It’s time the international community stood up for Palestinian children

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/12/2017

Palestinian children can be seen doing their homework in their makeshift home in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Gaza [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

 

Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian children is not a new development but rather one example of its many breaches of international law and international humanitarian law. While it has in the past faced criticisms for its maltreatment of Palestinian children, particularly in relation to minors that are taken into custody and brought before its military courts, this has not been matched with solid action.

It is therefore encouraging that this may be about to change, and in the United States of all places. The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act requires the Secretary of State to certify annually that funds obligated or expended in the previous year by the United States for assistance to Israel “do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes”. The legislation leaves financial assistance already committed to Israel in place.

The bill notes that Israel ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 3 October 1991, which states— (A) in article 37(a), that “no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. It states that “In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers”.

It further notes that the Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year and prosecutes them before a military court system which the bill says “lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards”.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) notes that “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes an estimated 500 to 700 children each year in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections”.  It further states that in 590 cases documented by DCIP between 2012 and 2016, 72 per cent of Palestinian child detainees reported physical violence and 66 per cent faced verbal abuse and humiliation.

According to Khaled Quzmar, General Director of DCIP, “despite ongoing engagement with UN bodies and repeated calls to abide by international law, Israeli military and police continue night arrests, physical violence, coercion, and threats against Palestinian children”.

The recent introduction of the bill in the US Congress aims to prevent US tax dollars from paying for human rights violations against Palestinian children during the course of Israeli military detention. It aims to establish, as a minimum safeguard, a US demand for basic due process rights for and an absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court system.

In 2012 the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned a report by nine lawyers on the issue of Palestinian children. Among its conclusions it found that “Israel is in breach of articles 2 (discrimination), 3 (child’s best interests), 37(b) (premature resort to detention), (c) (non-separation from adults) and (d) (prompt access to lawyers) and 40 (use of shackles) 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”. It further concluded that based on its findings “Israel will also be in breach of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in article 37(a) of the Convention. Transportation of child prisoners into Israel is in breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Failure to translate Military Order 1676 from Hebrew is a violation of article 65 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

The report made four core recommendations and 40 specific recommendations. The sheer volume of the recommendations highlights the extent of the breaches that need to be addressed by the Israeli authorities. Rather than work to address the recommendations of the report in 2016, Israel refused to cooperate with a team making a follow-up visit to review the extent to which the recommendations had been addressed. This led to the cancelation of the visit and the British FCO failed to convince the Israelis to reinstate it.

Responding to a question from the Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, then Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I expressed my strong disappointment at Israel’s unwillingness to host this follow-up visit with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely during my visit to Israel on 18 February. Officials from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, including the ambassador, also lobbied the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs to cooperate with the visit, and will continue to follow up. We remain committed to working with Israel to secure improvements to the practices surrounding children in detention in Israel.”

The UK parliament has recently been considering the issue of Palestinian children and their treatment by Israel. This was initially expressed through a parliamentary instrument called the Early Day Motion (EDM). EDM 563 was issued on 20 November and states that “this House notes with concern that hundreds of Palestinian children continue to be arrested, detained and tried in Israeli military courts, despite the practice involving widespread and systematic violations of international law and being widely condemned”.

The motion “notes the disparity between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children by Israeli authorities and calls for those authorities to treat Palestinian children in a way that is not inferior to the way they would any Israeli child”.

EDM 563 notes with concern “that the recommendations of Unicef’s 2013 Children in Israeli Military Detention Report remain largely unmet and calls on the government to urgently engage with the Israeli government to end the widespread and systemic human rights violations suffered by Palestinian children in Israeli military custody”.

At the time of writing 65 members of parliament had signed the motion (out of 650). This includes support from individual MPs from all political parties in England Scotland and Wales.

The recent moves in Congress and the UK parliament to highlight Israel’s abuse of the rights of Palestinian children have been welcomed by Palestinians and their supporters. It has taken decades for the rights of children to gain any real attention. If the bill in the US passes then it would signal a real change in policy in that it will condition some funding to Israel on respect for human rights and specifically for Palestinian children. If it fails then the message to Palestinian children will be that America is willing for the bar to be set lower for them than for Israeli children. A well supported EDM in the UK Parliament will highlight the issue and that will allow its sponsors to seek real action from government to pressure Israel to change its unacceptable treatment of Palestinian children, both morally and legally.

It is time Palestinian children were finally protected from abuse by their occupiers. Israel is comfortable in its abuse and will only change when the international community acts to help them. As for Israel, a state without a moral compass, when it comes to Palestinians it could at least apply the same law and practices of dealing with Palestinian children as it does its own children.

 

No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel 

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/5/2017

Israeli security forces break up Palestinian protests organised to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, in Ramallah, West Bank on April 23, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

As Palestinians mark a number of key, painful anniversaries in 2017, Israel is busy with not ending the occupation, but entrenching it and crying wolf claiming to be the victim in the decades-old conflict.

The Palestinians recently marked the 69th anniversary of the massacre of Deir Yassin in which tens of Palestinians were slaughtered by Zionist terror groups. They will shortly mark the Nakba and the creation of Israel on their homeland and against their will in 1948. June marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. June also marks the tenth anniversary of the siege on Gaza and, in November, the Balfour declaration will be 100 years old.

On the ground, prospects for a just peace are almost non-existent. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to move more of its citizens into these illegally occupied areas. Plans for more settlement units continue to surface and even the idea of settlers leaving their illegal housing units have brought accusations of “ethnic cleansing” by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem continues to be Judaised, and the lives of Palestinians in the holy city continue to be made miserable through restrictions on building, extortionate taxes, heavy handed security, house demolitions, evictions and the planting and expansion of Jewish only settlements in East Jerusalem. Extremist settlers continue to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, protected by Israeli security forces without coordination with the Jordanian endowment which administers the holy sanctuary. Even the sound of the Muslim call to prayer which has been heard in the city and the whole of Palestine for centuries is being suppressed.

Israel continues to impose an immoral blockade on Gaza and has the temerity to warn of a catastrophe in the enclave with Major General Yoav Mordechai warning that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 per cent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. This is compounded by recent action by the Palestinian Authority to cut salaries of workers and to refuse to support the supply of electricity to the troubled strip.

The feeling of helplessness by Palestinians, particularly the youth, continues to rise and the regular extrajudicial killing of Palestinians at check points shows no sign of abating. On 7 May, Israeli security forces killed 16-year-old Fatima Afeef Abdulrahman Hajeiji, spraying her body with 20 bullets at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, alleging she was about to attack them with a knife, which eye-witnesses strongly dispute.

In March, Israeli forces killed Basel Al-Araj, a Palestinian intellectual and opponent of the Israeli occupation in an area which the Oslo Accords designated as coming under PA security control, clearly confirming Israel has no respect for any accords or agreements it signs. The killing of the popular activist enraged Palestinians who directed their anger at both Israel and the PA whose security coordination was recently lauded by US President Donald Trump during his meeting with Abbas in Washington saying “they get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.”

The impact of the wall on the daily life of Palestinians is immeasurable, drawing concern and condemnation from many quarters including from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has spoken of his “profound grief and sorrow” after hearing the testimonies of Palestinians whose land has been put beyond their reach by the vast concrete wall Israel has built near Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Rising Jewish settler violence goes unchecked by Israel which continues to practice double standards when dealing with this when compared with Palestinian acts. Palestinian prisoners continue to be mistreated and have their legitimate rights denied by Israel, driving them to a mass hunger strike by 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 prisoners which recently entered its third week.

As for Palestinian citizens of Israel, they continue to be treated like second class citizens and to endure the effect of over 50 discriminatory laws. The Bedouin population in the Negev has been targeted for eviction and transfer, while Jewish settlements are built in their place.

In addition, the status of Arabic as an official language of the state is under threat as proposals have been approved by the Cabinet to downgrade it to having “a special status in the state” while the national language is “Hebrew”. This is part of the so called “Nation State Bill” which would also explicitly reserve “the right to realise self-determination in the State of Israel uniquely to the Jewish people.” In any other context, this would be seen as a racist move when at least 20 per cent of the population are not Jewish.

With such a litany of abuses, an objective assessment would conclude that not only is it legitimate to continue to criticise Israel for its policies, but also those western democracies which support it in order for them to rethink their support.

However, 2017 is proving to be the year of the absurd in the international community’s relationship with Israel. It is the year when Israel is pushing hard to change the discourse on the situation despite an escalation in its crimes. A year in which German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was snubbed by Netanyahu for choosing to meet NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

While 2016 ended with UN Security Council resolution 2334 which criticised the continuing illegal settlement enterprise, criticising Israel in 2017 for the same indiscretions as it committed in 2016 is now suddenly “unfair”.

Recently all 100 US senators signed a letter asking UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body. “Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing,” the letter said.

Amazingly it was lost on the senators, or more probably they chose to ignore, Israel’s refusal to adhere to the body’s multiple Security Council resolutions on the matter, including resolution 2334 which Israel said it would not respect and proceeded to announce further settlement building. This coincided with Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley choosing to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran in her first session holding the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hezbollah,” Haley told the Security Council Thursday. “For decades they have conducted terrorist acts across the region.”

The UK for its part put the UN Human Rights Council “on notice” at its last session accusing it of “bias against Israel”. “The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel undermines the council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

It is incumbent on all who have fallen for Israel’s hasbara propaganda about it being treated unfairly to point to any change in Israeli policy that their collective cowardice in dealing with it has brought. In fact, they cannot. On the contrary, their strategy for dealing with the issue, if they are serious, has failed. There is also no evidence that if Israel is not criticised, it will do the honourable thing and meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians.

If there is unfairness, it is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians which has gone on since its creation, not our criticism of it. In fact criticism is not enough, but action is needed to find a just solution.

الحصاد: بلفور … قرن من الظلم 

مشاركتي في برنامج الحصاد على قناة الجزيرة بتاريخ ٢٢/٤/٢٠١٧

 

The UK should put Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council

First published by the Middle East Eye on 28/3/2017

After supporting the UN resolution against Israeli settlements, the UK’s attack against the council is illogical – unless this is all about trade deals

In a surprise move, the UK representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council made a scathing attack against the council at its 34th session late last week, accusing it of “bias against Israel”.

Of particular concern is the council’s Agenda Item Seven which requires that Israel’s human rights record is discussed and scrutinised three times each year.

“The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel, undermines the Council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

Making no distinction between attacks on Israeli forces maintaining an illegal occupation and attacks on civilians, he said that the council “must also recognise the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces. According to the Quartet’s report last year, there were 250 terrorist attacks, leading to the deaths of at least 30 Israelis”.

“If things do not change,” the representative concluded, “in the future we will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Syrian and Palestinian Territories.”

Breaking with the EU

Despite the UK’s dissent, the 47-member council comfortably passed five resolutions on Israeli human rights abuses:

  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan
  • Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan

The UK only supported the resolutions on Palestinian rights to self-determination and the human rights situation in the occupied territory, voting against the resolution on the occupied Syrian Golan and abstaining on the other two.

The UK’s argument for voting against the Golan resolution was that “Syria’s regime butchers and murders its people on a daily basis. But it is not Syria that is a permanent standing item on the Council’s agenda; it is Israel.”

Even while voting against the resolution, the UK confirmed that it had not changed its position on the illegality of Israel’s occupation of this Syrian territory. However, in voting against the resolution, the UK broke from the EU, which may be a sign of things to come as it exits the union.

The UK’s stance seemed to be in tune with the Israeli and the US positions. After the resolutions passed, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the UNHRC “has become the most notorious branch of the BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement] movement. The body’s resolution on Syria, he said, was “ridiculous”.

Acting US spokesperson Mark Toner said the US “strongly and unequivocally” opposed the council’s Agenda Item Seven, the one which permanently tables a discussion of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians three times each year.

The US stance can be explained by the change of administration from President Obama’s to that of President Trump.

‘Stay strong Israel’

Following his election, Trump claimed that Israel was being treated “very, very unfairly”. He accused Obama of handling Israel with “total disdain and disrespect” after the US abstained from the vote on UN Security Council resolution 2334 which condemned Israeli settlement building. Trump then tweeted “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has been enacting Trump’s promise. Last month, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a high profile position at the UN and, more recently, pressured the UN secretary general to pull a report labelling Israeli policies as apartheid.

She further threatened to boycott the Human Rights Council altogether. And in her appearance at the recent AIPAC conference, in a reference to resolution 2334, she promised, “The days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.”

While the US abstained on 2334, the UK voted for the resolution before it passed in December. Instead of halting construction, Israel has since announced approval for the constructions of thousands of new settlement units.

So it is at best illogical for the UK to abstain at the UNHRC on a resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement activities and, at worst, an abdication of its responsibility as a signatory to the 4th Geneva Convention that sets rule for the administration of occupied territory.

The UK’s threat to vote against all future resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the occupied Syrian and Palestinian territories implies that it might also vote against a resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. That would be a shocking development which would further damage the UK’s image as an upholder of human rights.

If not occupation, what is it?

It is interesting to note that the UK is willing to change its policy to protect Israel when it perceives it to be treated unfairly, but not to bring it to account for its violations of international law.

If passing resolutions, democratically put and democratically passed, against Israeli oppressive and illegal practices is unfair, what does the UK consider Israel’s 50-year occupation to be?

What does it consider illegal settlements, land theft, legalising illegal settlements, prisoners, the siege of Gaza and the refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to be?

Every day, Palestinians wake up to the reality of a foreign occupation that is far from temporary, one which impacts every aspect of their lives. That is grossly unfair.

In the UK’s own statement at the council, its representative stated clearly that, “Respect for justice, the rule of law, and international law are the cornerstones of international peace and security”.

The representative should have taken note of the findings of the report which UN ESCWA commissioned, released earlier this month, which found Israel guilty of apartheid.

While that report was taken down following pressure from the US and Israel through the UN General Secretary, it was quickly followed by another damning report of Israeli policies in which Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, charged Israel with “the subjugation of humanity” in Palestine and intensifying a crackdown on human rights campaigners.

Either the UK doesn’t get it or it is prepared to turn a blind eye to Israeli policies as it looks beyond Brexit and towards strengthening trade ties, including those with the US and Israel.

In the new brave world, it seems trade will always trump human rights and the upholding of international law. The UK is talking the talk on Israeli aggression through empty condemnation, but walking the walk to protect it.

In the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK is once again betraying the Palestinians while celebrating its role in creating Israel, an apartheid state.

It should be putting Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council. 

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.

The UK’s new anti-Semitism definition is more about protecting Israel than British Jews

First published by the Middle East Eye on 13/12/2016

The definition makes anti-Semitism less about problems an individual or group has with Jews and more a refusal to accept Israeli policies

_________________________________________________________________

Britain’s pro-Israel lobby has won a battle, but its win won’t help bring about the peace that Palestinians and Israelis crave.

This week, the British government announced that it will adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism which, in itself, will not provide British Jews with greater protection from hatred any more than the previous definitions and understanding of this scourge did.

However, it could potentially make it more difficult for campaigners for justice for Palestinians, and Palestinians themselves, to speak out against Israel’s 68-year long colonisation and 49 years of illegal occupation. In fact, my previous sentence may itself now be judged to be on the edge of whether it is anti-Semitic.

My contention is that existing definitions and understandings of anti-Semitism were adequate. This was clearly demonstrated by the case of Joshua Bonehill-Paine. His vile anti-Semitic trolling of British MP Luciana Berger landed him with a conviction for racially aggravated harassment last week.

Prosecutor Philip Stott said “the ideology which so stirred Mr Bonehill-Paine is one of fierce anti-Semitism” and that he had demonstrated “hostility based on her membership or presumed membership of a particular racial group, namely Jews”.

May’s announcement

On Monday, the British prime minister took time out from her busy schedule and the Brexit shenanigans among her ministers to make a speech to the Conservatives’ own pro-Israel lobby, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). Britain, she announced, will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘formal’ definition of anti-Semitism.

“Just last week we were at the forefront to try to ensure that the definition was adopted across the continent too, at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The result was 56 countries in favour. One country opposed it: Russia,” May told the crowd. “But, as I said, we will adopt it here in the UK.”

Her contention was that “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it”.

The IHRA definition, which is largely based on the discredited European Union’s Monitoring Centre definition that Britain is adopting, is: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

However, had the PM stopped there – and made it clear that the definition stops there – other Palestinians and I would have been able to live with this. In fact, that definition still effectively states the traditional understanding of what anti-Semitism is, namely “hatred of Jews because they are Jews”.

However, May and her team failed to elaborate on the small print which makes this definition problematic, especially for Palestinians.

The small print

The IHRA’s small print moves immediately to bring criticism of Israel into the definition as an example of anti-Semitism stating that “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The IHRA goes on to offer contemporary examples of anti-Semitism. Some were examples of classic anti-Semitism which most fair-minded people would agree are wrong. However, several were specifically related to Israel including:

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

Suddenly, anti-Semitism becomes not a problem an individual or group may have with Jews because they are Jews, and more about refusing to accept the policies, practices and actions of a state. Most importantly though, there is no attempt either in the definition or the prime minister’s speech to formally and fully acknowledge that Israel does not exist in a vacuum.

From a Palestinian perspective

No, prime minister. The last time I checked, Israel was created on a land that was not empty against our will, one that was a homeland to my people, the Palestinians. It expanded beyond even the unjust UN Partition Plan to now rule over the whole of the Palestinian homeland. It defies international law, and has been in breach of international humanitarian law, not for a few days or years, but for decades.

It builds settlements only for Jews illegally on internationally recognised land that belongs to another people. It continues to lay a siege on two million people in Gaza for political reasons and has repeatedly carried out wars against the enclave which UN reports concluded may have included the committal of war crimes.

It continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland in defiance of UN resolution 194. It has rejected the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes and evict Palestinian families from their homes, moving Jewish settlers into them.

It continues to demolish ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev and in the case of Umm Al-Hiran plans to build a settlement only for Jews on the same spot. It has some 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. The list goes on. That is how Palestinians see Israel.

However, the prime minister only sees it as “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity and defying disadvantages”. She even agreed with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev who said “we have common values; we work together, on health, counter-terrorism, cyber-security, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims”.

However, what I described above from a Palestinian perspective she reduced to a slight problem, stating that “no one is saying the path has been perfect – or that many problems do not remain”. For the Palestinians, it is not just a few problems but a catastrophe that started in 1947 and continues to this day.

Palestinians had no choice in who had an eye on their homeland and who then settled it without their consent. The Zionist movement chose Palestine knowing it was a land for a people. When we Palestinians criticise the occupier, resist its oppressive regime and ask supporters of justice across the world to help us, we do not target Israeli Jews because they are Jews but because they are our occupiers. That is an undisputable fact.

The new definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted without consultation with the Palestinian people or British Palestinians to ascertain its impact on them. Equality legislation requires that an assessment is carried out to consider the impact of actions in order to avoid unintended consequences.

At the very least, an impact assessment should have been carried out to assess the unintended consequences of silencing Palestinians and their supporters through the adoption of the new definition – unless of course that was the intention. Either way, the Palestinian people cannot afford to be silent. We will not be a ‘model occupied people’.

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

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

Photo: British Prime Minister Theresa May at a press conference last month (AFP)