Category Archives: Occupied Territory

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. 

So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part One

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maitenance requires much effort.

This is the first of two articles, the second to be published next Monday, 28 December. This first one discusses Israel’s strenuous efforts to appear a normal democratic state and the way it has deployed accusations of anti-Semitism to intimidate its critics. The next article will pursue this theme showing how our – the UK and the West’s – commitment to democratic values and free speach are endangered by an over-strident Israel lobby. This post is about a five minute read.

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maintenance requires much effort.

The mechanism deployed by Israel both to eulogise its purported achievements and to intimidate its actual and potential critics is called hasbara.

Hasbara is propaganda directed at an international audience. It aims to influence the conversation so that Israel is portrayed in a positive light. Israel well understands the power of media and works assiduously to shape and direct the narrative on Palestine/Israel matters.  Such is the importance that Israel accords to propaganda that there is a Hasbara Ministry, headed by a government minister.

Hasbara, then, is well resourced, sophisticated and unrelenting. Israel-critical voices are demonised as anti-Semitic, a point I shall return to below. Palestinian voices and perspectives are erased or vilified.  Mainstream western media is shamefully complicit in the marginalisation of Palestinian perspectives.

Hasbara and its local helpmates

To be effective, hasbara must work through locally based groups and organisations – some very influential – who expend much energy patrolling the boundary of what they consider to be acceptable speech about Israel. However, to have extensive reach, upwards towards government and national institutions, and downwards towards local government and civil society – for example football clubs and university student unions – requires a self-reinforcing, unifying theme,  one that, superficially at least, appears manifestly, incontrovertibly, both necessary and true.

In a move of tactical brilliance, it was realised that a highly effective way of intimidating and demonising critical voices was to accuse Israel-critical and Zionist-critical individuals and groups of anti-Semitism. And, indeed, the tactic has been highly effective to the extent that even Jews can be accused of anti-Semitism, which certainly puzzles many of us.

Nevertheless, one would normally expect a degree of caution, not to say scepticism, to be brought to bear when assessing the validity of anti-Semitism charges if only because they are so promiscuously deployed. But no, to be charged is to be guilty, and through a process of demonization critical voices are silenced, hounded and marginalised.

Israel-critical and Zionist-critical analysis and speech is curtailed, in part through self-censorship born of the fear of being publicly vilified; and in part because the platforms – the halls, venues, papers, social media sites  – available for speech are  withdrawn and access debarred. There is a chilling hint here of the Salem witch-hunts whereby certain actions and forms of speech are deemed heretical and must at all costs be both punished and silenced.

Within its own terms, witch hunting has an underpinning rationale which, once accepted, forms the basis of the accusations that follow. One approach was to test the accused’s ability to flawlessly recite a New Testament biblical passage or the Lord’s Prayer. Stumble over a word or words, and the witchcraft charge is confirmed, for only the maliciously deviant are so far from god’s grace that holy words become unspeakable.

Spurious authority: Working definition of anti-Semitism and examples

And so it is that Israel advocates seized on a profoundly weak document – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) flawed and muddled ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism – as the basis for accusations of anti-Semitism. And, via this vehicle, a closed system of thought was instituted based on the assertion that almost all critical speech and writing about Israel and Zionism is, in and of itself, anti-Semitic.

The IHRA’s non-legally binding, working defintion of anti-Semitism:

‘Anti-Semitism 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.’

In the same way as scripture, new or old testament, has an accompanying body of commentary to help elucidate the meaning of the sacred texts, the ‘definition’ had appended to it a concoction of notional ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism to illuminate potential areas of misspeak; that is, where anti-Semitic utterance could be said to have occurred.

Nothing to do with anti-Semitism

But the actual purpose of the IHRA’s so called definition, and a significant number of its notional elucidating examples, have little or nothing to do with countering anti-Semitism but has everything to do with erasing knowledge of Israel’s brutal fifty-two year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, to say nothing of the discrimination Palestinians face within Israel (i.e. as distinct from the occupied territories). 

The tactic here is to weld criticism of Israel to a self-serving set of examples that link Israel-critical and Zionist-critical comment to anti-Semitism, thereby neutering negative comment and analysis, and condemning the critic to obloquy.

There are six highly questionable examples which it is claimed may constitute anti-Semitism. The full list can be found here.  For now, I’ll concentrate on only one:

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

In 2018 the Israel Knesset (Parliament) passed the ‘Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People’.  Extracts are given below in italics.

The law’s title actually says it all: Israel is the Nation-State of the Jewish people. This further clarified in the clause:

‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.’

Palestinians and non-Jews comprise around 20% of the Israeli population but only Jews have the ‘unique’ right to self-determination. ‘Unique’ equals ‘exclusively.

‘The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.’

Only Jewish immigration, not Palestinian. Palestinian’s have no right to immigrate – or ‘return’ – to Palestine/Israel.  This particularly affects the approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were effectively expelled from their homes and country in the 1948 Naqba ethnic cleansing by the nascent Jewish State.

‘The state’s language is Hebrew not Arabic. 

Notwithstanding around a 20% Arab population.

‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.’

Note the development is of Jewish settlement. The settlements, properly called colonies, are situated on stolen (West Bank) or illegally annexed (East Jerusalem) land. The theft of Palestinian land is carried out with the aid of JCB British, militarised bulldozers, the Israel Defence Forces, and Israeli Border Police.  This process continues and in fact has recently been significantly stepped up. Israel does this with impunity. 

Notwithstanding any other indicators that define Israel a racist endeavour, surely the Basic Law clauses set out above confirm that the current State of Israel’s very foundations are racist, and it acts accordingly.   

Does what I have said here constitute the offence of anti-Semitism?

Next week’s article will discuss the real and present danger current hasbara practices represent to free speech and the need for a unified front against all forms of racism, not simply anti-Semitism. This is both an ethical point, and a pragmatic one.

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

2019 Eurovision Song Contest – Songwashing occupation, discrimination, apartheid

Tel Aviv is to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest

What’s Tel Aviv like?  This from Business Insider:

‘From the Mediterranean shores of Tel Aviv, Israel’s fraught geopolitical position is almost non-existent. Tourists and locals alike sip Goldstar, Israel’s ubiquitous dark lager, as the waves roll in and out. Children laugh and splash in the water. A group of teens play volleyball as the sun sets.

It feels like a much nicer version of the Jersey Shore: The sand is softer, the water is clearer, and the beer tastes better.’

Tel Aviv, Israel: Tourists eating in outdoor cafe, Tel Aviv Yafo, Israel

Poster child

Tel Aviv is the Israeli state’s poster child, projecting an image of a country that is modern, open, welcoming and, of course, democratic.  But it is only an image, a mirage, a shimmering falsehood that does not in fact exist – certainly not if you’re a Palestinian.

From: Haaretz:

Settler Violence Against Palestinians Is the Escalation to Fear in the West Bank

Rise in attacks against Palestinians likely to continue as army, police, Israeli society stand by passively or encourage attacks

What actually exists is an Apartheid state that has enshrined in law – the Nationality Law – Jewish supremacy.  And lest there be room for doubt about the law’s intent, Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) Member Avi Dichter, a sponsor of the Nationality Law, provided confirmatory commentry: ‘We [Israel] are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizen (sic).’   It is this state that is to host, in May 2019, the Eurovision Song Contest.

Songwashing Continue reading

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

So what’s new? Israel’s Nationality Law

Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has this July passed its Nationality Law by sixty two votes to fifty five. In brief, it enshrines, and in effect crows about, Israel’s status as an apartheid state.

The law confirms that ‘Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it’. Note ‘exclusive’.  In addition, the Arabic language is downgraded from its co-equal status as an official language with Hebrew to a lesser ‘special status’.  By way of reminder, Israel’s Palestinian Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the nine million population.

The law also affirms that ‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.’  Note ‘Jewish’. Note, too, ‘settlement’, which in fact refers to the construction of Jewish-only colonies built on historic Palestinian land cleared by Israel in an unrelenting programme of house demolitions, land seizures, and crop destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and in (illegally annexed) East Jerusalem. Continue reading