All posts by Ramzy Baroud

On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed  

Wednesday, July 1, was meant to be the day on which the Israeli government officially annexed 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the Jordan Valley. This date, however, came and went and annexation was never actualized.

“I don’t know if there will be a declaration of sovereignty today,” said Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, with reference to the self-imposed deadline declared earlier by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. An alternative date was not immediately announced.

But does it really matter?

Whether Israel’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian land takes place with massive media fanfare and a declaration of sovereignty, or whether it happens incrementally over the course of the coming days, weeks, and months, Israel has, in reality, already annexed the West Bank – not just 30% of it but, in fact, the whole area.

It is critical that we understand such terms as ‘annexation’, ‘illegal’, ‘military occupation’, and so on, in their proper contexts.

For example, international law deems that all of Israel’s Jewish settlements, constructed anywhere on Palestinian land occupied during the 1967 war, are illegal.

Interestingly, Israel, too, uses the term ‘illegal’ with reference to settlements, but only to ‘outposts’ that have been erected in the occupied territories without the permission of the Israeli government.

In other words, while in the Israeli lexicon the vast majority of all settlement activities in occupied Palestine are ‘legal’, the rest can only be legalized through official channels. Indeed, many of today’s ‘legal’ 132 settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, housing over half a million Israeli Jewish settlers, began as ‘illegal outposts’.

Though this logic may satisfy the need of the Israeli government to ensure its relentless colonial project in Palestine follows a centralized blueprint, none of this matters in international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”, adding that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Israel has violated its commitment to international law as an ‘Occupying Power’ on numerous occasions, rendering its very ‘occupation’ of Palestine, itself, a violation of how military occupations are conducted – which are meant to be temporary, anyway.

Military occupation is different from annexation. The former is a temporary transition, at the end of which the ‘Occupying Power’ is expected, in fact, demanded, to relinquish its military hold on the occupied territory after a fixed length of time. Annexation, on the other hand, is a stark violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations. It is tantamount to a war crime, for the occupier is strictly prohibited from proclaiming unilateral sovereignty over occupied land.

The international uproar generated by Netanyahu’s plan to annex a third of the West Bank is fully understandable. But the bigger issue at stake is that, in practice, Israel’s violations of the terms of occupation have granted it a de facto annexation of the whole of the West Bank.

So when the European Union, for example, demands that Israel abandons its annexation plans, it is merely asking Israel to re-embrace the status quo ante, that of de facto annexation. Both abhorring scenarios should be rejected.

Israel began utilizing the occupied territories as if they are contiguous and permanent parts of so-called Israel proper, immediately following the June 1967 war. Within a few years, it erected illegal settlements, now thriving cities, eventually moving hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to populate the newly acquired areas.

This exploitation became more sophisticated with time, as Palestinians were subjected to slow, but irreversible, ethnic cleansing. As Palestinian homes were destroyed, farms confiscated, and entire regions depopulated, Jewish settlers moved in to take their place. The post-1967 scenario was a repeat of the post-1948 history, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine.

Moshe Dayan, who served as Israel’s Defense Minister during the 1967 war, explained the Israeli logic best in a historical address at Israel’s Technion University in March 1969. “We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here,” he said.

“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there, either … There is no one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population,” he added.

The same colonial approach was applied to East Jerusalem and the West Bank after the war. While East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, the West Bank was annexed in practice, but not through a clear legal Israeli proclamation. Why? In one word: demographics.

When Israel first occupied East Jerusalem, it went on a population transfer frenzy: moving its own population to the Palestinian city, strategically expanding the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include as many Jews and as few Palestinians as possible, slowly reducing the Palestinian population of Al Quds through numerous tactics, including the revocation of residency and outright ethnic cleansing.

And, thus, Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, which once constituted the absolute majority, has now been reduced to a dwindling minority.

The same process was initiated in parts of the West Bank, but due to the relatively large size of the area and population, it was not possible to follow a similar annexation stratagem without jeopardizing Israel’s drive to maintain Jewish majority.

Dividing the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C as a result of the disastrous Oslo accords, has given Israel a lifeline, for this allowed it to increase settlement activities in Area C – nearly 60% of the West Bank – without stressing too much about demographic imbalances. Area C, where the current annexation plan is set to take place, is ideal for Israeli colonialism, for it includes Palestine’s most arable, resource-rich, and sparsely populated lands.

It matters little whether the annexation will have a set date or will take place progressively through Israel’s declarations of sovereignty over smaller chunks of the West Bank in the future. The fact is, annexation is not a new Israeli political agenda dictated by political circumstances in Tel Aviv and Washington. Rather, annexation has been the ultimate Israeli colonial objective from the very onset.

Let us not get entangled in Israel’s bizarre definitions. The truth is that Israel rarely behaves as an ‘Occupying Power’, but as a sovereign in a country where racial discrimination and apartheid are not only tolerated or acceptable but are, in fact, ‘legal’ as well.

Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology  

The visit by newly-elected Tunisian President Kais Saied to France on June 22 was intended to discuss bilateral relations, trade, etc. But it was also a missed opportunity, where Tunisia could have formally demanded an apology from France for the decades of French colonialism, which has shattered the social and political fabric of this North African Arab nation since the late 19th century.

A heated debate at the Tunisian parliament, prior to Saied’s trip highlighted the significance of the issue to Tunisians, who are still reeling under the process of socio-economic and political transitions following the popular uprising in 2011.

Sadly, the Tunisian parliament rejected a motion forwarded by the centrist Karama coalition calling for a French apology, despite a fifteen hours’ long debate.

“We are not animated by any bitterness or hatred, but such apologies will heal the wounds of the past,” Seifeddine Makhlouf, head of Al-Karama, said during the debate. Makhlouf is under no moral obligation to explain his motives. A French apology to Tunisia, and many other African countries that have endured French colonialism for hundreds of years, is long overdue.

Ravaged by a relentless economic crisis, and still largely dependent on France as a foremost trade partner, Tunisia fears the consequences of such a just demand, which, if officially made, will also include a call for compensation as a result of nearly 75 years of exploitation and the subsequent collective trauma suffered by several generations.

A particular statement made by Osama Khelifi of the Qalb Tounes party delineates the unfortunate reality that continues to govern the thinking of Tunisia’s political elites. “We are not going to feed Tunisians with such notions,” he said.

Inconsequential to Khelifi, and others among the parties that rejected the motion, is that coming to terms with the past is a prerequisite for any nation that wishes to start anew. What would be the point of revolutions and revolutionary discourses if Tunisian politicians insist on merely trying to get along with a status quo that is imposed on them by outside forces?

While Saied was paying his diplomatic dues to Paris, statues were tumbling down across the Western world; some of former slave owners, others of racist ideologues and pioneers of colonialism.

On June 7, the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, was taken down in the English town of Bristol. This was only one of many other monuments that were destroyed or defaced throughout the United States and Europe.

However, across the English Channel, the French government remained obstinate in its refusal to take down any similar statues, as if insisting on its refusal to revisit – let alone take responsibility – for its sinister past, especially the bloody and tragic events that shattered the African continent.

Statues are built to honor individuals for their great contributions in any society. They are also erected as a reminder to future generations that they must emulate these presumably great individuals. France, however, remains the exception.

Unsurprisingly, French government officials are engaging in nonsensical arguments as to why such statues, as that of Jean-Baptiste Colbert — a white aristocrat who, during the 17th century reign of King Louis XIV, established the horrific ‘Black Code’, the rules according to which black slaves were to be treated in the colonies – should remain intact.

Macron himself has made it clear that “the Republic  … won’t remove any statues.”

The collective rethink underway in various Western societies, which have greatly benefited from the exploitation of Africa, was ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of American police officers in Minneapolis.

Spontaneous popular movements, led mostly by the youth, connected the dots between racism, slavery, and colonialism, taking to the streets in their millions to demand a complete overhaul of the status quo.

Yet, France’s political elites continue to embrace French exceptionalism, arguing that, unlike the American experience with race and slavery, French law was never, at any point in the past, purposely racist.

In truth, past arrogance — ‘mission civilisatrice’ — continues to define France’s attitudes towards the present. This is why the French colonial experience was particularly keen on composing a clever discourse to account for its exploitation of Africa and other regions in the world.

In this skewed rationale, France’s invasion of Algeria in 1830 was dubbed as something else entirely. Algeria was now an integral part of France, they argued. Other countries, like Tunisia and Morocco, were made protectorates, ruled indirectly through corrupt local authorities. The rest of France’s African colonies were ravaged mercilessly by greedy French administrators.

Unlike other European experiences, the French colonial connection to Africa did not disintegrate in recent decades. Instead, it took on different forms, known by the now disparaging term ‘Françafrique’.

The expression ‘Françafrique’ was introduced in 1955 to describe the ‘special relations’ between France and the newly-independent African countries, now bound with what France called ‘cooperation agreements’. It was rightly understood that France was entering a new phase of colonialism in Africa: neo-colonialism.

Despite former French president, François Hollande, pledging to eradicate the term ‘Françafrique’ and its practical meaning, little has changed between France and its former African colonies.

Indeed, France can be found in every aspect of life, whether political, military, economic or even cultural, in many African countries. In the cases of Mali and Libya, the French intervention takes on an even more crude manifestation: domineering and violent.

To appreciate French neo-colonialism in Africa, consider this: fourteen African countries are still economically bound to France through the use of special currency, the CFA franc, designed specifically by France to manage the trade and economies of its former colonies. This jarring example of French neo-colonialism in Africa is consistent with France’s colonial and racist past.

Whether France chooses to come to terms with its past is entirely a French affair. It is, however, the responsibility of Tunisia – and the whole of Africa – to confront France and other colonial and neo-colonial regimes, not merely by demanding apologies and compensation, but insisting on a complete change of the present, unequal relations as well.

“In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values,” wrote Frantz Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’.

The opposite must also be true. Tunisia, and many African countries, must demand a French apology. By doing so, they declare ‘loudly and intelligibly’ that they are finally free from the ‘white man’s (selfish and racist) values,’ and that they truly see themselves as equal. 

PA Political Circus: Why Abbas Must Hand the Keys over to the PLO

The painful truth is that the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas has already ceased to exist as a political body that holds much sway or relevance, either to the Palestinian people or to Abbas’ former benefactors, namely the Israeli and the American governments.

So, when the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, announced on June 9, that the Palestinian leadership had submitted a ‘counter-proposal’ to the US’ Middle East peace plan, also known as the ‘Deal of the Century’, few seemed to care.

We know little about this ‘counter-proposal’, aside from the fact that it envisages a demilitarized Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders. We also know that the Palestinian leadership is willing to accept land swaps and border adjustments, a provision that has surely been inserted to cater to Israel’s demographic and security needs.

It is almost certain that nothing will come out of Shtayyeh’s counter-proposal and no independent Palestinian state is expected to result from the seemingly historical offer. So, why did Ramallah opt for such a strategy only days before the July 1 deadline, when the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to launch its process of illegal annexation in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley?

The main reason behind Shtayyeh’s announcement is that the Palestinian leadership is often accused by Israel, the US and their allies of supposedly rejecting previous ‘peace’ overtures.

Rightly, the Palestinian Authority rejected the ‘Deal of the Century’, because the latter represents the most jarring violation of international law yet. The ‘Deal’ denies Palestine’s territorial rights in occupied East Jerusalem, dismisses the right of return for Palestinian refugees altogether, and gives carte blanche to the Israeli government to colonize more Palestinian land.

In principle, Netanyahu also rejected the American proposal, though without pronouncing his rejection publicly. Indeed, the Israeli leader has already dismissed any prospects of Palestinian statehood and has decided to move forward with the unilateral annexation of nearly 30% of the West Bank without paying any heed to the fact that even Trump’s unfair ‘peace’ initiative called for mutual dialogue before any annexation takes place.

As soon as Washington’s plan was announced in January, followed by Israel’s insistence that annexation of Palestinian territories was imminent, the Palestinian Authority spun into a strange political mode, far more unpredictable and bizarre than ever before.

One after another, Palestinian Authority officials began making all sorts of contradictory remarks and declarations, notable amongst them Abbas’ decision on May 19 to cancel all agreements signed between Palestinians and Israel.

This was followed by another announcement, on June 8, this time by Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian Authority official and Abbas’ confidante, that if annexation takes place the Authority would cut off civil services to Palestinians so that Israel may assume its legal role as an Occupying Power as per international norms.

A third announcement was made the following day by Shtayyeh himself, who threatened that, if Israel claims sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, the Authority would retaliate by declaring statehood within the pre-1967 borders.

The Palestinian counter-proposal was declared soon after this hotchpotch of announcements, most likely to offset the state of confusion that is marring the Palestinian body politic. It is the Palestinian leadership’s way of appearing pro-active, positive, and stately.

The Palestinian initiative also aims at sending a message to European countries that, despite Abbas’ cancellation of agreements with Israel, the Palestinian Authority is still committed to the political parameters set by the Oslo Accords as early as September 1993.

What Abbas and Shtayyeh are ultimately hoping to achieve is a repeat of an earlier episode that followed the admission of Palestine as a non-state member of the United Nations General Assembly in 2011. Salam Fayyad, who served as the Authority Prime Minister at the time, also waved the card of the unilateral declaration of statehood to force Israel to freeze the construction of illegal Jewish settlements.

Eventually, the Palestinian Authority was co-opted by then-US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to return to another round of useless negotiations with Israel, which won the Authority another ten years, during which time it received generous international funds while selling Palestinians false hope for an imaginary state.

Sadly, this is the current strategy of the Palestinian leadership: a combination of threats, counter-proposals and such, in the hope that Washington and Tel Aviv will agree to return to a by-gone era.

Of course, the Palestinian people, occupied, besieged, and oppressed are the least relevant factor in the Palestinian Authority’s calculations, but this should come as no surprise. The Palestinian leadership has operated for many years without a semblance of democracy, and the Palestinian people neither respect their government nor their so-called President. They have made their feelings known, repeatedly, in many opinion polls in the past.

In the last few months, the Authority has used every trick in the book to demonstrate its relevance and its seriousness in the face of the dual-threat of Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and Netanyahu’s annexation of Palestinian lands. Yet, the most significant and absolutely pressing step, that of uniting all Palestinians, people and factions, behind a single political body and a single political document, is yet to be taken.

Considering all of this, it is no exaggeration to argue that Abbas’ Authority is gasping its last breath, especially if its traditional European allies fail to extend a desperately needed lifeline. The guarded positions adopted by EU countries have, thus far, signaled that no European country is capable or even willing to fill the gap left open by Washington’s betrayal of the Palestinian Authority and of the ‘peace process’.

Until the Authority hands over the keys to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) so that the more democratically representative Palestinian body can start a process of national reconciliation, Netanyahu will, tragically, remain the only relevant party, determining the fate of Palestine and her people.

Exposing Israel’s Direct Role in US Violence

The banning of deadly police practices by many American states and cities following the murder of an African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers is, once more, shedding light on US-Israeli collaboration in the fields of security and crowd-control.

From California to New York, and from Washington State to Minneapolis, all forms of neck restraints and chokeholds that are used by police while dealing with suspects are no longer allowed by local, state, or federal authorities.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be a serious rethink in police practices, which disproportionately targets African Americans and other minority and marginalized communities across the United States.

The refashioning of the American police, in recent years, to fit some kind of a military model is a subject that requires a better understanding than the one currently offered by mainstream US media. Certainly, US racism and police violence are intrinsically linked and date back many years, but the militarization of the US police and its use of deadly violence against suspected petty criminals, or even non criminals, is a relatively new phenomenon that has been largely imported from Israel.

While an urgent conversation is already under way in US cities regarding the need to reimagine public safety, or even to defund the police altogether, little is being said about the link between the US’ ‘war on terror’ and the American elites’ fascination with the ‘Israeli example’ in its dealing with besieged Gaza and occupied Palestinians in the West Bank.

“The Israeli example (could serve as) a possible basis for arguing … that ‘torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm’,” the CIA General Counsel report of September 2001 read, as quoted by Slate magazine.

Equally important to the argument made by the CIA above, was the actual date – only a few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11. That was the beginning of the Israeli- American love affair, which entirely redefined the nature of the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv, removing Israel from the category of ‘client regimes’, into a whole new one – as a model to be mimicked and a true partner to be embraced.

The language used by the CIA, and other facets of US intelligence agencies, quickly seeped into the military as well, and eventually became the uncontested political discourse, epitomized by former US President Barack Obama’s words in June 2010 that “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.”

‘Unbreakable’ indeed, since Israel, the long-time recipient of American financial support and military and intelligence secrets became a major exporter of ideas, security technology, and ‘war on terror’ tactics to the US.

It is critical that we do not reduce our understanding of this troubling rapport between the US and Israel to military hardware and intelligence sharing. The American infatuation with Israel is essentially an intellectual one, as the US began viewing itself as inferior to Israel in terms of the latter’s supposed ability to navigate between sustaining its own democracy while successfully defeating Palestinian and Arab ‘terrorism’.

For example, former US President George W. Bush saw extremist Israeli politician and author, Natan Sharansky, as a mentor. In January 2005, the New York Times reported how the Bush White House invited Sharansky to the Oval Office to discuss his book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

Thus, a barely visible Israeli politician became the moral authority for Bush’s invasion of sovereign Arab countries. It was during this period that Israeli torture tactics, including the infamous ‘Palestinian Chair’, became the crown jewel of the American military’s systematic violence used in America’s immoral wars from Iraq to Afghanistan, to elsewhere.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2016, Rachel Stroumsa argued that the ‘Palestinian Chair’ is “but one of many examples of ties and seepages between the security practices of Israel and America,” adding that “the CIA explicitly justified its use of torture in depositions to the Senate Intelligence Committee by citing High Court of Justice rulings.”

The political, military, and intelligence marriage between the US and Israel in Iraq quickly spread to include the US global ‘war on terror’, where Israeli weapon manufacturers cater to every American need, playing on the country’s growing sense of insecurity, offering products that range from airport security, the building of watchtowers, the erection of walls and fences, to spying and surveillance technology.

Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company, made a fortune from building surveillance towers and sensors, in addition to many other products, across the US-Mexico border. The company, like other Israeli companies, won one bid after another, because its products are ‘combat-proven’ or ‘field-proven’, because these technologies have been used against, or tested on real people in real situations; the ‘people’ here, of course, being Palestinians, Lebanese, and Syrians.

The fact that thousands of American police officers have been trained by Israelis, thus the burgeoning of violent military-like tactics used against ordinary Americans, is only one link in a long chain of ‘deadly exchanges’ between the two countries.

Almost immediately after the September 11 attacks, “the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Amnesty International said in a recent report.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, for the Israeli army manual, which holds little respect for internationally-recognized rules of conduct, infiltrated numerous police departments across the US. Even the typical look of the American police officers began changing to resemble that of a combat soldier in full gear.

The growing Israeli role in shaping the American security state allowed Israel to push its political priorities past its traditional stronghold over the US Congress to individual states and, eventually, to city councils across the country.

Even if some of the Israeli tactics, which are currently applied by the US police, are discontinued under the collective chants of ‘Black Lives Matter’, Israel – if not stopped –  will continue to define Washington’s security priorities from Washington State to Texas, because the relationship – Obama’s ‘unbreakable bond’ – is much stronger and deeper than anyone could have ever imagined.

Palestine Bleeds: Execution of Autistic Man is Not an Exception but the Norm

A 32-year-old man with the mental age of an 8-year-old child was executed by Israeli soldiers on May 30, while crouching behind his teacher near his special needs school in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The cold-blooded murder of Iyad al-Hallaq might not have received much attention if it were not for the fact that it took place five days following the similarly heartbreaking murder of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, at the hands of American police.

The two crimes converge, not only in their repugnancy and the moral decadence of their perpetrators, but also because countless American police officers have been trained in Israel, by the very Israeli ‘security forces’ that killed al-Hallaq. The practice of killing civilians, with efficiency and callousness, is now a burgeoning market. Israel is the biggest contributor to this market; the US is the world’s largest client.

When thousands of people rushed to the streets in Palestine, including hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli Jewish activists in Jerusalem, chanting “Justice for Iyad, justice for George”, their cry for justice was a spontaneous and heartfelt reaction to injustice so great, so blatant.

Al-Hallaq’s story might appear particularly unique, as the ‘suspected terrorist’ was killed while merely walking in King Faisal Street in Jerusalem, on his way to take out the trash. He was afraid of soldiers and terrified of blood.

“He was also afraid of the armed police officers who stood along the route to the special needs center he went to, where he participated in a vocational training program,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported.

Al-Hallaq’s many fears, which may have appeared exaggerated by his family, turned out to be true. Even an autistic person in Palestine is not safe from the vengeance of soldiers.

But Iyad al-Hallaq did not need to die for Israel to maintain its pathological sense of ‘security’. The fact that he was already shot and wounded, and found bleeding in a roofless garbage room in Jerusalem’s Old City, was not enough to spare him that horrific fate. The fact that the man screamed in agony while hiding behind his caregiver, who pleaded with the soldiers, begging them to stop puncturing his already bleeding body with more bullets, was also not enough.

Still, the soldiers stepped forward, and from a very close range, fired three bullets into al-Hallaq’s midsection as he lay wounded on his back. Instantly, the young man, the ‘apple of the eyes of his parents’, ceased breathing.

“He was our mother’s love, her entire life,” Iyad’s sister, Diana said in an interview with +972 magazine. “She would hold his hand like he was a baby, and he would walk with her to the market, or the mosque or the clothing store. He was like her shadow. She worried about him and whether other kids would bother or hurt him.”

Caught off guard by the grisly nature of the murder and the mental state of the victim, Israel’s spin doctors moved quickly to contain the damage, initially spreading lies that al-Hallaq was carrying a toy gun at the time of the shooting, then backing off, promising an investigation.

But what is there to investigate? In recent years, the Israeli army has upgraded its code of conduct, adopting a shoot-to-kill policy of any Palestinian they suspect of attempting to harm Israeli occupation soldiers, even when the alleged Palestinian ‘attacker’ is no longer posing a threat.

In the case of Gaza, where protesters are separated from Israeli snipers by barbed wire and nearly a mile-long empty space, the Israeli military issued orders, as of June 2019, to shoot and kill ‘key instigators’ of the mass protests even while ‘at rest’. Hundreds of people have been killed in Gaza’s Great March of Return in this way, and the ‘key instigators’ included medics, journalists, young boys and girls.

Indeed, the killing of Palestinian civilians is a regular occurrence. It is the devastating routine with which Palestinians have been forced to co-exist for many years and for which Israel was never ever held accountable.

Only one day before al-Hallaq was murdered, Fadi Samara Qaad, 37, was killed by Israeli occupation soldiers while driving his car near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, west of Ramallah.

The Israeli military immediately claimed that Qaad “tried to ram his car into a group of soldiers” before they opened fire, killing him on the spot.

This is the go-to Israeli military pretense that is often offered when a Palestinian driver is shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Otherwise, the Palestinian victim, whether a man, a woman, or a child, is often accused of carrying a ‘sharp object’.

Al-Hallaq’s mental disability might have spared him, in the eyes of some, from being that archetypical ‘terrorist’, although the Israeli army immediately raided his house, looking for ‘evidence’ that would implicate him and be useful in their sinister propaganda.

In the case of Qaad, a Palestinian worker, on his way to join his wife in a nearby town to celebrate the Muslim Eid holiday, the Israeli army statement suffices, no questions asked.

This is the same stifling logic that has prevailed in Palestine for so many years, and counting. Children are killed for throwing stones at men with guns, who have invaded their homes and villages; pregnant women are gunned down at Israeli army checkpoints; men with amputated legs in wheelchairs shot by snipers while protesting and demanding their freedom.

All of this is taking place in the complete absence of any promising political horizon. Even the protracted and ultimately useless ‘peace process’ has been halted in favor of greater American backing of Israel and of the Israeli government’s mad rush to expand illegal Jewish settlements.

To secure his colonial accomplishments — read: land theft — Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is about to reveal the crown jewel of his legacy, as he prepares for the expansion of Israel’s borders through the annexation of yet more Palestinian land.

Inspired by the common struggle that ties them with their African-American brethren, Palestinians are now left only with their cries for justice: Palestinian lives matter, hoping, for once, the world may hear and echo their screams and, perhaps, do something.

“Wolf Warrior Diplomacy”: Israel’s China Strategy in Peril   

Israel’s balancing act that allowed it to reap America’s unconditional and, often, blind support, while slowly benefiting from China’s growing economic influence and political prestige, is already floundering.

Thanks to the heated cold war between the US and Chinese economic superpowers, the Israeli strategy of playing both sides is unlikely to pay dividends in the long run. Soon enough, Tel Aviv might find itself having to make a stark choice between Washington and Beijing.

When US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited Israel on May 13, two items topped his agenda: Israel’s imminent illegal annexation of Palestinian land and the growing Israeli-Chinese economic ties.

Pompeo communicated his country’s stand on both issues, reflecting Washington’s long-standing policies regarding Palestine and China. In the case of Palestine, as with the rest of the Middle East, Washington seems to adhere to Tel Aviv’s agenda, often to the letter.  China is a different story.

Two significant historical examples come to mind: one, is Israel’s attempt to sell China Israeli-made Phalcon airborne radar system, which relied heavily on American technology in the 1990s; a similar event transpired in 2005, this time concerning Israel’s Harpy anti-radar missile. On both occasions, Israel succumbed to American pressure and canceled both deals.

For the Chinese, Israel matters for two different reasons. One, Israel is a strategic stop in China’s Belt and Road initiative, China’s most significant economic project to date, ultimately aimed at turning Beijing into a center of global trade and financial activities. Two, China is hoping to fight the US on its own political turf in the Middle East — partly in response to the American ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, which was initiated by the Barack Obama administration.

But the world — in terms of political and economic balances of power — after the coronavirus pandemic is likely to prove a different one when compared with previous years. China’s rise has been in the making for many years and the US political retreat and declining global outreach has been quite evident for some time. The isolationist policies of the Donald Trump Administration, coupled with Washington’s many China-related tantrums in recent years, are all indicators of the vastly changing political realities of a once-unipolar world.

A few years ago, Beijing had the time, patience, and resources to play a long-drawn geopolitical game in order for it to challenge the US’s global influence, whether in South America, Africa, or Israel.

The visit by China’s Vice President, Wang Qishan, to Israel in 2018, to “boost business ties”, was part of this Chinese strategy. That visit followed the signing, one year earlier, of the China-Israel Innovative Comprehensive Partnership. As of 2018, China-Israel trade has jumped to $14 billion and has grown exponentially ever since.

China would have been happy to carry on with that strategy for many years to come. Israel, too, would have played along, considering the lucrative financial returns from its China partnership.

Indeed, despite Washington’s warnings against and, at times, explicit demands on Israel to refrain from giving Chinese companies access to fifth-generation infrastructure (5G) projects in the country, Israel labored to make China feel welcomed.

However, the global response to the coronavirus pandemic is likely to change this, as it has already accelerated the cold war between the US and China, pushing the latter to adopt a more aggressive form of diplomacy and pour massive sums into other countries’ economies to help them in their desperate fight against the COVID-19 disease.

The Chinese strategy is predicated on two main pillars: fortifying existing ties and solidarity with China’s allies or potential allies anywhere in the world, while pushing back against China’s foes, especially those who are participating in Washington’s anti-Beijing campaign.

The latter phenomenon is known as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’. The ‘wolf warriors’ are Chinese diplomats who have, for months, pushed back with unprecedented ferocity against what they perceive to be US and Western propaganda.

“We never pick a fight or bully others,” China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, told reporters in Beijing on May 24, while explaining China’s novel approach to diplomacy. “We will push back against any deliberate insult, resolutely defend our national honor and dignity, and we will refute all groundless slander with facts,” the top Chinese official said firmly.

China’s new aggressive diplomacy, especially if it continues to define the country’s approach to foreign policy in the coming years, is unlikely to permit Israel to maintain its balancing act for much longer.

China’s ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, who was entrusted with implementing Beijing’s soft-diplomacy with Tel Aviv, died in his home only a few days following Pompeo’s visit to the country. Although Wei’s death was not — at least publicly — perceived to be the result of foul play, his absence, especially in the age of coronavirus and ‘wolf warriors’, might signal a shift in China’s approach to its economic and political interests in Israel.

On May 26, under American pressure, the Israeli Finance Ministry denied China a massive $1.5 billion desalination plant contract, awarding it to an Israeli company, instead.

This is the first time in many years that the US has used its political and economic sway over Israel to curb Chinese influence in the country. China must be anxiously watching events unfold, to see if US pressure on Israel will continue to undermine Beijing’s long-term strategy.

The world’s quickly shifting balance of power and the US-Chinese unmistakable fight for dominance is likely to, eventually, force countries like Israel to make a choice, of wholly joining the American or the Chinese sphere of influence. It is all reminiscent of the American-Soviet Cold War, where much of the globe was divided into zones of influence operated by proxy from Washington or Moscow.

Balancing acts in politics only work if all parties are willing to play or, at least, tolerate the game. While this form of politics suited Israel’s interests in the past and was played, quite successfully for years by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s balancing act is, possibly, over.

Between Washington’s precise demands to Israel to keep Beijing at bay, and the latter’s aggressive ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, Israel is facing a stark choice: remaining loyal to a fading superpower or diving into the uncharted waters of an emerging one.

Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo

This time, we are told, it is different and that President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is absolutely serious about his decision to absolve his leadership from all previous agreements signed with Israel and the United States.

But this time is not different, and Abbas is not serious.

“The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the state of Palestine are absolved  … of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments  … including the security ones,” Abbas declared at an emergency meeting of his leadership held in Ramallah on May 19.

Unsurprisingly, there were no massive demonstrations reported throughout Occupied Palestine in support of Abbas’ latest decision. Aside from a few loyalists in PA-controlled media, it seemed as if the man did not utter a word, let alone cancel all agreements that justified the very existence of his Authority over the course of nearly 30 years.

The demonstrable truth is that Abbas ceased to matter to Palestinians a long time ago. However, for Israel, he mattered greatly, because his Authority has served as an additional security buffer between occupied Palestinians and the occupation army. Thanks to ‘security coordination’, Israel was allowed to fortify its occupation in peace.

Palestinians have long lost faith in Abbas as proved by one public opinion after another. This is not a sudden occurrence, but the accumulation of decades of failure and disappointments. Abbas’ commitment to the Oslo Accords led to absolutely nothing, except for the creation of a massive and utterly corrupt security apparatus that largely exists to ‘coordinate’ the subjugation of Palestinians with their Israeli oppressors.

Since his advent to power in 2005, Abbas and his faithful followers within the Fatah party became obsessed with their enmity, not with Israel and the United States, but with Abbas’ own Palestinian rivals, within Fatah itself – Mohammed Dahlan, etc. – and, to a larger extent, with Hamas in Gaza.

Israel mainly factored in Abbas’ many speeches in Ramallah and at the UN General Assembly in New York; despite all the rhetoric, little or no action ever followed. Concurrently, Israeli soldiers and illegal Jewish settlers carried on with their systematic abuse of Palestinians, unhindered.

Not once did Abbas’ ever-growing security forces (estimated at 80,000 strong) move to block the path of a single Israeli bulldozer demolishing a Palestinian home or uprooting an ancient olive grove in the West Bank. Nor did they prevent the arrest of an anti-Israeli occupation activist. Often, they carried out the arrests themselves.

Even as Israel was pounding Gaza with massive bombs and white phosphorus, Abbas continued barking insults at his Palestinian enemies. He berated Gaza’s armed resistance, yet offered no meaningful alternative to whatever version of ‘resistance’ he championed.

But if Abbas managed to co-exist under these humiliating conditions, why did he decide to cancel the agreements now? To answer this, first, let us look at the political context of Abbas’ decision.

In February 2015, Abbas threatened to sever security ties with Israel as a response to the Israeli decision to withhold millions of dollars of Palestinian tax revenues, which Tel Aviv obtains on behalf of the PA. Similar threats were made in July 2017, this time in response to Israel’s illegal measures around the Muslim holy sites in occupied Jerusalem. And again, in September 2018, when the US unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And, yet again, in July 2019, when Israel demolished Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The latest episode, Abbas’s threat to dissolve the PA, was in response to the American announcement of the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’.

These are only the notable threats that registered in media coverage. In reality, Abbas has waged his ‘war’ on Israel in the form of endless threats that were always met with disdain in Israel.

The difference, this time, is because Abbas has never experienced this degree of abandonment and political vulnerability. Discarded by the Americans and disowned by the Israelis, Abbas’ credibility is at an all-time low. More importantly, the Palestinian people have long abandoned any illusion that the path of liberation will go through Abbas’ office in Ramallah.

Overwhelmed by many odds, Abbas decided to conduct what is, most likely, to be his final political act. What happens next matters little, because at this stage the 84-year-old Palestinian leader is left with nothing to lose.

Canceling the Palestinian commitment to the agreements should translate into little on the ground, considering that Israel and the US have already reneged on these agreements.

The Oslo Accords were meant to be relevant up to a point, until 1999, when the final status negotiations were meant to be held as the last step before the establishment of an independent Palestinian State.

Jerusalem, like the rights of Palestinian refugees, was meant to be resolved then, not to be completely “taken off the table”, two decades later. No territorial swap, let alone annexation, was to be permitted without a bilateral agreement between both parties.

Only two components of these agreements survived Israel’s numerous violations: the ‘security coordination’ and the ‘donors’ money’, which kept the PA and its massive – but useless – army in operation.

Now that the US has withheld all funds to Abbas’ Authority, and Israel’s new national unity government has agreed, in principle, to annex much of the West Bank, Abbas is left with nothing.

By canceling all agreements, Abbas and his supporters are hoping that alarm bells sound in Washington and Tel Aviv, especially since the halting of ‘security coordination’ could prove costly to the safety of Israel’s Jewish settlers.

If Abbas was, indeed, serious in his announcement, he would have included in his speech a clear articulation of a new Palestinian political agenda that is predicated on unity – but a true Palestinian strategy was never the PA leader’s ultimate goal.

What Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to achieve, with his latest theatrics, is the establishment of a new political game, one that is based on political ambiguity, so that he is not entirely abandoned by his Western backers, or finally shunned as a collaborator by his own people.

Why Does Israel Celebrate Its Terrorists?

Israeli media and Zionist apologists everywhere are busy whitewashing Israel’s globally-tattered image using the rare indictment of an Israeli terrorist, Amiram Ben Uliel, who was recently convicted for murdering the Palestinian Dawabsheh family, including an 18-month-old toddler in the town of Duma, south of Nablus.

The conviction of Ben Uliel by an Israeli three-judge court on May 18, is expectedly celebrated by some as proof that the Israeli judicial system is fair and transparent, and that Israel does not need to be investigated by outside parties.

The timing of the Israeli court’s decision to convict Ben Uliel of three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder was particularly important, as it followed a decision by the the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to move forward with its investigation of war crimes committed in Occupied Palestine.

Considering how Israel’s extremists, especially those living illegally in the Occupied West Bank, are governed through a separate, and far more lenient system than the military regime that governs Palestinians, the seemingly-clear indictment of the Israeli terrorist deserves further scrutiny.

Israel’s apologists were quick to celebrate the verdict by the court, to the extent that Israel’s own internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, known for its notorious torture methods of Palestinian prisoners, described the decision as “an important milestone in the battle against Jewish terror”.

Others labored to separate Ben Uliel’s grizzly attack from the rest of Israeli society, implying that the man was a lone wolf and not the direct outcome of Israel’s unhinged racism and violent discourse directed at innocent Palestinians.

Despite the clear indictment of Ben Uliel, the Israeli court was keen on accentuating the point that the Israeli terrorist acted alone and that he was not a member of a terrorist organization. Based on that logic, the court argued that the judges “could not rule out that the attack was motivated by a desire for revenge or racism without Ben-Uliel actually being a member of an organized group.”

The verdict was a best case scenario for Israel’s image under the circumstances, as it deliberately absolved the massive terrorist network that spawned the likes of Ben Uliel and the Israeli army that protects those very extremists on a daily basis, while whitewashing Israel’s deservedly bad reputation as a violent society with an unjust judicial system.

But Ben Uliel is, by no measure, a lone wolf.

When the Israeli terrorist, along with other masked assailants, brokeinto the house of Sa’ad and Reham Dawabsheh at 4 am on July 31, 2015, he was clearly on a mission to elevate his name within the ardently racist, extremist society which has made the murder and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians a sort of a divine mission.

Ben Uliel achieved his objectives completely. Not only did he kill Sa’ad and Reham, but their 18-month-old son, Ali, as well. The only surviving member of the family was 4-year-old Ahmed, who was severely burnt.

The murder of the Palestinian family, little Ali in particular, quickly became the source of joy and celebration among Jewish extremists. In December 2015, six months after the murder of the Dawabsheh family, a 25-second video clip that went viral on social media showed a crowd of Israelis celebrating the death of Ali.

The video showed a “room of jumping, dancing men wearing white skullcaps, many with the long sidelocks of Orthodox Jews. Some of them are brandishing guns and knives,” the New York Times reported.

“Two (of the celebrating Israelis) appear to be stabbing pieces of paper they hold in their hands, which the television station identified as pictures of an 18-month-old child, Ali Dawabsheh.”

Despite Israeli police claims that they were ‘investigating’ the hate fest, there is little evidence to suggest that anyone was held accountable for the unmitigated celebration of violence against an innocent family and a toddler. In fact, Israeli State prosecutors later claimed that they had lost the original video of the dancing extremists.

The celebration of Israeli terrorism carried on unabated for years, to the extent that on June 19, 2018, Israeli extremists chanted openly, taunting Ali’s grandfather as he was leaving an Israeli court, with such obscene slogans, as “Where is Ali? Ali’s dead,” “Ali’s on the grill”.

The heinous murder of Ali and his family, and the subsequent trial were added to an array of other events that starkly challenged Israel’s carefully concocted image of being a liberal democracy.

On March 24, 2016, Elor Azaria killed a Palestinian man, Fattah al-Sharif, in cold blood. Al-Sharif was left bleeding on the ground while unconscious after, per Israeli army claim, trying to stab an Israeli soldier.

Azaria received a light sentence of eighteen months, soon to be freed in a massive celebration, like a conquering hero. Israel’s top government officials, including Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, supported the cold-blooded murderer throughout the trial. It will not come as a complete surprise if Azaria claims a top position in the Israeli government at some point in the future.

The celebration of murderers and terrorists like Ben Uliel and Azaria, is not a new phenomenon in Israeli society. Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli terrorist whonkilled scores of Palestinian worshippers while kneeling for prayer at Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) in 1994, is now perceived as a modern martyr, a saint of biblical proportions.

In such cases, when the nature of the crime is so overwhelmingly violent, the extent of which forces itself on global news media, Israel is left with only one option – to use the indictment of ‘Jewish terrorism’ as an opportunity to reinvent itself, its ‘democratic’ system, its ‘transparent’ judicial proceedings, and so on. Meanwhile, Israeli media and its affiliates worldwide labor to describe the collective ‘shock’ and ‘outrage’ felt by ‘law-abiding’, ‘peace-loving’ Israelis.

The murder of the Dawabsheh family, although one of the numerous acts of violence perpetrated by Jewish extremists and the Israeli military against innocent Palestinians, is the perfect case in point.

Indeed, a quick look at the numbers and reports produced by the United Nations indicates that the Jewish settlers’ murder of the Palestinian family was not the exception but the norm.

In a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in June 2018, UN investigators spoke of an exponential rise of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians.

“Between January and April 2018, OCHA documented 84 incidents attributed to Israeli settlers resulting in Palestinian casualties (27 incidents) or in damage to Palestinian property (57 incidents),” the report read. That trend continued, at times markedly increasing, with very little accountability.

The Israeli rights group, Yesh Din, has been following up on the small percentage of settler violence cases that were opened by the Israeli military and police. The group concluded that, “of 185 investigations opened between 2014 and 2017 that reached a final stage, only 21, or 11.4%, led to the prosecution of offenders, while the other 164 files were closed without indictment.”

The reason for this is simple: the hundreds of thousands of Jewish extremists who have been transferred to permanently settle in the occupied territories, an act that starkly violates international law, do not operate outside the colonial paradigm designed by the Israeli government. In some way, they too, are ‘soldiers’, not only because they are armed and coordinate their movement with the Israeli army, but because their ever-expanding settlements lie at the heart of the Israeli occupation and its continued project of ethnic cleansing.

Therefore, Jewish settler violence, like that committed by Ben Uliel, should not be analyzed separately from the violence meted out by the Israeli army, but seen within the larger context of the violent Zionist ideology that governs Israeli society as a whole. It follows that settler violence can only end with the end of the military occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, and with the demise of the racist Zionist ideology that spews hatred, embraces racism and rationalizes murder.

Why Israel Fears the Nakba: How Memory Became Palestine’s Greatest Weapon

On May 15, thousands of Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and throughout the ‘shatat’, or diaspora, participated in the commemoration of Nakba Day, the one event that unites all Palestinians, regardless of their political differences or backgrounds.

For years, social media has added a whole new stratum to this process of commemoration. #Nakba72, along with #NakbaDay and #Nakba, have all trended on Twitter for days. Facebook was inundated with countless stories, videos, images, and statements, written by Palestinians, or in global support of the Palestinian people.

The dominant Nakba narrative remains — 72 years following the destruction of historic Palestine at the hands of Zionist militias — an opportunity to reassert the centrality of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Palestine in 1947-48. The surviving refugees and their descendants are now estimated at over five million.

As thousands of Palestinians rallied on the streets and as the Nakba hashtag was generating massive interest on social media, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, paid an eight-hour visit to Israel to discuss the seemingly imminent Israeli government annexation, or theft, of nearly 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“The Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it,” Pompeo said in an interview with Israeli radio, Kan Bet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Clearly, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has American blessing to further its colonization of occupied Palestine, to entrench its existing Apartheid regime, and to act as if the Palestinians simply do not exist.

The Nakba commemoration and Pompeo’s visit to Israel are a stark representation of Palestine’s political reality today.

Considering the massive US political sway, why do Palestinians then insist on making demands which, according to the pervading realpolitik of the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict, seem unattainable?

Since the start of the peace process in Oslo in the early 1990s, the Palestinian leadership has engaged with Israel and its western benefactors in a useless political exercise that has, ultimately, worsened an already terrible situation. After over 25 years of haggling over bits and pieces of what remained of historic Palestine, Israel and the US are now plotting the endgame, while demonizing the very Palestinian leaders that participated in their joint and futile political charade.

Strangely, the rise and demise of the so-called ‘peace process’ did not seem to affect the collective narrative of the Palestinian people, who still see the Nakba, not the Israeli occupation of 1967, and certainly not the Oslo accords, as the core point in their struggle against Israeli colonialism.

This is because the collective Palestinian memory remains completely independent from Oslo and its many misgivings. For Palestinians, memory is an active process. It is not a docile, passive mechanism of grief and self-pity that can easily be manipulated, but a generator of new meanings.

In their seminal book “Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory”, Ahmad Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod wrote that “Palestinian memory is, at its heart, political.”

This means that the powerful and emotive commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba is essentially a collective political act, and, even if partly unconscious, a people’s retort and rejection of Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, of Pompeo’s politicking, and of Netanyahu’s annexation drive.

Despite the numerous unilateral measures taken by Israel to determine the fate of the Palestinian people, the blind and unconditional US support of Israel, and the unmitigated failure of the Palestinian Authority to mount any meaningful resistance, Palestinians continue to remember their history and understand their reality based on their own priorities.

For many years, Palestinians have been accused of being unrealistic, of “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and even of extremism, for simply insisting on their historical rights in Palestine, as enshrined in international law.

These critical voices are either supporters of Israel, or simply unable to understand how Palestinian memory factors in shaping the politics of ordinary people, independent of the quisling Palestinian leadership or the seemingly impossible-to-overturn status quo. True, both trajectories, that of the stifling political reality and people’s priorities seem to be in constant divergence, with little or no overlapping.

However, a closer look is revealing: the more belligerent Israel becomes, the more stubbornly Palestinians hold on to their past. There is a reason for this.

Occupied, oppressed and refugee camps-confined Palestinians have little control over many of the realities that directly impact their lives. There is little that a refugee from Gaza can do to dissuade Pompeo from assigning the West Bank to Israel, or a Palestinian refugee from Ein El-Helweh in Lebanon to compel the international community to enforce the long-delayed Right of Return.

But there is a single element that Palestinians, regardless of where they are, can indeed control: their collective memory, which remains the main motivator of their legendary steadfastness.

Hannah Arendt wrote in 1951 that totalitarianism is a system that, among other things, forbids grief and remembrance, in an attempt to sever the individual’s or group’s relation to the continuous past.

For decades, Israel has done just that, in a desperate attempt to stifle the memory of the Palestinians, so that they are only left with a single option, the self-defeating peace process.

In March 2011, the Israeli parliament introduced the ‘Nakba Law’, which authorized the Israeli Finance Ministry to carry out financial measures against any institution that commemorates Nakba Day.

Israel is afraid of Palestinian memory, since it is the only facet of its war against the Palestinian people that it cannot fully control; the more Israel labors to erase the collective memory of the Palestinian people, the more Palestinians hold tighter to the keys of their homes and to the title deed of their land back in their lost homeland.

There can never be a just peace in Palestine until the priorities of the Palestinian people —  their memories, and their aspirations — become the foundation of any political process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Everything that operates outside this paradigm is null and void, for it will never herald peace or instill true justice. This is why Palestinians remember; for, over the years, their memory has proven to be their greatest weapon.

Arabs, UN Must Move to Swiftly Protect the Status of Palestinian Refugees

‘Heinous racism,’ is how the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor described a recent decision by Lebanese authorities to bar Palestinian refugee expats from returning to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s restrictions on its ever-diminishing population of Palestinian refugees is nothing new. However, this event is particularly alarming as it may be linked to a long-term official policy regarding the residency status of Palestinian refugees in this Arab country.

Many were taken aback by a recent Lebanese government’s order to its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, instructing it to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Lebanon.

Tariq Hajjar, a legal advisor to the Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement that “the circular includes heinous racial discrimination against Palestinian refugees holding Lebanese travel documents.”

Hajjar rightly insisted that “the holder of this document should receive similar treatment to the Lebanese citizen.”

Indeed they should, as has been the practice for many years. Otherwise, there is no other place where these refugees can possibly go, considering that Lebanon has been their home for decades, starting in 1948 when Israel forcefully expelled nearly a million Palestinians from their historic homeland.

Refugees, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter the political complexity of their host countries. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot be made an exception.

Last April, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights called on the United Nations to provide financial assistance to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, indicating that due to the coronavirus pandemic, a whopping 90 percent of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have lost their jobs.

Under discriminatory Lebanese laws, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to practice 72 types of jobs that are available to Lebanese nationals. This is merely one of many other such restrictions. Thus, employed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (the vast majority of whom are now unemployed) have been competing within a very limited work market.

A large number of those refugees have been employed at the various projects operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Many of those who were lucky enough to receive university degrees opted to leave the country altogether, mostly working in the teaching, engineering, banking, and medical sectors in Arab Gulf countries.

However, due to the coronavirus, the severe financial hardship suffered by UNRWA and to new Lebanese government regulations, all doors are now being shut in the face of Palestinian refugees.

For thousands of those refugees, the only remaining option is sailing the high seas in search for a better refugee status in Europe. Yet, sadly, tens of thousands of those refugees are now living a miserable life in European camps, or stranded in Turkey. Hundreds drowned while undertaking these perilous journeys.

According to a recent survey by  the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, only 175,000 (from nearly half a million) Palestinian refugees still reside in Lebanon.

That said, the Palestinian refugee tragedy in Lebanon is only a facet in a much larger ailment that is unique to the Palestinian refugee experience.

Syria’s Palestinian refugees arrived in the country in waves, starting with the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the ‘Nakba’, or Catastrophe. Others fled the Golan Heights after the Israeli invasion in 1967. Many more fled Lebanon during the Israeli 1982 invasion.

The relatively safe Syrian haven was ruptured during the ongoing Syria war started in 2011. UNRWA’s mission, which allowed it to provide the nearly half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria with direct support was made nearly impossible because of the destructive war, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled the country or became internally displaced.

The devastating impact of the Syrian war on Palestinian refugees was almost an exact copy of what had transpired earlier during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the case of Iraq, where most of the country’s 35,000 refugees fled, the Palestinian refugee crisis was particularly compounded. While Palestinians enjoyed a permanent residence status (though no ownership rights) in Iraq before the war, they were still not recognized as refugees as per international standards, since UNRWA does not operate in Iraq. Post-2003 Iraqi governments exploited this fact to the fullest, leading to the displacement of the country’s Palestinian population.

Since its advent, the US Administration of President Donald Trump has waged a financial war on the Palestinians, including the cutting of all aids to UNRWA. This infamous act has added layers of suffering to the existing hardships of refugees.

On May 5, UNRWA, somberly declared that it only has enough cash to sustain its operations until the end of the month.

The truth is that, long before Trump targeted the UN agency, UNRWA has functioned for over 70 years with an inherent vulnerability.

UNRWA was established exclusively with a UN mandate that provided the organization with a “separate and special status” to assist Palestinian refugees.

Arab governments, at the time, were keen for UNRWA to maintain this ‘special status’ based on their belief that lumping Palestinian refugees with the burgeoning world refugee crisis (resulting mostly from War World II) would downgrade the urgency of the Palestinian plight.

However, while that logic may have applied successfully in the immediate years following the ‘Nakba’, it proved costly in later years, as the status and definition of what constitute a Palestinian refugee remained historically linked to UNRWA’s scope of operations.

This became clear during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but, especially, since the start of political upheavals and subsequent wars in the Middle East in the last decade.

This is precisely why the US and Israel are keen on dismantling UNRWA, because, according to their logic, if UNRWA ceases to operate, the Palestinian refugee ceases to exist with any status that makes him/her unique.

Such precarious reality calls for an urgent and creative solution that should be spearheaded by Arab countries, UN-registered NGOs, and friends of Palestine everywhere.

What is needed today is a UN-adopted formula that would allow the legal status of Palestinian refugees under international law to remain active regardless of  UNRWA’s scope of operation, while providing Palestinian refugees with the material and financial support required for them to live with dignity until the Right of Return, in accordance to UN Resolution 194 of 1948, is finally enforced.

For the rights of Palestinian refugees to be maintained and for the Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria scenarios not to be repeated, the Arab League must work within the framework of international law – as determined by the UN General Assembly – to safeguard the Palestinian refugees’ legal status which is currently under an unprecedented attack.

Palestinian refugees must not have to choose between forfeiting their legal and unalienable right in their own homeland and accepting a life of perpetual degradation and uncertainty.