Backlash after Israeli forces prepare to demolish Palestinian village

I was interviewed by RTUK on 4/7/2018 about the impending demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank

كل الأبعاد: حول مستقبل القضية الفلسطينية في ظل اقتراب صفقة القرن

لقائي مع الأستاذ شريف منصور الذي تحدثنا به عن القضية الفلسطينية في ظل صفقة القرن والتغيرات الإقليمية بتاريخ ٢٧/٦/٢٠١٨

Israel’s most famous human shield is its defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/6/2018

Palestinian protestors seen at the Gaza-Israel border during the protests called "commemorating the Naksa", along the border fence, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza-Israel border during the Great March of Return on June 8, 2018 [Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu Agency]

 

The Israeli propaganda machine has been in full swing since 30 March when the Great Return March saw tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza march to the fence with Israel demanding that they be allowed to return to their home towns and villages and for an end to the 11-year immoral siege on Gaza. The object is to once again dehumanise the Palestinians, presenting them as violent people intent on attacking and killing Israelis, rather than people with the backing of international law articulated in UN Resolution 194 which gives them the right to return.

Israeli hasbara was working overtime to deny the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and their origin as a grassroots movement. Even before the first march to the fence, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) circulated a document entitled “Hamas-led Confrontation Campaign”, which detailed the main talking points for Israel’s public diplomacy on the march. As the title of the document implies, Israel wanted to strip the march of its peaceful and civilian framing calling it a “provocation” and claiming that “Hamas is spending more than $10 million to finance the current confrontation campaign, paying Gazans to get them to participate”. There is of course no evidence that Hamas did such a thing. Palestinians (not Gazans) marched under their own free will. Families went out to the camps with their children in the hope that they could walk peacefully through the fence to their homes.

Another talking point was that “Israel has the right to defend its borders and to prevent infiltration into its sovereign territory”. What the document fails to explain is where exactly Israel’s borders are. Since Israel continues to occupy Gaza, controlling ingress and access for both people and goods, as well as keeping the population registry, the fence at which its troops were placed is artificial. It also has not built a wall along the whole border to allow it easy access to the besieged strip to flatten crops and to carry out murderous attacks against the population at will.

Israel reacted to the peaceful marches with tear gas and live ammunition that has resulted in 120 deaths and over 10,000 injuries. There has not been a single injury to an Israeli citizen, military or civilian during the marches.

The Israeli MFA document also goes on to claim that “Hamas continues to exploit the civilian population of Gaza as human shields”. This is an accusation it makes regularly to deflect the world’s attention from its crimes and to blame Hamas, not its murderous actions, for the death and maiming of Palestinians. During the 2014 war on Gaza, it claimed Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas, even from civilian homes, schools and hospitals.

Israel claims Hamas has been paying Palestinians to go to the border, risking life and limb, taking their children, all to serve as human shields to provide cover for its operatives, planning attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinians reject this claim, stressing that it is the organisers of the march that determine its development, not Hamas, and that Palestinians go to the fence of their own free will.

Israel even had the temerity through the publication of a misleading, edited video clip to smear 21-year-old medic Razan Al-Najjar accusing her of throwing an object at the fence and of acting as a human shield for Hamas. In fact, what Razan said in the full interview was “I act as a human shield as a rescuer for the injured on the front lines”.

The claim of Israel that Palestinians use Palestinians as human shields is false. In fact, Israel uses both Palestinians and Jews as human shields. The Israeli Army regularly uses Palestinians as human shields as outlined by B’Tselem. This includes ordering them to “remove suspicious objects from roads, to tell people to come out of their homes so the military can arrest them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter shoot from behind them, and more. The Palestinian civilians were chosen at random for these tasks, and could not refuse the demand placed on them by armed soldiers”.

In 2010 two Israeli soldiers were convicted of using an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield in Gaza when they used him to open bags suspected of being booby trapped.

What may not be so apparent to observers is that the largest group of human shields in historic Palestine are Israeli settlers. Since its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has built colonies for Jews only, which it placed strategically, both for political and military reasons. The political reason is to make it impossible for a viable and contiguous Palestinian state to ever emerge. It is also a means of judaising Jerusalem and Hebron. By planting settlers illegally into Palestinian neighbourhoods, Israel deliberately puts them in harm’s way for political reasons, whether as pawns or human shields. When settlers occupy a Palestinian home in Hebron or Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, they are political human shields.

It was Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who articulated the military rationale. He claims that from his perspective, “it’s clear that the settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and those here in the area of Jericho and the Dead Sea are the State of Israel’s true defensive wall”. This is therefore an admission, that the settlers that populate these colonies are used as human shields by Israel to protect what is until now a state without definitive borders. Lieberman has been championing the settlement enterprise and has indeed vowed to continue to build illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The rise in settler terrorism is another use of the settlers as pawns to provoke Palestinian retaliation and to push Palestinians off their land. The army stands behind them as they carry out their terror, effectively using them as human shields.

The false claim that Hamas has used 40,000 civilians as human shields comes nowhere near Israel’s use of 700,000 human shields that are the illegal settlers. With a settler-led Israeli government there are plenty of prominent Israeli leaders that live in illegal settlements, making them human shields for Israel’s political and military goals.

Avigdor Lieberman, the former nightclub bouncer from Moldova now Israel’s defence minister, is himself a settler residing in the illegal Nokdim settlement in Gush Etzion.  It turns out Israel’s most famous human shield is its defence minister.

Six million Palestinians are a fact Trump and Netanyahu can’t ignore forever

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/6/2018

Abandoned by the world, Palestinians could find strength in demographics

The political climate is ripe for Israel to achieve, in only a matter of months, victories it would once have only dreamed of attaining over a number of decades. The primary reason for this? Donald Trump.

During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House in February 2017, the US president dismissed longstanding policy on the political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one… As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

With regards to the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, he said at the time: “I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care – great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens. Okay?”

Two-state solution

All of the above is contrary to international law and longstanding international consensus. The international community’s long-time position has called for a two-state solution with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital, and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.

Trump’s key advisers, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt, have collected thousands of air miles on trips to the region, mostly to Israel and Palestine – but also to key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Visits to Palestine were a smokescreen.

It appears that instead of working on a just peace deal, Trump’s team was working on ways to implement, one step at a time, Netanyahu’s vision for “peace”. A crucial prerequisite was to convince key Gulf states that to secure US support against the Iranian threat, they had to befriend or deepen their friendship with Netanyahu.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE obliged. While the two Gulf states publicly distanced themselves from any dialogue with Israel, clandestine engagements were taking place – facilitated, it seems, by Kushner. Far from the Palestinian issue remaining front and centre of the Arab world’s agenda, Trump’s team managed to convince them that it was an impediment to their plans.

They began to deliver for Trump and Netanyahu within months of the American president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which was about telling the Arab and Muslim world that he was boss. The chequebooks were out, with billions promised on the spot. Shortly after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went there too, to be told to accept Trump’s deal.

Silence of Arab leaders

The Arab regimes also acceded to Trump’s demand that they contain the anger of the Arab street when he announced his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there. Again, they obliged. Yes, there were demonstrations, but there was no significant individual or collective action either by the Arab or Muslim world. “The sky’s still up there. It hasn’t fallen,” beamed Nikki Haley, US representative to the UN.

Even when the move coincided with Israel’s 70th anniversary of what it calls its independence – which the Palestinians call the Nakba – and when more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, Arab leaders were silent save for cursory condemnations.

Donald and Melania Trump with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP/Saudi royal palace/Bandar al-Jaloud)

Guatemala and Honduras followed the US lead, as was expected – and again, not a whisper from the Palestinian people’s historical backbone. The UK and most EU states took what appeared to be a principled stand and boycotted – though they would not describe it as that – the opening of the US embassy. But that stance turned out to be only symbolic, as the UK’s Foreign Office confirmed that British officials would meet their US counterparts in the embassy. While the EU has not officially announced its stance on using the embassy, it would be surprising to see it break away and stand up to the US.

Netanyahu can tick off one of the main goals he wanted to achieve, and which Trump has delivered: US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He can mark as a “work in progress” the elimination of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, which Trump is attacking through the defunding of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

In US ambassador David Friedman, Israel has an ally on the ground. He is working hard to erase the term “occupation” from the State Department’s vocabulary, claiming that settlements amount to less than two percent of the West Bank. It seems that no one in the administration sees these settlements as illegal; Greenblatt believes they are not an obstacle to peace.

A race against time

In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump gave substantial weight to facts on the ground, and almost no weight to international law. This is music to the ears of Israeli politicians, for whom international law is an inconvenience. With a US president prepared to ignore the law and longstanding agreements, Israeli politicians are pushing ahead with new demands to recognise more facts on the ground.

They appear to be in a race against time to extract as much as they can while Trump and his pro-Israel team are in office. Next on the list of demands is US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz claimed that the subject was “topping the agenda” in talks with the Trump administration. He used the Iran card to justify this, saying: “The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognise Israel’s Golan sovereignty with an American statement, a presidential proclamation.”

If all that was not enough, perhaps the biggest prize would be recognition of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque and US support for the building of a Jewish temple on the site. A stake has been placed in the ground, with the image of a beaming Freidman being presented with a poster showing the compound with a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. While the US embassy dismissed the significance of the image, Friedman’s record thus far has been staunchly pro-Israel and unconventional to say the least.

Non-violent resistance

Faced with all this and an ailing president devoid of any meaningful strategy, what are Palestinians to do? The Palestinian Authority could take former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice to “hold on and be strong”, and not yield to Trump’s demands.

They could finally begin the process of bringing Israeli leaders to account for crimes committed against Palestinians through the International Criminal Court, which would take time, and might well not end in success. They could also escalate their non-violent resistance, taking encouragement from the Great March of Return.

The most troubling facts on the ground for Israel, however, are the Palestinians – every one of the six million who remain in historic Palestine, plus the collective memory and attachment of the other six million in the diaspora. It may feel it is winning with Trump’s support, but it is losing the demography.

Unlike Israeli leaders, I see human beings as individuals, not numbers in a political game. However, in the absence of justice for Palestinians through traditional peaceful means, perhaps their numbers in historic Palestine constitute a winning card.

How about a national Palestinian strategy for strengthening their hand with more babies? More demographic facts on the ground will eventually “trump” Israel and Trump’s recognition of Israeli facts on the ground.

– 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 a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Protesters waving Palestinian flags stamp on burning prints of US flags and President Donald Trump during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on 15 May 2018 (AFP)

Bedouins’ endless suffering in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/2/2018

How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Unabated onslaught. Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two classrooms destroyed by the Israeli Army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, on February 4. (AP)

Descendants of the Bedouins who inhabited historic Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 live on either side of the Green Line that defines the internationally recognised border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Once nomads, tens of thousands of Bedouins live in villages across the desert region of southern Israel and in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship. Those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have Palestinian Authority passports.

On February 4, Israeli forces closed off an area around a school for Bedouins in the West Bank village of Abu Nuwar and demolished two EU-funded classrooms in the school. A statement from Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “The building was built illegally and without the necessary permits. In addition, the enforcement was approved by the Supreme Court.” This was the fifth time the school had been demolished since 2016.

Another area where whole communities are under threat of expulsion is Khan al-Ahmar where 12 communities are at risk. The area east of Jerusalem has about 1,400 residents. The communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road.

Importantly, the area is east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, making it strategic for Israel’s expansionist policies and its plans to annex more Palestinian land.

Palestinian Bedouins have suffered severely at the hands of the occupying forces in the West Bank but the situation for Bedouins on the other side of the Green Line, where they settled in villages in the Negev, is no different. They, too, face discrimination and oppression, including property demolition, from the Israeli authorities.

Members of the Bedouin community in the Negev have been under threat of eviction from their villages for years. Their plight was sealed in 2013 when the Prawer-Begin Bill was approved by the Knesset by a 43-40 vote. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and said it would end with the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) in southern Israel.

It argued that, if fully implemented, “it will result in the destruction of 46 ‘unrecognised’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”

Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin plan was halted when one of its architects, Benny Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to stop progress on the legislation just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that, contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not have their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without its consultation.

Two villages in particular gained prominence in recent years because of Israel’s actions against them. Al-Araqib attracted attention after Israel repeatedly destroyed it. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. Last October, it was demolished for the 120th time.

The other village is Umm al-Hiran. Israel wants to expel the whole community from the village and build a settlement for Jews. At a protest against the demolitions in January 2017, Yaakub Abu al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was killed by Israeli police while driving his car. Locals denied police claims that Qian had been shot after ploughing his car into police officers, saying his car accelerated only after he was shot and lost control. An Israeli police officer died in the incident.

It seems that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing its plan on a village-by-village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish-only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

Whether as the state in which they have citizenship in the Negev (85,000) or as their illegal occupier in the West Bank (50,000), Israel treats Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions about them to suit Israel’s colonialist agenda. How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?