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, a move that they hoped would open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials. They have since requested the ICC to open investigations into the 2014 war on Gaza, Israeli practices against Palestinian prisoners and the illegal settlement project.Following its admission to UNESCO in 2011, Palestine applied to join 15 international bodies and conventions in 2014.

These moves have borne some fruit. Last October, the Palestinians took Israeli violations of occupied East Jerusalem to UNESCO and, despite tremendous pressure from Israel and its supporters, managed to secure a resolution on this matter, which troubled the pro-Israel lobby.

The Palestinians must now build on these gains and, in particular,having the world’s attention on illegal settlements following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Increasing efforts should be placed on documenting illegal settlement activities, through the PA working with NGOs that already have a track record in this area. Perhaps a visible ministry specifically for combating settlements – similar to Britain’s Ministry for BREXIT — could be set up which combines the documentation of statistics on the impact of settlements and the development of peaceful strategies to resist them. A further task would be to put pressure on governments, particularly permanent members of the Security Council who voted for resolution 2334, to articulate policies for extracting a cost for Israeli violations of the terms of the resolution. The cost of the settlement enterprise must rise to such a level that Israel will conclude that is unsustainable, as it did when the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

A collective effort involving the Palestinian leadership must be tireless in challenging Israeli violations through legal avenues such as the ICC as well as a major diplomatic mission to pressurise other governments to act. The Palestinian people must take their own responsibility to boycott Israeli goods, particularly those made in settlements, even more seriously. Finally, Palestinians in the diaspora must pressure their own governments to accept that, without real pressure, an Israel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump will continue with its violations of human rights and international law.

The challenge is immense, but Resolution 2334 has provided an opportunity for many actors to rally around one specific issue that Israel insists is controversial, but which every other state believes is not: its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The resolution must be seen — and used — as a tool, and not just another diplomatic but ultimately toothless victory.