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?

Palestinian Bedouins face Israeli discrimination from the river to the sea

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 5/12/2016

Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Image from Middle EST mONITOR: Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Will they or won’t they and when? This has been the question being raised constantly over the past few weeks about Israel’s intention to expel the Bedouins of Um Al-Hiran village in the Negev.

Their expulsion and the demolition of their village were to take place on Tuesday 22 November following an announcement by the Israeli Land Authority. A last minute appeal to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court was rejected. In the event, the demolition order was postponed by police who claimed it was “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court”. However, it may also have been due to a show of solidarity by activists and members of the Knesset who spent the night there and possibly international pressure.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the day the demolition was to take place, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I have raised with the Israeli Ambassador the concerns expressed in the House of Commons about plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev. Demolition orders delivered to residents had stated that initial demolitions would occur on 22 November. Although the demolition did not happen yesterday, the threat remains.”

However, rather than call on Israel to end the threat to the village and to connect it to the services Jewish communities expect, he simply called on “the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community to work together to find a solution that meets the needs and respects the rights of the people affected. This should include a robust planning process that adequately consults and addresses the needs of Israel’s Bedouin communities.”

The “planning process” the British minister refers to has already determined that a settlement for Jews only would be built on the ruins of Um Al-Hiran. To add salt to the wound, the new Jewish settlement would be named Hiran.

Um Al-Hiran is not the only village facing demolition.  It is one of approximately 40 Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognise and has refused to provide with the necessary services. They are home to 85,000 of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouin citizens and, while the majority were moved to the Negev from their original locations in 1948, some of the villages predate the creation of Israel.

Another village, Al-Araqeeb came to prominence after Israel destroyed it repeatedly. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. In June of this year, it was demolished for the 100th time while its residents were observing the month of Ramadan and therefore fasting from sunrise to sunset.

The Bedouin community in the Negev has been under threat of eviction from their villages for a number of years. Their plight was sealed in 2103 when the Prawer-Begin bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset with 43 votes for and 40 against. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and claimed that it would result in the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. It argued that if fully implemented “it will result in the destruction of 35 “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, Beni Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill 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 receive their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without consultation with them. However, to this day it is not clear whether the bill was shelved or postponed.

It seems though that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing with 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.

The situation for Bedouins in the West Bank, who do not hold Israeli citizenship, is similar in many ways to their counterparts with Israeli citizenship. They number approximately 50,000. Their insecurity is particularly highlighted in “rea C, the part of the West Bank under both security and administrative Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords. Here, small communities living often in temporary structures have their structures destroyed by the Israeli army.

In July of this year, a leaked letter from eight European ambassadors to Israel representing Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Norway protested the confiscation by the Israeli army of shelters for two “vulnerable” Bedouin communities. The letter claimed “these confiscations, as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will. “If that scenario materialises, the UN expresses its concern that it may amount to forcible transfers, which are considered a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”

Another example of life as a Bedouin in the West Bank is reported here.

Israel has also developed plans to expel Palestinian Bedouins from their current villages East of Jerusalem to a “new town” without their knowledge or any consultation with them. The town would accommodate about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes and would be located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The arrogance of the colonialist Israeli state is exemplified by its claim the proposal “suits the ‘dynamic changes’ Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society to ‘a modern society’ that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trades and more.” It does not seem to have consulted the people in question about whether they agree with this or not and what kind of future they see for themselves.

And so it seems the Bedouins that have inhabited historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, for far longer than Israel has existed, moving from one area to another as and when they wished, must now accept a future determined for them. Whether the state whose citizenship they hold in the Negev or their illegal occupier in the West Bank, Israel treats the Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions for them which in reality suit its colonialist agenda. How else does it explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish only settlements? This is pure discrimination and racism rather than “development”.

Hey Israel, give Palestinians a sporting chance

First published by the Middle East Eye on 11/8/2016

rio-2016

The troubles of the Middle East have followed the Olympic flame to Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilian games.

An early controversy erupted even before the teams reached the Maracana Stadium.

The Lebanese and Israeli delegations clashed when the organisers planned for the two teams to travel together to the opening ceremony, presumably assuming sport would override politics and that, given the chance to mingle, citizens of the two countries would welcome the opportunity.

The now well-documented incident showed that only a naive organiser would have failed to assume this would be a non-starter.

The Lebanese delegation head refused to let the Israeli team board the coach and the teams travelled separately. It was ironic that the Israeli sailing team coach complained about this act of discrimination when he must know of the discrimination that Israel practices against Palestinians with the building of roads and towns designed and constructed for Jews only.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also impacted the start of the games: the six members of the Palestinian team – including 55-year-old dressage rider and German businessman Christian Zimmerman – travelled to the games without their official uniforms and equipment, impounded by Israeli customs.

Before the games began, as Munther Masalmeh, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Olympic Committee told the media, the team’s gear had not cleared customs yet.

“We got one shipment several months ago and we have not been able to bring it in,” he said. “We were forced to travel without our equipment and to buy them instead in Brazil.”

In a further act of interference in the Palestinian Olympic delegation, Israel banned Issam Qishta, the head of the Palestinian delegation, from leaving the Gaza Strip to join the Rio-bound team.

“We do our best to let him leave as soon as possible,” Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said.

Playing politics

Israeli interference in Palestinian sporting affairs is nothing new. Recently, Israel banneds everal players from Gaza’s Ittihad Al-Shejaiya football team from crossing into the West Bank through the Eriz border to play the final match of the Palestine football cup against Ahli Al-Khalil from Hebron in the West Bank.

The first leg of the cup final, which took place in Gaza, marked the first visit by Ahli Alkhalil to the Strip in 15 years. However, several players on the West Bank team faced difficultiesentering Gaza. The first leg ended in a goalless draw.

Under apparent pressure from football’s world governing body FIFA, Israel eventually allowed the Gaza players to cross into the West bank for the rearranged second leg which the West Bank team won.

Over the years, FIFA has had to play a key mediation role between the Palestine Football Federation (PFA) and the Israeli Football Federation (IFA). Palestinians believe Israel deliberately hampers their efforts to develop the game, both at club and at a national team level, largely through restrictions of movement within the occupied territories.

Israel also decides which Palestinian players can leave the territories for training or tournaments abroad and which foreign-based Palestinian members of the national team can enter the occupied territories.

Additionally, Israel decides which foreign teams can enter the occupied territories for games or tournaments.

Israel has also targeted individual Palestinian footballers including Gaza-based star Mahmoud Sarsak, who was arrested at the Erez crossing en route to play in a game in the West Bank and was held without charge for three years before embarking on a hunger strike in 2012 to protest his detention. He ended his hunger strike after 90 days in exchange for early release.

Young, aspiring footballers have also been targeted by occupation forces. In January 2014, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, were shot by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank.

A month later, the two youngsters learnt that they could never play sport again as a result of their injuries.

Oppression on and off the field

The continued Israeli interference finally led the Palestinian Football Association to table a motion at FIFA’s fifth congress in 2015, asking for Israel’s suspension.

After much huffing and puffing, the PFA chief Jibril Rajoub dropped the motion under pressure from other delegates and with a view to setting up committees to monitor the situation.

“I am here to play football, rather than to play politics. I want to end suffering,” he said at the time.

“I decided to drop the suspension, but it does not mean that I give up the resistance. A lot of colleagues who I respect and I appreciate explained to me how it is painful for them to hear in this family about the issue of suspension.”

As the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate for Palestinian football, Israel’s meddling with the Olympic team is symptomatic of the wider oppressive policies against the Palestinian people, a case of politics impacting every aspect of Palestinian life.

What does Israel gain from upsetting young atheletes? It chooses to incite young Palestinians to hate their occupier, inciting and reminding Palestinians that they are occupied, on a daily basis, something that cannot be tolerated. The free world should heap pressure on Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a result.

Rather than upset Palestinian athletes and engender hatred, Israel can surely gain more from them focusing on training and competing at the highest possible level.

A state which is looking to coexist with the people with whom it shares a land would find no better starting place to develop this than with sports, music and culture.

– 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.

Oslo’s alphabet language of colonisation

First published in the Middle East Monitor

Saturday, 23 January 2016 11:09

Oslo’s alphabet language of colonisation

By Kamel HAWWASH

The iconic handshake between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and PA president Yasser ArafatThe iconic handshake between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and PA president Yasser Arafat 

The first three letters of the alphabet A, B & C have come to mark the occupation and creeping colonisation of Palestine by Israel. The lines around these areas were drawn in the Oslo II agreement signed in Taba in 1995. This divided the West Bank into three areas, with Israel and Palestine enjoying varying degrees of administrative and security rights in each. The area covering all West Bank cities and most of the Palestinian population was labelled Area A, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) enjoying “full” administrative and security control. Area B contains large rural areas with the PA enjoying only administrative control. The remaining 60% was labelled Area C and fell under complete Israeli control, except when it comes to education and medical provisions. Significantly, Israel controls all issues to do with the land, including its allocation and applications for construction both of private structures and the infrastructure.

To complete the picture of the colonialist control Israel exercises over the West Bank you have to add the impact of the Wall or Fence, which Israel built after the Oslo Accords and the infrastructure of roads that serve the settlements, many of which can only be used by settlers in Israel’s version of Apartheid.

It is important to realise that Areas A, B and C are not three separate geographical areas that are easily identifiable, rather an administrative division effectively determined by Israel to serve its expansionist, colonialist agenda. Step out of a Palestinian city or town and you are almost certainly in Area C and thus under complete Israeli control. Area C is home to an estimated 300,000 Palestinians living in mostly small villages and communities and 350,000 Israeli settlers living in 135 settlements and 100 outposts. Some of Palestine’s most fertile land can be found in the Jordan valley which falls in Area C.

The 22 years since Oslo and the futile negotiations to reach a final deal have not passed with Israel respecting even this outrageous division of the West Bank. Any pretence of a Palestinian area that is safe from Israeli interference is a myth.
Is this the Third Intifada?

Take Area A, which includes all Palestinian cities. The PA is responsible for security and therefore it should be safe to assume that Israeli occupation forces would not enter these under any circumstances. However, this is a myth. Israeli forces regularly enter Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin to arrest, injure or maim. It has abducted members of the Legislative Council, including the speaker and PFLP MP Khalida Jarrar. Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was said to have called PA President Abbas to apologise for the Israeli occupation forces conducting activities near his home and interacting with his presidential guards. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces cannot apprehend any Israeli settlers for acts of violence anywhere in the West Bank and any settlers that accidentally venture into Area A are quickly secured and handed over to the occupation forces.

In Area C, Israel’s colonial activities abound as it enjoys both security and administrative control. The application of one rule for Palestinians and another for the illegal settlers is clearest here. Palestinians cannot build, extend or improve their homes or businesses without interference from Israel, which is often violent. The almost certain refusal of Israel to grant planning permits for the construction of homes, schools, businesses and agricultural structures leaves Palestinians with no option but to build without these. The almost inevitable result is demolition. The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has described how 5,000 Palestinians in Area C live in designated “firing zones” and are expected to leave their homes for hours or days during Israeli military training. OCHA further describes the dire situation for the Bedouins, regularly under threat of relocation from their land, against their will.

Communities other than the Bedouins have also faced having to relocate repeatedly. One particularly stark example has been the community of Susyia in the Hebron Hills whose members have faced three relocations in three decades to allow a settlement of almost the same name to be established and then to allow its expansion.

In recent years, a number of Israeli politicians who are completely opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state have called for annexation of swathes of Area C, if not all of it. Current Education Minister Naftali Bennet has even called for the 300,000 Palestinians who live in it to be granted Israeli citizenship. He believes the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank could then run their own affairs and full independence would be impossible. Other Israeli politicians have perhaps not been as forthright in calling for annexation of areas of the West Bank as Bennet, however it is now difficult to find any that call for a genuine two-state solution that would bring Palestinians any hope of an end to the occupation.

More recently, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced it would be confiscating 370 acres of land in the Jericho district, declaring it “state land”. This kind of action renders the designation of a plot of land as A, B or C completely meaningless. Israel acts with complete impunity. If it decided to declare the Ramallah Palestinian Authority headquarters as a military closed zone or a firing zone, who could stop it?

At Oslo, the Palestinian negotiators not only agreed to recognition of Israel with no reciprocal recognition of Palestine, they agreed to the further carving up of the 22% that they accepted as “Palestine” into these three areas. The reality was that Palestinians and settlers lived in all three areas and that Israel used the designations to suit its agenda. The Oslo Accords were meant to be temporary, leading to a negotiated settlement within five years. On the face of it, the Palestinian negotiators may have assumed all three areas would be handed back at the end of the five years, free of settlers, to form the supposed viable, contiguous state that they dreamt of. However, 22-years-later, no deal has been reached and in practice, Israel violates the interim agreements on a daily basis whether in area A, B or C. This designation has become a further obstacle to peace and will not change soon without external pressure. For peace to come to the holy land, clear, unambiguous pressure must be exerted on Israel to end its occupation, dispatching the alphabet of colonisation to the dustbin of history.

UK National Union of Teachers puts Palestine Centre Stage at National Conference

I had a most inspiring experience this morning when I addressed the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton. The Largest teachers’ Union in the UK allocated an hour for an international session and specifically to hear a report … Continue reading