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.

Redefining anti-Semitism will not silence Palestinians’ struggle for justice

First published in the Middle East Eye on 19/10/2016

The UK home affairs select committee has fallen for the Israeli lobby’s attempt to conflate criticising Israel with anti-Semitism

I would not be writing this column in this way if the UK Parliament’s home affairs select committee had not dragged my homeland, Palestine, into the controversy surrounding anti-Semitism in this country through its decision this month to redefine the term.

Britain, which made the Balfour Declaration to the Zionists in 1917, has through the findings of this report, given the right to Zionists to silence Palestinians and their supporters in 2016.

It may surprise some people to read this, but that is exactly what happened when the select committee decided to bring Israel, which exists in historic Palestine, into its proposed revised definition of anti-Semitism.

The very fact that the committee brought the state of Israel into the discussion on anti-Semitism was in my view misguided and a disservice to the Jewish community in this country.

The committee decided that it should “aim to establish a definition which achieves an appropriate balance between condemning anti-Semitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech – particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the government of Israel”.

However, once criticism of Israel is linked to hatred of Jews in the UK, a line was crossed which implicitly makes the Jewish community somehow responsible for the actions of a foreign state. Previously established definitions of anti-Semitism did not make such a connection.

Just like in 1917, our voice as British Palestinians has neither been sought nor heard, while the voice of the Jewish community was sought and heard by members of Parliament. If anyone had asked, we would have told them that we have a clear view on racism and anti-Semitism which, unlike the views of some contributors who offered evidence, is not marred by support for a foreign state.

This includes representatives of Friends of Israel groups in the main political parties and several groups which claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish community, but are part of the pro-Israel lobby, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

It is telling that the chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, Eric Pickles, a former Conservative Party chairman, is listed as UK special envoy for post-Holocaust issues. Pickles told the committee: “The old stereotype of Jews owning everything, how they look and how they dress, that is completely unacceptable, but a kind of new anti-Semitism has crept in through this back-door, through anti-Zionism. Things that people say about Israelis or Zionists if they said about Jews would be clearly seen as being anti-Semitic”.

The Chief Rabbi himself suggested that “Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith” when in fact it was developed in the 19th century.

Palestinians oppose anti-Semitism

As I wrote earlier this year, when the controversy surrounding alleged anti-Semitism in the British Labour party broke, we British Palestinians said we wanted to see anti-Semitism eradicated and also want sanctions imposed on Israel for its crimes against us. We stand with our fellow Jewish British citizens in their fight to eradicate the specific form of racism that affects them, which targets them, and we stand with fellow Palestinians in our homeland as they seek a just solution to our collective predicament.

I have always understood what is meant by racism and the specific form that targets Jews which is anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism which I grew up knowing is “the hatred of Jews because they are Jews”. This can and does apply to whichever country one lives in, including the Arab world, and should apply in a future independent Palestine.

If Jews are targeted because they are Jews then that is anti-Semitism. There is no need to qualify this or to renew it every few years for political motives. I can already hear cries that I have no right to define anti-Semitism for Jews. However, the cries will come from those who had no right to take or support the taking of my homeland.

In recent years, there has been a move to qualify and even redefine the term in light of the creation of Israel as a result of the development of a political ideology, Zionism, in the 19th century.

Various definitions of Zionism exist, but as far as Palestinians are concerned, the ideology revolved around the creation of a political entity for Jews in our homeland, historic Palestine, without our permission because they thought it would solve their problem. The fact that it was and continues to be a catastrophe for us is a minor inconvenience.

Bizarrely, Zionists claim that they have an eternal right to exclusively populate a specific plot of land and the world must accept this claim without question, they are simply “returning”. I say bizarrely because Christians do not argue that they have an eternal right to the birthplace of their religion, Palestine, nor do all Muslims claim an eternal right to the birthplace of their religion, Mecca and Medina.

Even more bizarrely, the claimants to my homeland were not living in it when they made their claim; my people, the Palestinians were. And, just as Jews, Christians and Muslims inhabited Palestine as a people, they also did so in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen, to name but a few Arab countries where Jews lived alongside Muslims. Palestine was not an empty land as Zionists claimed.

Had Israel not been forced onto Palestine, an independent Palestine would have probably emerged in which Christians, Jews and Muslims became citizens of that new Palestinian nation as would have been the case in Syria and Iraq, for example. It was the forced creation of Israel that created a catastrophe for Palestinians (the Nakba) and turmoil in the Middle East, which resulted in most Jews leaving their Arab homelands for the newly established Israel.

‘Model occupied people’

We Palestinians are told that we must accept Israel as a reality, that we must not question its right to exist. But those who ask this of us would not have accepted the creation of a Zionist entity in their homeland. As I argued in a letter I wrote back in May, the Welsh people would not have accepted the creation of Israel in their homeland if Balfour had promised Wales to the Zionists.

Not only are Palestinians asked to accept Israel, we are expected to behave as a “model occupied people” while it decides what to do with us. The so-called “international community” has thus far failed to pressure Israel to agree to the most painful concession a people could give, to accept the existence of a foreign state on nearly 80 percent of our historic homeland. Israel wants more.

Israel’s education minister has recently made an explicit call for the annexation of the West Bank, to get even closer to achieving the dream of Zionism: Israel from the “river to the sea”. As Western governments have failed us, we Palestinians have turned to ordinary citizens to support us and they have.

Our call for a campaign to pressure Israel through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a peaceful campaign, has been gathering momentum. It is hurting Israel which has decided to fight it rather than come to its senses and meet its legitimate demands.

Israel has dedicated significant resource to this fight but has also called on its supporters in other countries to fight it too. The UK government has regularly expressed opposition to BDS and the current foreign secretary was caught in a controversy about it when he visited Palestine and Israel as London’s mayor last November.

Redefining anti-Semitism

In addition, some supporters of Zionism and apologists for Israel’s illegal practices have in recent years been attempting to qualify the established definition of anti-Semitism with the explicit intention of establishing a significant linkage between being a Jew and Israel. They have tried tirelessly to conflate Judaism, Zionism and Israel. If you are anti any of them, you should be labelled an anti-Semite.

They attempted to steer the recent debate on anti-Semitism in the UK’s Labour Party in this direction. When the inquiry into Baroness Chakrabarti did not find in their favour, they rubbished her report and turned their attention to the Home Affairs Select Committee on anti-Semitism.

Instead of rejecting the pro-Israel camp’s desire to redefine anti-Semitism, the select committee took a discredited European Union definition, and then amended it to now include criticism of Israel as part of the term, but not always, resulting in a dog’s breakfast.  The committee fell for the pro-Israel lobby’s desire for the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism hook, line and sinker. Anti-Semitism was redefined and the supporters of Israel are cheering.

Criminalising dissent

We Palestinians are not cheering. We are entitled to be extremely concerned that our ability and that of our supporters to educate and campaign has been compromised through the deliberate attempt by supporters of Israel to abuse anti-Semitism for the purpose of taking the heat off the rogue state they support.

They not only want us to think twice about speaking out and criticising Israel, but they also want the government to move to criminalise us if we do and when they (whoever they are) judge that we have overstepped the mark.

It seems that from Balfour to anti-Semitism, Britain is determined to complete the Zionist colonisation of our homeland, Palestine.

Our message to British politicians is this: as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestine, to oppress and murder, to lay siege to two million people, to steal our land and resources, to restrict our movement, to refuse to allow the refugees to return, to attack our religious sites, to illegally settle our land and to leave our people with no hope of freedom, dignity or independence, we and our supporters will continue to speak out, to educate and to demand that the British government changes its shameful, but deliberate policies which place trade with Israel above human rights.

We will not allow Zionists who support a state that does all of the above to silence us under the disguise of the “new anti-Semitism” but we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews in their fight against the real anti-Semitism that some still undoubtedly face.

As Palestinians, we demand the British government reject the select committee’s call to adopt its proposed definition of anti-Semitism.

Palestinians do not mourn the passing of war criminal Peres, even if Mahmoud Abbas does

I write on the eve of the burial of a war criminal. Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister and President died on the 28th of September at the age of 93. I mourn the fact that he never faced justice to answer for his crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese innocent civilians. I also mourn the truly nauseating specter of the leader of the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas joining other world leaders at his funeral, if granted permission to do so. Palestinians met this move with disbelief. His decision shows how out of touch he is with the people he was elected to represent but who have since been denied the opportunity to consider whether he should continue to do so.

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Had Abbas seen peace come to historic Palestine, with Israelis recognizing Palestinians as equal human beings deserving of the realization of freedom and independence, then I might understand. However, that simply is not the situation on the ground and I do not need to describe it to those who follow the conflict as they know that peace is simply not on the horizon due to Israel’s lack of desire for it. It is comfortable with the status quo and in the absence of any sanctions by the International Community, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership which has left the Palestinian people have no credible strategy for ending the conflict.

Almost 69 years since the Nakba and the creation of Israel and 49 years since the occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine, Peres meets his maker knowing he played his part in the theft of Palestine and the destruction of the future of the Palestinian people. Israel’s creation has been a catastrophe for the Palestinians and Peres was one of the architects. Palestinians cannot forgive him for that because they still live with consequences. Over five million live as refugees in surrounding countries; others live under occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza and as second class citizens in Israel.

Make no mistake about it; Peres’s commitment was to Israel and the Zionist dream not to peace. If he was committed to peace there would have been no need for Oslo, simply a implementation of UN resolutions that would have ended the occupation and allowed the refugees to return. Instead, he fathered the settlement project which planted over 600,000 Israelis in colonies for Jews and only Jews.  I will always recall seeing him interviewed and denying that there was an occupation. “Who did we occupy it from?” he asked.

He was one of the most skilled communicators of the Israeli narrative and did his best to justify Israeli crimes, including those he sanctioned including that of Qana in Lebanon. He died never acknowledging his crimes or showing remorse for the Nakba.

peres-qana

For the Palestinian leadership to call him a man of peace is at odds with his legacy and how Palestinians perceive him. His supposed switch from settlement architect to man of peace resulted in the Oslo accords which have been catastrophic for the Palestinians. He, together with Rabin, Abbas and Arafat signed the Oslo Accords at the White House but that was no prelude to peace, it was a deal to allow Israel to colonize and steel. His Nobel Prize was awarded prematurely. We still do not have a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has shelved Oslo except when it needs to use it to justify its crimes, particularly in the Oslo designated area C. It regularly withholds Palestinian taxes  as punishment for what it considers Palestinian violence or peaceful diplomatic moves.

I won’t be shedding a tear when Peres laid to rest. The Palestinians have laid tens of their loved ones to rest because of his crimes. If there is a God that he is answerable to then he may finally face justice.