Monthly Archives: January 2023

Israelis protest – for some, not all

So, Israelis know how to protest. They can be roused.

Generally quiescent and indifferent to burning injustices – the murderous iniquities – that their state daily perpetrates against Palestinians, when their own interests are pricked, they know how to yelp. 

And yelp they do, furious at the impending curtailment of their freedoms, the potential diluting of their God-given right to live in a democracy.  A tainted, exclusionary democracy, a Jews-only democracy, to be sure. But it’s theirs and they intend to keep it. Hands off! One hundred thousand Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv marched in protest against the new government, with notable, but smaller demonstrations in Jerusalem, and smaller towns.

The newly formed Netanyahu government comprises, at its core, an amalgam of overt racists, homophobes, religious ultras, along with proponents of a Greater Israel eager to annexe all, or great swathes of, the Occupied West Bank. They will brook no impediment to their malign intent.  Secular citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the LGBTQ community, to say nothing of asylum seekers and refugees, have every reason to fear the policies and consequential actions that are about to be unleashed.  

Netanyahu, of course, has his own very personal reasons for denuding the Supreme Court of its powers. He has skin in the game and will sup with the devil if needs be, a necessity realised in the new government’s unsavoury line-up. Thus he hopes – intends – that the proposed new judicial arrangements will finally enable him to cancel, wash away, the charges of corruption currently laid against him.

Supreme Court

Beyond Netanyahu’s personal judicial travails, Israel’s Supreme Court features large in the new government’s demonology.  It is accused of thwarting the democratic will of the people, as interpreted by the now elected racists, homophobes and fellow-travellers cited above. Therefore, its powers are to be curtailed.  

The ‘Supreme’ court will no longer be supreme, the final judgment on matters brought before it now open to further adjudication by the elected Knesset (Parliament). The Supreme Court in any case offered, at best, flimsy to ultimately non-existent protection to those one would generally think should benefit from its judgments. For example, the Palestinian Jerusalemites of Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction from their homes; the Bedouin whose homes have and are being demolished to make way for more Jewish-only settlements and army firing zones.  

On the Occupation, the Supreme Court took a collaborators stance.  As Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz puts it:

‘Now of all times, at its most difficult moment, we must not forget the Supreme Court’s shameful collaboration with the occupation…. Through its support for the occupation, the court sowed the poisonous seeds whose fruits we are reaping today. If it had refused to legitimize the occupation back when it had the power to do so, there would be no Itamar Ben-Gvir, there would be no settlements and there might even be no occupation.’

But absent is protest about the occupation, about the besieging of Gaza, about the daily killings of Palestinians at the hands of the IDF and Border police.  Over the past week [as at 21 January] Israeli occupation forces killed eight Palestinians, the youngest being a 14-year-old boy, bringing the total death toll from Israeli fire, in the West Bank, to 18 in the first twenty days of 2023. This was not worthy of protest. Nor was any other week replete with cruel injustices against Palestinians – child, woman, man – worthy of protest.

Still less was even a murmur to be heard about the Apartheid Israel practices against the ’48 Palestinians, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. A flawed, partial citizenship, not comparable to the meaning and status of citizenship as we understand the designation here in the UK and other countries more generally.  

Solipsistic endeavour

Israeli Jews erupted on their own behalf, afeared that their notionally liberal democracy is now under existential threat. A whole world, an entire worldview that seemed deep-rooted, suddenly feels fragile, potentially lacking the tensile strength to resist the incursion of alien values. 

But what weight and credence should we attribute to those values when they are so securely gated within an exclusive ethnoreligious realm? 

A Jewish democracy is a self-cancelling proposition, one that should be the legitimate and necessary target of strident protest.  But that is not what the protesters are thinking about now.



Fragments from a visit to Palestine/Israel

In November 2022 I returned to Palestine/Israel (P/I) for the first time in three years.  I returned primarily to meet with some of the people I had met on previous visits. All were, and are, significantly involved in P/I politics, with long and noble personal histories of activism, for which they and their families have suffered at Israeli hands.

Only fragments

Any account given here can be no more than the sharing of fragments, glimpses of insight necessarily incomplete.  Underpinning all the conversations were the questions that exercises so many of us: Who speaks for Palestine? When will a legitimate leadership emerge?

Oslo Accords

The legacy of the Oslo Accords (1993/94) permeated, explicitly or not, all the conversations.  The Accords created, or exacerbated, existing centrifugal tendencies within the Palestinian people and polity. 

The Accords, coupled with the Palestinian National Council’s 1998 Declaration of Independence, effectively disaggregated a previously assumed unity of Palestinian concerns and interests into three distinct spheres:

  • those within the OPT – 22% of historic Palestine, the subject of the Declaration of Independence – wherein a new Palestinian state was supposed to emerge.;
  • the Palestinian diaspora’s right of return consideration of which was to be subject of final status negotiations within five years of the Accords;
  • and the ’48 Palestinian citizens of Israel that figured not at all under Oslo.

Liberation

Among the younger people I spoke to, their goal was liberation, an end to colonialism. Armed resistance was seen as legitimate for a range of reasons: as pushback to counter the violence daily perpetrated by the Israeli colonialist regime; and because talking and negotiation had failed utterly.  These views chime with a December 2022 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which found that 72 percent of respondents supported forming armed groups similar to the Lion’s Den, which is based around Nablus.

Liberation! Then what?

When I asked my interlocutors, after liberation, then what? This question brought no clear answer. The focus was on liberation first, what follows would be determined after it had been achieved. Tactics taking precedence over strategy. The goal is known: Liberation. And, at this stage, that’s enough to be getting on with. The difficulty here is that liberation is an abstract idea, it’s not a programme for change or governance.

By way of contrast, and a salutary reminder that Palestinians are not a homogeneous group sharing in every regard the same interests, two or three students I interviewed at Birzeit university took issue with my questioning the role of the Palestinian Authority.  These particular students supported the PA and straightforwardly explained why: family members were PA employees. The PA was a source of family livelihoods and was not to be dismissed in negative terms.

One knows, of course, that the PA is a substantial, possibly the predominant, employer in the West Bank and a significant one in Gaza. But the encounter with those particular students turned abstract figures into the flesh and blood of real lives being lived, and the fragility that attends them.  Any change, or unravelling, of the PA at some potential future point will need to take into account how, for many Palestinians, daily existence relies on that body, and that, not simply cynically, but pragmatically, prompts loyalty to it.

Activist family

One young woman I spoke to, she a committed, courageous activist, was clear that the older generation, her parent’s generation, who in this case had been, and are, activists, had got it all wrong. They had failed. They had believed in the value of talking, negotiating but for what?  Things had got worse. As for the Oslo Accords, they represented ‘a sort of giving up’. ‘My generation will fight for all rights, from the river to the sea’. ‘We have no leadership in this situation.’

 ‘We are not victims. You need to see us as freedom fighters. ‘Only choice we have is to struggle against the colonising enemy.’ She had no faith in the UN, nor in other international institutions.

Here, too, the ‘after liberation, what? question had no answer. And in this conversation at least, seemed not immediately pressing. This was a brave, young woman, seemingly inhabiting a space between resolve and despair.

Her father, I’ll call him ‘X…’, had an interesting comment about his daughter and her generation. He described his daughter’s generation as more active, strong and brave. Thinking about himself at his daughter’s age, there was a ‘colonisation of the mind’. Israel had not only colonised the land, but also the Palestinian psyche. Hence, Oslo. He sees the two-state solution as a project of the Israeli left. The ‘solution’ maintains Israel as a Jewish state for which Palestinians have to relinquish 78% of historic Palestine. At one time he had supported Oslo and the two-state solution. 

 Palestinian leadership

The conversation with ‘X…’ turned to the question of leadership. Oslo had split Palestinians from themselves. Palestinian citizens of Israel in particular felt cut off by the endorsement of the two states approach. Israeli Palestinians ‘felt alone’, uncoupled from the wider Palestinian people. In response, some had begun to identify more strongly with Israel, to seek full rights there, for it seemed that is where their future lay. However, in contrast to this nascent tendency, X… felt that it had reached its peak and it was now in decline. This a judgment, at this stage not informed by polling or other opinion gathering.  

More widely, and perhaps encouragingly, attention was being turned to revitalising Fatah, this as part of a process to revive the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people as a whole. An approach that negates Oslo.  Informal talks were going on between a range of Fatah, and ex-Fatah people. This assessment underscored by a cautionary note that it is early days yet.  How matters will turn out, cannot at this time be known.

Palestinian Popular Conference (14 million)

Against the divisive, damaging logic of Oslo and its consequences, there is the hope that a unified counter-movement is developing. On the 5 November 2022 the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million) was held simultaneously in Occupied Palestine, and among ’48 Palestinians, as well as in places where Palestinians are present in the diaspora. At its heart was the call for the reinstatement of the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, based on the Palestinian National Charter of 1968.

I had a conversation with one of those involved. Significantly, he is a ’48 Palestinian, this in itself a testament to the integrative intent of the conference. He believed that over the past decade Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli dissenting intellectuals and academics had contributed to broadening thinking about responses to the Palestine/Israel situation. (Interestingly, by way of an aside, he floated the notion that, within Zionism, nothing that could be described as new thinking had emerged in the same period)

However, the imperative was now to create a popular movement, not limited to or dominated by intellectuals and academics. A movement ‘built from below’. 

How this initiative will fare cannot at this stage be assessed. But what can be said is that the conference represents a radical break with the rationale underpinning, and the policies pursued, over the past fifty years. 

One Democratic State from the river to the sea

Those I spoke to, Palestinian and Jewish-Israelis, are all engaged with the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). What was, and to a significant degree still is, a campaign generated and sustained by intellectuals and academics, has as its self-appointed task to broaden the popular base of the campaign.

One democratic state from the river to the sea, notwithstanding the momentous difficulties and obstacles that need to be overcome, is not only an ethical imperative, but also a political necessity if there is to be the remotest chance of peace in historic Palestine.

It is of course true that the West, the PA and other interests continue to pay homage to the ill-described two-state ‘solution’, but empty rituals of obeisance to a dead idea will not revivify it. Notable in this context is another finding in the survey of Palestinian opinion referred to above.  Support for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict with Israel in the framework of the two-state solution has receded over the course of three months, now standing at 32 percent, according to the poll. A decade ago, support was at 55 percent.

Immediate position

Nothing said here can minimise nor counter the dire state of affairs in Palestine/Israel. In the words of one of the Palestinian interviewees, ‘The immediate position is bleak, it will get worse, there will be more blood spilled. We are going to suffer’.

In the same conversation, in discussing the absence of a unified Palestinian leadership, yet taking account of, for example, the discussions taking place among Fatah members and ex-members, and the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million), and the continuing momentum of the ODSC, he quoted Gramsci:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear

An oft-quoted line, perhaps, but here has a sense of unerring accuracy.



Normalcy in an abnormal world

Below I share a short article prompted by my recent (November 2022), relatively short trip, to Palestine/Israel. In this article I purposely resist too much comment, trusting that the incidents recorded speak for themselves.  What I do emphasise – you could say the clue is in the title – is the events set out below are unexceptional, barely worth remark according to the distorted worldview of the Israeli state and its thuggish underpinning, the settlers. 

In the same month Israel demolished 120 Palestinian structures. ‘Structures’ include entire homes and local infrastructure.  Forty-six adults and 47 children, a total of 93 people, were displaced by the demolitions. One hundred and ninety adults and one hundred and eighty-two children, a total of 385 were affected by these demolitions.

A perverse normality

In a cruel echo of my time in Hebron three years ago, I was this November (2022) again at a local Hebron hospital with Human Rights Defenders. They were taking a statement from an eleven-year-old lad who had been attacked by Settlers for riding his bike outside his Palestinian restricted area. A car full of Settlers stopped, and attacked him.  In fleeing, he fell into a ditch with resultant injuries to his face.

In 2019, I had also been with a Human Rights Defender at a Hebron hospital, at that time taking a statement from a sixteen-year-old Palestinian lad who had been attacked. 

Nothing unusual going on here. Just the quotidian, regular, perversities of a militarised, racist, state.

Same day. November 2022. Another echo

K…… (name withheld) is at the Human Rights Defenders’ Hebron office reporting Settler attacks on a Palestinian in the vicinity of his house.  K’s house is in Tel Rumeidah, Hebron, where there is a Settler enclave. One of its residents is the notorious Baruch Marzel, leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. (For those with a sense of irony, ‘Baruch’ is Hebrew for ‘Blessing’.)

K’s house abuts a road on a hill such that the roof of his house is parallel, and at the same level with, a section of the road. In other words, it is easy for Settlers to step on to the roof from the road, thus making the house and its surrounding yard vulnerable to attack. It is regularly attacked.  

The incident being reported this day (November 2022) included: a Palestinian injured by Settlers was not allowed by the army to take the direct route to hospital because settlers were blocking the way; a Palestinian ambulance was not allowed into the area because it was out-of-bounds to them. Eventually, people took him to hospital via a tortuous, long route that avoided the military barriers.

Why echo? 

Three years ago, I was at K’s house, again with a Human Rights Defender, who was taking a statement about Settler attacks on him and his house. In fact, K… regularly comes under attack (a) because he is a Palestinian (b) because of where his house is (c) because he is an activist, opposing Israel’s occupation.

Nothing unusual is going on here. This is daily fare. Unrelenting, repetitive, always causing injury – to Palestinians.  Frequently, and increasingly, lethal. More than 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children have been killed this year. Twenty-seven Israelis were killed in 2022

Another incident

‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’, a small organisation that aims to do what its title suggests: to get Jewish Israelis to take responsibility for the Occupation, and the evil deeds it necessarily spawns. The protesters are nothing if not committed and tenacious. On this particular day, a day of persistent and heavy rain, they were standing at a road junction by a Settlement with their banners and shouted slogans. 

Coincidentally, police had stopped a car with some young Palestinians in it, about five of them.  The police had them get out of the car, this to facilitate a search.  The young Palestinians were required to squat on the soaking wet pavement, in the pouring rain, and this for some time. The ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’ demonstrators did what they could to challenge the police, but to no avail. In the end the driver was taken away. When asked why he was taken the claim was a ‘weapon’ had been found, by which was meant, or so it was said, a knuckle-duster.

The relative efficacy of a knuckle-duster against, say, Israelis police guns requires no sophisticated understanding of ordnance. It’s difficult to think that they inhabit the same category: weapon.

The young Palestinians, meantime, were still squatting on the wet pavement in the pouring rain. Once the driver had been taken away, the young men were able to go to the car to wait of a friend who had a driving licence (none of the passengers did).

In UK terms, we would say that the ‘stop and search’ by the police suggests it was a consequence of racial profiling. They were stopped because they were Palestinians. What followed – being made to squat on a wet pavement in the pouring rain – was simply the meting out of a dose of standard-issue humiliation.

Daily humiliations

The meting out of humiliations is one of the tracks Israeli Apartheid runs on. It is highly functional, fulfilling the dual role of ‘othering’ Palestinians in the eyes of Israelis, whilst at the same time confirming to Israelis their inherent sense of superiority.  

These humiliations reach into virtually every aspect of Palestinian life: the military checkpoint Palestinian children must go through to get to school; to the roads and areas prohibited to Palestinians, no matter that the thoroughfares and places – for example, in Hebron – are within Palestinian towns; to Checkpoint 300, the caged interface between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem that Palestinians working in Israel have to cross via barriers and a glass-fronted soldiers’ booth where a barely-out-of-nappies, armed Israeli soldier watches with an air of disdain as the mass of workers, now conceived as supplicants, shuffle their way through – unless, of course, one is turned back.

So it is, and so it will continue, but only more so with the election of a government comprising avowedly racist and homophobic ministers, committed to annexing large swathes of the West Bank. 

Matters will now get worse. Palestinians I spoke to acknowledged this with a sort of weary resignation.

But something else is also going on. There was a palpable sense that notwithstanding how far into the darkness Israel is prepared to go, Palestinian resistance will outpace it, though the cost will be high. 

We in the West have a crucial role to play, and that is to affect the policies of our governments which at the moment support Israel in its criminal misdeeds. More on this in subsequent articles.