Tag Archives: Palestine

Campaigning for Palestine: Victories, threats, and resolve

There’s been a cluster of events, of which I shall mention only four, that have gladdened the heart, prompted admiration, and that serve to reinforce resolve.

Ambassador sent on her way

One was the protests undertaken by Cambridge University students against the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely. She was giving a speech at that university. The only thing that can be said in Hotovely’s favour is that her appointment presents to the UK the unvarnished truth of Israel’s position vis a vis Palestine and Palestinians.

Hotovely has reportedly denied Palestine’s existence, designated the Nakba ‘a great Arab lie.’, and opposed any Palestinian claim to the occupied West Bank, Gaza, or East al-Quds, at the same time supporting the expansion of Israeli Jewish-only settlements. It’s worth adding that the university students’ actions are, arguably, not an example of ‘no platforming’. The ambassador was representing – she was not speaking as an individual – a country guilty of multiple floutings of humanitarian and international law, a country designated an apartheid state in no less than four reports, the latest by Amnesty International . There is no obligation to offer a platform to the representative of such a state. There are other places where her toxic views will be well-received.

Direct action works

Palestine Action is rightly proclaiming a number of direct-action victories, a key one being the closure of the Elbit (Israeli arms manufacturer) in Oldham.  More widely, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) seems to be recognising that it has little chance of securing convictions against individuals taking conscientious action.  Activists blockaded the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire, in November 2020, preventing operations at the drone-engine factory. This follows two trials dropped in January – after a ‘not guilty’ verdict delivered in December. Over the past two months, the CPS has failed to secure successful prosecution against any of the 11 activists whom they had charged. (Shades of the acquittal of the – statue overturning – Colston Four.) However, there are potential threats on the horizon, more of which below.

Labour drops case against Jewish woman for alleged antisemitism

Diana Neslen, an 82 year old Jewish woman and Labour Party member, was accused of antisemitism, in particular on the basis of one of her tweets when she said ’the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and I am an antiracist Jew’. She instructed lawyers to inform Labour that she would bring a lawsuit for discrimination and harassment, claiming that anti-Zionism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

Initially Labour did not respond, but after the Guardian published details of the case it told her they were dropping the investigation. Prior to this, Neslen was sent a ‘reminder of conduct’ the same year (2018) that Labour adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism that included the (so-called) example: ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a taste of Israel is a racist endeavour.’ 

Whether because of the threat of legal action, or publicity in the Guardian, or a combination of the two, the dropping of the charge is the appropriate action. There is, however, a wider point to consider, and Diana Neslen makes it well: ‘I’m pleased they dropped it because it exposes the fact that they shouldn’t have done anything in the first place.‘   But she goes on to say, and this is the strategic insight, ‘But I also feel that I would have liked the issue of protected belief to have been addressed because I believe there are a lot of people who also, like me, are anti-Zionist, believe that it’s a perfectly legitimate belief, and they have no recourse.’ I’ll touch on this again in remarks below.

Sheffield Hallam University – the case of Shahd Abusalama

I’ve reported on this in previous blog articles and shared my letter of protest to the university.  Briefly, Shahd was suspended by her employer, Sheffield Hallam University, from teaching her class the evening before it was scheduled to take place. The basis of the suspension were accusations of antisemitism by Jewish News and the Israel lobby group the Campaign Against Antisemitism, two entities whose relationship with truth and accuracy are somewhat strained.  Underpinning the false accusation was the university’s endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, again, more of which later.

Shahd, with ever increasing support, led a magnificent campaign that culminated in what can only be described as a victory. She posted on Twitter:

We’re celebrating a fantastic victory for Palestine…[the university] will not be progressing with any further investigation…I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition…I will also be offered a more secure contract…That wouldn’t happen without your support so THANK YOU.’

It needs to be added that Shahd, is reporting in her tweets that she is being subject to continuing attacks by ‘Zionists’.

But considerable threats and barriers remain intact

It’s right to say that Sheffield Hallam University’s reversal of its earlier shameful decision to suspend Shahd’s teaching position is a victory, not only for her, but also for Palestine. It’s one battle won, but, arguably, the current immediate strategic advantage remains with those who oppose Palestinian self-determination.

It is the ‘unfit-for-purpose’ IHRA definition of antisemitism, along with its working examples, that form part of the architecture of strategic threat to achieving justice – between the river and the sea – for Palestinians.  In that regard, it’s good to see that a joint project comprising the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Committee for Universities of Palestine and Jews for Justice for Palestinians have created a web site on how to combat the IHRA definition, aimed in particular at universities and local councils. The web site offers comprehensive tool kits suggesting the sort of actions that can be taken along with a range of authoritative opinion and evidence to support the case against adopting, or where already in place, rescinding the IHRA definition.  This is really excellent. The questions remain, however, what more needs to be done, who is yet to be influenced, or rigorously opposed?  Are there lines of attack that have yet to be explored, or revisited?

The thinking of Diana Neslen, quoted above, suggest there is at least one avenue to be explored. As she said, she wished she could have had the opportunity to go to court to make the case that being anti-Zionist was not racist, that it was a protected philosophical belief under Equalities law.  This of course does not presume she would have won if the matter had gone to court.  But the strategic merit of thinking in this type of way is that it focuses on the foundations upon which IHRA rests not only on its individual manifestations.  

The IHRA is not the only strategic threat. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is, here in the UK, under the threat of potential anti-BDS legislation by the current Conservative Government. It’s unclear whether the proposed ban will be limited to local councils and other publicly funded institutions. Robert Jenrick MP, as recently as 15 December 2021 announced that a bill banning the BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions) movement will be presented to Parliament in the coming months. He is also a maximalist in terms of desired scope and has said, ‘Obviously I want it to be as broad as possible so there’s next to no avenue for BDS to continue here.’

The Bridges for Peace web site comments, ‘Given…a significant majority of Parliament seats, it seems reasonable to expect that the Conservative Party will be able to achieve its commitment to ‘boot BDS out of the UK’ in the very near future.’ If successful, the UK will join Austria, Germany and Canada in banning BDS. This must be opposed.

Wider context

The IHRA definition along with threats to BDS are Palestine-specific concerns, though of course they are aspects of wider threats to free speech, and the curtailment of legitimate political action. But fast coming toward us – in fact terrifyingly imminent – are Bills currently before Parliament and, if they hold their course, will soon be law. I refer to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Judicial Review and Courts Bill and, potentially on the horizon, the findings of an inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998.

Whilst the latter two – Judicial Review and Courts Bill, the inquiry into the Human Rights Act 1998 – may seem somewhat remote to the immediate concerns of Palestine supporters and activists, it is not unfeasible that a situation may arise where, for example, a pro-Palestine organisation or individual may wish to seek judicial review of a government or other bodies decision. The proposed Act on judicial review would limit both the grounds on which a review could be instituted, and also the potential scope of remedy.

Similarly, there is no reason to be confident that a conservative-initiated review of Human Rights legislation will result in fundamental rights, not least the right to a fair trial, being comprehensively secured. At present, the Human Rights Act protections apply to, for example, foreign nationals, or people in prison. Given this Government is not ashamed to have as a matter of policy the creation of a ‘hostile environment’ in respect of asylum seekers and refugees, there is reason to be nervous of what may soon come our way.

The imminent threat

But it is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that represents imminent threat, potentially undermining our ability to take to the streets to demonstrate and protest. In brief, some – draconian – proposed measures have been defeated in the House of Lords and can only be reinstituted in a new Bill; that is, the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cannot be the vehicle for reintroducing the fallen measures – it would require a new Bill. There is no reason to be confident that, given the conservatives’ large majority, that this might not be undertaken.

The fallen clauses include proposed offences such as ‘locking on’ or being equipped to lock on to a structure or, I think, a person; causing nuisance; no-suspicion stop and search powers related to protest; and Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders). It is not hard to see how these measures, were they to be reintroduced in a new Bill and become law, would potentially hinder mightily the freedom to demonstrate and protest; and, in particular, place in jeopardy, for instance, Palestine Action.

But these other clauses are still in prospect

There are other clauses, defeated in the Lords but able to be reintroduced into the current Bill by MPs. Once again, with such a large conservative majority, this must be a cause of anxiety – and opposition.

The clauses that can be re-introduced include: Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest; Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies; Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament; Criminalising one-person protests; Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway (amended to only include the Strategic Road Network. Again, one can see how these clauses, if law, will hinder, potentially criminalise, legitimate public protest.

Arguably, it is the ‘creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament’ that is so symbolically resonant of the Bill’s spirit. It is to marginalise dissenting voices of any ilk, to neither hear nor see injustices, still less to address them.

Strategic threat, Strategic advantage

This article started on what might be called a ‘high’ – ‘a cluster of events…that have gladdened the heart’ – then headed downhill to consider threats and challenges. But it can’t end there.

Notwithstanding purblind Governments – the UK, Germany, Austria, Hungary, USA, to name but a few – there is the palpable growth of international civil society rallying to the Palestinian cause, in particular, but not only, among younger generations. That’s like having a down payment on the future, for those hearts beat strong. Palestine shall prevail.

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

Israel: Apartheid State?

This is the second blog that departs from my usual patch and addresses a subject that needs to be kept in the public eye.  This is my very minor contribution to aiding that purpose.  I speak of the Palestine/Israel situation. Postings on this topic will continue to form part of my blog, though I recognise that for many this will not be a subject of interest.

The particular prompt for extending the scope of my blog was the good fortune I enjoyed in being able to join an Extended  Study Tour of   Palestine/Israel. This gave me the opportunity to see for myself at least some aspects of  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.

This post should not be necessary, but it is.   It should not be necessary because it should be common knowledge that the State of Israel is an apartheid State, as rigorous and focused in its pursuit of institutionalised racism as was apartheid South Africa.

I’m uncomfortable accepting this position, but it is unavoidable, this because the internal logic of political Zionism’s founding purpose necessarily entails the institutionalisation of a comprehensive, all-encompassing discriminatory regime.  Such a regime requires, first, the reduction of the Palestinian Arab population living within Israel’s borders (however defined) by virtually any means possible, this to maintain a significant Jewish majority within State boundaries; second, it requires the aggressive diminishment or full curtailment of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.  The two aspects are of course interwoven.

My previous post on the subject gave some examples of what this ‘internal logic’ entails in practice. Sadly, it is probably the best bet you could ever make that there will be many, many more shameful, cruel, abusive and illegal acts carried out by the Israeli State in the hours, days and months ahead. There is no doubt about this – Israel, to repeat, is a State that, as currently constituted, has given itself no alternative but to pursue the internal logic of its own founding principles.  Contrary to the currently dominant cultural and religious tenets professed by Israel, this logic and practice is not directed by heaven, but summoned by man.

In this post I want briefly to show why the position is as I have characterised it. I want also to explain why it is simply false to characterise Israel a democratic State.  The claim is able to be made only by the deft use of smoke and mirrors. In plain sight the proposition is somewhere between risible and flagrantly deceitful.  I touch only on a few aspects of this ‘internal logic’.  Other agencies and organisations have documented the full extent of the institutionalised web of discriminatory law, regulation, policy and practice.  Some links appear at the end of this piece. Continue reading

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