Category Archives: Israel

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.

Self-wounding

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. 

Israel and the role of International Civil Society

This article is about a nine minute read. 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 milder 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 milder 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 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.


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. 

The State of Israel has a right to exist…doesn’t it?

The ending of the latest fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in particular Hamas, has drawn attention yet again to the need for an end to over 70 years of conflict and this, it is said, requires a two state solution. I have explained in previous articles why it is that a two state solution is a chimera, but the possibility that others may explore it raises issues about the nature of a state.

In what sense does the state of Israel have rights and, if it does, how do they compare with the rights which a state of Palestine should have? Indeed, can states have rights? And how might such rights compare or conflict with human rights?

States and rights

States do not, cannot, have rights.  Yet it is a fundamental plank of Israel’s claim to legitimacy that it – the Israeli State – has a right to exist.  The Israeli claim goes further: Israel asserts that it has the right to exist as a specifically Jewish State.  These claims, deployed by Israel and its allies, in particular the USA and EU, act as a form of camouflage, concealing Israel’s rooted unwillingness to work towards justice in Palestine/Israel.  

Usually camouflage is deployed to conceal weaponry or key installations, but in the case of the assertion that the Israeli State has the right to exist, what is concealed is not weaponry, but the absence of a sustainable, coherent idea. A bit like the Wizard of Oz where the wizard is seen to be non-existent, Israel’s right to exist, when considered, is similarly pointing at an empty construct. And this has nothing to do with Israel as such and everything to do with what it means to say an entity – a State or organisation – has rights. 

A state, an abstract construction, is not capable of having rights though all people living within a state’s territory do, or should have human rights. It is the prospect of equal human rights for all that discomforts Israel.

We can apply a real-life test to the proposition that a state cannot meaningfully be said to have rights.

The United Kingdom claims no right to exist

Within the United Kingdom, one of its component parts, Scotland, is debating whether it wishes to remain part of the UK, or to declare its independence as a Scottish State.  Similarly, there are currents of opinion in Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed Cornwall, that favour divorce from the UK State, and hope for independence. Such aspirations may or may not be achievable, that is not the point.  So far as I’m aware, no charges of sedition have been laid against proponents of these fissiparous tendencies, nor has it been claimed the UK State has any rights that might be infringed by this prospective contraction of its borders.  Implementation of any one of the potential scenarios above would mean that the UK State, as currently constituted, would no longer exist. And of course history, even recent history, has examples of state formation and state dissolution.

The original wound

The original wound is still raw – septic. Yet the work of wounding continues, daily, without let, without hindrance.

The original wound

The original wound was inflicted in 1948 – the Naqba (Catastrophe) marking the expulsion of the settled, indigenous inhabitants of Palestine from their homes and land.  The methods: Intimidation and brute force at the service of the ethnic cleansing project that was, and still is, the modus operandi of the Israeli State. 

The State of Israel, a colonial and colonising State – a peculiar, almost ahistorical aberration seemingly out of time with the wider world where, for example, European countries were beginning to glimpse and face up to the inevitability of having to relinquish their colonial possessions. Israel – history in reverse.  Out of time.

Starting here, with the unhealed wound of 1948, alerts us to what has too often been obscured, that Occupation and Colonisation did not start in 1967, after the Six Day War. It started in 1948.

Between 1948 and 1967, Israel worked, as it still works, to erase Palestinian history. A patina of contrived forgetfulness lays upon the land. Walk where you will, look where you will, and you’ll not be far from a forest or institution, the presence of which masks, and is designed to mask, the Palestinian village or cemetery destroyed by Israel. Be that the Jewish National Fund’s South African Forest – billed an ecological-conservation-motivated project – which overlays the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya; or by Tel Aviv’s coastline, at the site of what is now the Etzel Museum, which was once part of the Palestinian village of al-Manshiyyah. Then there is Al-Shaykh Muwannis, which abuts the campus of Tel Aviv University. Down the road a large building that was once part of the Palestinian village is now a faculty club.

Where you walk in Israel, you walk on injustice.  This original wound has festered for seventy-three years and counting.

The perpetual wounding

Israel did not have to hold on to the West Bank, Gaza, still less East Jerusalem after the 1967 war. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported Senator Fulbright’s 1970 proposal ‘that America should guarantee Israel’s security in a formal treaty, protecting her with armed forces if necessary. In return, Israel would retire to the borders of 1967.…As Israeli troops were withdrawn from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank they would be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force. Israel would agree to accept a certain number of Palestinians and the rest would be settled in a Palestinian state outside Israel.’ 

But the wounding continued. The strategic Israeli aim of acquiring and retaining Palestinian land, but removing as many Palestinians from it as possible, has been and continues to be the principle and reference point of Israeli policy. What began in 1948 continues. It is now fifty-four years and counting, of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The Israelisation of British politics

It should be a matter of the gravest concern. A concern for the integrity of British politics.  A concern over and above those we have about the diverse causes we support.  

When it comes to thinking about, speaking about, using one’s best judgment about Israel and Palestine, too many of our politicians behave with the integrity of a pre-programmed talking machine. Forget human rights, international and humanitarian law, the evidence of any number of authoritative witnesses; and even the testimony of one’s own eyes and knowledge, all this counts for nothing once the censoring pro-Zionist lobby gets to work. This lobby’s purpose is to direct and shape all public speech about Israel.  This lobby has contaminated British political life, curtailing what may be said about Israel in the public realm.

Labour’s shame

Thus we have the sorry sight of Kier Starmer, Labour Party leader, withdrawing from a virtual Ramadan interfaith event after a pro-Israel lobby group alerted him to the organiser’s support for the boycott of Israeli dates produced in territories occupied by the Zionist state.

Note here that the dates proposed for boycott are grown in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, not in Israel proper.  In other words, grown on stolen Palestinian land. 

Despite initially agreeing to take part in the event, Starmer pulled out after the Board of Deputies, a pro-Israel lobby group, alerted him to the organisers’ Tweeted comments supporting the boycott of dates produced on Occupied Palestinian land.  The Board of Deputies’ Tal Ofer tweeted he was ‘glad to see that after I raised this issue Keir Starmer withdrew his participation from the event.’

The Muslim Association of Britain, however, was ‘disappointed’ to hear that the Labour leader had pulled out ‘due to the host’s support for boycotting dates grown in Israeli settlements’.

MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) in condemning the withdrawal said:

‘Numerous UN resolutions have affirmed that settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are in breach of international law. Meanwhile, support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against goods grown on illegal settlements or through other means deemed in contempt of international law are a legitimate form of democratic activism to promote peaceful change, regardless of where in the world such acts are being committed’.

Seismic shift: Authoritative Israeli human rights organisation brands Israel an Apartheid State

It’s as good as official: Israeli human rights group – B’tselem – defines Israel an Apartheid State. Other organisations have made that evidence-based judgment, not least the UN and Al-Haq, but the B’tselem report has special significance – it represents a radical break in its previous position and implcitly calls to account those that have given Israel comfort by treating it as a normal state.

My posts have unfailingly labelled Israel a racist, Apartheid State. And over a number of postings I have presented evidence to support that designation.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that, for many, it’s a designation too far, not least for some at the liberal end of the political spectrum. 

To a significant extent liberal thought, along with its Zionist liberal variant, generally revolves around what are considered universal values: human rights, political, civil and religious rights for all, in this case understood as mutual entitlements both for Palestinians and for Jews.  In the abstract, there is little of contention here, but in the brute light of history and the day-to-day lived experience of Palestinians under Israeli rule, these precepts amount to no more than wishful thinking. 

The historical distinction: The Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel proper

A key aspect of some liberal thinking, and indeed of more centrist thought, is that a distinction must be made between Israel proper (i.e. Israel within the Green Line) and its Occupation of Palestinian territory, i.e. Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  This distinction forms what might be called the ‘standard paradigm’ within which Palestine/Israel questions have traditionally been considered.  There is Israel, and there is the OPT.  Israel is a democratic State – so it says of itself – and there is Israel in the OPT.  It shouldn’t be there, of course, but, according to the standard paradigm, the ‘solution’ to that state of affairs is to hand: Israel must withdraw from the OPT. 

Thus far the conventional approach – the standard paradigm – has not paid too much attention to what goes on within Israel, specifically as it affects its non-Jewish citizens and residents, but focuses on, and works to counter, human rights abuses in the OPT; and to press for an end to the Occupation. 

No distinction: an alternative paradigm

But what happens if the standard paradigm is wrong? Or at least, were it ever right, it is wrong now, and has been for some time. If the paradigm is wrong or outdated, then it becomes not a tool for thought, but a constraint upon it. 

Facts on the ground have for some time made redundant the idea that there is a firm distinction to be drawn between Israel proper and the OPT. Israel’s writ runs throughout both territories; on both sides of the Green Line, that writ is a racist, Apartheid one.  For a range of motives and reasons, this characterisation of the Israeli State has been unpalatable for many. 

Those reasons and motives need not detain us in this post, but the reluctance to stare reality in the face results in, and is based on, denial, this perhaps particularly the case for those I’ve characterised as of liberal persuasion. From this perspective, Israel’s often acknowledged misdeeds, misbehaviours and cruelties can be laid at the door of the Occupation. It is the Occupation that is the mutant gene, corrupting an otherwise healthy Israeli body politic. Ending the Occupation, therefore, is conceived as a salve that, once administered, will create the conditions for the restoration of the ‘true’ Israel, the fabled democratic state that resides in a ‘tough neighbourhood’. 

Seismic shif

In what amounts to a seismic shift in thinking and analysis, the well-regarded, authoritative B’tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – has declared Israel a racist, Apartheid State; a State that controls the entirety of the territory bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan: Israel proper, the OPT and East Jerusalem.

Historically, B’tselem devoted itself to documenting Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights but only in the OPT – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – but not in Israel proper within the Green Line demarcation border. It has now come to a different analysis, this based on documented facts on the ground. 

‘A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid’

Under the heading set out above, B’tselem explains:

The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area [between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River], separated by the Green Line….

…Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality…. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice.

Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that…There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

It goes on to say:

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians….

Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live … within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, [in illegally held territory] is irrelevant to their rights or status.Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial….The geographic space, which is contiguous for Jews, is a fragmented mosaic for Palestinians…

…A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. Israeli apartheid, which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians…is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy. These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive – all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.

A change in the ethical grammar

Robert A. H. Cohen, in his reliably excellent blog, is clear that the B’tselem report changes not only the acceptable vocabulary on Palestine/Israel but also the ‘ethical grammar’ which hitherto has both shielded and sustained Israel.

Israel is and has been sustained through massive financial support from the USA and the EU, along with close military and ‘security’ cooperation; joint arms’ development and sales; and protected from criticism by demonising Israel-critical speech as prima facie anti-Semitic.

The B’tselem report implicitly calls into question the role the political class has played in turning a blind eye, and cosying up to, Israel.  It similarly calls to account all those organsations and individuals – civil society – that have given Israel comfort, not least by treating it as a normal State.

The B’tselem report blows a hole through many of the policies and practices designed to neutralise or vanquish criticism of Israel.  The Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, for example, will presumably need to take pause to consider, and attempt to refine, their approach to defending Israel. The Labour Party Leader, Keir Starmer, may come to feel he has misstepped in his handling of the of anti-Semitism issue within the labour Party. Or at least he should.

The Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, may feel the ground has been cut from beneath his feet in his attempt to force universities to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Memorial Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, along with examples of what may indicate anti-Semitism. One of those examples I discussed in an earlier blogDenying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. In the light of the B’tselem report, how can it now feasibly be suggested that Israel is not an Apartheid, racist State?  And on what ground now does the oft-critiqued IHRA defintion of anti-Semitism stand – quicksand?

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Then there is the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it also the subject to vilification and threats.  The B’tselem report draws a parallel – not an exact one, but sufficient for the purpose – between the Israel Apartheid State and what was the South African Apartheid State.

BDS played a significant role in isolating that regime, and by doing so aided its demise.  This surely, then, is the moment when those who have offered Israel the benefit of the doubt, in part because they based their analysis on what I have called the standard paradigm, need to reappraise both their analysis and the actions that may be required of them.

BDS is a significant tool in the struggle against Israel’s State-induced oppression and needs to be more widely supported. It’s always struck me as odd that many of those who actively opposed South African Apartheid, not least by supporting the BDS campaign of its day, have been somehow quesy about supporting its current iteration in respect of Israel’s Apartheid State.

Turning a blind eye, not confronting the reality – the humiliations, brutalisations, home demolitions, killings that Palestinians daily endure – can no longer be an option.

Endword

To coin a phrase: There is an elephant in the room that this blog occupies.  

The B’tselem analysis rests upon the fact that there is but one regime that governs both Israel within the Green Line, and Palestinians within the OPT, including annexed East Jerusalem.  The elephant therefore thinks it inevitable that we ask ‘What of the two State ‘solution’? Is it tenable? Was it ever really tenable? And if it is not now tenable, what is the way forward for justice within Palestine/Israel?

I think this needs to be the subject of the next post.

Playing with death – Palestinian childhoods

Traditionally, this site has been concerned with children and their freedoms.  More recently, it has also focused on the conflict in Palestine/Israel.  The two subjects distressingly combine in todays’s Daily Telegraph report.

Something hidden, obscured or ignored now starkly highlighted:

More children than Palestinian fighters are being killed in the offensive on Gaza. The name, age, sex and location of 132 of the 155 Palestinian children killed have been collected by the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights

Palestine/Israel: Reflections on a visit

Extract: War on Want Briefing to MPs

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

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

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

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

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM

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

Ensuring the house came down

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

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

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

Palestine/Israel: What oppression looks like

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

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

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

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

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

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

We start in Occupied East Jerusalem:

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

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

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

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

Welcome?

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

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

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