Category Archives: Occupied Palestinian Territory

The unchilding of Palestinian children

Israel is founded on violence, and exists by virtue of it.  As discussed in an earlier post, it has to be this way, for it is a regime rooted in the need to dominate, the need to curtail the full existence of an entire people – Palestinians. By definition, this stance prompts modes of engagement – violence in all its forms – that can never cease so long as Palestinians remain in the land bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

And it is Palestinian children, particularly in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, that bear the burden of this need to dominate, to undermine, to control.   Precisely because children represent and embody ideas and aspirations about the future, that children are, quite literally, the future, Israel must stymie and distort their very existence. For the Israeli state cannot abide the prospect of Palestinian growth and flourishing. It must unchild Palestinian children.

Unchilding is the term coined by Professor Nudera Shalhoub-Kevorkian[1], who argues that Israel treats Palestinian children as nobodies, unworthy of global children’s rights and as dangerous and killable bodies needing to be caged and dismembered physically and mentally.

Implied in the idea of unchilding is that it is systematic, intended. It is not simply the violation of norms and rules by individual soldiers or police in specific instances. It is a mode of being, forms of engagement, encoded in the very ethos of the Israeli state.

Thus it is that children must see and bear the constant presence of armed soldiers, fully kitted out and inherently menacing. The realisation of that menace daily actualised in the raids and takeovers of family homes; the killing of kids by live fire. The army’s oft-used justification for those deaths being that these youngsters were throwing stones.

Even I needed to stop to read that last sentence again for in truth it is surreal. So normalised has the unchilding of children become for Israel, that this form of justification – death and disabling injury for throwing stones – makes sense to them. Has, presumably, for them, some sort of moral saliency.

What, then, are the limits in behaviour that this militarised state adheres to, what moral compunctions constrain it?  Judging by the death toll of kids – yes, ‘kids’, some are playing outside my London window now, not an armed soldier in sight – any formal guidelines must be uncommonly slack. Another way of putting this, is that the Israeli army acts with impunity, does what it will. 

The following table drawn up by Defence of Children Palestine charts the killing of Palestinian children (aged up to 16/17) in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2000:

Killing of Palestinian children (aged up to 16/17) in Gaza, the West Bank & East Jerusalem since 2000

This gives a grand total of 2224 deaths so far. The 2022 figure does not include the number killed in operation ‘Breaking Dawn’ (August).

ITV News Friday 21 May 2021: More than 70 children have been killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict. These are their faces.

A taste for irony?

On the 3 July 1990 Israel signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified on 4 August 1991.  The convention defines a child as a person below the age of 18 years. It’s worth looking at a couple of the Convention’s Articles:

Article 6
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Consider now Article 6 in the light of the actions of the Israeli state. Above, I have barely touched on the range and persistence of the Israeli state’s calculated unchilding of Palestinian children.

USA Today reported on Professor Jess Ghannam’s findings. He specialises in the health consequences of war on displaced communities and the psychological effects of armed conflict on children.

Childhoods marked by trauma

In places untouched by war, childhood is marked by milestones. For children growing up in conflict zones, childhood is marked by trauma. 

Play

Consider also Article 31 of the Convention:

States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

Play, surely, is one of the hallmarks of childhood. This is not a trivial matter. Play is fundamental to a child’s well-being in the here and now, as the playing child, but also in terms of his or her development, physically, of course, but massively in relation to their present and future mental health.  However, Jennifer Leaning, a senior research fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard said in the USA Today:

Young children aren’t spending enough time playing, which is central to healthy growth. They aren’t building social emotional skills with their peers. Their lives are defined by fear, often concerning the safety and permanence of their caregivers….”The kids have great difficulty expressing their feelings…They’ll be silent, and sullen, many of them will get very depressed…

No surprise

In the light of all that has been set out above it will be no surprise that a 2010 UNICEF assessment of Israel’s compliance with the Conventions:

[criticised] Israel for holding that the Convention does not apply in the West Bank and for defining Palestinians under the age of sixteen in the occupied territories as children, even though Israeli law defines a child as being under 18, in line with the Convention.

Israel has been explicit: it says, that for Israel, the Convention does not apply in the West Bank and Palestinian children under eighteen are not children. An Israeli kid, of course, will be a child to the age of eighteen and they will, formally, have the protection of Convention rights. Thus, does the Israeli state encase the unchilding of Palestinian children in its policies and practices. They will necessarily be brutal. They are brutal.

In 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised Israel for its bombing attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, stating,

Destruction of homes and damage to schools, streets and other public facilities…gross violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and international humanitarian law.

It also criticized Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, which traumatized Israeli children, calling on all parties to protect children.

Pay no heed

Israel, of course, will pay this and other critical reports no heed. And that indifference will be echoed by, in particular, the West: USA, EU and UK. Though no doubt somewhere in the annals of honeyed words and vacuous statements an diligent searcher will find phrases offering a simulacrum of concern. Dead words. Dead children.


[1]Nudera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of Social Work and Public Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

[2] Drawn from a review by Heidi Morrison of Incarcerated Childhood and the politics of Unchilding: https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/1650366

Gaza

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

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

And the harm is done well. The objective achieved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary, again from the Electronic Intifada:

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

Security

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

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

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

Bottomless well of disdain

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

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

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

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magical thinking: The two state solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not a Two State solution?

Israel: Nurturing racism





It’s fair to say, isn’t it, that children are not born racist, but initiated into that particular mindset. This perhaps is particularly true of Israel. Therefore, where a state’s conception of itself rests on racist principles, on Zionist principles, one of its key objectives must be to shape minds at the earliest opportunity. This not only through the formal rigours of the education system, but also indirectly via the propagation of an ethos, of affecting the way the world is interpreted and understood.

This is achieved via many routes, among them the celebration of, and participation in, cultural and religious festivals many of which are based on what Shlomo Sand dubbed mythistory. Mythistory, as I understand it, is the creation of a past designed to act as proof of the rightness or inevitability of current beliefs and power structures; and the justification for intended future actions. And if you read into the past the belief that God was then, and is now, on your side, one’s own beliefs will be taken as axiomatic, unassailable, beyond dispute or contradiction.

Toxic web

To take just two examples that contribute to the toxic web that is Israel’s version of nurturing its children to adulthood, one is Daniel Bar-Tel’s study.  He found that generations of Israeli Jews were taught from Hebrew textbooks that portrayed Palestinian-Arabs in a negative and delegitimising way. Palestinian society was presented as ‘primitive, backward and passive.’ Israeli Jewish children were thus subjected to this form of negative and dehumanizing stereotyping, which ultimately conditioned how they perceive Palestinians.  

The other example is Nurit Peled-Elhanan book ‘Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education’.  In it she describes the depiction of Arabs in Israeli schoolbooks as racist. Representation of Arabs is limited to ‘refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists.’ In hundreds of books, not one photograph depicted an Arab as a ‘normal person.’

In a webinar, Peled-Elhanan said Israeli textbooks teach students that Israel exists primarily to prevent another Holocaust, and as such, Jews are the only ones presented as victims. She added that the curriculum commands students to actively ignore other victims, and that it “Nazif[ies] Arabs.’”

Israel: Nurturing racism





It’s fair to say, isn’t it, that children are not born racist, but initiated into that particular mindset. This perhaps is particularly true of Israel. Therefore, where a state’s conception of itself rests on racist principles, on Zionist principles, one of its key objectives must be to shape minds at the earliest opportunity. This not only through the formal rigours of the education system, but also indirectly via the propagation of an ethos, of affecting the way the world is interpreted and understood.

This is achieved via many routes, among them the celebration of, and participation in, cultural and religious festivals many of which are based on what Shlomo Sand dubbed mythistory. Mythistory, as I understand it, is the creation of a past designed to act as proof of the rightness or inevitability of current beliefs and power structures; and the justification for intended future actions. And if you read into the past the belief that God was then, and is now, on your side, one’s own beliefs will be taken as axiomatic, unassailable, beyond dispute or contradiction.

Toxic web

To take just two examples that contribute to the toxic web that is Israel’s version of nurturing its children to adulthood, one is Daniel Bar-Tel’s study.  He found that generations of Israeli Jews were taught from Hebrew textbooks that portrayed Palestinian-Arabs in a negative and delegitimising way. Palestinian society was presented as ‘primitive, backward and passive.’ Israeli Jewish children were thus subjected to this form of negative and dehumanizing stereotyping, which ultimately conditioned how they perceive Palestinians.  

The other example is Nurit Peled-Elhanan book ‘Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education’.  In it she describes the depiction of Arabs in Israeli schoolbooks as racist. Representation of Arabs is limited to ‘refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists.’ In hundreds of books, not one photograph depicted an Arab as a ‘normal person.’

In a webinar, Peled-Elhanan said Israeli textbooks teach students that Israel exists primarily to prevent another Holocaust, and as such, Jews are the only ones presented as victims. She added that the curriculum commands students to actively ignore other victims, and that it “Nazif[ies] Arabs.’”

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

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

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

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

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism

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

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

The IHRA definition entangles itself thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of a wider pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Part one: Can Israeli Apartheid last?

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

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

Israel: A state in need of treatment

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

Even hypocrisy seems too mild a word

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

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

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

So, can it last in its present form?

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

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

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

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

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

Part two: some evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

B’tselem ‘This is Apartheid’

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

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

Human rights Watch: ‘A threshold crossed’

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

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

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

Part three

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

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

BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)

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

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

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


Israel: The necessity of violence

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

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

The manufacture of justification

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there no limit?

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

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

And so – predictably – it continues…

Violence begets violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shireen Abu Akleh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shield, sentinel and benefactor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.