Category Archives: Palestine/Israel

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.


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.

By coincidence, it turned out that I was staying at the same hotel as that family and the following day asked the three lads what had happened.

They were kept for three hours, just waiting, with only a very sparse interview. They got to the hotel after 1.00 a.m. some four hours after landing (I got to the hotel in less than an hour).

What might we read into this story?

  • One, the Israeli state uses racial/religious profiling.
  • Two, that this is an expression of a wider racist rationale that underpins much Israeli policy and practice;
  • Three, that the interview incident was consciously directed at displaying unchecked, arbitrary power: ‘We can keep you here, mess with your arrangements, cause anxiety, give no reason, just because we can. And don’t you forget it’.

If you read this and the next post or so, you’ll come to appreciate this is the standard modus operandi of the Israeli state.

Me? I went through passport control asked only whether I was a tourist, and did I have friends in Israel. That was it.  White skin you see, not Muslim looking  – free pass.

A little about context

I’m conscious that some readers may have only limited knowledge about the Palestine/Israel issue.  I thought it might be useful, therefore, to offer a glimpse of  the wider context.

Naqba v Independence

Nothing perhaps so accurately captures the essence of the issue and its seeming intractability as knowing that for Israel the 15 May 1948 marks its founding as an independent state – celebrated every year.  But for Palestinians that date marks the Naqba, the ‘Catastrophe’ of 750.000 Palestinians fleeing their homes, and not being allowed to return – a population movement and displacement upon which the Israeli state is founded.

Oslo Accords

The Oslo II Accord, 1993, divided the Occupied Palestinian West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B and C.

Area A is meant to be exclusively administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Area B is meant to be administered jointly by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, with Israel having ‘security’ control.

Area C, which contains the Israeli illegal settlements, is under the control of Israel – totally. Area C comprises approximately 63% of the illegally occupied territory.

Areas A and B are constructed in such a way as to ensure that these areas are surrounded by Israeli controlled Area C.

Israel imposes severe, and often arbitrary, restrictions on Palestinian movement between areas A and B which has to be via Israel controlled Area C so that, for example, ambulances cannot get to hospitals without Israeli permission, and farmers are often cut off from their land which has been absorbed, illegally, into Area C.

Area A is, theoretically, under the control of the Palestinian Authority but the Israel Defence Forces abolished the prohibition on entering the area and enters regularly, mostly at night, to conduct raids to arrest suspected militants.

Together Areas A, B and C together comprise territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.

I want now to offer some examples of the afflictions the Israeli state visits upon Palestinians, day be day, night by night.   What follows stand as exemplars of  the perrenial, unrelenting, oppressive actions of the Israeli state against Palestinians.

Breaking the Silence

‘Breaking the Silence’ is a group of ex-combat soldiers who came to hate what they had done – what they were ordered to do – whilst in the conscript armed forces of Israel. They aim to heighten awareness of the consequences of occupation with the ultimate aim of changing government policy which is the true motor of army activities. One way they do this is to collect testimonies from ex-soldiers.  Here’s one from their web site:

 “With regard to artillery, the IDF let go of the restraints it once had”

Rank: Lieutenant

Unit: Infantry

Period: 2014

One of the high rank commanders, he really liked the D9s [massive military bulldozers]. He was a real proponent of flattening things. He put them to good use. Let’s just say that after every time he was somewhere, all the infrastructure around the buildings was totally destroyed, almost every house had gotten a shell through it. He was very much in favor of that.”

Breaking the Silence also explained that the Israeli army enters Palestinian homes in, for example, Hebron without warning, at night, two, three, more times a week. It  confines the family to one room, and then takes up sniper positions on the roof.

Hebron is officially in Area A, i.e. notionally under full Palestinian Authority control. So the question arises: why is the army here?  The ex-combat soldier answered: ‘For the army, there is no Oslo Agreement; the army goes where it wants’.

Military Court Watch

Another Jewish organisation, Military Court Watch, works to hold the Israeli state to account. It is scrupulous in its use of data and statistics. Here are some:

  • 750,000 – 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained since 1967.
  • Children as young as 12 years can be prosecuted in the military courts.
  • Approximately 800-1,000 children detained each year.
  • Children are most commonly prosecuted for stone throwing.
  • Approximately half of all detained children are arrested at night and report physical and psychological abuse during arrest, transfer and interrogation.
  • Over 99% of cases in the military courts end in conviction.
  • Approximately 50% of Palestinian child detainees are held in prisons in Israel in breach of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, monitors Israel actions in the OPT. Here’s one report for one night in August 2018. There have been many other similar nights since.

Israeli soldiers raid Palestinian village of ‘Azzun at night, entering homes, threatening and intimidating families and their children

On 15 Aug. 2018, at about 2:00 A.M., soldiers with dogs entered 10 homes in the village of ‘Azzun. They woke the inhabitants, kept some confined to rooms in their homes, intimidated children and conducted violent searches. Raids on homes in the dead of night, in which soldiers wake families and ransack their houses, are by now a routine part of the occupation in the West Bank. These actions, which are clearly intended to intimidate the population, are unjustified. This is yet another example of daily Palestinian life under occupation.

From Israeli newspaper Haaretz June 2018

Every night, Israeli soldiers, the Border Police or its counterterrorism unit carry out raids on Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank, whether to detain suspects or potential informants, or for military exercises or general deterrence. If soldiers aren’t hurt, information on those raids doesn’t reach the Israeli media and get attention.

Often attack dogs accompany the soldiers, as they did last month during an encounter in Jenin. Not only did the dogs accompany the troops, they assaulted four civilians, among them a 13-year-old boy, a woman paralyzed on one side, and an elderly man.


On 4th October 2018, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib was demolished…for the 134th time. (Much of what follows is from an ICAHD UK report)

Al-Araqib is one of the 35 ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev (Naqab) region of Israel. Like most of the other unrecognized villages, it existed before the creation of the State of Israel. Prior to 1948 (and the creation of the Israeli state), around 90,000 Bedouins lived on 99 per cent of the Negev land and the residents of Al-Araqib have documents from the Ottoman era showing their ancestors purchased the land in 1906.

The majority of Israel’s Bedouin villages were forcibly moved to new locations within a tightly defined zone in the Negev in the 1950’s and now over half of the population of 220,00 is corralled into the seven urban centres, or ‘townships’, specially created by the Israeli State in order to solve the ‘problem of the Bedouins’.

The aim, always, is the judaisation – ugly word, ugly concept – of Palestine/Israel and this is why Jewish only Settlements are located on Palestinian land.  And this, of course, requires the removal of the indigenous population, the Palestinians.

These settlements are generally built on hills, like medieval forts or castles, so that they can dominate and surveille the surrounding countryside.


The surrounding countryside is – soon to be ‘was’ if allowed to continue – populated by Palestinians who have lived there for generations, but now are to be evicted.  As part of the strategy to induce their departure, the villages receive no main suppliers of anything. Not water, not electricity, not drainage or sewage removal. But the settlements on the hills, by contrast, have full access to utilities and services at subsidised prices. And to add insult to injury, many have swimming pools as well.

Jewish Settlement

The continuing Naqba

This is why Palestinians say that the Naqba is not an isolated event that happened in 1948, but that it is a continuing process – an ongoing Naqba that repeats and repeats the original injustice.

From Human Rights Watch

While settlements expanded in 2017, Israeli authorities destroyed 381 homes and other property, forcibly displacing 588 people as of November 6, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as part of discriminatory practices that reject almost all building permit applications submitted by Palestinians.

Between January 1 and November 6, 2017, Israeli security forces killed 62 Palestinians, including 14 children, and injured at least 3,494 Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, including protesters, suspected assailants or members of armed groups, and bystanders. Palestinians killed at least 15 Israelis during this same time, including 10 security officers, and injured 129 in conflict-related incidents in the West Bank and Israel.

Summary of control and coercion

The key fact to appreciate is that Israel ultimately controls every aspect of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli Occupation includes control of (not an exhaustive list):

  • Ability to keep one’s home and live in it;
  • Ability to travel (a) at all; (b) when, where and for how long;
  • Access to water and power – including depriving communities of mains water and power;
  • Permission to, for example, visit your mum who just happens to live beyond the barrier or fence the Israelis constructed and control – but did not live out of reach prior to the occupation;
  • Ability to get to a hospital when needed;
  • Ability to demonstrate;
  • And much more.

This post has been in the order of 2,570 words long and all that I’ve said feels inadequate to the task of offering apt and necessary description. A good cartoon, however, can at once penetrate and illuminate an issue more accurately and succintly than the preceeding paragrpahs.

So here are two cartoons by a Palestinian cartoonist I was fortuante to meet, Mohammad Sabaaneh.










I’m conscious that there is what might be considered a structural fault in this post, and that is that I have referred to Israeli Jewish organisations that oppose Israel’s policies and not given sufficient attention to direct Palestinian testimony.

I think it is justifiably designated a ‘fault’. By way of explaination, not excuse, is that this and subsequent posts are based on a series of what I called, with a touch of pretention, ‘dispatches’ to an email list of about thirty. The content of the dispatches reflected, more or less,  the order of encounters and events.  The next post will be substantially based on direct encounters with Palestinians and will also highlight a key Palestinian quality or virtue, their commitment to ‘Samud’, ‘Steadfastness’in the face of of an oppressive power.

For those that did, thanks for getting to this Endword.


[1] I was for four days with an avowedly political tour

[1] From Wikipedia

[2] From the Guardian, October 2018: ‘The most authoritative analysis of the data since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry nearly 20 years ago found that black Britons are now nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, despite using illegal substances at a lower rate’ (my italics).


A State’s ‘right’ to exist?

Abstractions cannot have rights.  States are abstractions.  States therefore cannot have rights.  At first blush, this may seem no more than a quibble, or an excursion into constructing a syllogism simply for the pleasure of it.  In terms of the subject I want now to address, it is neither.

Before proceeding, it’s worth stating an opposite but positive proposition:  Rights adhere to, and are embodied in, people. People have rights, States do not.  These are important distinctions, ones that are foundational when considering, and reaching positions on, for example, the Palestinian/Israel conflict.

Qualified Support

There are significant indications that there are increasing numbers of non-Jews and Jews critical of Israel’s policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and towards Palestinians within Israel itself.  More and more people are finding the wanton shamelessness with which Israel pursues and promotes its institutionalised racist policies and practices hard to stomach.  Israel, we might say, gets away with murder, so it barely registers surprise when the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proclaims there are ‘no innocent people’ in Gaza, a statement presumably designed to justify the killing of (as at 25 April) forty Gazans and the wounding of 5,511 protestors, including children.  This is the nature of Israel’s response to essentially peaceful protests on the Gazan side of the border fence.  Yes, that’s right, Israel shoots through and over the fence to wound and kill protestors on the Gaza side.

And yet…..

Support but unease

And yet, despite the institutionalsied and calculated brutality of the Israeli State,  I get the sense there are many people – whose natural sympathies and political commitments revolve around respect for fundamental human rights – who hesitate to offer more vocal and active support for the Palestinian cause.  One aspect of this hesitation, the one I want to tackle here, is concern and even dismay at the reluctance or refusal of some Palestinian political entities to recognise the right of the Israeli State to exist and, in particular, the refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.  Though note that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised Israel, rightly or wrongly, to its benefit or not, in 1988.  Yet the issue of recognition remains, and is likely to remain, a salient one for some time to come.

A first and necessary step to unpicking this is to take a conceptual leap and perhaps an emotional one too, and hold fast to the understanding that States, in principle, have no rights.  It follows that Israel has no more right to exist than does, say, the United Kingdom, a proposition adequately demonstrated by the political movements – the broadly accepted legitimate movements – promoting Scottish and Welsh independence.  This recognition of the legitimacy of the movements says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the proposed constitutional changes, but, in affirming the legitimacy of the pursuit of independence, one is at the same time granting the legitimacy of the potential dismantling of the UK State.  And such projects are, in principle, permissible.

There is a further move to be made: notwithstanding the status of any State, for those committed to universal human rights, these are indivisible, and in principle transcend national boundaries. In the UK example, irrespective of the structure of constitutional arrangements, that is, whether people are citizens of a United Kingdom or of a future English, Scottish or Welsh State, each individual retains their universal rights. From a human rights’ perspective, it is the State that is or should be the protector and promoter of those rights.

And here we come to the first difficulty in ascribing legitimacy to the current Israeli State, for it neither protects still less promotes the human rights of all those within its borders. The Israeli State is formally founded on an opposing principle: the denial of human rights to, in particular, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and foreign workers.

Note that my concern in this particular article is not to delve into the various political moves and strategies, whether historical or current, of the contending parties. Rather, I am attempting to peel back the layers of propaganda, the standardised tropes – e.g. charges of antisemitism deployed as a shield to protect Israel from criticism – that obscure, and are specifically designed to obscure, questions of principle.  And that principle is that a State that does not protect the rights of all those within its borders has by its own actions raised questions as to its legitimacy. Note further that raising questions about the legitimacy of a State has no bearing on, nor does it dilute, the indivisible rights of all those who live within its borders, this extending without qualification even to those whopromulgate and implement the rights-denying policies and practices.

I turn now briefly to the relatively recent call by Israel that it should be recognised specifically as a Jewish State. I have discussed this in an earlier post. Suffice to say that to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish State is to recognise and grant legitimacy to a formally constituted Apartheid State.  To grant such recognition would be the same as endorsing as legitimate the South African Apartheid State. No State, organisation or person should find this a tolerable proposition.  That Israel does, or at least the current political leadership of Israel does, again raises questions as to the current Israeli State’s legitimacy.  It is already an Apartheid State. It should be morally and politically impermissible to formally embrace it as such.

The line of argument advanced thus far seems to me to raise questions as to the merits of what has come to be called the ‘Two State Solution’, meaning one Palestinian State, the other, a Jewish State.  As I understand it, a Palestinian State would raise no particular ethical issues provided it accorded to all those residing within its borders individual human rights, and all citizens having equal rights and obligations irrespective of, for example, religion or ethnic background.

However, a difficulty arises once one starts thinking about what a specifically Jewish State might entail, not least because 20% of Israel citizens are Palestinians. (Cautionary Note: as detailed in an earlier post, the Israeli State’s version of ‘citizenship’ does not denote a condition of equality between ‘citizens’. Rather, along with the category ‘nationality’ it is the vehicle for the systemic, institutionalised discrimination of those not Jewish, in particular, Palestinians.)

I cannot see how a two state solution could be radically different from the discriminatory State that currently exists.  No doubt were such a ‘solution’ – when is a ‘solution’ not a ‘solution’? – to be implemented various strategies would be devised to ensure an embedded demographic imbalance in favour of the Jewish population, this designed to reduce the existential anxieties of those Jews who fear they will be outnumbered at some point by Palestinians.  But pity the nation that weaves fear, neurosis, exclusion and discrimination into its fundamental constitutional arrangements – though this may be apt description of the current state of affairs.


I have suggested that there has been a conflation of incompatible ideas and concepts, namely, not drawing proper distinction between support of and commitment to individual human rights no matter the race, religion, sexuality, culture of an individual, and the misplaced notion that a State has rights. This conflation, I have suggested, serves to obscure, and in my view is designed to obscure, the nature of the current Israeli State and to legitimise its discriminatory regime.  ‘Rights’ as deployed in this context is a very loaded word, one deployed to direct attention away from the nature and actions of the Israeli State.

Distinction between a Regime and a State

My argument leads me back to the UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) report  ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’, referred to in an earlier post.

The UNESCWA report drew attention to an important distinction: that between a State and a Regime. Although the distinction of itself provides no easy pathway to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli State conflict, at the conceptual level at least, noting the distinction helps counter the tendency – propagated by the Israeli State – to automatically equate the ending or evolution away from a discriminatory political Zionist State to a different dispensation as necessarily the ‘destruction of Israel’. In the words of UNESCWA report:

‘…identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus, some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way affected the country’s statehood.’

 Another type of State is in principle possible.


In my 27 March post ‘Nineteen days and counting to Israel’s destruction of another Palestinian village’ I reported that the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was under threat of demolition by Israel. Those nineteen days have now elapsed and Israel has not been persuaded to relent.

This from a report by the Israel Campaign Against House Demolitions UK (ICAHD UK):

‘After years of harassment by the authorities and endless demolition orders, after the village’s resident, math teacher Ya’akub Abu Al-Qi’an was killed by the police and falsely accused by a government minister of being “a terrorist” – Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran finally  yielded.

Threatened with Israeli demolition and forced displacement, the inhabitants signed an agreement with Israeli authorities to leave their homes “on their own accord” and move to the town of Hura…’

Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minoroty rights In Israel, which represented Umm Al Hirran’s residents in courts for 15 years, compared Israel’s behaviour in Umm Al Hirran to South Africa’s Apartheid regime:

‘Adalah sees the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and forced displacement of its residents as an act of extreme racism, embodying Israel’s colonialist land policies with the backing of the entire Israeli court system. Israel is moving forward with the destruction of Umm al-Hiran in a plan – reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa – to build a new Jewish-only town on its ruins.’

ICAHD UK Conference 19 May 2018

The two-state solution is gone buried under Israel’s ‘matrix of control’, the confiscation of Palestinian land, its Kafkaesque laws and Israeli Supreme Court rulings ignoring international law. Israel continues to act with impunity and no Western government or international body is calling it to account.

The time has come to start actively campaigning for one-state.

Palestinians and Israelis have joined together to form the One Democratic State Campaign which seeks to provide leadership, direction and a viable way forward.

However, with obstacles and difficulties that impede engagement and communication between Palestinians and Israelis:

  • How can they come together for a one-state solution?
  • How can Israelis, living in a militarized society where Arab are demonised change their view of the Palestinians?
  • How can the Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation that traumatized their society heal, and be able to share statehood with their oppressor?

Speakers (more to be announced):

  • Dr Jeff Halper, Co-Founder & Director of ICAHD (Jerusalem), Professor of Anthropology, activist & analyst, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; author of An Israeli in Palestine, War Against the People & Obstacles to Peace
  • Dr Nadia Nasser Najjab, Research Fellow, Exeter University formerly at Birzeit University
  • Daphna Baram, Director, ICAHD UK, analyst, journalist, author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel.



Palestinian metaphor: mud bricks

This blog represents a departure from its usual hunting ground. It addresses a subject that I have been itching to speak about via this medium for some time. My reluctance to do so, until now, was based on my awareness that my understanding of the issue was based primarily on book-learning, newspaper/magazine articles and lectures, albeit over many, many years.  I speak of the Palestine/Israel situation.

What releases me now is that I was fortunate to join an Extended  Study Tour of   Palestine/Israel (1) that gave me the opportunity to see for myself the situation on the ground, and to meet organisations and individuals affected by, and assiduously seeking to counter, the gross injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state. This by no means makes me an expert, and no such claim is registered here. But I have given myself permission to write about it in what is, after all, my blog. 

Reader, you may wish to read on, or quietly depart, either before what follows, or after.

It’s a model of sustainability and the philosophy of ‘using what’s to hand’: once Israeli soldiers have knocked down the school room, the sophistication of the design, coupled to the nature of the building material – locally made mud bricks – ensure that it can be resurrected within hours by local Palestinians.  Which is just as well, for the Israeli army is quite likely to turn up again to repeat what I imagine they call an exercise.  Or they turn their attention to another village school there to demonstrate, once again, their capacity for wanton destruction.  Not to mention at the same time traumatising children and humiliating parents and teachers alike. Continue reading