News from Palestine January 2019
Very little hard information is available, but it is reported that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner continues to promote a so-called “peace settlement”, in spite of being persona non grata with the Palestinian Authority.
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner speaks during the dedication ceremony of
the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
He was thought to have an ally in Saudi Arabia’s disgraced (but still in power) Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud. Saudi Arabia’s establishment, including the current King, has always been steadfast in defending the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia’s own treatment of its Shia minority and poor human rights record don’t give it much moral credibility in the wider world. Nonetheless, the Crown Prince would lose even more credibility in his own country and the broader Arab world if he supported a peace proposal that entrenched the occupation and the Israeli control of all Jerusalem.
Politics in Israel
The Netanyahu-led Government has been struggling recently. Not only have two partner parties in the coalition withdrawn, but Netanyahu’s wife has been charged with corruption in connection with government expenses and the police have recommended more serious charges against Bibi himself. Netanyahu’s response to these pressures has been to orchestrate the dissolution of the Knesset.
New elections are to be held on April 9th. At this time, it seems unlikely that a government will emerge from these elections with any fundamentally different policies towards the Occupation or towards Palestinians more generally. Left wing and Arab parties that show any serious concerns about a long-term peace settlement and/or full rights for Palestinians are very much in a minority in the divided country.
Although Israel claims to be a liberal democracy and there is a thriving human rights sector in the country, mostly led by Jewish Israelis, the Netanyahu government is putting constant pressure on such organisations to curb their activities. Notably at present he is fighting hard to crush the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign organisation in Israel itself. After legal threats and false allegations from Shurat HaDin-The Israel Law Center, the donation platform Donorbox has suspended the BDS National Committee’s account, disabling its ability to fundraise for human rights.
Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement and himself constantly harassed by the Israeli government, stated: “They are making categorically false allegations, threatening and bullying our partners and service providers in a desperate attempt to undermine our ability to challenge Israel’s regime of apartheid and oppression.”
The UK Government continues to face both ways in its attitude towards Israel. On the one hand it regularly signals its disapproval of the Occupation, of the excessive violence in and around Gaza and of the ham-fisted diplomatic behavior of the US Government. On the other hand, it gives (and has always given) greater priority to Israel’s claimed security concerns, the UK-US alliance, and trade interests, rather than basic rights of the Palestinians. It has enjoyed an understanding with the US for almost 50 years to avoid penalizing Israel for its serious transgressions of international law. The case of Khan al-Ahmar (mentioned above) has caused stronger than usual condemnation. Were Israel to erase Khan al-Ahmar there would be a row, but not the adverse consequences needed.
One aspect of UK government policy that is not widely recognised is the way it discriminates against the Palestinians as far as visas to the UK are concerned.
The rule is that all Israeli citizens (including Arabs) are allowed business and tourist visits to the UK without visa. Palestinians living in Jerusalem are not generally allowed Israeli passports and just have Israeli-issued permits to live there. These do not qualify for visa free access to the UK. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have passports issued by the Palestinian Authority and they have to apply to the British consulate in Amman for visas. The same applies to Palestinians living in Jordan. These visas are not easily granted.
The ludicrous result of these rules is that settlers living illegally under international law on stolen land are allowed visa free access to the UK and the Palestinians who have been displaced by them are not. Once again this reminds us of the solemn promise in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that the British government still fails to honour:
“…..nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine …”
Changing Views in the USA
The disenchantment of US Jewish opinion with the Israeli government continues to develop. Jewish Voice for Peace, apparently the fastest growing Jewish organisation campaigning for justice for Palestinians, has stepped up its activities and is starting to make waves in Congress and influence the success of the BDS Movement.
A small group of newly elected members of Congress are openly sympathetic to the Palestinians, including the first member with Palestinian heritage – Rashida Tlaib – who was elected to represent Michigan. However, there is concerted fightback from the pro-Israel lobby with attempts both in Congress and at State and local levels to ban support for BDS and/or require individuals or companies to sign pledges not to support boycotts of Israeli goods as a condition of employment or tender. There are several court challenges pending in the USA on this matter , invoking freedom of expression under the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein, and The New York Times editorial board, have condemned efforts to rush through federal legislation aimed at silencing Israel’s critics.
Racism in Israel
We reported in Newsletter 30 on the Basic State Law approved by the Israeli Knesset in July 2018. This legislation formally relegates Arabs, who comprise 21% of the Israeli population, and the Arab language to second class status in Israel. Jews and Arabs live separately in all but a handful of places. The legislation takes discrimination to a new level to add to the history of Arab villages receiving less funding than Jewish areas, affecting the quality of Arab schools, infrastructure and social services and leaving Arabs underrepresented in higher education and most industries.
Nathalie Portman, Israel’s most famous screen actor, joined the chorus of condemnation of this legislation as racist in a BBC TV interview in December. Earlier in the year she had declined to accept the prestigious Israeli Genesis Prize (known locally as the “Jewish Nobel”). The Genesis Prize Foundation said that Portman had decided not to travel to Israel for the 28 June ceremony organised in her honour because “recent events in Israel [have] been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any event in Israel.” The actor said that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony”.
In recent years the Israeli Government has been stepping up the demolition of Bedouin villages because they were in
inconvenient places for Israeli development. One village attracted a great deal of attention in 2018 – Khan Al Ahmar in
Concerted international pressure was ignored by the Israeli High Court which approved the demolition of this village. Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael provoked Theresa May into making an unusually strong statement in October:
“My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East met the Israeli ambassador on 11 October. He made clear the UK’s deep concerns about Israel’s planned demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar. Its demolition would be a major blow to the prospect of a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and I once again call on the Israeli Government not to go ahead with its plan to demolish the village, including its school, and displace its residents.”
The plans seem to have been dropped for now.
Alistair Carmichael MP visiting Palestine
Update on Deaths and Injuries of Palestinians in 2018
The civil society demonstrations on the Gaza Border every Friday have continued and, while Israel has taken some note of international condemnation for its brutal retaliation, civilians including children have continued to be killed or suffer life-changing injuries.
In total in 2018 according to OCHA (UN Office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs), 298 Palestinian civilians were killed compared with 77 in 2017. In addition, OCHA reported 29,669 injured compared with 8,447 in 2017. The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occurred in Gaza, although there were significant numbers in the West Bank as well. Of the Gazans injured it is estimated that about half are hospitalized and half of those received life-changing injuries due to the use by the IDF of high velocity weapons that are designed to cause maximum damage to limbs and internal organs. 972 Magazine’s article shows how the Israeli Defence Force whitewashes the behavior of its own troops rather than properly investigates it.
Many Palestinians have died this year because they were refused, or delayed in getting, visas to go for essential cancer or other treatment in East Jerusalem. The World Health Organisation has criticized Israel for its visa refusals and Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported heart-breaking stories on this subject, including that large numbers of visa applications for health purposes go unanswered.
80% of the c.2 million population of Gaza need continuing humanitarian assistance. Unemployment levels are in the region of 47%.
Electricity is normally only available for 4-5 hours per day in Gaza and this means that hospitals have to rely on emergency generators for 20 hours per day. 40% of medicines needed in Gaza are currently out of stock owing to restrictions imposed by Israel.
The bulk of Gaza’s sewage goes into the sea and its fishermen are only allowed (by Israel) to fish up to 3 miles from the shore, so the health risks of eating fish are severe.
Settlements and Settler violence
New settlements continue to be built in spite of condemnation by most international organisations and by many governments including that of the UK. What needs to be stated again and again is the colonization of land occupied in war is against international law and specifically against the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1958.
Palestinian buildings demolished to make way for settlements.
A feature of 2018 has been the growth in violence by settlers towards Palestinians. Examples are reported now on a weekly basis. It is rare for the IDF to intervene to prevent such violence. In some cases (according to Israeli NGO B’Tselem), they even serve as an armed escort, or even worse join in the attacks. Investigations, if even opened, are usually closed with no action taken against perpetrators as part of an undeclared policy of leniency.
Settler thugs at work
Palestinian shepherd injured by settlers
The contrast with the treatment of children who throw stones at soldiers couldn’t be starker. At the end of October some 220 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons in contravention of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Bethlehem is always in the spotlight at this time of year, owing to its significance to Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Palestinians continue to be squeezed as the Israeli occupying forces allocate even more land for settlements. Christians from Gaza were refused passage to Bethlehem for Christmas worship and the Patriarch of Jerusalem felt compelled to go to Gaza to minister to them over the holiday period. In 2020 Bethlehem will be designated as the Arab City of Culture. This will undoubtedly highlight the illegality of the continued occupation, but it is difficult to imagine Israeli authorities allowing many Arab visitors from surrounding countries.
Archeology and International Law
There have been international conventions to protect cultural property from being damaged or looted during warfare since the early 20th century. The appalling behaviour of the Nazis in countries they occupied during World War 2 led to The Hague Convention of 1954 that has been signed by 133 countries, including Israel and Palestine. Israeli newspaper Haaretz is accusing Israeli organisations of breaching this Convention by exhibiting artefacts “stolen” from the West Bank or which has found its way from neighbouring Arab countries.
The Hague Convention requires that perpetrators of the theft of cultural property must be prosecuted. This is unlikely as the Haaretz article reports the frightful Minister of Culture Miri Regev who does her best to obliterate Arab culture as egging on and encouraging the exhibition. She sent a video address in which she said the exhibition’s importance is to “expose the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and Judea and Samaria.”
The BDS movement continues to rack up success. Airbnb has caused quite a stir with its decision to deny illegal settlers the opportunity to promote their properties for rental. HSBC has divested itself from Elbit Systems an Israeli arms supplier that has manufacturing plants in the UK. Even in the United States, two police forces have withdrawn from arrangements to train Israeli law enforcement personnel.
There is growing interest in cultural boycott of Israel, in part because Israel sidelines Arab culture and cultural discrimination is endemic in Israel. Many entertainers have pulled out of shows in Israel in protest. Protests have greeted the plans to hold the Eurovision Song Contest Israel in May. Initially the Israeli Government wanted it to be held in Jerusalem, but this has been changed to Tel Aviv. Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the sponsors of a petition against it being held in Israel at all at this time. It can be signed here.
The British government meanwhile continues to allow arms sales to Israel in spite of its violence towards Palestinian civilians. The Labour Party passed a resolution in September that it would block future arms sales in the event of it winning a General Election. We agree with the Labour Party on this and would like to see the Lib Dems taking a similar stance. In fact we would go even further and call on the government to ban all trade in goods and services with settlements. This would be consistent with the UK vote for UNSC resolution 2334 of December 2016 clause 5 which requires all member states to differentiate between the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territory it occupies. (Another example of how the UK avoids ensuring Israel faces the consequences of its own law-breaking.)
Membership subscriptions are due from 1 September. We very much appreciate your continuing support which is vital to pay for activities especially around Party conferences. We shall be in Brighton this week with an Exhibition Stand (no. 24 on the Ground Floor of the Conference Centre. We also have a fringe meeting planned for Sunday with two excellent speakers. I enclose a leaflet promoting it.
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