Category Archives: Palestine/Israel

Israel: Trapped in an oxymoron

Readers may need to be reminded: There are Palestinians living in the state of Israel. One could be forgiven for not appreciating this given the way UK mainstream media reports the so-called ‘democratic’ protests within Israel.

But the truth needs to be told: Palestinians comprise around 20% of the population of the state, rising to just over 50% of the population if one includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – land Occupied by Israel and under its effective control.  

In an admittedly thoroughly unscientific assessment, based on my personal viewing/listening habits of mainstream media, I heard the word ‘Palestinian’ barely mentioned in reports on the ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrations, still less any examination of Israeli-Palestinian citizens’ perspectives. Palestinians are noticeably missing from the demonstrations, a fact that should at the very least aroused media curiosity as to why.

As to the 4.7 million Palestinians living under Israeli military law in Gaza and the West Bank, the Occupation itself making a mockery of pro-democracy rhetoric, mainstream UK media, as with mainstream Israeli opinion, generally sees no Palestinians, hears no Palestinians, speaks not of Palestinians.  We might dub this syndrome ‘negative affinity’: the way UK mainstream media replicates the lacunae, absences and seeming indifference to the perspectives of Palestinians.

Elastic words

A prerequisite for speaking intelligibly with another is agreement, implied for the most part, on the meaning that attaches to key words and concepts. True, language, being by its nature elastic, protean, allows for degrees of latitude in use, but there are limits beyond which the meaning of a word or concept cannot be stretched without doing violence to the possibility of speaking intelligibly with another.  

The question thus arises as to whether Israeli Jews, many of whom are demonstrating with passion and conviction to save ‘their’ democracy, have stretched the meaning of that word, ‘democracy’ beyond the degree of latitude that enables meaningful speech, thereby limiting the degree to which political action can be conducted in good faith.

Athenian democracy – you wouldn’t want it

As suggested, the meanings accorded words and concepts change in use, change over time.  Thus, whilst it may still be said that fifth century Athens marked the birth of democracy, we would not now hold it up as an exemplar of what present day democracy should look like.  

Athenian democracy was essentially based on an exclusionary principle, such that only free – non-slave, non-foreigner, non-woman – male citizens could vote and therefore have ultimate control of the Athenian polity and the actions that flowed from it.

If we look at what Israel means by democracy, we see that – at present – it dons itself in the accoutrements of a democratic state: citizens have the vote, a parliament, a Supreme Court and so forth.  But beneath this coat of many colours lies a more monochrome reality, one that ultimately governs the particular nature, the possibilities inherent in, Israel’s version of democracy.  I refer of course to what amounts to Israel’s built-in statute of limitations. To give its full title: Basic Law: Israel-The Nation State of the Jewish People, which goes on to say:

The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.

The realization of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish People.

The contention here is that violence is done to language to propose that, given the Basic Law, Israel is a democracy in the way that term is generally understood.   Within the expression of the positive – the exclusive right to self-determination of the Jewish People – lies the unarticulated, but ever-present negative, the denial of the right to self-determination to any other category of people within the Israeli state. The Athenian exclusionary principle rescripted for current use.

What follows from this is that the current demonstrations are not inherently about securing democracy, properly understood, but about protecting particular sets of privileges aimed at re-embedding within the Israeli polity a broadly, but not exclusively, secular dispensation. 

Grand and tragic irony

The grand and tragic irony is that for those of us who wish for a genuinely democratic state, one that makes no claim to ‘exclusive’ rights for any particular population group, we feel compelled to support, in highly qualified support, those opposed to the current Netanyahu government, its personnel and policies. And why is this? It is, as the poem says, for fear of finding something worse.

At the time of writing, Netanyahu has called a temporary halt to pursuing his government’s judicial reforms. It is beyond my powers of clairvoyance to divine what may happen next. But the Netanyahu pause prompts the obvious question: What do the demonstrators want? The status quo ante bellum, the reversion to the position as it was before? Even supposing that were possible.  

The question arises, does Israel, or at least that proportion of the population which considers itself liberal-leftist, even egalitarian, have the internal resources – ethical, political, spiritual, intellectual, emotional – to confront the inherent contradictions of its own position? In a nutshell, the view that it is possible to square the circle of conceiving oneself a democratic state, at the same time as being constitutionally committed to Jewish supremacism. 

The evidence thus far is that it is a contradiction that Israel finds difficult to acknowledge, still less to confront and explore.  In contrast, there is a strain of Israeli dissenting opinion that focuses on campaigning against the Occupation, this undertaken with vigour and rooted commitment, as I’ve had the privilege to observe. (It is not suggested that those opposing the Occupation are not also involved in the wider campaign) This stance is replicated among some out-of-Israel Jewish organisations, broadly on the liberal/leftist spectrum, which campaign both within the Jewish community, and more widely, to persuade/force Israel to end the Occupation. 

Which elephant?

The Occupation is sometimes characterised as the ‘elephant in the room’, i.e. the subject neither Israeilis, nor out-of-Israel Jewish communities want to talk about, hence the title of one Israeli anti-occupation group: ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’.

Ending the Occupation is a good in itself, and the more campaigns against it the better.  However, from another perspective, focusing on opposing the Occupation could be construed as a form of displacement activity, a way, of avoiding, perhaps unconsciously, not the elephant, but the terrain upon which it walks. And this is on the unfirm ground of an oxymoron: democratic and Jewish.


Just before posting this article, I saw in Haaretz a piece by Anat Saragusti.  The title: ‘Israel’s Docile Liberals Must Share the Blame for the Judicial Crisis’.   In her article Anata fills out what is on her mind. 

We have managed, in the 75 years of the State of Israel’s existence, to create bypass routes that would enable us to imagine that we are living in a country that has a liberal democracy.

She then goes on to list seven areas where ‘docile’ liberals sold the pass to the least desirable elements of the Israeli polity.  The full article can be found here. I’ll share three extracts:

Few of us took to the streets when laws that reinforced Jewish supremacy were enacted….Few of us took to the streets when the nation-state law was passed, which de jure (and not just de facto) made Arabs here second-class citizens.

We consented to a Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty that does not include equality, or freedom of expression, or the right to demonstrate. We kept quiet in the face of this absurdity, and now that the regime coup is upon us…

Now, not only mustn’t we go back to the way things were, it is impossible to go back… We must stand up for equality and freedom of expression… We cannot be quiet or put the issue of the occupation in the hands of zealots, racists and supporters of Jewish supremacy.

Is release possible?

The article is not only a critique of Israel’s deep-rooted, seldom acknowledged, malaise but it also serves as a signpost pointing to a different vision for a state that, for the present, is trapped in its own internal contradictions.

Israelis protest – for some, not all

So, Israelis know how to protest. They can be roused.

Generally quiescent and indifferent to burning injustices – the murderous iniquities – that their state daily perpetrates against Palestinians, when their own interests are pricked, they know how to yelp. 

And yelp they do, furious at the impending curtailment of their freedoms, the potential diluting of their God-given right to live in a democracy.  A tainted, exclusionary democracy, a Jews-only democracy, to be sure. But it’s theirs and they intend to keep it. Hands off! One hundred thousand Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv marched in protest against the new government, with notable, but smaller demonstrations in Jerusalem, and smaller towns.

The newly formed Netanyahu government comprises, at its core, an amalgam of overt racists, homophobes, religious ultras, along with proponents of a Greater Israel eager to annexe all, or great swathes of, the Occupied West Bank. They will brook no impediment to their malign intent.  Secular citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the LGBTQ community, to say nothing of asylum seekers and refugees, have every reason to fear the policies and consequential actions that are about to be unleashed.  

Netanyahu, of course, has his own very personal reasons for denuding the Supreme Court of its powers. He has skin in the game and will sup with the devil if needs be, a necessity realised in the new government’s unsavoury line-up. Thus he hopes – intends – that the proposed new judicial arrangements will finally enable him to cancel, wash away, the charges of corruption currently laid against him.

Supreme Court

Beyond Netanyahu’s personal judicial travails, Israel’s Supreme Court features large in the new government’s demonology.  It is accused of thwarting the democratic will of the people, as interpreted by the now elected racists, homophobes and fellow-travellers cited above. Therefore, its powers are to be curtailed.  

The ‘Supreme’ court will no longer be supreme, the final judgment on matters brought before it now open to further adjudication by the elected Knesset (Parliament). The Supreme Court in any case offered, at best, flimsy to ultimately non-existent protection to those one would generally think should benefit from its judgments. For example, the Palestinian Jerusalemites of Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction from their homes; the Bedouin whose homes have and are being demolished to make way for more Jewish-only settlements and army firing zones.  

On the Occupation, the Supreme Court took a collaborators stance.  As Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz puts it:

‘Now of all times, at its most difficult moment, we must not forget the Supreme Court’s shameful collaboration with the occupation…. Through its support for the occupation, the court sowed the poisonous seeds whose fruits we are reaping today. If it had refused to legitimize the occupation back when it had the power to do so, there would be no Itamar Ben-Gvir, there would be no settlements and there might even be no occupation.’

But absent is protest about the occupation, about the besieging of Gaza, about the daily killings of Palestinians at the hands of the IDF and Border police.  Over the past week [as at 21 January] Israeli occupation forces killed eight Palestinians, the youngest being a 14-year-old boy, bringing the total death toll from Israeli fire, in the West Bank, to 18 in the first twenty days of 2023. This was not worthy of protest. Nor was any other week replete with cruel injustices against Palestinians – child, woman, man – worthy of protest.

Still less was even a murmur to be heard about the Apartheid Israel practices against the ’48 Palestinians, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. A flawed, partial citizenship, not comparable to the meaning and status of citizenship as we understand the designation here in the UK and other countries more generally.  

Solipsistic endeavour

Israeli Jews erupted on their own behalf, afeared that their notionally liberal democracy is now under existential threat. A whole world, an entire worldview that seemed deep-rooted, suddenly feels fragile, potentially lacking the tensile strength to resist the incursion of alien values. 

But what weight and credence should we attribute to those values when they are so securely gated within an exclusive ethnoreligious realm? 

A Jewish democracy is a self-cancelling proposition, one that should be the legitimate and necessary target of strident protest.  But that is not what the protesters are thinking about now.

Normalcy in an abnormal world

Below I share a short article prompted by my recent (November 2022), relatively short trip, to Palestine/Israel. In this article I purposely resist too much comment, trusting that the incidents recorded speak for themselves.  What I do emphasise – you could say the clue is in the title – is the events set out below are unexceptional, barely worth remark according to the distorted worldview of the Israeli state and its thuggish underpinning, the settlers. 

In the same month Israel demolished 120 Palestinian structures. ‘Structures’ include entire homes and local infrastructure.  Forty-six adults and 47 children, a total of 93 people, were displaced by the demolitions. One hundred and ninety adults and one hundred and eighty-two children, a total of 385 were affected by these demolitions.

A perverse normality

In a cruel echo of my time in Hebron three years ago, I was this November (2022) again at a local Hebron hospital with Human Rights Defenders. They were taking a statement from an eleven-year-old lad who had been attacked by Settlers for riding his bike outside his Palestinian restricted area. A car full of Settlers stopped, and attacked him.  In fleeing, he fell into a ditch with resultant injuries to his face.

In 2019, I had also been with a Human Rights Defender at a Hebron hospital, at that time taking a statement from a sixteen-year-old Palestinian lad who had been attacked. 

Nothing unusual going on here. Just the quotidian, regular, perversities of a militarised, racist, state.

Same day. November 2022. Another echo

K…… (name withheld) is at the Human Rights Defenders’ Hebron office reporting Settler attacks on a Palestinian in the vicinity of his house.  K’s house is in Tel Rumeidah, Hebron, where there is a Settler enclave. One of its residents is the notorious Baruch Marzel, leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. (For those with a sense of irony, ‘Baruch’ is Hebrew for ‘Blessing’.)

K’s house abuts a road on a hill such that the roof of his house is parallel, and at the same level with, a section of the road. In other words, it is easy for Settlers to step on to the roof from the road, thus making the house and its surrounding yard vulnerable to attack. It is regularly attacked.  

The incident being reported this day (November 2022) included: a Palestinian injured by Settlers was not allowed by the army to take the direct route to hospital because settlers were blocking the way; a Palestinian ambulance was not allowed into the area because it was out-of-bounds to them. Eventually, people took him to hospital via a tortuous, long route that avoided the military barriers.

Why echo? 

Three years ago, I was at K’s house, again with a Human Rights Defender, who was taking a statement about Settler attacks on him and his house. In fact, K… regularly comes under attack (a) because he is a Palestinian (b) because of where his house is (c) because he is an activist, opposing Israel’s occupation.

Nothing unusual is going on here. This is daily fare. Unrelenting, repetitive, always causing injury – to Palestinians.  Frequently, and increasingly, lethal. More than 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children have been killed this year. Twenty-seven Israelis were killed in 2022

Another incident

‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’, a small organisation that aims to do what its title suggests: to get Jewish Israelis to take responsibility for the Occupation, and the evil deeds it necessarily spawns. The protesters are nothing if not committed and tenacious. On this particular day, a day of persistent and heavy rain, they were standing at a road junction by a Settlement with their banners and shouted slogans. 

Coincidentally, police had stopped a car with some young Palestinians in it, about five of them.  The police had them get out of the car, this to facilitate a search.  The young Palestinians were required to squat on the soaking wet pavement, in the pouring rain, and this for some time. The ‘Look the Occupation in the Eye’ demonstrators did what they could to challenge the police, but to no avail. In the end the driver was taken away. When asked why he was taken the claim was a ‘weapon’ had been found, by which was meant, or so it was said, a knuckle-duster.

The relative efficacy of a knuckle-duster against, say, Israelis police guns requires no sophisticated understanding of ordnance. It’s difficult to think that they inhabit the same category: weapon.

The young Palestinians, meantime, were still squatting on the wet pavement in the pouring rain. Once the driver had been taken away, the young men were able to go to the car to wait of a friend who had a driving licence (none of the passengers did).

In UK terms, we would say that the ‘stop and search’ by the police suggests it was a consequence of racial profiling. They were stopped because they were Palestinians. What followed – being made to squat on a wet pavement in the pouring rain – was simply the meting out of a dose of standard-issue humiliation.

Daily humiliations

The meting out of humiliations is one of the tracks Israeli Apartheid runs on. It is highly functional, fulfilling the dual role of ‘othering’ Palestinians in the eyes of Israelis, whilst at the same time confirming to Israelis their inherent sense of superiority.  

These humiliations reach into virtually every aspect of Palestinian life: the military checkpoint Palestinian children must go through to get to school; to the roads and areas prohibited to Palestinians, no matter that the thoroughfares and places – for example, in Hebron – are within Palestinian towns; to Checkpoint 300, the caged interface between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem that Palestinians working in Israel have to cross via barriers and a glass-fronted soldiers’ booth where a barely-out-of-nappies, armed Israeli soldier watches with an air of disdain as the mass of workers, now conceived as supplicants, shuffle their way through – unless, of course, one is turned back.

So it is, and so it will continue, but only more so with the election of a government comprising avowedly racist and homophobic ministers, committed to annexing large swathes of the West Bank. 

Matters will now get worse. Palestinians I spoke to acknowledged this with a sort of weary resignation.

But something else is also going on. There was a palpable sense that notwithstanding how far into the darkness Israel is prepared to go, Palestinian resistance will outpace it, though the cost will be high. 

We in the West have a crucial role to play, and that is to affect the policies of our governments which at the moment support Israel in its criminal misdeeds. More on this in subsequent articles.

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. 


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:


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

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

And the harm is done well. The objective achieved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary, again from the Electronic Intifada:

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


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

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

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

Bottomless well of disdain

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

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

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

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magical thinking: The two state solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not a Two State solution?

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.