Category Archives: Apartheid


What might be the justification for denying children, or indeed adults, access to vital medical treatment?  ‘Denied’ here meaning what it says: a decision, a calculated act, an expression of policy, a rule formulated, then enacted.

The purpose? What could that be? How come that the rationally impossible task of squaring a circle is here achieved? The dictum ‘Do no harm’ gone rogue, turned on its head, transmuted now into its antithesis: ‘Do harm’. 

And the harm is done well. The objective achieved.

So it is that Israel, from the bottomless well of its disdain for Palestinian life, refuses what is totally in its power to grant, and that with no fear of detriment to itself: to grant medical treatment permits allowing Gazans access to necessary, often urgent, treatment in Israeli or the hospitals of other countries. This need to seek medical aid outside Gaza caused and exacerbated by Israel’s refusal to allow the importation into Gaza of medical equipment and key medicines. The Electronic Intifada reports:

Physicians for Human Rights Israel recently found that the number of children denied treatment had nearly doubled.

According to the organization, in 2020, 17 percent of children’s requests to leave the Gaza Strip for the purpose of receiving medical care not available in the Gaza Strip were delayed or refused.

In the first six months of 2021, this rate had nearly doubled to 32 per cent, according to calculations made by PHRI.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 155 out of a total 481 Palestinians under the age of 18 seeking to cross the Erez checkpoint for treatment in July this year were either refused or delayed.

Among 0-3 year olds, 30 children of 136 were rejected or delayed in seeking treatment.Such obstructions can prove fatal: Three children have died so far this year after permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment were denied or delayed, the human rights group Al Mezan has reported

In summary, again from the Electronic Intifada:

Gaza’s health sector is in serious disarray as a direct result of Israel’s 15-year blockade and its tight restrictions on people and goods entering and leaving the coastal strip of land…Gaza’s health ministry, for example, has been unable to import medical devices and parts for radiology and imaging services, such as CT, PET and x-ray scanning machines. In 2021, the West Bank Palestinian Authority submitted 120 requests for the entry of such equipment, of which only 30 – or 25 percent – were approved by February 2022.


Israel’s bases its restrictions on what it deems to be its security needs, its all-purpose justification for maintaining constant pressure on Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. But Gaza is given especial attention by Israel, this for overtly political purposes. The reasons include: aiming to fuel the divide and rivalry between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas; inflicting what is in fact the collective punishment on all residents of Gaza in the hope this will alienate the population from Hamas.

It is worth recalling here that Hamas in 2006 won the parliamentary elections, to the detriment of Israel’s – and effectively the USA, EU and UK’s – proxy occupation enforcer, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Israel and its western allies could not stomach this democratic florescence since the result did not accord with their wished-for outcome. And so Israel imposed the now fifteen year old siege on Gaza, the proximate cause of the dearth of medical equipment and medicine – and so much more – available in this coastal strip.

Consider: What might now be the situation had democratic expression not been anathematised and overturned?

Bottomless well of disdain

I referred above to Israel’s ‘bottomless well of disdain for Palestinian life’, an attitude exemplified at the highest reaches of Israeli governance. From the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU)

In early 2006, Dov Weisglass, then a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained that Israeli policy was designed “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” In 2012 it was revealed that in early 2008 Israeli authorities drew up a document calculating the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition so Israel could limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.

This devilish form of computation is nothing but raw, controlled, incremental violence, aimed at the debilitation of Gaza’s population, but not to kill (but of course such measures will).

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

And yet, we are told that campaigning for non-violent BDS as a means to pressurise Israel to cease its Occupation and its racist practices is to be legislated against here in the UK.  Another circle squared: a ‘democracy’ stifling free expression.  

As if their finger was on the trigger – its more than ‘complicity’

There are occasions when the power of words runs out. When the meanings we need them to carry, constitute too heavy a burden for them to bear. I was reminded of this when reading what is, to me, a richly evocative, deeply depressing, article by Mariam Barghouti in Mondoweiss. She is writing about a now twenty-year old, Ahmad Manasra, and also Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a not yet nineteen-year-old shot dead by Israeli forces. 

Ahmad Manasra has been suffering Israeli mistreatment, abuses, and torture – including prolonged periods of solitary confinement – since he was thirteen.  Seven years, his childhood consumed and shattered by the Israeli state.

I urge you to read her article in full, along with more about Ahmad’s Mansara’s truly horrifying case. That can be found here.  Barghouti herself had earlier in life been detained by Israel, though she was ‘lucky’ being released within a week.

Beyond describing the Israeli enforced plight of Ahmad, Barghouti shares her frustration about the limitations of language, most particularly for her as a journalist:

The Manasra story is, in and of itself, painful enough to feel the worthlessness of reporting. To keep repeating the same factual details of his case, and the urgency of the appeal to release him.

I couldn’t command the language to capture his horror, fear, and adolescent efforts to unearth some hidden inkling of hope from his tragic reality, a nightmare imagined. I couldn’t do service to the child, then adolescent, now almost adult, who has only known the prison walls of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem and then the prison walls of Eshel Prison, only to be moved again to Shakima Prison.

Magical thinking: The two state solution

I was going to begin this article with a recitation of funeral rites – funeral rights for the Two State Solution, the notional way forward to resolving the Palestine/Israel impasse.  

That ‘solution’, at base, proposes there should be two states – a State of Israel alongside a newly minted State of Palestine – on the land that falls between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Thus stated, a certain superficial attractiveness attaches to the proposal in that ‘solution’ conjures a sense of almost mathematical symmetry between the two (potentially) participating parties, a sense that there is something inherently fair in the proposal: neither party gets all that it wants, but, equally, both parties make gains.

The language of ‘solution’ acts as a sort of verbal sleight of hand, whereby the standard meaning of a word or phrase, in this case ‘solution’, negates itself by virtue of being utterly divorced from the reality of the facts-on-the-ground, not least the disparity in power between the parties.  For, in truth, Israel has never really accepted the possibility of a State of Palestine that was not in essence subservient to the Israeli state, even accepting that there were moments when Israel could countenance some sort of Palestinian entity running alongside it.

Notwithstanding all I’ve said above, the Two State Solution – the ‘solution’ that is not a solution – still attracts its adherents notwithstanding the sense of desperation that, to me, seems to attend their faith. Among them one can point to a recent article in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs ‘Is It Time to Bury the Two-State Solution?’ by Hesham Youssef, the headline of which declares:

While many may be dismissive of the two-state solution, there are no viable alternatives for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Similarly, Vox has an article by Zack Beauchamp ‘In defense [sic] of the two-state solution’ with the headline:

Some are declaring the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine totally doomed. But it’s not — and it’s still worth fighting for.

Both articles are actually quite good at spelling out in some detail the reasons why a Two State Solution is under (considerable) strain, but nevertheless cling tenaciously to the belief that two states is both desirable and still possible.  

Why not a Two State solution?

Pro-Palestinian and Israel-critical voices silenced at the behest of a fragile ‘may’

It’s that word ‘may’ that tells you something fishy is going on. Something not quite right.  Where the need is for certainty, for assurance that an idea, definition or policy can stand on its own two feet, ‘may’ suggests uncertainty, even evasiveness.

A ‘may’ in a sentence prompts the thought, ‘well, maybe not’.  Odd, then, that the weak-kneed ‘may’ is housed in two key paragraphs, both of which are designed to justify far reaching policy decisions the effect – and the intention – of which is to stifle the free flow of political speech and action in respect of Palestine/Israel.

One of the two paragraphs in question is to be found in the Government’s attempt at justification of its proposed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill; the other is in the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

In the recent Queen’s speech to Parliament – delivered by Prince Charles – the Government announced that it is to legislate a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill, ‘empowering Government to ban public bodies that are already subject to public procurement rules from conducting their own boycott campaigns against foreign countries or territories.’ 

It is no secret the proposed Bill is aimed primarily at curbing the increasing success of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement – a non-violent form of political expression.

Much could be said about the Bill and what might reasonably be thought to be its assault on fundamental democratic values by, for example, curbing elected local authority councillors, or pension fund trustees, from determining how funds in their charge can be deployed. In effect, once the measure becomes law, spending/investing authorities could end up in a situation of having to buy goods and services, or invest in activities, that contravene international law, for example, by having to have financial dealings with Jewish-only Settlements illegally situated on stolen Palestinian land. Such is this Government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law.

In setting out the ‘benefits’ of the proposed Bill the assertion is made – for that is all it is – that BDS somehow undermines community cohesion and that:

‘There are concerns that such boycotts may legitimise and drive antisemitism as these types of campaigns overwhelmingly target Israel.’ (Emphasis added)

Here the Government attempts to justify the notion that criticism of Israel is tantamount to being antisemitic. But the ‘may’ suggests that it doesn’t really believe its own justification, for if the Bill were based on genuine, evidence-based data, presumably it would have said. Since it cannot convincingly do that, and yet is so committed to shielding Israel from the consequences of its illegal actions, it must therefore press ahead with this Bill no matter how flabby its justification.

An irony here is that the linkage made between support for BDS and antisemitism might itself be deemed antisemitic since it assumes that all Jews, because they are Jews, identify with, or support the political, racist endeavour that is the State of Israel. That is palpably not the case.  But, as noted, the assertions, which are attempts at justification, all hang on the fragile thread of a ‘may’.  Well, may be boycotts don’t ‘legitimise and drive’ antisemitism.  And what on earth are all those Jews that support BDS doing there? Is it their intent to stoke the fires of antisemitism?

The proposed Bill is also an example of this Government’s seemingly unembarrassed capacity for rank hypocrisy that I discussed in ‘UK Government and allies supports BDS’.  In that article I suggested that the extraordinarily wide range of UK Government sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine were based, at least partially, on what it says is a commitment to the principle of self-determination, in this case, for Ukraine. In addition, the BDS being implemented against Russia is being undertaken in the belief that such measures will – eventually – prompt changes in Russia’s actions in respect of Ukraine. This may be right or wrong, but what counts here is Government’s belief, or its claimed belief, that BDS can prompt policy change.  This of course is the claim and aim of BDS in respect of Israel vis-a-vis its dealing with Palestinians.

Israel denies, violently and persistently, any form of meaningful Palestinian self-determination. BDS against Israel is founded on the principle of non-violence. Consistency to principle would suggest that BDS in respect of Israel should be endorsed by Government, not banned.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism

I’m beginning to suspect that, in matters relating to Palestine/Israel, there is an Inverse Law of the Flimsy Premise at play, such that where an assertion, policy or definition rests on a weak or flimsy premise – expressed as a ‘may’- the greater the real-world negative impact it is likely to cause.   This is at least partially demonstrated by the rather odd IHRA definition of antisemitism, more often than not shackled to a series of so-called examples. It has had a profound negative affect on the ability of organisations and individuals to speak critically of Israel.  It is deployed as a major weapon against free speech on Palestine/Israel issues.

The definition, along with a number of the examples that accompany it, form what amounts to a protective cocoon around Israel and its actions such that it can brutalise, kill and oppress Palestinians, be they man, woman or child, with impunity. It does this daily.

The IHRA definition entangles itself thus:

‘Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’ (Emphasis added)

The word-jumble claims to be a definition. But definitions need to be certain. Surely, the use of a ‘may’ cancels out the sentence’s purported purpose: to be a definition. For where there is a ‘may’ there also is a ‘may not’, stated or not. 

And what is a ‘certain perception’?   And ‘non-Jewish individuals’ can also, apparently, be victims of antisemitism.  I’m puzzled by this universalising of antisemitism; it seems to drain the term of meaning.

Hugh Tomlinson QC has given an Opinion on the IHRA ‘definition’. He says:

‘The use of language is unusual and therefore potentially confusing. The phrase “a certain perception” is vague and unclear in the context of a definition. The use of the word “may” is also confusing. If it is understood in its usual sense of “possibility” then the definition is of little value: antisemitism “may be expressed as hatred towards Jews but may also be expressed in other (unspecified) ways’.

Jonathan Rosenhead of JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour), is also puzzled by the ‘definition’:

‘Those two sentences do not make an adequate definition. Inspect that box [i.e the paragraph above]: A ‘certain’ perception? ‘May’ be expressed? There is an almost total lack of specificity. It could be this perception, or that, or indeed the other. And if antisemitism only ‘may’ be expressed through hatred, what are the other ways? This is a rank failure in defining. With hindsight it seems plausible that this vagueness was deliberate – to necessitate interpretation, to facilitate the inclusion of critiques of Israel within the dragnet.

The UK Government, with the Labour Party now limping along behind it, promotes, somewhat militantly, the IHRA definition, thereby reinforcing the hostile environment for Israel-critical voices across a range of institutions, not least universities. In so doing, the UK Government and the Labour Party, by deed and by word, become complicit in support of a racist state.

Part of a wider pattern

The planned restrictions to be placed upon public bodies in respect of BDS, along with the IHRA ‘definition’ of antisemitism has one overriding purpose: to silence and erase Palestinians and to hide from sight Israel’s brutal, unrelenting oppression.

The assault on Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian voices will continue. It intensifies by the day.

Attempts to curtail BDS already represent an escalation in the policing of speech and action in respect of Palestine/Israel.  This will be further reinforced with the now established Parliamentary Antisemitism Taskforce which will have the mission, according to the Prime Minister, ‘of rooting out antisemitism in education at all levels’ because, apparently, ‘our universities have for far too long have been tolerant of casual or indeed systematic antisemitism.’

So, perhaps its merely ‘casual’, on the other hand it may perhaps be ‘systematic’. Or, perhaps more convincingly, legitimate concerns about antisemitism are the subject of boosterism, the purpose of which is to deflect attention away from the very real and present assault by Israel on Palestinians

Given that Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian speech is being dubbed the ‘new antisemitism’, the stage is set for an increasingly vigorous clamping down on legitimate Israel-critical speech. I wrote about this back in April 2021 under the heading of The Israelisation of British Politics. It is a process that continues.

Such is the way a ‘may’ heralds in misbegotten endeavours.

‘We don’t need your tears – we have a lot of that from tear gas’. Israel and the role of International Civil Society

This article first appeared in 2021, but I thought it still relevant and worth republishing. The article now begins – in its title – and ends with a quote from Bassem Tamini.

It’s in three parts. Some readers already familiar with the reports I cite in Part two and may wish to leapfrog to Part three.

Part one: Can Israeli Apartheid last?

Israel will not of its own volition unmake its rancid racist regime. Currently, it is so immersed in self-generated and self-sustained contempt and fear of the Other – Palestinians – that it has not the internal emotional, ethical or ideological resources to break out of what is, were Israel able to see it, an existential dead end. At present, it can conceive of itself only in terms of domination, of dominating the material, human and political landscape that is Palestine/Israel. From this perspective, Israel might be said to suffer from a form of institutional and personal psychosis, such that it has condemned itself to tread a seemingly endless, junction-less road of folly, stained with its crimes and calculated cruelties – and a vista that offers no kinder horizon. Israel: a nation in need of a cure.  

And the root cause of Israel’s ailments? Its pursuit, its violent pursuit, of a herrenvolk, or Master race ideology. The objective: To create a Jewish supremacist state requiring that the indigenous population of Palestinians be either removed totally from their own land, or reduced to numbers that can be controlled and managed.  In this, Israel replicates the settler-colonialist practices that spawned, for example, the states of America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. A colonial endeavour is, inevitably and necessarily, violent.  Thus, from a herrenvolk ideology, all evil flows. (Though, by way of an aside, the idea of a pure race of anybody is a false construct, devoid of foundation to support it, or mortar to hold it together.)

Israel: A state in need of treatment

But where are the political medics, where are the counsellors, who might fulfil the role of true friends of Israel ready to guide, to persuade and, if necessary, to punish in hope of correction? Not among the warm-word friends – the international community, the UK, the EU, the countries of the West – all whose self-interest in oil, in arms, in trade, and who have allowed themselves to be captured by sectional interests, secular and religious, rendering them, at present, incapable of calling Israel to account. Which, paradoxically perhaps, makes them, ultimately, no friend at all.   A friend is someone who helps you get out of the trouble you have created for yourself. Helps you see yourself as you are, not as you purport to be.

Even hypocrisy seems too mild a word

We have become accustomed to the pious utterances mouthed by western countries in particular exclaiming their commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Not a few regimes have been the recipients of western nations’ finger-wagging rebukes as to deficiencies in their mode of government. And many rebukes are no doubt deserved.  

By way of contrast, Israel – the Apartheid state – is subject, if at all, only to occasional mild reproof. It nestles most contently within an approbatory cocoon fashioned by the very same states that are otherwise most strident in proclaiming their democratic, rule of law credentials. Yet hour by hour, day by day, Israel brazenly flouts international and humanitarian law. This position possible only because it rests on the firm foundation of international hypocrisy.

But even hypocrisy seems too mild a word to describe this toleration of gross offences against, ultimately, people – Palestinians. 

So, can it last in its present form?

Is it, therefore, to be believed that an Apartheid state, maintained to all intent and purposes by military might and unholy alliances, can ultimately survive in its present form?

I am not by nature an optimistic, I don’t believe the world is necessarily on a virtuous trajectory to a better, more benign future.  But there is, I hazard to suggest, an almost tangible liberatory urge globally that traverses the boundaries of age, ethnicity, religion and class which will, ultimately, find intolerable the existence of an Apartheid state in its midst.  Intimations of this are not hard to find, be that in the protests of Palestinians or the growth of dissenting Jewish voices in America, the UK and Europe.

From an article by George Zeidan (co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine) and Miran Khwais in Haaretz, 18 July 2021:

Now, we as Palestinians are rediscovering our common aspirations, our common goal of freedom, rejecting the artificial borders imposed and sustained by force and discrimination. We will be faced with critical questions and positions that we need to navigate together: finding common ground between political cultures, from Islamists to secularists.

But we’ve learnt a critical lesson from the recent harsh events. There is no chance of change or liberation relying on the regimes and their apparatchiks that are invested in oppressing us, the change has to come from within us.

Part two: some evidence

Here is an extract from the report (2017) commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from authors Mr. Richard Falk and Ms. Virginia Tilley. This report was withdrawn from the UN portal after protest from the USA and Israel.  However, the report can be found here.

This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in
instruments of international law.

The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory ideologies, including: the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). The report relies for its definition of apartheid primarily on article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid…

Note here the emphasis, indeed the foundation, of the accusation against Israel. It is based on law:

‘[we]conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.’

Yet that law loving and – supposedly – law adhering nation,the USA, wrapped its arms around Israel, and had the UN withdraw the report.  

B’tselem ‘This is Apartheid’

B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation that, prior to issuing its report ‘This is Apartheid’ in January 2021 concentrated only on violations in the West Bank, Occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza. However, it now sees that because Israel controls the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan that its focus must similarly widen to encompass the entire area. ‘This is Apartheid’ explains B’tselem’s rationale:

The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. B’tselem rejects the perception of Israel as a democracy (inside the Green Line) that simultaneously upholds a temporary military occupation (beyond it). B’Tselem reached the conclusion that the bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians. (Emphasis added)

Human rights Watch: ‘A threshold crossed’

In April 2021 Human Rights Watch issued its report ‘A threshold crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’.  An extract:

On the basis of its research, Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT. In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid.

Israeli officials have also committed the crime against humanity of persecution. This finding is based on the discriminatory intent behind Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the grave abuses carried out in the OPT that include the widespread confiscation of privately owned land, the effective prohibition on building or living in many areas, the mass denial of residency rights, and sweeping, decades-long restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights.

Part three

So, what to do? The pivotal role of International Civil Society

So, what to do?  What to do once one is apprised of the situation in Palestine/Israel? What to do to strengthen and amplify the voices of Palestinians and dissenting Israelis who resist and seek to counter the depredations visited upon Palestinians by an overweening, expansionist, seemingly unaccountable Israeli state? Two, essentially linked and overlapping perspectives, first from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement:

BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity…

BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. Since its launch in 2005, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

You may wish to consider following, or joining, BDS:

The other from Jeff Harper, Israeli citizen and founder of ICAHD UK, from the transcript of webinar ‘Israeli Dissident Voices: Breaking Away from Zionism’,

…look at South Africa as the most relevant precedent as to what could happen here [in Israel] because in some ways, we share some of the same things.

…the liberation struggle in South Africa had to face a dominant white society that wasn’t going to cooperate at all with the anti-apartheid movement and of course (that’s) very like the Israeli public.

 So, what the South Africans did…is they by-passed the whites. I mean they went right to the international community, especially international civil society: churches, trade unions, political groups, university groups, and really built a strong anti-apartheid movement globally. That then affected government policies that then came back and created economic realities through their BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that finally caused the collapse of apartheid.

You may wish to consider following, or joining ICAHD:

Non-Israelis are vital in this struggle

The role of international civil society is, therefore, crucial to creating the context and conditions for change. Absent a strong and unrelenting international voice in support of justice for Palestinians, then their struggle will likely as not be much extended and Israel, along with its powerful allies, will be content to push the issue into the shadows. Our job, non-Israelis, is to pressurise Governments and commercial entities to have no truck with an Apartheid regime. As indicated above, paradoxically, we’ll be doing Israel a favour, though the patient may take a little while to see it.

The final word:‘We don’t need your tears’

It’s fitting that this article both now begins, and concludes, with the words of Bassem Tamimi, Palestinian grassroots activist, described by the European Union as a human rights defender, designated by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, father of Ahed Tamimi’s who aged 16 slapped an Israeli soldier outside their home, an event that, unusually, actually broke through to mainstream media.

Internationals can’t come here just for tourism. If people come to do Palestinian cooking or dabka dancing, it’s part of learning about our culture and identity but I think that much more support and solidarity is needed.

We don’t need your tears because we have a lot of tears from tear gas.

And we don’t want the people to see us victims because we are freedom fighters.

 Internationals must support us in any way that is necessary. I think that we need more than emotion, we need your actions on the ground. Come here to learn and then go back to struggle to build an international movement to help us achieve peace. Do your duty. You must take responsibility for what is happening here. You can do a lot.

Israel: The necessity of violence

As blood is to the body, so violence is to the Israeli state – an indispensable component of its existence. Violence – personal, physical, structural – courses through the organs and agents of this state, shaping its very instincts and intuitions. It is a violence it cannot forsake, nor indeed meaningfully mitigate, for, as currently formulated, Israel can, by its own lights, exist only by virtue of suppressing the full expression of personhood of an entire people – Palestinians.

Israel has thereby created for itself only one choice – which of course is no choice at all, but rather an existential scream into what it conceives as the darkness of the night – to be in its very soul ‘Israel-militant’, a reach-for-the-gun, the baton, the tear gas, the skunk water polity, excessive and aggressive in defence of what it conceives to be its essence: being a Jewish State, a state for Jews. As long as this is the Israeli state’s animating principle, that is how long it will condemn itself to be both cruel oppressor and victim of its self-created fear of the other: the indigenous, original and continuing inhabitants of the land bordered by the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea – Palestinians.  The very logic of Israel’s conception of itself impels it to dispossess Palestinians from their fields, pasture lands, villages and homes.

The manufacture of justification

Thus it is that one of the high organs of the state, the Israel Supreme Court, was able to conjure for itself justifications that enabled it to endorse the expulsion from their homes of some 1,000 Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta. This for the benefit of IDF training, but more saliently, to clear the way for yet another Jewish-only Settlement on stolen Palestinian land.  

In coming to its judgment, the court averred that the prohibition in international law against forced population transfer was not binding on Israel. In this, a new principle seems to be established: that the criminal is able to pick and choose which laws may be deemed offences. As if this were not sufficient to demonstrate the preconceived partiality of the Supreme Court, one of the justices in the case, Justice David Mintz, is himself a settler. In other jurisdictions, a judge with a clear self-interest in a hearing would be expected to stand down from the case. Not so here.

The potential ramifications of the judgment are eloquently set out by David Shulman:

The forcible expulsion of the Palestinian communities of Masafer Yatta will have implications for the whole of humanity. Israel’s Supreme Court has now brazenly claimed, in its ruling, that international laws of war and, specifically, the laws of belligerent occupation, are not binding on the State of Israel and can be overruled by legislation and the orders of senior military officers. This ruling is shameful and cannot be defended. Reputed experts on international law say that the court’s ruling on Masafer Yatta may well expose the State of Israel, and all those connected to implementing this decision, to investigation and possible prosecution in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

But there is worse to come. The court’s ruling is another milestone in the process of remorseless annexation—that is, outright robbery—of Palestinian lands and the expulsion of the rightful owners of those lands.

This judicial assault, and the physical assault on Masafer Yatta it presages, is not a one-off. Dispossessions, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the destruction of livelihoods, these are daily occurrences perpetrated by the violent Israeli state. They continue.

Is there no limit?

Is there a limit to the violence Israel feels able to perpetrate against Palestinians?  The answer must be ‘no’.  By way of example, here are some instances for the period 19 April – 9 May documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.

  • 668 Palestinians, including 24 children, were injured by Israeli forces across the West Bank.
  • Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank
  • On six occasions, the Israeli police carried out operations in and around Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, triggering violent confrontations with Palestinians. A total of 99 Palestinians, including 15 children, were injured; 107 others were arrested…These operations followed three consecutive weeks of almost daily raids by Israeli forces to evacuate Palestinian worshippers to secure the entry of Israelis into the compound.
  • Israel settlers injured seventeen Palestinians, including two children; and people known or believed to be settlers damaged Palestinian property in 27 instances.
  • Israeli settlers attacked, shot, and injured thirteen Palestinian farmers, including two with live ammunition, and three by dogs…in six separate incidents.
  • In four incidents, stones were thrown at Palestinian vehicles…causing the injury of four Palestinians, including a four-year-old girl
  • Some 450 Palestinian-owned olive trees were uprooted in thirteen incidents by settlers….

And so – predictably – it continues…

Violence begets violence

There have also been Israeli deaths and injuries arising from attacks by Palestinians. However, Palestinian deaths and injuries, including those of children, are vastly higher than those of Israelis. Figures from the OHCHR paint a stark picture: 

At least 10,349 Palestinians and 1,304 Israelis have been killed by someone from the other side since 2000. At least 2,349 Palestinian children and 137 Israeli children have been killed by someone from the other side since 2000. Since October 2015, at least 376 Palestinians and 52 Israelis have been killed by someone from the other side.

The disproportionality in deaths and injuries between Palestinians and Israelis is hardly surprising. Israel is the extensively armed illegal occupier of territory not its own and, as a direct result of this, has need to enforce control, to keep down, a people it has no rights over.  This necessitates Israel’s use of violence as a key policy instrument. By its own lights, it has no choice.   

The question then arises: what might constitute a legitimate Palestinian response to Israeli state and settler violence?  An impartial observer is likely to see obvious parallels between Russia’s violent, illegitimate attempt to take over some or all of Ukrainian territory, and Israel’s violent and illegitimate takeover of Palestinian territory.  A process that continues, Masafer Yatta, and East Jerusalem to name but two areas where Israeli land-theft continues unabated.      

The West has eulogised Ukrainian resistance, actively aided it: weapons supplied, funds made available, constant political endorsement of Ukrainian’s right to resist Russian incursions.  And Palestinians right to resist Israel’s occupation and incursions? Either silence ensues, or mock concern.

It hardly needs to be said, we wish for the day when there are no deaths or injuries by violence.

Shireen Abu Akleh

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a well-known, highly respected reporter for Al Jazeera,  was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday 11 May  as she reported on Israeli military raids in the city of Jenin. Her producer was also shot but is in a stable condition.

Her employer, Al Jazeera, described her death as “a blatant murder” by Israeli forces.  Israel has suggested that she may have been shot by Palestinians. However, three eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were shot by Israeli troops and that there were no Palestinian militants immediately near to the journalists.

This death is shocking, and prompted an outpouring of grief and anger, particularly in the Arab world. At the time of writing, there is no formal confirmation of who is responsible for the death, but the evidence of the eyewitnesses quoted above, and others, strongly implicate an IDF soldier.

Israel has form when it comes to shooting journalists. As reported in The New Arab, according to Palestinian Ministry of Information figures, Israel has killed at least 45 reporters since 2000, the year of the Second Intifada. The Palestinian Journalists’ Union places the figure higher at 55.

Shireen Abu Akleh ‘s killing was shocking enough. I assume most readers are aware of the scenes – photographed and filmed, the images distributed around the world – at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral. Israeli police stormed the funeral procession using tear gas and batons to the extent that the casket carrying Abu Akleh’s body at one moment looked as though it was about to be dropped.

The behaviour of the police is almost beyond belief, but not so when it is understood as yet another manifestation of the institutionalised, widespread violence perpetrated by the Israeli state. Since Palestinian aspirations for liberation cannot be quelled, and Israel is locked into consuming Palestinian land and resources, exercising control by violence is an inevitable consequence.

The USA, EU and UK have all registered their shock at the killing and condemned the police action at the funeral. It is unlikely that any substantive measures will be taken to censor or punish Israel for its behaviour. This would be to follow a by now well-established pattern of granting Israel effective impunity from facing up to the consequences of its actions.

Shield, sentinel and benefactor

There is every reason to believe that Israel is guilty of multiple crimes against Humanitarian and International law, along with breaches of the Geneva convention. It has constructed for itself an Apartheid regime, in effect a Jewish supremacist ethnonationalist state.

Its closest allies and benefactors are states characterising themselves as democratic, upholders of the rule of law, though in Israel’s case, other consideration seem to apply. The support Israel receives from its western allies – USA, EU, UK – inoculates it against criticism or consequence. The current attempts to outlaw BDS in the West is but one example of this.

Violence, as asserted at the head of this article, is Israel’s key operating principle, its ethos. Its ability to be this way is fuelled, funded and nurtured by the ‘democracies’ of the West who have proved themselves more than willing to entangle themselves ever more completely with Israel via trade deals, arms research and sales, military cooperation, not to mention cultural exchanges. This is something beyond mere complicity. It is the manifestation of calculated policy.

Thus the West fulfils the role of shield, sentinel and benefactor to the Apartheid state.

The protection the West offers comes at the cost of Israel never having to look at itself in the mirror, never having to face the consequences of its actions and so it repeats endlessly the only modes of being and action that it is able to comprehend: the application of violence.

Israel believes that it stands on firm foundations having constructed itself as an expansionist, Jewish ethnonationalist state.  But those foundations rest on quicksand, they cannot in the longer-term hold.  Israel’s conception of itself is its greatest weakness, blocking all avenues towards just resolution of the Palestinian/Israel impasse. It is the most profound folly to believe that justice for Palestine and Palestinians can forever be delayed, still less vanquished.

Israel does face an existential threat. But it is not from those it currently perceives as enemies. Israel’s greatest enemy, is itself.

How shall we harm you?  Let us count the ways. A partial inventory of Israel’s oppression against Palestinians

Shoot your children bullet-dead – no tear to our eyes

‘On average, Israeli forces and settlers killed 6 Palestinian children per month this [2021] year.

‘Israeli forces and armed Israeli civilians have killed 78 Palestinian minors in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza, making 2021 the deadliest year on record for Palestinian children since 2014.’

Tear the olive trees from your soil – you nurture growth, this offends us

‘Some 50 masked Israelis from the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar destroyed over 100 olive trees Saturday outside the nearby Palestinian village of Hawara…’.

‘As the settlers’ snap branches off the trees, footage documented by a field worker for the Yesh Din group pans to IDF soldiers appearing to be standing by and not reacting.’

‘Over 9,000 olive trees have been destroyed in the West Bank since August 2020, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross

We make life unbearable – lest you thrive

From OCHA: ‘The situation in Gaza is unbearable for many. It has been described as an “open-air prison”, and things have been getting even worse amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It has a population of approximately 2.1 million people and since 2007 has been under a land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel.

‘Years of conflict and the blockade have left 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. Access to clean water is not possible for 95% of the population, and there is an ongoing power shortage which impacts essential services like health, water and sanitation.

‘Almost half of Gaza’s people do not have enough food, around 60% of children are anaemic and many children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.

‘The blockade has sealed off Gaza from the rest of the world, crippling the economy and trapping residents – including a generation of young people who have no hope of prospects for development. 70% of youth are now unemployed. Fear and lack of hope for the future have become the norm among young people in Gaza.’

We scatter your flocks as they graze – we harass, threaten and expel

Photos: Maragret Olin. Text David Shulman: ‘For the last three days, he’s [Abu Isma‘il ] come out to graze his herd all alone, with our activists to protect him. Without our presence, he might not venture out at all. And he has good reason to be afraid.

‘There’s the arch-settler Omer, whom we know too well; who can be counted on to harass, to expel, to threaten, to drive his ATV right through the flock, to send the soldiers to do his bidding and force the shepherds off the land.

‘Several of the ewes are pregnant; another one gave birth two days ago and is back in the field today. It’s the birthing season, right before the rains. Let’s hope the settlers don’t find an opportunity to make the ewes miscarry, as settlers have done many times before;…

‘They’ve also dug a deep ditch in a wide arc around the settlement, for the sole purpose of preventing the shepherds from grazing on these fertile lands. And guess whose lands they are. One of these days we are going to bring a tractor and fill in the ditch ourselves.’

We raze your homes to the ground – you do not belong here. What was yours, is now ours

From ICAHD UK: ‘For over thirty years, their entire married life, Atta and Rudina Jaber and their children have known nothing but oppression and cruelty from Israeli authorities and the extreme religious Jewish settlers from nearby Kiryat Arba in Hebron who covet their land. The valley in which Atta and his neighbours live, though arid, produces much of the West Bank’s harvest of grapes and produce. Atta’s small farm has been in the family since Ottoman times, but he has lost almost all of it to the settlement and to the busy highway 60 that connects the Israeli settlements of the southern West Bank to Jerusalem.

Atta Jaber

Besides losing their land and livelihood, the Jaber family has had its home demolished twice by the Israeli authorities, and Atta has been repeatedly jailed and beaten by the police. In December 2000, dozens of settlers invaded their home, evicted the family, spent a peaceful Sabbath in their home protected by the Israeli army and police, then burned the house on their way out and returned to Kiryat Arba undisturbed. In February 2018, the Israeli army destroyed what was left of Atta’s farm, forbidding him to ever plant again on Israeli “state land.”

Abduct your children to our prison cells – we are the most moral army in the world

From Military Court Watch: ‘Most Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank live within 2 kilometres of a settlement built in violation of international law, or a road used by settlers.

‘In 2013, UNICEF published a report which concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process”.’

  • Children as young as 12 years can be prosecuted in the military courts.
  • Approximately 500-1,000 children detained each year.
  • Children are most commonly prosecuted for stone throwing.
  • Over half of all detained children are arrested at night and report physical and psychological abuse during arrest, transfer and interrogation.
  • 95% of cases in the military courts end in conviction.

Cruelty is our currency – we can no longer see ourselves as we are

Photos Margaret Olon. Text: David Shulman: ‘Some days ago [the community of Bedouin shepherds of Ras at-Tin] received a visit from the army or the Civil Administration (it’s the same thing). The officer told them there were no problems, they had nothing to worry about. Then at dawn on July 14th soldiers came with their cranes and trucks and other devilish devices and confiscated everything these people had. There were seven large water tanks (they have to buy water and bring it in tankers); all were taken away.

‘First, however, the soldiers poured out the water onto the rocks and sand. The children, watching this, were crying. Long thirsty hours went by before the shepherds were able to fetch more water. Tents and sheep-pens were also destroyed. Each water tank costs 7,000 shekels, a huge sum for a community of subsistence shepherds.

Ahmad al-Rashidat, the mukhtar of Ras at-Tin, said:

‘They told us we were safe, and then they came and took everything away. The water tanks. A tractor. Solar panels. Our only power source. Our stocks of food. Several carts and wagons. All that we have.

‘Have you ever heard of a government denying water to people? It’s inhuman, a crime. Who could imagine such a thing?  Some of the young men protested and were injured, and the soldiers prevented them from being taken to hospital….

‘…We are living on private Palestinian lands…We are peaceful people. See the school over there. We built it for our children. Now they are afraid whenever they hear a car coming. Tomorrow is our holiday, Id al-Adha, a time of celebration. Every year the children ask for presents, they ask us for whatever they want. You know what they asked for this year? Water. And what do we want? Only a little water, and our dignity, nothing more’

‘Behind the Civil Administration is the fanatical settlers’ organization called Regavim, which first targeted the school. Of course, the school has a demolition order hanging over it, stayed for the moment by the Supreme Court. But all talk of legality here is no more than a cloud of dust. What we saw today is, in my [David Shulman’s] view, or in my heart, remarkably pure, unmitigated cruelty for the sake of the pleasure that cruelty provides.’

And still they rise

(With acknowledgement to Maya Angelou)

UK Government and allies support BDS

Rank hypocrisy and shameless double standards are by now the unsurprising hallmarks of the UK Government.  But it has excelled itself in its rapid and enthusiastic conversion to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) now seen as both a morally appropriate, and potentially efficacious, strategy designed, in this case, to persuade Russia to reverse its invasion of Ukraine.  Until this moment, the UK Government, along with allies, has been vehement in its opposition to BDS, specifically in regard to Israel, casting upon it no end of calumnies. 

On the basis that a policy should be expressive of an informing principle, and that consistency in the application of a principle is both desirable and necessary, we are entitled to ask: What circumstances justify the implementation of BDS, and what circumstances appear not to do so?  

Compare and contrast: BDS in respect of Russia and in respect of Israel

The case where BDS has been so vehemently opposed is of course in respect of Israel’s policies and actions towards Palestine and Palestinians. As indicated above, and in contradiction to the stance taken in the Israel/Palestine case, the UK Government and its allies are enthusiastically implementing BDS against Russia and Belarus. 

The scope of this BDS campaign is stunning. By way of example it includes, but is not limited to, moves to curtail Russia’s ability to trade in international markets, to export its oil and natural gas along with wide restrictions on semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics and maritime technologies.  The EU and the UK are also closing their airspaces to Russian aircraft, including the private jets of Russian oligarchs

Some detail

It hardly needs this article to inform readers of some key features of Russia’s actions in respect of Ukraine. But in seeking to understand what, on the one hand, urges the Government to enthuse about BDS, and on the other, what urges it to deprecate BDS so vehemently, some attention to detail is required.

Ukraine can be characterised as a state that, until now, has been able to exercise its right of self-determination.  A neighbouring state, a relatively powerful one – Russia – commanding in particular military resources far in excess of those available to Ukraine decided, for reasons of its own, that Ukraine was no longer entitled to unfettered self-determination, and it should, in effect, become part of Russia.

One can discuss what precisely might be meant by ‘become part of’, but I think it fair to say that Russia was and is determined to extinguish Ukrainians’ enjoyment of unfettered self-determination. And to this end it launched, and is currently conducting, a brutal military assault that in practice, and inevitably, targets not only an opposing military, but also civilians.

The principle

Aside from Russia seeking to extinguish Ukrainian self-determination, there are no doubt other features that weighed with the UK and its allies as justification for implementing stringent BDS against Russia.  However, it is also surely the case that seeking, by force, to nullify a state’s or people’s capacity for self-determination are grounds enough for BDS to be an appropriate policy response. And what’s true in one case, if similar considerations apply, should be true in another.


Turning now to Israel and its relationship to Palestine/Palestinians what do we find? Once again, it hardly needs this article to inform readers of salient features, but some detail here is useful.

In 1948 Israel pronounced itself an independent state, specifically an independent Jewish state. In order for the Jewish character of the new state to be assured, it was necessary to reduce the number of indigenous Palestinians living within its (then) boundaries. This was achieved by a range of methods including the deployment of significant military might that destroyed Palestinian villages, massacred Palestinians and created an atmosphere of fear such that many Palestinians fled to neighbouring countries.   In establishing for itself the right to self-determination, Israel sought to extinguish fulfilment of this right for Palestinians. And it has, thus far, succeeded. 

Though on a different scale to Russia’s assault on Ukraine, there are distinct similarities between the Russia/Ukraine conflict, and the Israel/Palestinian situation. Both involve the use of force to achieve political goals. Both target civilians. Both Israel and Russia’s aim was, and is, to deny their respective victims the right to self-determination, this denial secured by force of arms. 

On the grounds of consistency, as enumerated above, it’s clear that the UK and its allies would be justified in implementing a policy of BDS against Israel as a whole (see below).   Certainly, there are no grounds to deprecate BDS aimed at Israel, still less to seek legislative authority to ban or curtail it, as is mooted to be the UK’s present intention.

Caveat: 1948 or 1967?

For the purposes of this article, I want now to enter a caveat or variation to what has been said thus far.  The logic of the previous section, as stated, is that it is legitimate to implement BDS against Israel as a whole.  There is, however, a strand of Israel-critical thinking – sometimes characterised as a liberal-left strand – that accepts Israel’s culpability for the oppression of Palestinians dating back to 1948, the establishment of the Israeli state, but is more circumspect about what penalties Israel should suffer as a result.  In the light of this, let us take a different starting point and focus on the 1967 war and Israel’s conquering of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (OPT).

There can be no argument that Israel is the occupying power in the OPT, an occupation enforced by a combination of the Israeli military (Israel Defence Force) and the semi-military force, the Border Police.

The OPT is under military law. Among the many egregious features of this brutal occupation are the targeting of civilians – children, women, men – the use of live fire, not least against children, the destruction of homes and the necessities for earning a livelihood, the theft of vast areas of Palestinian lands and the establishment of Settlements on stolen Palestinian land. In addition, there are severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement both within the OPT, and in relation to travel (when allowed) between Israel and the OPT.

In terms of the Jewish-only Settlements, although within the OPT areas, they are not under military law, as are OPT Palestinians, but under Israeli civil law. The Settlements are also woven into the fabric of the Israeli economy, and many of the products grown or manufactured there are sold in international markets. Put another way, the ability of the Settlements to trade in international markets means that that aspect of international trade – possibly the Israeli hummus you buy in the supermarket – in effect supports the illegal, apartheid-based Jewish-only Settlements.  For many taking 1967 and the occupation as their starting point, they hold that any BDS measures should be restricted to those that penalise the Settlements, but not Israel as a whole.

BDS justified in case of Israel/Palestine

For the purposes of this article, which is concerned to identify a principle that either justifies, or does not justify, BDS, I have no need to delve further into whether 1948 or 1967 is an appropriate starting point, whatever my personal view might be.

What has been established is, whether 1948 or 1967 is taken as the starting point, in both cases, Israel, by force of arms, by personal and economic oppression, denies, as a matter of state policy, by the minute, by the day, by the week, by the year, by the decade, the right of Palestinian to self-determination.

I have suggested that one aspect of the UK and its allies’ justification for implementing – incredibly stringent – BDS measures against Russia is its aim to nullify, by force of arms, Ukraine’s right to self-determination. There is not a cigarette paper’s distance between the justification for BDS against Russia, and the justification for BDS against Israel, either as a whole, or restricted to the Settlements. The point is, the in principle position is secure. If BDS is justified against Russia, it follows that it is against Israel as a whole, on in relation to Settlements only.


It would be absurd to believe that consistency in the application of principle will play any part in determining the UK’s stance on BDS in respect of Israel. But perhaps the UK and its allies, at some level, and unwittingly, have closed the door on some of their justifications for opposing BDS against Israel, and/or its Settlements. Not a minor point if the UK, and indeed at least some of its allies, move legislatively to curtail the promotion or implementation of BDS.


Stop Press! Threat against Amnesty Apartheid report

The source of immediate threat is from the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI). They are able to muster formidable legal resources against their chosen targets – essentially those who are Israel-critical or anti-Zionist. They have now asked the Charity Commission to investigate the involvement of Amnesty International Charities in their report ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity’.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, says: ‘The Report is not for the public benefit, but rather consists of misleading and inflammatory allegations that will exacerbate the serious problem of antisemitism in the UK and around the world.’

In a way it is a secondary matter whether this, or other complaints, are justified. The fact a complaint has been made, has a chilling effect.  It also requires the ‘defendant’ to expend time and money attempting to fend of the accusations.

Palestine, Israel and the Labour Party: Is it racism that I see?

Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, struck the right tone in his tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died on the 26 December 2021. He described Tutu as:

‘a tower of a man and a leader of moral activism’ who ‘dedicated his life to tackling injustice and standing up for the oppressed…’His impact on the world crosses borders and echoes through generations’.

But his words ring hollow. Starmer’s encomium to the Archbishop sits ill with positions the Labour Party leader has taken on a cause close to the Archbishop’s heart: Palestine.

As is well known, Tutu was a consistent advocate for justice for Palestinians, and a critic of Israel’s repressive policies towards them.  Tutu also drew parallels between Apartheid South Africa and the Israeli state. Here’s the archbishop:

‘I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces…Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.’

The Archbishop was equally explicit on the need and justification for boycotts and sanctions against Israel as non-violent means to persuade/compel Israel to change its policies in respect of Palestine/Palestinians.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime’

The same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the divestment movement trying to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory and the unfair and prejudicial treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them’.

Starmer’s position

Some weeks prior to the Archbishop’s death, Starmer had addressed a meeting of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) at which he effectively endorsed, unblinkingly, standard Zionist positions. I’ll come to those further into this post, but first let’s look at Starmer’s position on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).

Notwithstanding Starmer’s tribute to the Archbishop – ‘a tower of a man…leader of moral activism’ – he made it clear to the LFI meeting that:

‘And let me be clear, too, the Labour party does not and will not support BDS….Its principles are wrong – targeting alone the world’s sole Jewish state.’

In the light of these remarks alone, Starmer’s tribute to Archbishop Tutu looks like so much posturing. He said the sort of thing he said in his tribute because the occasion demanded it.

The real and present concern must now be that Starmer, with the Parliamentary Labour Party, may end up backing Conservative moves to legislate against BDS. Conservative MP Robert Jenrick has said:

‘What we want to do is pass a piece of legislation…I’m confident that it will be in the next legislative program…in the spring of next year [2022], which will outlaw BDS in the UK… There’s a question of how broad that law can be, obviously I want it to be as broad as possible, so there’s next to no avenue that BDS could continue’

Notwithstanding that a recent survey found that 61% of Labour Party members support the global BDS movement, it seems entirely possible that Starmer could support moves to take legislative measures to curtail it. Whether he does or not, it must strike any democrat as odd that a Labour Party Leader should be so stridently against a non-violent form of political expression.

The architecture of silencing

Turning now to related matters. In an earlier post I discussed the folly of the UK Government banning Hamas – that banning needs to be understood as part of a wider project to stifle Israel-critical opinion.  Where one stifles free speech, and in effect promulgates certain words and ideas as heretical, and others permitted, even required, one comes perilously close to creating the conditions for witch hunts.  We have reached that point.

A key component of the architecture of silencing is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, complete with what are dubbed ‘examples’, a good number of which are designed to place off-limits criticism of Israel.

A witch hunt, notwithstanding its own version of itself, has little interest in impartial, objective evidence. It seeks convictions, findings of guilt. It requires guilty verdicts because they have an effect wider than the individual conviction. The aim is to cower into silence dissenting voices. To stifle heterodox thought even before it is uttered. And if you survey the people and institutions that have been victims – academics, students, opinion formers – of the IHRA definition and its zealots, you will see just how successful they have been.

Once an atmosphere of witch hunt has been created, fantastic propositions, in the form of accusations, can be made and be unquestionably accepted. The reference points that should tether us to informed inquiry – impartiality, objectivity, innocent until proven guilty – become severed.

This can be the only rational explanation for the current pursuit by the Labour Party of at least forty Jewish members of JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour) who are under investigation, charged with antisemitism.  As JVL put it in evidence to the Labour Party:

‘…a new feature is that the Labour Party is targeting those who question its interpretation of antisemitism and in particular its adoption of one particularly, contested definition of antisemitism, in effect determining as antisemitic, and worthy of expulsion, disagreement over the methods used for combating antisemitism.’

In an earlier post I discussed the IHRA definition, and so will not in detail do so again here. But it is perhaps instructive to focus on just one of the ‘examples’ (there are others) simply to see the architecture of silencing in action.

One of the ‘examples’ states: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’

The reference to ‘denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination’ is the intellectual equivalent of throwing sand in your eyes, the better to disorient and blind. Self-determination can take many forms, it has no necessary connection with ideas about statehood. Still less so when the price of Israeli Jewish self-determination as a state spawns the systematic, brutal and sustained denial of Palestinian self-determination.  To discuss this, or point to this, is to offend against this ‘example’ and potentially stand accused of antisemitism.

Similarly, the ‘example’ states that characterising ‘Israel as a racist endeavour’ is, of itself, a potential example of antisemitism.  Readers will know that the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem, has found Israel to be an Apartheid state. Human Rights Watch has similarly come to the same conclusion. Archbishop Tutu, of course, sometime before, had compared Israel to South Africa when it was an Apartheid state. But charging Israel with Apartheid is unpermitted speech notwithstanding the evidence.  

Undue influence

Complementary to acts of silencing, is the amplification of, and subservience to, permitted voices.

Starmer had been due to attend (virtually), in April 2021, Open Iftar, a fast-breaking event organised by the Ramadan Tent Project. But he withdrew after objection was raised by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle. The reason? One of the event’s organisers, CEO Omar Salha, supported a boycott of Israeli dates.

Boycotting dates from Israel is a non-violent action, the sort one imagines Archbishop Tutu would support. But this was to no avail in the light of objections from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle. Tal Ofer, deputy at the Board of Deputies, tweeted: ‘Glad to see that after I raised up this issue, Keir Starmer withdrew his participation at the event.   Labour sources confirmed  that Ofer’s concerns had been taken into consideration by the leader

This is alarming on two levels. One, that the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle seem to wield a disproportionate amount of influence – the power of their voices is amplified and succumbed to. Two, Muslim voices and interests are marginalised, treated with disdain.

This is deeply disturbing, borne out in a survey of Labour Muslim members and supporters which found that some 29% directly experienced Islamophobia in the party; 44% did not believe the party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously; 48% said they did not have confidence in Labour to deal with Islamophobia effectively.

In addition, 46% of Muslim members and supporters disagreed with the statement ‘I believe the Labour Party represents the Muslim community effectively; 59% said they did not feel ‘well represented by the leadership of the Labour Party’; 56% told the Labour Muslim Network they did not feel that ‘the shadow cabinet team’ put together by Keir Starmer ‘represents the Muslim community effectively’.

The concern about the direction of travel by Labour under Starmer has been echoed in a letter signed by over 25 Palestinian Labour members:

‘Some of us have been members of the party for decades under different leaders and never have we experienced a party environment so hostile and unwelcoming to us as it has been since you took over its leadership,” the statement reads. “Not even during the dark days of the illegal war on Iraq.

“Our community of traditional Labour voters is therefore deeply concerned and alarmed, and we fear that without your immediate action, their growing alienation from the Party will become a permanent rift.”

Malleable and subservient

The question arises, how is it that Starmer can pay such (overly) sensitive heed to concerns about antisemitism, be so malleable in response to particular sectional interests, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Labour Movement to name but three, and yet be the leader of a party that appears to treat with disdain Palestinians, Israel-critical Jews and Muslim members. This against a background of 70% of Muslims reporting they had experienced religion-based prejudice in 2017-2018, whilst more than half of religiously-motivated attacks in 2017-18 (which rocketed by 40% in comparison to the prior year) were directed at Muslims.

A line crossed

There’s something deeply concerning about Starmer’s stance on Israel and Palestine. It’s not simply about policy positions he takes on the issue. It’s as much, perhaps more, about the framework of reference he deploys when addressing them.

At the LFI event, he quoted approvingly an earlier Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who had praised Israeli ‘Social democrats who made the desert flower’.

In referencing this remark, Starmer echoed, and implicitly endorsed, one of the founding myths of state Zionism: that prior to European, Jewish colonisation, Palestine – the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River – was near-barren and essentially uncultivated by the indigenous Palestinians.  The land was simply waiting for beneficent settlement by European Jews.  This essentially racist trope went hand in hand with the self-serving Zionist myth that Palestine was a land without people, for a people without a land. For Palestinians, both phrases are deeply hurtful, and dismissive of their history and agency.  And implicitly racist.

Starmer did not stop there but went on to effectively endorse the notion that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism. This is to muddle two distinct concepts: anti-Zionism is a political stance that opposes the colonial, racist ideology underpinning the Israeli State. Antisemitism is the hating of Jews, because they are Jews. The effect of Starmer’s words is to add to the lexicon of heretical, impermissible speech – anti-Zionism now defined as antisemitism. 

In April 2020 Starmer said ‘I support Zionism without qualification’. Without qualification? 

Without noticing the militant Zionist Settlers, who daily attack Palestinians and steal their land? Without regard for non-trial administrative detention of Palestinians, adults and children for six month and more at a time?  Without uttering a peep against the Israel Basic Law, one of the clauses being ‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people’?

The whiff of racism?

This thoroughly depressing post is not intended as an ad hominem attack on the Leader of the Labour Party. Rather, it is an attempt to highlight what are, at base, modes of thought and ideological orientations that are deeply disturbing.

If we consider the stated positions of the Labour leader on Palestine/Israel/Zionism/antisemitism as set out above, and take full account of Muslim and Palestinians (Christians and Muslim) experience of Labour under Starmer, then it is unavoidable to detect the whiff of racism – conscious or otherwise – seeping into Labour’s thought and action. If that’s correct, it is both intolerable, and shameful.

Hamas and the politics of silencing

It is not to be supposed the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in announcing her ban on the political wing of Hamas, that she based her proposed policy on a dispassionate, objective consideration of Palestine/Israel issues.  Rather, her motivations are in part domestic, the proposed ban pandering to the strong UK Zionist lobby, not least in the Conservative Party; and, in part, to further bolster Israel’s determination to avoid any possibility of having to curb its expansionist, colonising project between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. However, if history teaches anything, it is that stifling voices one finds uncongenial prolongs conflict, rather than addresses its causes and manifestations.

Depressingly, though of no surprise, Patel, in part justification for banning Hamas, prayed in aid that ever-ready-to-hand blanket justification ‘the fight against anti-Semitism’. Somehow, the fight against anti-Semitism in the UK is, apparently, to be much aided by banning Hamas in this country.

Patel, of course, comes to Middle East issues tainted by questionable, indeed condemned, resigning issue behaviour, this in respect of her earlier under-the-table dealings with Israel. 

The Home Secretary has form in this part of the Middle East. A supporter of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI),  Patel caused a British media scandal when, in August 2017, whilst then the UK minister for international development, she used the cover of a ‘holiday’ in Israel to attend a series of secret meetings with Israeli ministers organised by the CFI.  The meetings were in defiance of UK ministerial rules which require a civil servant to take notes of any discussion. This did not occur – there is no way of knowing exactly what was discussed at the meetings. The scandal resulted in her resignation in November of that year.

Malign, Tiggerish zeal

But Patel, now Home Secretary, has bounced back with malign Tiggerish zeal as the scourge of would-be refugees and asylum seekers, whilst at the same time piloting through Parliament measures that will curb the right to protest. So, if you feel you should attend a public demonstration in favour of a more humane refugee and asylum policy, or in support of justice for Palestine, or indeed Hamas, well, watch out, you may be heading for trouble with the law.

But particularly in relation to Hamas, now that it is listed as a terrorist organisation, you and I would be committing an offence if we held a meeting with them. The Hamas which, as indicated above, won the democratic election of 2006 – overturned at the behest of the ‘democratic’ governments of the USA and Israel – and which, in a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, found that 53 percent of Palestinians agree with the statement ‘Hamas is most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,’ versus only 14 percent who say the same of Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Western governments efforts are directed to propping up the widely discredited PA and its leader.


The ban on Hamas is not only scandalously inappropriate in terms of the politics of the Middle East, it is also an egregious assault on the democratic norms assumed to be held dear here in the UK. The ban on Hamas – we are not allowed to speak with it, nor hear it – is a ban on knowing and understanding the perspective of an organisation which, whether we like it or not, has significant support among Palestinians.  The corollary to this is that our sources of information about Palestine/Israel will not only be more limited than they might otherwise have been; they will also be, almost by definition, inherently distorted and unbalanced.  

Mainstream media, already in general woeful in its coverage of Palestine/Israel issues, both in terms of the extent of its coverage, but also in how coverage is framed, will now be institutionally incapable of informing us of the full range of factors, actors and perspectives that affect the Palestine/Israel issue.

We’ve been here before

We’ve been here before.  In 2003 the EU made the decision to add Hamas to a list of terrorist organisations, a policy promoted ‘largely as a result of efforts made by Jack Straw’[1], at that time the UK’s foreign secretary under Tony Blair’s premiership. However, in 2006 Straw changed his position, telling Journalists that the West should be talking to Hamas because it had won the 2006 elections. Straw was sacked once his position became publicly known[2].

But, as if to demonstrate the purblind futility, the utter counter-productiveness, of pursuing a no recognition, no talks policy, be that with the IRA, the Taliban or, in this case, Hamas, Blair, by now ex-Prime Minister, and about to resign as envoy to Middle East Quartet – UN, USA, EU, Russia – held six meetings between 2015 – 2017 with Khaled Meshaal of Hamas’s political bureau.

In a 2017 interview, Blair regretted excluding Hamas from dialogue, and admitted that he was wrong to succumb to Israeli pressure to support the 2006 blockade of Gaza. ‘In retrospect, he said, ‘I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into dialogue and shifted their positions’.  

Blair, perhaps, would have benefited from heeding Eliza Manningham-Buller, former director of MI5 (UK’s internal security service) 2002-2007 who pointedly said ‘Terrorism is resolved through politics and economics not through arms and intelligence, however important a role these play.’

We’ve been here before – favouring bans and proscriptions of organisations deemed to be ‘terrorist’.  Such moves often add up to no more than gesture politics, though with potential lethal consequences as legitimate channels of communication are closed down.

None of which deters Israel in its quest to silence, indeed erase, authentic Palestinian voices. Hence its attempts to label as terrorists and ban six legitimate human rights organisations[3]. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders said ‘human rights defenders are not terrorists and should never be smeared like this.’ The targeted groups include “key partners” of the UN Human Rights Office in the West Bank and Gaza.

Trapped by its own self-conception

Israel has a congenital reluctance to engage in meaningful dialogue with the people whose land it has stolen, and continues to steal. Israel, by its own self-definition – see its Basic Law of 2018 – is founded on ethno-religious principles and thus rightly found to be an apartheid, racist state, not least by its own Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem.

At its core, racism, by its own logic, cleaves to notions of purity. It is therefore obsessional in its quest to delineate firm and clear boundaries between categories of people based on, for example, skin colour, ideas about blood, and for the Israeli state, in terms of an ethno-religious category that it designates ‘Jewish’.  

Purity abhors, cannot tolerate, the possibility of contamination, of permeable boundaries. Israel, as currently constituted, cannot contemplate deviation from the exclusivist nature of its state as expressed in, for example Clauses 1B & 1C of its Basic Law:

  • The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfils its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
  • The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

Israel recognises, though does not say, that were it to engage with Palestinians in good faith, addressing key outstanding issues, that would necessarily call into question the fundamental provisions of the Basic Law.  A good faith engagement would, by implication, represent an existential threat to Israel’s current self-conception and manner of existence.  It would have to move from building spiritual, metaphorical, psychological and material barriers around itself, and instead hear what it wishes not to hear; and to see in itself, that which it so assiduously strives not to see. 

Acting in good faith implies that the state will have to accept that boundaries can be both fuzzy and permeable. And be all the better for that.

[1] Source: The masking of Hamas’s foreign policy, by Daud Abdull

[2] ibid

[3] The six organisations are: Al-Haq, a human rights group, Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.