Category Archives: ICAHD UK

‘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: https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-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: https://icahd.org/

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.


Freeing Palestine. Current strategies necessary. But sufficient?

Part one, in summary, looks at the nature of some of the threats that Israel-critical/Pro-Palestinian advocates confront. It then asks whether there is a need for more joined-up, durable approaches in responding to key threats, ones that so negatively affect the Palestinian cause.  (3 minute read)

Part two looks at some examples of the threats to Palestinian interests. It is illustrative, not comprehensive. (8 minute read)

Part three: End word (30 seconds)

Part one. To confront a strategy, ensure one has one’s own

The forces arrayed against Israel-critical individuals and organisations are formidable, multi-faceted, wide-ranging and well-resourced.  Those forces have the capability to direct their fire at a multiplicity of targets – academic and cultural institutions, local government, business, civil society organisations – and to do this simultaneously; an indication of their breadth and resource. The merest hint of Israel-critical comment and/or support for a Palestinian perspective triggers attack from Israel’s more zealous supporters.

It hardly needs asserting that underpinning the unrelenting, multi-front assaults on Israel-critical perspectives is a strategy. And a strategy, by definition, is long term, integrative, creating the context for generating and marshalling any number of disparate, short-term initiatives within an overarching framework directed at achieving long-term goals.  It is a tool for the determination of priorities, along with the identification of strategic threats, and potential strategic advantages. A strategic approach is also about energy: where and how to expend it, where to conserve it; how to deplete the energy of one’s opponents.

The question arises: Whether, here in the UK, sufficient attention has been given to creating strategic – that is durable, sustained, cross-organisational – responses to the threats that confront Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian advocates. One potential strategic aim being to undermine, overtime and by diverse means, the credibility and (supposed) moral authority of the sources of the attacks.  

Arguably, insufficient attention has been given to creating and sustaining such an approach. The threats include, at the very least:

  • the IHRA definition and examples, deployment of which are scything their way through any number of organisations, groupings and institutions; and linked to this the just announced (see below in Part two section on ‘Government and Opposition’) establishment of an antisemitism task force aimed, it seems, at educational institutions.  
  • mainstream media’s institutional bias, aspect blindness, and timidity in the way it reports and analyses Palestine/Israel issues;
  • the threat that legislation will be introduced to ban or curtail support for BDS.

There surely is a case to be made for the establishment of – or at least the exploration of the merits of establishing – standing cross-organisational working groups able to draw in a range of expertise and political nous supportive of the Palestinian cause. Such working groups could examine weaknesses and lacunae in current approaches and formulate medium and long-term approaches to countering them.   That is to say what might be done beyond demonstrations, petitions, letters of support, necessary though these modes of action are.

Taking the mainstream media strand first, the sort of questions that could perhaps be usefully asked: Is there a strategic gap in how pro-Palestinians interests engage with mainstream media? Is there a case for a – hypothetically named – Palestine-UK Media Group the purpose of which is to change over time the way at least some mainstream media report on Palestine/Israel issues?  To say this is not to succumb to naivete. Of course mainstream media is shot through with institutional bias in favour of Israel, and has a grim and disreputable history in marginalising or ignoring Palestinian voices. But to say this is simply to describe part of the problem, it does not of itself yield remedy. 

Looking at the IHRA/antisemitism strand: Is there a case for a more focused, unified and sustained approach to objecting to IHRA, this as part of a wider strategy? There is a sense in which we present as potential targets waiting to be picked off. When the attack comes, defensive mobilisation is often swift and can be effective.  But is there more that can be done to undermines the authority of the IHRA? If so, this is not the work of a moment, but the need for persistent burrowing at the foundations of the text itself and the credibility of those who so strenuously promote it.  

Nothing said above detracts or minimises the significance of pro-Palestinian advocacy that is daily underway in a variety of ways, tackling every aspect of Israel’s oppression.

Part two: Strategic threats and their bearers – a very partial overview

IHRA

It surely is a move of strategic brilliance that the Israeli state and its cohabitees saw just how potent accusations of antisemitism could be in their unrelenting bid to silence, indeed demonise, Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian voices.  The vehicle for the propagation and dissemination of the accusations is of course the IHRA definition of antisemitism along with its so-called examples (henceforth ‘IHRA’).

In fact, I do not know whether Israel, along with its uncritical handmaidens, initially grasped the potential utility of the IHRA in silencing and demonising Palestinian voices; or whether they themselves have been surprised (and gratified) at its apparent catch-all utility as a multi-functional attack weapon, yet which also affords full-spectrum defence against criticism or censure of IHRA and its proponents. For that is how the IHRA functions: as a public relations shield for Israel, diverting attention away from Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians’ homeland and onto the supposed antisemitism of Israel-critical individuals and organisations.

It’s true there have been some inspiring and effective pushbacks against the IHRA. But the need to fight on this front, which in its narrow formulation is about protecting civil liberties and free speech, has a cost. That cost is the time, trouble and resources deployed to counter accusations of antisemitism and to defend free speech, thus, arguably, diluting attention that should properly be paid to the core issue: Israel’s daily, on the ground oppression of Palestinians.

Whilst each attack on pro-Palestinian interests can be said to emanate from a single source, or at least from sources closely aligned to each other, and likely as not functionally coordinated – a manifestation of a strategic approach – the targets of attack are often local and individual having to rely on their own, local capabilities and resources, notwithstanding acts of solidarity, joint protest and fraternal support from a range of pro-Palestinian individuals and organisations

UK Lawyers for Israel

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) is nothing if not industrious in pursuing all manner of what they judge to be unlawful actions by a wide range of authorities, commercial companies and other organisations and individuals.  Among UKLFI’s objectives are:

‘to provide, assist in providing, procure or promote the provision of legal support including advocacy, research, advice and campaigning in combating attempts to undermine, attack and/or delegitimise Israel, Israeli organisations, Israelis and/or supporters of Israel’

‘to contribute generally as lawyers to creating a supportive climate of opinion in the United Kingdom towards Israel.’

The implication here is that UKLFI support for Israel is, in effect, unqualified.

I do not comment on the correctness or otherwise of their legal perspective in any particular case, but here’s a partial – stress ‘partial’ – snapshot of their activities, all dated in the period January 2022 – March 2022, a mere three months.

  • The President of City University’s Israel Society, with assistance from UK Lawyers for Israel, has reported the City Students’ Union to the Charity Commission for conducting an unlawful BDS campaign targeting Israel.
  • A petition calling for Edinburgh to be twinned with the Palestinian city of Gaza was pulled from the agenda of the city council. This follows UKLFI’s letter to Edinburgh council’s head of legal services last week, warning that the Councillors will probably commit criminal offences if they participate in twinning between Edinburgh and Gaza City.
  • UK Lawyers for Israel has written to the 82 Local Government Pension Scheme Chairs in England and Wales, to warn them that a UN Rapporteur is unlawfully interfering in the management of their pension funds.
  • Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee, which administers the Merseyside Pension Fund, has voted against a proposal to progress towards divesting from businesses operating in the West Bank. UK Lawyers for Israel had written to Wirral Council’s Pensions Committee, explaining in detail why the Merseyside Pension Fund should not divest from certain businesses which operate in the West Bank and which appear on a database prepared by the UN Human Rights Council.
  • Following a complaint by UKLFI in January 2022 that those living in Israel were excluded from joining YouGov as panellists, YouGov has now allowed people living in Israel to share their opinions for market research.

And, as I briefly set out below, UKFLI is now pursuing the National Union of Students’ appointment of Shaima Dallali as its new President (to take up post in July 2022).

Pre-emptive caution

It’s clear from the activities set out above, and the list of UKLFI’s Patrons and Directors, that they command significant fire power which they deploy seemingly most effectively.

Putting to one side the question of the legal rightness or wrongness of their position in any particular case, it’s not hard to imagine the intimidatory effect a UKLFI letter, replete with references to statute and case law, will have on any number of organisations targeted. They will not wish to end up in court given the cost and time and trouble that requires, and therefore the tendency will be to submit to complaint. But beyond the particular targeted organisations, others which might have otherwise considered supporting, for example, BDS may feel that not addressing the question is the better part of valour; or at least the better part of pragmatism.

We believe in Israel

We Believe in Israel,an organisation whose title neatly summarises its stance, has directed its ire against the musician and activist Lowkey, accusing him of ‘incitement’ against Israel and pushing for his songs to be removed from the streaming service Spotify. Luke Akehurst, Director of We Believe in Israel and a member of the Labour Party’s national executive committee said:

‘Spotify has a responsibility to uphold its platform rules which quite clearly state that content promoting, threatening, or inciting violence is unacceptable. Our research has identified dozens of such breaches…The presence of Lowkey’s music is particularly offensive.’

The attack on Lowkey, essentially an attack on free speech and Palestinian advocacy, has prompted a petition in his support. When last I looked (19/04/2022) it had attracted over 42,000 signatures.

Low Key’s lyrics for Long Live Palestine Part 2 can be found here. Worth reading, but uncomfortable for We Believe in Israel, for the lyrics suggest that their belief in Israel is misplaced.

Students and education a target

In another attempt to silence Lowkey, a planned appearance at a conference organised by the National Union of Students in Liverpool was cancelled following a campaign from the Union of Jewish Students to get him removed from the panel.

The same student organisation, along with the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, is raising objection to Shaima Dallali’s election as president of the National Union of Students, this based on her pro-Palestinian stance and comments she made when a teenager which she has acknowledged as wrong, and apologised for them. However, this has not quietened opposition to her appointment.  UKLFI reports in its blog dated 24 April that:

UKLFI strongly believes the statements [by Shaima Dallali] are contrary to NUS policy. UKLFI considers these statements are antisemitic when judged against the IHRA’s working definition and that this should result in disciplinary action….Following UKLFI’s letter, which was sent on 11 April, the NUS has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of antisemitism.’

The complaint has served its function, whether it is determined as valid or not. Time, energy, finance will be devoted to dealing with the complaint and the IHRA’s role as an intimidatory tool will be further enhanced. Attention will be diverted away from Israel’s policy and actions in respect of Palestinians, the focus moving to consideration as to the degree IHRA can be said have been breached. Nothing, or next to nothing, will have been done to undermine the credibility of the IHRA itself.

A notable, welcome success. But…

There was also the ultimately failed attempt by Sheffield Hallam University to suspend the Palestinian graduate student, Shahd Abusalama, from teaching based on a smear campaign by supporters of Israel. Accusations against her revolved around her purported antisemitic actions and words. Leading the initially successful charge against her were the Campaign Against Antisemitism and that organ of balanced, dispassionate reporting, Jewish News

In the end their immediate efforts were nullified by a brilliant, widespread campaign in her support. That’s a battle won.

But now, as set out below, coming into play is the newly formed Antisemitism Task Force aimed, it appears, particularly at education and students.  Expect an escalation in attacks on student bodies and individuals.

Government and Opposition

So far as the UK government is concerned, it, with the Opposition trotting along behind – or is that side-by-side? – both have to all intent and purposes determined that criticism of, and opposition to, Israel’s policies and actions in respect of Palestine/Palestinians amount to antisemitism and are therefore to be condemned and countered.

Boris Johnson expounded on the matter in Parliament, claiming that ‘our universities have for far too long have been tolerant of casual or indeed systematic antisemitism’. He called for ‘rapid and irreversible change’, and the establishment of ‘an Antisemitism Task Force devoted to rooting out antisemitism in education at all levels.’ According to a blog from the very active UKLFI,  the establishment of this task force was formally announced at a Parliamentary reception hosted by Lord Mann on 5 April 2022.

In addition, the Conservative MP Robert Jenrick, has said that the government aims to outlaw BDS in the next Parliament.   Both these stances represent significant threats to Israel-critical campaigning. The Labour Party – formally speaking, Her Majesty’s Opposition – on Palestine/Israel issues is simply a busted flush, taking positions that in effect mimic that of the Government.

The Labour Party leader has set his face against BDS and, most recently, has opposed the recent Amnesty International report that finds Israel guilty of creating a ‘system of Apartheid’.  (It should be noted that Amnesty claims not to have designated Israel an ‘Apartheid State’ but, as stated above, a state that has created a ‘system of Apartheid’. Explanation of this distinction, if such it is, can be found here.

Above I noted that Luke Akehurst, the director of We Believe in Israel, is also a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, as of course he is entitled to be. At the same time, we are entitled to ask the degree to which he is able to offer the Labour Party a balanced account on Palestine/Israel matters. 

Act.IL

The most succinct way to explain about Act.IL is to quote directly from the Electronic Intifada report of the June 2019:

A global influence campaign funded by the Israeli government had a $1.1 million budget last year, a document obtained by The Electronic Intifada shows.

Act.IL says it has offices in three countries and an online army of more than 15,000. In its annual report, from January, Act.IL says its goal is to “influence foreign publics” and “battle” BDS…

Through its app, Act.IL… directs comments towards news websites in support of Israeli wars and racism, while attacking Palestinians and solidarity campaigners. The leaked report claims Act.IL’s app completes 1,580 such missions every week.

Part three: End word

I doubt that much objection can be raised at my characterisation of the strategic threats confronting Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian advocates.  Similarly, it is hardly new information that the forces arrayed against Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian advocates are formidable and well-resourced. Their capacity to disrupt and attack on multiple fronts is, in its own terms, impressive. 

Be you student, local authority, pension fund, journalist, bookseller, or simply a member of the public wanting to display the Palestinian flag, you can, and often will be, targeted by Israel’s allies, the strategic aim being to silence you directly and, more widely, to create a culture of inhibition such that one self-censors’ Pro-Palestinian expression.

The question raised in Part One seems to me to force itself upon us: Whether, here in the UK, sufficient attention has been given to creating strategic – that is durable, sustained, cross-organisational – responses to the threats that confront Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian advocates. One potential strategic aim being to undermine, over time and by diverse means, the credibility and (supposed) moral authority of the sources of attack.  




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)

Campaigning for Palestine: Victories, threats, and resolve

There’s been a cluster of events, of which I shall mention only four, that have gladdened the heart, prompted admiration, and that serve to reinforce resolve.

Ambassador sent on her way

One was the protests undertaken by Cambridge University students against the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely. She was giving a speech at that university. The only thing that can be said in Hotovely’s favour is that her appointment presents to the UK the unvarnished truth of Israel’s position vis a vis Palestine and Palestinians.

Hotovely has reportedly denied Palestine’s existence, designated the Nakba ‘a great Arab lie.’, and opposed any Palestinian claim to the occupied West Bank, Gaza, or East al-Quds, at the same time supporting the expansion of Israeli Jewish-only settlements. It’s worth adding that the university students’ actions are, arguably, not an example of ‘no platforming’. The ambassador was representing – she was not speaking as an individual – a country guilty of multiple floutings of humanitarian and international law, a country designated an apartheid state in no less than four reports, the latest by Amnesty International . There is no obligation to offer a platform to the representative of such a state. There are other places where her toxic views will be well-received.

Direct action works

Palestine Action is rightly proclaiming a number of direct-action victories, a key one being the closure of the Elbit (Israeli arms manufacturer) in Oldham.  More widely, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) seems to be recognising that it has little chance of securing convictions against individuals taking conscientious action.  Activists blockaded the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire, in November 2020, preventing operations at the drone-engine factory. This follows two trials dropped in January – after a ‘not guilty’ verdict delivered in December. Over the past two months, the CPS has failed to secure successful prosecution against any of the 11 activists whom they had charged. (Shades of the acquittal of the – statue overturning – Colston Four.) However, there are potential threats on the horizon, more of which below.

Labour drops case against Jewish woman for alleged antisemitism

Diana Neslen, an 82 year old Jewish woman and Labour Party member, was accused of antisemitism, in particular on the basis of one of her tweets when she said ’the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and I am an antiracist Jew’. She instructed lawyers to inform Labour that she would bring a lawsuit for discrimination and harassment, claiming that anti-Zionism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

Initially Labour did not respond, but after the Guardian published details of the case it told her they were dropping the investigation. Prior to this, Neslen was sent a ‘reminder of conduct’ the same year (2018) that Labour adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism that included the (so-called) example: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a taste of Israel is a racist endeavour.’ 

Whether because of the threat of legal action, or publicity in the Guardian, or a combination of the two, the dropping of the charge is the appropriate action. There is, however, a wider point to consider, and Diana Neslen makes it well: ‘I’m pleased they dropped it because it exposes the fact that they shouldn’t have done anything in the first place.‘   But she goes on to say, and this is the strategic insight, ‘But I also feel that I would have liked the issue of protected belief to have been addressed because I believe there are a lot of people who also, like me, are anti-Zionist, believe that it’s a perfectly legitimate belief, and they have no recourse.’ I’ll touch on this again in remarks below.

Sheffield Hallam University – the case of Shahd Abusalama

I’ve reported on this in previous blog articles and shared my letter of protest to the university.  Briefly, Shahd was suspended by her employer, Sheffield Hallam University, from teaching her class the evening before it was scheduled to take place. The basis of the suspension were accusations of antisemitism by Jewish News and the Israel lobby group the Campaign Against Antisemitism, two entities whose relationship with truth and accuracy are somewhat strained.  Underpinning the false accusation was the university’s endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, again, more of which later.

Shahd, with ever increasing support, led a magnificent campaign that culminated in what can only be described as a victory. She posted on Twitter:

We’re celebrating a fantastic victory for Palestine…[the university] will not be progressing with any further investigation…I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition…I will also be offered a more secure contract…That wouldn’t happen without your support so THANK YOU.’

It needs to be added that Shahd, is reporting in her tweets that she is being subject to continuing attacks by ‘Zionists’.

But considerable threats and barriers remain intact

It’s right to say that Sheffield Hallam University’s reversal of its earlier shameful decision to suspend Shahd’s teaching position is a victory, not only for her, but also for Palestine. It’s one battle won, but, arguably, the current immediate strategic advantage remains with those who oppose Palestinian self-determination.

It is the ‘unfit-for-purpose’ IHRA definition of antisemitism, along with its working examples, that form part of the architecture of strategic threat to achieving justice – between the river and the sea – for Palestinians.  In that regard, it’s good to see that a joint project comprising the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Committee for Universities of Palestine and Jews for Justice for Palestinians have created a web site on how to combat the IHRA definition, aimed in particular at universities and local councils. The web site offers comprehensive tool kits suggesting the sort of actions that can be taken along with a range of authoritative opinion and evidence to support the case against adopting, or where already in place, rescinding the IHRA definition.  This is really excellent. The questions remain, however, what more needs to be done, who is yet to be influenced, or rigorously opposed?  Are there lines of attack that have yet to be explored, or revisited?

The thinking of Diana Neslen, quoted above, suggest there is at least one avenue to be explored. As she said, she wished she could have had the opportunity to go to court to make the case that being anti-Zionist was not racist, that it was a protected philosophical belief under Equalities law.  This of course does not presume she would have won if the matter had gone to court.  But the strategic merit of thinking in this type of way is that it focuses on the foundations upon which IHRA rests not only on its individual manifestations.  

The IHRA is not the only strategic threat. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is, here in the UK, under the threat of potential anti-BDS legislation by the current Conservative Government. It’s unclear whether the proposed ban will be limited to local councils and other publicly funded institutions. Robert Jenrick MP, as recently as 15 December 2021 announced that a bill banning the BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions) movement will be presented to Parliament in the coming months. He is also a maximalist in terms of desired scope and has said, ‘Obviously I want it to be as broad as possible so there’s next to no avenue for BDS to continue here.’

The Bridges for Peace web site comments, ‘Given…a significant majority of Parliament seats, it seems reasonable to expect that the Conservative Party will be able to achieve its commitment to ‘boot BDS out of the UK’ in the very near future.’ If successful, the UK will join Austria, Germany and Canada in banning BDS. This must be opposed.

Wider context

The IHRA definition along with threats to BDS are Palestine-specific concerns, though of course they are aspects of wider threats to free speech, and the curtailment of legitimate political action. But fast coming toward us – in fact terrifyingly imminent – are Bills currently before Parliament and, if they hold their course, will soon be law. I refer to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Judicial Review and Courts Bill and, potentially on the horizon, the findings of an inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998.

Whilst the latter two – Judicial Review and Courts Bill, the inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998 – may seem somewhat remote to the immediate concerns of Palestine supporters and activists, it is not unfeasible that a situation may arise where, for example, a pro-Palestine organisation or individual may wish to seek judicial review of a government or other bodies decision. The proposed Act on judicial review would limit both the grounds on which a review could be instituted, and also the potential scope of remedy.

Similarly, there is no reason to be confident that a conservative-initiated review of Human Rights legislation will result in fundamental rights, not least the right to a fair trial, being comprehensively secured. At present, the Human Rights Act protections apply to, for example, foreign nationals, or people in prison. Given this Government is not ashamed to have as a matter of policy the creation of a ‘hostile environment’ in respect of asylum seekers and refugees, there is reason to be nervous of what may soon come our way.

The imminent threat

But it is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that represents imminent threat, potentially undermining our ability to take to the streets to demonstrate and protest. In brief, some – draconian – proposed measures have been defeated in the House of Lords and can only be reinstituted in a new Bill; that is, the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cannot be the vehicle for reintroducing the fallen measures – it would require a new Bill. There is no reason to be confident that, given the conservatives’ large majority, that this might not be undertaken.

The fallen clauses include proposed offences such as ‘locking on’ or being equipped to lock on to a structure or, I think, a person; causing nuisance; no-suspicion stop and search powers related to protest; and Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders). It is not hard to see how these measures, were they to be reintroduced in a new Bill and become law, would potentially hinder mightily the freedom to demonstrate and protest; and, in particular, place in jeopardy, for instance, Palestine Action.

But these other clauses are still in prospect

There are other clauses, defeated in the Lords but able to be reintroduced into the current Bill by MPs. Once again, with such a large conservative majority, this must be a cause of anxiety – and opposition.

The clauses that can be re-introduced include: Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest; Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies; Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament; Criminalising one-person protests; Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway (amended to only include the Strategic Road Network. Again, one can see how these clauses, if law, will hinder, potentially criminalise, legitimate public protest.

Arguably, it is the ‘creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament’ that is so symbolically resonant of the Bill’s spirit. It is to marginalise dissenting voices of any ilk, to neither hear nor see injustices, still less to address them.

Strategic threat, Strategic advantage

This article started on what might be called a ‘high’ – ‘a cluster of events…that have gladdened the heart’ – then headed downhill to consider threats and challenges. But it can’t end there.

Notwithstanding purblind Governments – the UK, Germany, Austria, Hungary, USA, to name but a few – there is the palpable growth of international civil society rallying to the Palestinian cause, in particular, but not only, among younger generations. That’s like having a down payment on the future, for those hearts beat strong. Palestine shall prevail.

Freeing Palestine: Victories, threats, and resolve

There’s been a cluster of events, of which I shall mention only four, that have gladdened the heart, prompted admiration, and that serve to reinforce resolve.

Ambassador sent on her way

One was the protests undertaken by Cambridge University students against the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely. She was giving a speech at that university. The only thing that can be said in Hotovely’s favour is that her appointment presents to the UK the unvarnished truth of Israel’s position vis a vis Palestine and Palestinians.

Hotovely has reportedly denied Palestine’s existence, designated the Nakba ‘a great Arab lie.’, and opposed any Palestinian claim to the occupied West Bank, Gaza, or East al-Quds, at the same time supporting the expansion of Israeli Jewish-only settlements. It’s worth adding that the university students’ actions are, arguably, not an example of ‘no platforming’. The ambassador was representing – she was not speaking as an individual – a country guilty of multiple floutings of humanitarian and international law, a country designated an apartheid state in no less than four reports, the latest by Amnesty International . There is no obligation to offer a platform to the representative of such a state. There are other places where her toxic views will be well-received.

Direct action works

Palestine Action is rightly proclaiming a number of direct-action victories, a key one being the closure of the Elbit (Israeli arms manufacturer) in Oldham.  More widely, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) seems to be recognising that it has little chance of securing convictions against individuals taking conscientious action.  Activists blockaded the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire, in November 2020, preventing operations at the drone-engine factory. This follows two trials dropped in January – after a ‘not guilty’ verdict delivered in December. Over the past two months, the CPS has failed to secure successful prosecution against any of the 11 activists whom they had charged. (Shades of the acquittal of the – statue overturning – Colston Four.) However, there are potential threats on the horizon, more of which below.

Labour drops case against Jewish woman for alleged antisemitism

Diana Neslen, an 82 year old Jewish woman and Labour Party member, was accused of antisemitism, in particular on the basis of one of her tweets when she said ’the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and I am an antiracist Jew’. She instructed lawyers to inform Labour that she would bring a lawsuit for discrimination and harassment, claiming that anti-Zionism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

Initially Labour did not respond, but after the Guardian published details of the case it told her they were dropping the investigation. Prior to this, Neslen was sent a ‘reminder of conduct’ the same year (2018) that Labour adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism that included the (so-called) example: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a taste of Israel is a racist endeavour.’ 

Whether because of the threat of legal action, or publicity in the Guardian, or a combination of the two, the dropping of the charge is the appropriate action. There is, however, a wider point to consider, and Diana Neslen makes it well: ‘I’m pleased they dropped it because it exposes the fact that they shouldn’t have done anything in the first place.‘   But she goes on to say, and this is the strategic insight, ‘But I also feel that I would have liked the issue of protected belief to have been addressed because I believe there are a lot of people who also, like me, are anti-Zionist, believe that it’s a perfectly legitimate belief, and they have no recourse.’ I’ll touch on this again in remarks below.

Sheffield Hallam University – the case of Shahd Abusalama

I’ve reported on this in previous blog articles and shared my letter of protest to the university.  Briefly, Shahd was suspended by her employer, Sheffield Hallam University, from teaching her class the evening before it was scheduled to take place. The basis of the suspension were accusations of antisemitism by Jewish News and the Israel lobby group the Campaign Against Antisemitism, two entities whose relationship with truth and accuracy are somewhat strained.  Underpinning the false accusation was the university’s endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, again, more of which later.

Shahd, with ever increasing support, led a magnificent campaign that culminated in what can only be described as a victory. She posted on Twitter:

We’re celebrating a fantastic victory for Palestine…[the university] will not be progressing with any further investigation…I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition…I will also be offered a more secure contract…That wouldn’t happen without your support so THANK YOU.’

It needs to be added that Shahd, is reporting in her tweets that she is being subject to continuing attacks by ‘Zionists’.

But considerable threats and barriers remain intact

It’s right to say that Sheffield Hallam University’s reversal of its earlier shameful decision to suspend Shahd’s teaching position is a victory, not only for her, but also for Palestine. It’s one battle won, but, arguably, the current immediate strategic advantage remains with those who oppose Palestinian self-determination.

It is the ‘unfit-for-purpose’ IHRA definition of antisemitism, along with its working examples, that form part of the architecture of strategic threat to achieving justice – between the river and the sea – for Palestinians.  In that regard, it’s good to see that a joint project comprising the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Committee for Universities of Palestine and Jews for Justice for Palestinians have created a web site on how to combat the IHRA definition, aimed in particular at universities and local councils. The web site offers comprehensive tool kits suggesting the sort of actions that can be taken along with a range of authoritative opinion and evidence to support the case against adopting, or where already in place, rescinding the IHRA definition.  This is really excellent. The questions remain, however, what more needs to be done, who is yet to be influenced, or rigorously opposed?  Are there lines of attack that have yet to be explored, or revisited?

The thinking of Diana Neslen, quoted above, suggest there is at least one avenue to be explored. As she said, she wished she could have had the opportunity to go to court to make the case that being anti-Zionist was not racist, that it was a protected philosophical belief under Equalities law.  This of course does not presume she would have won if the matter had gone to court.  But the strategic merit of thinking in this type of way is that it focuses on the foundations upon which IHRA rests not only on its individual manifestations.  

The IHRA is not the only strategic threat. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is, here in the UK, under the threat of potential anti-BDS legislation by the current Conservative Government. It’s unclear whether the proposed ban will be limited to local councils and other publicly funded institutions. Robert Jenrick MP, as recently as 15 December 2021 announced that a bill banning the BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions) movement will be presented to Parliament in the coming months. He is also a maximalist in terms of desired scope and has said, ‘Obviously I want it to be as broad as possible so there’s next to no avenue for BDS to continue here.’

The Bridges for Peace web site comments, ‘Given…a significant majority of Parliament seats, it seems reasonable to expect that the Conservative Party will be able to achieve its commitment to ‘boot BDS out of the UK’ in the very near future.’ If successful, the UK will join Austria, Germany and Canada in banning BDS. This must be opposed.

Wider context

The IHRA definition along with threats to BDS are Palestine-specific concerns, though of course they are aspects of wider threats to free speech, and the curtailment of legitimate political action. But fast coming toward us – in fact terrifyingly imminent – are Bills currently before Parliament and, if they hold their course, will soon be law. I refer to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Judicial Review and Courts Bill and, potentially on the horizon, the findings of an inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998.

Whilst the latter two – Judicial Review and Courts Bill, the inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998 – may seem somewhat remote to the immediate concerns of Palestine supporters and activists, it is not unfeasible that a situation may arise where, for example, a pro-Palestine organisation or individual may wish to seek judicial review of a government or other bodies decision. The proposed Act on judicial review would limit both the grounds on which a review could be instituted, and also the potential scope of remedy.

Similarly, there is no reason to be confident that a conservative-initiated review of Human Rights legislation will result in fundamental rights, not least the right to a fair trial, being comprehensively secured. At present, the Human Rights Act protections apply to, for example, foreign nationals, or people in prison. Given this Government is not ashamed to have as a matter of policy the creation of a ‘hostile environment’ in respect of asylum seekers and refugees, there is reason to be nervous of what may soon come our way.

The imminent threat

But it is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that represents imminent threat, potentially undermining our ability to take to the streets to demonstrate and protest. In brief, some – draconian – proposed measures have been defeated in the House of Lords and can only be reinstituted in a new Bill; that is, the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cannot be the vehicle for reintroducing the fallen measures – it would require a new Bill. There is no reason to be confident that, given the conservatives’ large majority, that this might not be undertaken.

The fallen clauses include proposed offences such as ‘locking on’ or being equipped to lock on to a structure or, I think, a person; causing nuisance; no-suspicion stop and search powers related to protest; and Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders). It is not hard to see how these measures, were they to be reintroduced in a new Bill and become law, would potentially hinder mightily the freedom to demonstrate and protest; and, in particular, place in jeopardy, for instance, Palestine Action.

But these other clauses are still in prospect

There are other clauses, defeated in the Lords but able to be reintroduced into the current Bill by MPs. Once again, with such a large conservative majority, this must be a cause of anxiety – and opposition.

The clauses that can be re-introduced include: Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest; Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies; Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament; Criminalising one-person protests; Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway (amended to only include the Strategic Road Network. Again, one can see how these clauses, if law, will hinder, potentially criminalise, legitimate public protest.

Arguably, it is the ‘creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament’ that is so symbolically resonant of the Bill’s spirit. It is to marginalise dissenting voices of any ilk, to neither hear nor see injustices, still less to address them.

Strategic threat, Strategic advantage

This article started on what might be called a ‘high’ – ‘a cluster of events…that have gladdened the heart’ – then headed downhill to consider threats and challenges. But it can’t end there.

Notwithstanding purblind Governments – the UK, Germany, Austria, Hungary, USA, to name but a few – there is the palpable growth of international civil society rallying to the Palestinian cause, in particular, but not only, among younger generations. That’s like having a down payment on the future, for those hearts beat strong. Palestine shall prevail.

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.

Towards a Greater Israel

This blog is about a seven minute read.

Snapshots

Image
This from Dr. Yara Hawari د. يارا هواري⁦‪@yarahawari, policy analyst AlShabaka

Yesterday dozens of Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian community in the south Hebron hills. Accompanied by Israeli soldiers they invaded homes, smashing windows & causing massive damage. One of those injured was a 3 yr old Palestinian boy. This is what a pogrom looks like.   29/09/2021, 13:57

This from Amira Hass writing in Haaretz, 29 September:

The descriptions given by eyewitnesses of the attack allegedly carried out by Jewish Israeli citizens…against the residents of the Palestinian village of Khirbat al-Mufkara are horrifying.

Basel Adraa, an activist…wrote that dozens of masked men “went from house to house, and broke windows, smashed cars with knives and hammers. A large stone they threw hit a 3-year-old boy, Mohammed, in the head, who is now in the hospital. The soldiers supported them with tear gas. The residents fled. I can’t forget how the villagers left their houses, terrified, the children screaming, the women crying, while the settlers entered their living rooms, like they were possessed with violence and wrath.”

May be an illustration
This from the Good Shepard Collective, 19 September:

4 y/o Muhammad of al Mufagara was attacked yesterday by Israeli settlers. Under the watchful eye of soldiers, he was hit in the head by a stone thrown by a settler, resulting in a crack in his skull and his hospitalization. Thankfully, he is in stable condition. #DefundRacism pic.twitter.com/pZnyh6WtbR

Not random, not arbitrary

These atrocities, and others, are perpetrated daily by racist Jewish Settlers, supported, allowed, tacitly encouraged by the Israeli State via its ‘security’ organs, the IDF and Border police. The atrocities are but the practical and inevitable actions of a State founded on a racist, expansionist ideology, Zionism.

It is possible to have a discussion about the permutations and different meanings that can and have attached to the term Zionism. But that need not trouble us here.  The Israeli State has pronounced itself a Zionist one, rooted in an ideology of Jewish supremacy, so that is what we have to confront. Thus, to be an anti-Zionist is merely a logical and ethical stance, born of valuing all human life, even, paradoxically, the vile Jewish Settlers who feel themselves nestled close to their particular version of God. God here conceived as some sort of celestial Estate Agent serving a particularly avaricious client. 

Israel’s voracious appetite

An inherent, defining feature of Zionism, and therefore of the Israeli state, is its appetite.  An unrelenting, voracious appetite for that which is not theirs to consume: Palestinian land.  Zionism is this appetite, an appetite not capable of satiation until all – or practically all – Palestinian land has been consumed and digested by the Jewish state.

And what of those which the Israeli state finds indigestible – Palestinians – yet remain so naggingly present?  Well, they must be ‘encouraged’ to leave or accept a lesser life under the tutelage of the self-avowedly ethnonationalist Jewish state.  The state that is feted, funded, endorsed and protected by other states able, without blushing, to proclaim their commitment to democratic principles.

How to convey?

The means to convey what this unrelenting appetite for Palestinian land means in practice are so limited: words, pictures, personal testaments, sharing narratives of courage and resistance, all attempting to evoke the felt experience of, for example, the residents of Sheikh Jarrar threatened with eviction; the Bedouin attacked daily by settlers; of homes and the means to support livelihoods repeatedly destroyed by the Israel Defence Force – so inaptly and inaccurately titled –  working alongside Israel’s Border Police named thus, perhaps with paradoxical intent, since Israel has yet to formally agree its borders.

Israel, as I have elsewhere remarked, is the land of smoke and mirrors, of sleight of hand – little if anything is as on the surface it seems.

Except of course the iron fist, the ‘live’ bullet, the rubber-coated bullet, the tear gas cannister, the skunk water cannon, the handheld baton to beat unprotected Palestinian flesh. Here there is no sleight of hand, no smoke and mirrors, merely raw violence exerted by a militarised, hegemonic society intent on spacio-cide – clearing the land of as many indigenous Palestinians as it can. For the Israeli state, this is work in progress.  

ICAHD UK reports: ‘The Palestinian herding community of Humsa Al-Bqai’a (Khirbet Hamsa in Hebrew) was demolished yet again by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) on Wednesday, 7th July 2021 following previous demolitions in November 2020 and February 2021….

On Wednesday the ICA, accompanied by the military, held the residents at gunpoint and told them that they were to get on a bus and leave immediately but they refused. Therefore, the ICA proceeded to demolish a total of 27 structures including homes, animal shelters, and water tanks. All personal belongings were confiscated as were their food supplies and water. The residents were left without even milk for their children or fodder for their 4000 sheep.

Eleven households, comprising around 70 people, including 36 children, were left without shelter in yesterday’s scorching heat that reached 39 degrees C.  Included in the demolition was destruction of humanitarian aid that had been provided by donors including NGOs, EU Humanitarian Aid and European countries including the UK.’

State policy: dispossession, displacement, demolition

A state founded on an oxymoron – that Israel can be both democratic and yet in the exclusive control of one ethnonationalist group, in this case Israeli Jews – is unlikely to have a developed sense of irony. Irony, after all, requires, at a bare minimum, a capacity to notice a contradiction when it’s staring you in the face; and, more particularly, when you yourself are its author.

Certainly, Israel’s Foreign Minister appears to be a stranger to the ironic sense. As reported in Ha’aretz newspaper, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, is very angry – outraged in fact – with the Polish government. The Poles have passed a law that will prevent Jews from claiming the property they had to leave behind when fleeing the Nazi Occupation of 1939.  After the war that property was retained by the post-war communist regime.  And the current Polish Government intends to retain, without compensation, that property still. ‘This law is immoral’, the Israeli minister fulminated, ‘No law will change history. This is a disgrace that will not erase the horrors …’.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, back in the democratic, Jewish state, it has fashioned its own outrages. As the Ha’aretz correspondent, B. Michael, points out, if the Poles want to deprive people of their property, it should have sought to emulate Israel’s Absentee Property Law which does a more thorough job than does the Polish version. This law, passed in 1950, defines as ‘absentees’ people who were expelled, who fled, or who left the country – i.e. Palestinians – after 29 November 1947 as a result of the 1948 war that established the Israeli state. Those defined as absentees lose any rights to the property they owned within the newly founded state.  It legalises the theft of Palestinian property, placing it in the hands of the Israeli state and connected agencies for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews. 

Present absentees

But that move alone was not sufficient from the state’s perspective. In addition to the 750,000 Palestinians who left land, homes and property to find refuge in neighbouring countries, there were a significant number of Palestinians who were ‘internally displaced’, that is, they fled their original homes in what became Israel in 1948, but fled to other villages and towns that were within the boundaries of the new Israeli state.  

Internally displaced people in Israel are also known as ‘present absentees’ normally a contradiction in terms, which rather takes us back to the oxymoronic nature of the Jewish State. This is further exemplified by the fact that ‘present absentees’ have Israeli citizenship, but no right to live in the homes that they own. In normal circumstances the status ‘citizen’ would refer to, among other matters, a substantive body of rights held in common with other citizens.  This clearly is not the case here. 

When is the death of a child acceptable? An open letter from Dr Sara Roy to President Biden

I had intended that my next post – this one! – would take a look at ‘Israel’s right to exist’, a key phrase in the armory of the Israeli State. But I’ve deferred that subject to the next blog, and that because I happened upon the open letter to President Biden from Dr Sara Roy published by Counterpunch. Her letter is succinct, direct, heartfelt, but invested with moral authority. And timely.

Dr Sara Roy is an American political economist and scholar. She is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Both her parents survived the Holocaust, but 100 members of her extended family did not. Her father, Abraham, was one of the two known survivors of the Chelmno extermination camp, while her mother, Taube, survived Halbstadt (Gross Rosen) and Auschwitz. While confined in the Lodz ghetto she endeavoured to hide children destined for deportation to the Nazi extermination camps, but they were seized and despatched to Auschwitz.

Dear President Biden,

I am writing to you about Gaza, a place that I have studied and written about for the last 35 years, a place that I consider another home, filled with the kindest and most generous people you will ever meet—have you ever been there? But I am writing not only as a scholar of the region but as a Jew and one whose parents survived Auschwitz.

I have a question for you, Mr. President: When is the death of a child acceptable? Or perhaps I should ask the question this way: When does the death of a Palestinian child become unacceptable? You have experienced the unspeakable loss of your own children so you are better placed than most to answer my questions.

Last week after 87 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and over 500 wounded you stated that you had not seen a “significant overreaction” on Israel’s part to Hamas’s rocket attacks.  Among the dead at that time were 18 children. I did not know any of them but I know people who do. Would you please help me explain to my friends why the death of these 18 children does not constitute an overreaction?  This brings up another question I have for you, Mr. President: How many children must die in Gaza before you would consider Israel’s response excessive particularly since you have made human rights the center of your foreign policy? I need to know so that I can explain it to my friends. As I write this, over 60 Palestinian children have been killed by the government of Israel. Is that enough to qualify?

I know people inside our government who work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I need to tell you something I heard from one of them about the death of Gaza’s children. This individual implied that some of the dead were likely the children of Hamas officials so their deaths don’t really matter, that is, their deaths are acceptable. Is this the answer to my first question? Should this be the way I explain it to my friends? Please help me out here.

It is tragic that after more than three decades of research and writing, I still find it necessary to argue for the humanity of Palestinians, even to you.

One more thing before I end this letter if you’ll indulge me. It is about my mom. When she was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto during the Holocaust, she risked her life hiding children who were chosen for deportation to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The Nazis eventually found the children and sent them to their deaths.  But my mom tried to save them even though she knew she was powerless to do so. And I can assure you, knowing her and learning from her as I did throughout my life, she would have done the same for any child under threat, Jewish or Christian or Muslim. She would have been horrified by the senseless killing of children in this terrible conflict, both Palestinian and Israeli, and she would have railed at the injustice of it all. And this is my last question for you: Why haven’t you done the same?

Sincerely,

Dr. Sara Roy