Palestine/Israel: Reflections on a visit

Extract: War on Want Briefing to MPs

Israel’s use of military force against Palestinian civilians is a prominent feature of its occupation regime. This militarised repression of the Palestinian people extends beyond  the scenes of checkpoints and bombings we have unfortunately become accustomed to; Israel’s military and security services maintain an intense regime of surveillance, physical violence against people, and destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, and properties. Israel’s use of excessive force has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, and has been deemed unlawful by human rights experts. This violence and destruction is made possible by Israel’s trade in arms with dozens of countries, including the UK. Since 2014, the UK Government has approved over £500m worth of military technology and arms exports to Israel, including for weapons of the type used in clear violation of international law.

This means that the UK is providing material support for Israel’s illegal use of force, and is complicit by providing an infrastructure to sustain it through the ongoing trade in arms

From the Occupied Palestine Territory, 23 October – 13 November 2018

Evil is being done here: systemised, institutionalised and unrelenting.  Its manifestations are threefold: physical; bureaucratic; and psychological. The three distinct but interconnected aspects coil, python-like, round the Palestinians, asphyxiating their capacity for agency, all aimed at extinguishing the possibility of hope.  The extinguishment of hope is part of the point: it is an Israeli tactic to embed the idea that it will always be dominant.  To achieve this requires a refinement in the modes of cruelty that can be visited upon people.  This surely is part of the motivation in requiring a person to demolish their own house, a standard practice.

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM

The Israeli authorities have ordered the Palestinian citizen Murad Hsheima, 38, to demolish his own house in Ras al-Amud in Occupied Jerusalem. Otherwise, the municipality would carry out the demolition and force him to pay 60,000 NIS and serve two months in jail. 

Ensuring the house came down

According to Palestinian sources, 19 houses have been demolished in Jerusalem by their owners since the beginning of 2018. The Palestinian Information Center

The overarching aim of the current Israeli regime is the Judaisation of Palestine/Israel – ugly word, ugly concept.  To achieve that purpose a key condition must be met: That the number of Jews in the area controlled by Israel must be greater than the number of Palestinians. That is the rationale and driving motivation of establishing Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land.

In order to achieve the goal of population supremacy, Palestinians need to be removed from their land and properties and/or be corralled into semi-isolated enclaves within which they may constitute a majority but their sovereignty is limited, curtailed by Israeli domination of virtually everything, including receipt of tax remittances, control and withholding of infrastructure (water, utilities, roads, travel routes etc). This stifling of Palestinian life can only be achieved by a sophisticated, multi-layered, physical and psychological attritional war of relentless coercion and control. Continue reading

Palestine/Israel: What oppression looks like

I have just returned from a trip to Palestine/Israel. My purpose: to understand more; to interview/have conversations with people; to report back to those who might already be interested and, fond hope, to encourage more widespread interest – and action. 

The bulk of my time was spent in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), taking the opportunity to have conversations in Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Hebron.

The Palestine/Israel conflict receives relatively sparse coverage in the mainstream media and where it does, coverage seems to me and many others to lean heavily towards an Israeli state narrative that seeks to frame the conflict in terms of  Israel’s security concerns, terrorist threat and the absence of a Palestinian ‘partner for peace’. One aim of this and the next post(s) is to attempt, in however minor a way, to offer a counter narrative that helps illuminate the institutionalised viscousness of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Having said that, most of the examples I offer in these posts cover the West bank and illegally annexed East Jerusalem.

Israel society is, for the present, ensnared in the current regime. This has got to change. 

The one thing the current Israeli regime fears is loss of  international support, in particular of  the USA, UK, and EU.  Israel’s occupation, and it’s colonising programme are utterly dependent on the willingness of the USA, UK, EU to  actively support it (see Trump’s USA, but in fact practically every administration), turn a blind eye, or to offer ritualised statements of regret at this or that incident or policy, with no further consequence. Yet all these countries have to hand the levers that can help contrain, and turn round the worsening situation.  

This post offers a little backround to the conflict, and a few examples of  what Israeli policy means in practice. It’s not pretty.  Subsequent post(s) will offer a commentry on the situation and try to expose some of its essential, underlying features.  

We start in Occupied East Jerusalem:

Hashimi Hotel, Old City (Palestinian) Jerusalem, 25 October 2018. in the part of Jerusalem illegally annexed by Israel in 1967 after the six day war of that year

I’m writing this from the rooftop terrace – by no means a ‘luxury’ terrace, but fine – of the hotel with a view of the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Islam after Mecca and Medina.  The hotel has quite a number of Muslim pilgrims based here.

Jerusalem is awash with a variety of pilgrimage groups from virtually everywhere in the world.  You can’t walk in the Old City without encountering a snake of seemingly welded-together pilgrims on their way to Al Aqsa or, this for Christians, walking the Via Dolarosa  (the Way of Tears) and pausing at each of the Stations of the Cross.  There is also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over what is believed to be the site both of Jesus’s crucifixion and his burial tomb, a site for often emotional veneration.

Jews (my lot, in general terms) are at it too, for they head towards the Wailing Wall which is ‘a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall’.  Together, the entire area incorporating the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque is known as Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif  by Muslims.  This is an area of sharp contention, religious passion and naked political power games, further destabilised by virtue of Israel’s annexation of the city and its own less than commendable agenda. Which I shall no doubt come to.

Welcome?

Not infrequently, one can get a sense of a place, a sense of ‘what’s going on’ by way of a series of vignettes, actual incidents that illustrate, in shorthand form, essential features of a wider canvass. I was at the threshold of the country, queuing at passport control to enter Israel.  The manner of greeting can say a lot about the nature of a home.

My queue contained a group – a family group: mum, daughter, three lads, probably in their twenties – all obviously Muslim. The lads had what I suppose we think of as typical beards, one or two wore skull caps, and one had that long garment, the name of which escapes me.  I was next to them and so heard them talking – talking in northern British accents and clutching their British Passports ready for examination. We started chatting.

They were already prepared for some at least not to be allowed through passport control without being interviewed, and perhaps denied entry.  Sure enough, the three lads were turned back and walked past me smiling as they went to the interview area. Mum and daughter got through. Continue reading

So what’s new? Israel’s Nationality Law

Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has this July passed its Nationality Law by sixty two votes to fifty five. In brief, it enshrines, and in effect crows about, Israel’s status as an apartheid state.

The law confirms that ‘Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it’. Note ‘exclusive’.  In addition, the Arabic language is downgraded from its co-equal status as an official language with Hebrew to a lesser ‘special status’.  By way of reminder, Israel’s Palestinian Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the nine million population.

The law also affirms that ‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.’  Note ‘Jewish’. Note, too, ‘settlement’, which in fact refers to the construction of Jewish-only colonies built on historic Palestinian land cleared by Israel in an unrelenting programme of house demolitions, land seizures, and crop destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and in (illegally annexed) East Jerusalem. Continue reading

Another Israeli state violation now, and a harbinger of more to come

The proposed demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar – a violation now, and a harbinger of more to come

This article has just been published on the ICAHD UK (Israel Committee Against House Demolition, UK) web site.  I would urge you to take a look at the web site as a whole.

The website also announces an  Edinburgh Festival ICAHD UK benefit gig – Laughing for Palestine – Monday 13 August.  The curernt line-up includes Danny Boyle and Comedian Daphna Baram (ICAHD’s Director) in her own show Sugarcoating.  Other comedians for the fundraising gig will be announced shortly.

On 24 May the Israeli High Court confirmed that the mass demolition and transfer of the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar can proceed.  This Bedouin village is located on the outskirts of East Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.  From Israel’s perspective, it represents an impediment to the state’s intention to link and expand the exclusively Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin into the area known as E1.

In human terms, the judgment means the demolition of dozens of Bedouin family homes along with a school in which 165 children study; that, and also the destruction of pens that shelter 850 sheep.  The proposed transfer will move a rural livestock-dependent community to an urban site and life style unsuitable for Bedouin livelihood, culture and traditions.  It is an attempt at the vanquishment of a community, body and soul. Eight homes were already demolished by Israel in 2016. Many in the international community are familiar with the story of the now doomed school, built in 2009 by members of the community out of  2,200 recycled car tires, mud and falafel oil – an outstanding example of eco-building and community initiative. Israel, unsurprisingly, refused to provide the children of the village with a modern standard school.

Khan Al Ahmar is one of 18 communities located in or next to the E1 area.  This area is critical to Israel’s intention, which it pursues with relentless brutality,   to create a continuous built-up area between the Maale  Adumin Jewish settlement and East Jerusalem and expanding east to Jericho. Therefore this is part of the wider strategic goal to cut the Occupied West Bank in two thereby ending any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

In a further twist of the screw, Israeli authorities have approved a scheme for the construction of 92 new housing units and an educational institution in the Kfar Adummim Jewish colonial settlement.  This settlement, which is immediately adjacent to Khan Al Ahmar, represents yet another move to create a ‘fact on the ground’ notwithstanding their illegality in international law.  And in a display of toxic neighbourliness that no longer surprises, the Kfar Adummim Jewish settlement petitioned the High Court to hurry along the outstanding demolition orders of these rooted, long-established Bedouin communities.

ICAHD and ICAHD UK have many times over the years raised awareness about the threat to Khan Al-Amar, but the Israel bulldozer state is immune to entreaties to act reasonably, still less ethically. However, in this context, it appears to be increasingly the case that Israel’s actions are yielding, for it, unintended consequences.

The state’s intention is clear: its goal is to create a majority Jewish state with no possibility of a vibrant, equal, and certainly not equal in numbers, Palestinian presence. Hence population displacements, dispossessions, apartheid laws, racist practices and institutionalised brutality, of which Israel’s killings and wounding of Palestinians Gazans is but one sickening example.  And through these policies and practices Israel is close to achieving its tutelage over the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – Greater Israel.

The current Israel regime believes it is creating for itself one state, a Jewish state, moulded to its current shape and image – the culmination of a settler colonial enterprise whose inception dates back to the 19th century.  If there ever was a chance of a two state solution, it is dead now, whether one wishes it or not.  It is therefore almost beyond argument that the reality we confront revolves around questions about the nature of the future one state, the state that will lie between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

This, then, is now the urgent task: to flesh out, argue for and demonstrate what an ethical, pacific, one-state of equal citizens – Palestinians and Jews – would look like.  This task is central to the purpose of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), a campaign that emerges – breaks forth into the day light – from the thinking and activism of Palestinians and Israeli Jews, in a mutual, rights-based, endeavour.  This campaign will launch formally in the autumn.

As important, perhaps, as ODSC is and will be in terms of addressing in practical terms knotty issues of constitutional structure and statecraft, there is at the core of the campaign a metaphorical and psychological dimension.

Hitherto the orthodox discourse – a notionally pragmatic one – was rooted in a belief in the necessity and inevitability of division – of people, of religions, of individuals, one from another: the two state dispensation: a Palestinian state and a Jewish one.  It was always a false prospective, if only because an entity structured to be a specifically Jewish State must be, as is the current Israel state, a racist state. This must in principle be morally iniquitous and ultimately unsustainable – unsustainable, at least, according to common ethical precepts.

The ODSC offers a glimpse of a better future – a break in the clouds.  As the song says: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in[1].’   A fine sentiment, but one that should not obscure that there is work to be done in support of Palestinians- here, now and with vigour.

Edinburgh Festival ICAHD UK benefit gig – Laughing for Palestine – Monday 13 August.  The curernt line-up includes Danny Boyle and Comedian Daphna Baram (ICAHD’s Director) in her own show Sugarcoating.  Other comedians for the fundraising gig will be announced shortly.

[1] With thanks to Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem.

Anti-semitism- an article of clear, good sense

There follows a link to an article on anti-semitism in the London Review of Books by Stephen Sedley:  https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n09/stephen-sedley/short-cuts

I commend it to you as a good and worthwhile read.

Stephen Sedley  is a former appeal court judge. A collection of his articles and lectures, Law and the Whirligig of Time, will be published by Hart in May.

 

A State’s ‘right’ to exist?

Abstractions cannot have rights.  States are abstractions.  States therefore cannot have rights.  At first blush, this may seem no more than a quibble, or an excursion into constructing a syllogism simply for the pleasure of it.  In terms of the subject I want now to address, it is neither.

Before proceeding, it’s worth stating an opposite but positive proposition:  Rights adhere to, and are embodied in, people. People have rights, States do not.  These are important distinctions, ones that are foundational when considering, and reaching positions on, for example, the Palestinian/Israel conflict.

Qualified Support

There are significant indications that there are increasing numbers of non-Jews and Jews critical of Israel’s policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and towards Palestinians within Israel itself.  More and more people are finding the wanton shamelessness with which Israel pursues and promotes its institutionalised racist policies and practices hard to stomach.  Israel, we might say, gets away with murder, so it barely registers surprise when the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proclaims there are ‘no innocent people’ in Gaza, a statement presumably designed to justify the killing of (as at 25 April) forty Gazans and the wounding of 5,511 protestors, including children.  This is the nature of Israel’s response to essentially peaceful protests on the Gazan side of the border fence.  Yes, that’s right, Israel shoots through and over the fence to wound and kill protestors on the Gaza side.

And yet…..

Support but unease

And yet, despite the institutionalsied and calculated brutality of the Israeli State,  I get the sense there are many people – whose natural sympathies and political commitments revolve around respect for fundamental human rights – who hesitate to offer more vocal and active support for the Palestinian cause.  One aspect of this hesitation, the one I want to tackle here, is concern and even dismay at the reluctance or refusal of some Palestinian political entities to recognise the right of the Israeli State to exist and, in particular, the refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.  Though note that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised Israel, rightly or wrongly, to its benefit or not, in 1988.  Yet the issue of recognition remains, and is likely to remain, a salient one for some time to come.

A first and necessary step to unpicking this is to take a conceptual leap and perhaps an emotional one too, and hold fast to the understanding that States, in principle, have no rights.  It follows that Israel has no more right to exist than does, say, the United Kingdom, a proposition adequately demonstrated by the political movements – the broadly accepted legitimate movements – promoting Scottish and Welsh independence.  This recognition of the legitimacy of the movements says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the proposed constitutional changes, but, in affirming the legitimacy of the pursuit of independence, one is at the same time granting the legitimacy of the potential dismantling of the UK State.  And such projects are, in principle, permissible.

There is a further move to be made: notwithstanding the status of any State, for those committed to universal human rights, these are indivisible, and in principle transcend national boundaries. In the UK example, irrespective of the structure of constitutional arrangements, that is, whether people are citizens of a United Kingdom or of a future English, Scottish or Welsh State, each individual retains their universal rights. From a human rights’ perspective, it is the State that is or should be the protector and promoter of those rights.

And here we come to the first difficulty in ascribing legitimacy to the current Israeli State, for it neither protects still less promotes the human rights of all those within its borders. The Israeli State is formally founded on an opposing principle: the denial of human rights to, in particular, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and foreign workers.

Note that my concern in this particular article is not to delve into the various political moves and strategies, whether historical or current, of the contending parties. Rather, I am attempting to peel back the layers of propaganda, the standardised tropes – e.g. charges of antisemitism deployed as a shield to protect Israel from criticism – that obscure, and are specifically designed to obscure, questions of principle.  And that principle is that a State that does not protect the rights of all those within its borders has by its own actions raised questions as to its legitimacy. Note further that raising questions about the legitimacy of a State has no bearing on, nor does it dilute, the indivisible rights of all those who live within its borders, this extending without qualification even to those whopromulgate and implement the rights-denying policies and practices.

I turn now briefly to the relatively recent call by Israel that it should be recognised specifically as a Jewish State. I have discussed this in an earlier post. Suffice to say that to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish State is to recognise and grant legitimacy to a formally constituted Apartheid State.  To grant such recognition would be the same as endorsing as legitimate the South African Apartheid State. No State, organisation or person should find this a tolerable proposition.  That Israel does, or at least the current political leadership of Israel does, again raises questions as to the current Israeli State’s legitimacy.  It is already an Apartheid State. It should be morally and politically impermissible to formally embrace it as such.

The line of argument advanced thus far seems to me to raise questions as to the merits of what has come to be called the ‘Two State Solution’, meaning one Palestinian State, the other, a Jewish State.  As I understand it, a Palestinian State would raise no particular ethical issues provided it accorded to all those residing within its borders individual human rights, and all citizens having equal rights and obligations irrespective of, for example, religion or ethnic background.

However, a difficulty arises once one starts thinking about what a specifically Jewish State might entail, not least because 20% of Israel citizens are Palestinians. (Cautionary Note: as detailed in an earlier post, the Israeli State’s version of ‘citizenship’ does not denote a condition of equality between ‘citizens’. Rather, along with the category ‘nationality’ it is the vehicle for the systemic, institutionalised discrimination of those not Jewish, in particular, Palestinians.)

I cannot see how a two state solution could be radically different from the discriminatory State that currently exists.  No doubt were such a ‘solution’ – when is a ‘solution’ not a ‘solution’? – to be implemented various strategies would be devised to ensure an embedded demographic imbalance in favour of the Jewish population, this designed to reduce the existential anxieties of those Jews who fear they will be outnumbered at some point by Palestinians.  But pity the nation that weaves fear, neurosis, exclusion and discrimination into its fundamental constitutional arrangements – though this may be apt description of the current state of affairs.

Conflation

I have suggested that there has been a conflation of incompatible ideas and concepts, namely, not drawing proper distinction between support of and commitment to individual human rights no matter the race, religion, sexuality, culture of an individual, and the misplaced notion that a State has rights. This conflation, I have suggested, serves to obscure, and in my view is designed to obscure, the nature of the current Israeli State and to legitimise its discriminatory regime.  ‘Rights’ as deployed in this context is a very loaded word, one deployed to direct attention away from the nature and actions of the Israeli State.

Distinction between a Regime and a State

My argument leads me back to the UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) report  ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’, referred to in an earlier post.

The UNESCWA report drew attention to an important distinction: that between a State and a Regime. Although the distinction of itself provides no easy pathway to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli State conflict, at the conceptual level at least, noting the distinction helps counter the tendency – propagated by the Israeli State – to automatically equate the ending or evolution away from a discriminatory political Zionist State to a different dispensation as necessarily the ‘destruction of Israel’. In the words of UNESCWA report:

‘…identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus, some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way affected the country’s statehood.’

 Another type of State is in principle possible.

STOP PRESS: WE FAILED

In my 27 March post ‘Nineteen days and counting to Israel’s destruction of another Palestinian village’ I reported that the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was under threat of demolition by Israel. Those nineteen days have now elapsed and Israel has not been persuaded to relent.

This from a report by the Israel Campaign Against House Demolitions UK (ICAHD UK):

‘After years of harassment by the authorities and endless demolition orders, after the village’s resident, math teacher Ya’akub Abu Al-Qi’an was killed by the police and falsely accused by a government minister of being “a terrorist” – Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran finally  yielded.

Threatened with Israeli demolition and forced displacement, the inhabitants signed an agreement with Israeli authorities to leave their homes “on their own accord” and move to the town of Hura…’

Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minoroty rights In Israel, which represented Umm Al Hirran’s residents in courts for 15 years, compared Israel’s behaviour in Umm Al Hirran to South Africa’s Apartheid regime:

‘Adalah sees the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and forced displacement of its residents as an act of extreme racism, embodying Israel’s colonialist land policies with the backing of the entire Israeli court system. Israel is moving forward with the destruction of Umm al-Hiran in a plan – reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa – to build a new Jewish-only town on its ruins.’

ICAHD UK Conference 19 May 2018

The two-state solution is gone buried under Israel’s ‘matrix of control’, the confiscation of Palestinian land, its Kafkaesque laws and Israeli Supreme Court rulings ignoring international law. Israel continues to act with impunity and no Western government or international body is calling it to account.

The time has come to start actively campaigning for one-state.

Palestinians and Israelis have joined together to form the One Democratic State Campaign which seeks to provide leadership, direction and a viable way forward.

However, with obstacles and difficulties that impede engagement and communication between Palestinians and Israelis:

  • How can they come together for a one-state solution?
  • How can Israelis, living in a militarized society where Arab are demonised change their view of the Palestinians?
  • How can the Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation that traumatized their society heal, and be able to share statehood with their oppressor?

Speakers (more to be announced):

  • Dr Jeff Halper, Co-Founder & Director of ICAHD (Jerusalem), Professor of Anthropology, activist & analyst, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; author of An Israeli in Palestine, War Against the People & Obstacles to Peace
  • Dr Nadia Nasser Najjab, Research Fellow, Exeter University formerly at Birzeit University
  • Daphna Baram, Director, ICAHD UK, analyst, journalist, author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel.

 

 

I thought I’d tell you a story

I thought I’d tell you a story. A true story. Or as true as a told story can be.

I think it may be a tale about the perennial wrestle between pragmatism and principle, but I may be wrong.  If you read on, you can decide for yourself.

The story is about events that took place sometime in the late 1980’s, may be the early the 1990’s. I can’t be any more exact than that, but the date is not really of any consequence.  Or, it occurs to me, perhaps it is.  The way one thinks about things can be quite time or era-specific.

So:

There once was an Urban Farm in the London Borough of Wandsworth.  It was called Elm Farm. I don’t know why it was named that, for I can recall no Elm trees in the vicinity. But I may be wrong. Perhaps there were some Elm trees nearby.  But it doesn’t matter, the story is the same with or without Elm trees.

Although on a very small patch of land, it was quite a successful farm.  It had goats, a cow, chickens, geese, rabbits.  And lots of local, regular human users. Kids loved it, and many busied themselves with farm-type tasks, including smelly, mucky ones.

Animals were born on the farm, and some were killed there: the chickens were for food and eggs, so some got the chop on a regular basis; and some continued to lay eggs – and lived as long as they performed their duty in that regard.  The goats were also sent for slaughter, also on a regular basis, their meat coming back to the farm for sale locally.  You could say that the circle of life and death was played out here. Continue reading