Category Archives: Apartheid

US War Strategists: Military Defeats and Political Success

In a previous article (“US: The Century of Lost Wars“), I recorded the repeated US military defeats over the past two decades. In this discussion I will describe the role of military strategists who bear responsibility for the US defeats, but also for Israeli political successes.

The key to this apparent contradiction is to uncover how and why the destruction of Israeli adversaries prolonged costly US military invasions.

The two outcomes are inter-related. The same US military strategists whose policies lead to failed US wars in the Middle East facilitated and augmented the power of Israel.

US war strategists’ operations reflect ‘dual loyalties’. On the one-hand they receive their elite education and high positions in the US, while their political loyalties to Tel Aviv express their Israel-first strategic decisions.

Our hypothesis is that dual loyalist strategists have fabricated threats, identified adversaries and committed hundreds of thousands of US soldiers to losing wars based on calculations that effectively increase Israeli power and influence in the Middle East.

We will proceed by identifying the war strategists and their policies and conclude by proposing an alternative framework for re-thinking the relationship between dual citizens and military strategy.

The ‘Best and the Brightest’: The Blind Ally of Military Defeats

There is an apparent contradiction between the high academic achievements of elite military strategists and their abominable record in pursuing military conflicts.

Most, if not all, policy makers who led the US in prolonged wars against Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria were Israel-firsters, either Zionists or Israeli ‘fellow travelers’.

In each of these wars, the Israel-firster war strategists, (1) identified the enemy, (2) exaggerated the threat to the US, and (3) grossly inflated the military capacity of the targeted country. They started with Iraq and Afghanistan and then proceeded to the other nations, all opponents of Israel.

By ‘coincidence’ all countries supported the Palestinians’ rights of self-determination and opposed Israeli annexation and colonization of Arab lands.

Driven by their loyalty to Israel’s ‘expansionist goals’, the military strategists ignored the ‘real world’ political and economic costs to the US people and state. Professional and academic credentials, nepotism and tribal loyalties, each contributed to the Israel-firsters advance to securing strategic decision-making positions and elite advisory posts in the Pentagon, State Department, Treasury and White House.

Their policies led to an unending trillion-dollar war in Afghanistan; losing wars in Libya, Iraq and Syria; and costly economic sanctions against Iran.

The main beneficiary was Israel which confronted less political and military opposition; zero cost in lives and money; and substantial gains in territory.

Why did the Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, Johns Hopkins’ cum laude graduates repeatedly produce the worst possible military outcomes?

This was in part because the US acted as an instrument of another power (Israel). Moreover, the Israel-firsters never were obliged to reflect in self-criticism nor to admit their failures and rectify their disastrous strategies.

Their refusal to assume their responsibilities resulted from several causes. Their criteria for success were based on whether their policies advanced Israeli goals, not US interests.

Moreover, while their decisions were objectionable to US citizens, they were supported by the 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organization, including the powerful Zionist lobby, AIPAC, which had been dictating Middle East policy to both political parties and the US Congress.

Ordinarily, military strategists, whose policies lead to repeated political disasters, are denounced, fired or even investigated for treasons. In our experience nothing of the sort happened.

The best and the brightest rotated between six-digit jobs in Washington to seven-digit positions on Wall Street, or secured positions in lucrative law firms in Washington and New York (many with offices in Israel) or were appointed to prestigious academic posts in Ivy League universities – and virtually all serve on corporate boards.

What Should be Done?

There are countervailing measures that can lessen the impact of the strategic policies of the Israel-firsters. Academic Israel-firsters should be encouraged to remain in academia where their harm would be limited to misleading their students, rather than serve Israel’s interest in the US State apparatus.

If they remain in the Ivory Tower they will inflict less destructive policies on American citizens and the state – and possibly be subjected to some form of peer review and honest debate.

Secondly, since the vast-majority of Israel-firsters are more likely to be arm chair war mongers, who have not risked their lives in any of the US wars that they promote, obligatory recruitment into combat zones might dampen their ardor for wars.

Thirdly, as matters stand, since many Israel-firsters have chosen to serve in the so-called Israeli Defense (sic) Force (IDF) they should reimburse US taxpayers for their free ride to education, health and welfare.

Fourthly, since most Israel-firsters, who volunteer to join the IDF, favor shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters, medics, journalists and kite-flying children, they should be drafted into the US Army to serve in Afghanistan and face the battle-hardened, committed Taliban fighters surrounding Kabul. This experience might knock a bit of realism in their dreams of converting the Middle East into tribal fiefdoms controlled by a ‘Greater Israel’.

Many national loyalties are forged by shared lives with families and friends of US soldiers who endure endless wars. Israel-firsters dispatched to the war front would receive existential experiences, by mingling with working class and rural American soldiers that the Harvard, Princeton and Yale military strategists who design these wars for Israel have failed to understand.

Obligatory courses on the genocide and ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Libyan people would enrich Israel-firsters understanding of the diversity of “holocausts’ in contemporary ethno-religious settings.

Face to face encounters in life threatening combat situations, where superior arms do not prevail, would deflate the hubris, arrogance and superiority complexes which fuel the tribal loyalties of Israel-firsters.

In conclusion, we offer modest suggestions for educated and cultured scientists, doctors, artists and entrepreneurs:

1. Convert your skills to training a new generation who will defend democratic values and social solidarity and eschew wars, persecution and phony calumny of anti-Semitism against critics of an ethnically exclusionary state.

2. Forsake exclusive control of the mass media which glorifies Israeli war crimes and denigrates critics as ‘anti-Semites’ for speaking truth to power.

Let’s join together to liberate America from military entanglements that privilege multi-billion-dollar giveaways to Israel while thirty million US workers lack health coverage, forty percent of upstate New York children live in poverty.

Yes, there is an honorable place for everyone who joins in solidarity with the victims of Israeli-first war strategists.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

The Druze have to face that in Israel, some are far more equal than others

Here’s a riddle: when is a campaign for equality not really about equality? When it’s in Israel, it seems.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel – those belonging to the small Druze religious sect – staged a protest in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. They were joined by large numbers of Israeli Jews, including former senior security officers and the two largest centre-left parties in the parliamentary opposition, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid.

All expressed outrage at the country’s new Nation-State Basic Law, which gives constitutional backing to the principle that all Jews in the world enjoy a privileged status in Israel denied to the country’s native, non-Jewish population. The Basic Law also strips Arabic – the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel’s population – of its former status as an official language.

The crowd chanted “Equality! Equality!” and urged the repeal of a law that has been accused by legal groups of formalising a system of apartheid in Israel.

Fast forward a week, to the Saturday evening before last. Tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians – also part of the 1.8-million-strong Palestinian minority – staged their own protest at the same Tel Aviv location and at the same hour. They also called for equality and the repeal of the law. And yet this time only a smattering of Israeli Jews turned out to support them, while the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties actively boycotted the event.

What happened? What was so different about the first and second demonstrations?

Druze Delusions

The starkly contrasting reactions from Israeli Jews to the two protests neatly highlighted several things: the hypocrisy of a so-called Israeli left that claims to believe in equality; the widespread misunderstanding by most outsiders of what a Jewish state entails; and the delusions of a Druze community that thinks it is “owed” equality by a self-declared Jewish state.

Let’s start in reverse.

The Druze are incensed by the Basic Law because most believe they have demonstrated “loyalty” to Israel – to use an idea imposed on them by the state – through their service in the Israeli army.

Shortly after Israel was created on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland, Druze leaders were pressured into signing an agreement. It committed the small minority – less than two percent of Israel’s population – to three years of conscription.

Israeli Jews have been only too keen to showcase the Druze as proof that patriotic non-Jews can be “blood brothers” with Jews. The Druze, they claim, are evidence that a Jewish state is not racist, as it was characterised for many years by the United Nations General Assembly, or apartheid in nature, as a growing number of experts have concluded.

Of course, we should acknowledge there is a problem – at least for a state claiming to be a Western-style liberal democracy – in making rights for citizens conditional on their proving “loyalty”. But let us set that issue aside for the moment.

Divide and Rule

The Israeli Jewish public’s assumption that the Druze enjoy equal status in Israel was always fanciful self-deception. Israel selected the Druze to serve in the army not because they were “loyal” but because officials wanted to exploit them as part of a cynical divide-and-rule strategy.

After the incomplete ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, which left small numbers of Palestinians inside the new Jewish state, the Israeli leadership wished to foment internal discord and suspicion among the remnants of the native population. It hoped to pit the tiny Palestinian Druze and Christian sects against the larger Palestinian Muslim sect.

Israel was able to strong-arm the vulnerable Druze community because their religious leadership was isolated and co-optable.

Israel tried a similar strategy with the Christians, as the Israeli historian Hillel Cohen has noted. The plan failed both because it was difficult to secure a common response from the leaders of a dozen or so diverse Christian denominations and because local Palestinian Christians preferred to emphasise their ties to overseas churches rather than becoming dependent on the Israeli military.

Israel, however, has not given up on that long-term goal. Just as Palestinian “Druze” were transformed by officials from a religion into a nationality to cultivate “loyalty”, so the state has encouraged – with much less success – Palestinian Christians to view themselves as a separate nation, one it has termed the “Aramaic” nation, in reference to the language of Jesus.

Seen from another perspective, Israel never had any intention of finding out whether the Muslim population wanted to be “loyal” to the state. There was never any conceivable scenario in which the Israeli military was going to train and arm the 80 percent of Palestinians who constituted the Muslim community. They were never going to be allowed near the inner workings of Israel’s military machine.

In short, the Druze are “loyal” to Israel only because Israel needed the Muslims to be “disloyal”.

Demolitions and discrimination

But the self-deception runs deeper. If Israel had actually made equal citizenship rights conditional on “loyalty”, as it claims, then Druze communities ought to have been treated the same way as Jewish communities. In fact, one could argue, they should have been treated better. The Druze have a higher rate of conscription than Jewish society, and proportionally more of them serve in combat roles, where they are in greater danger of being killed.

But, in reality, only a tiny number of Druze have been allowed to succeed, and then only as individuals. The Israeli media love to trumpet the triumphs of Amal Asad, the retired Druze general who has been leading the community’s protests for equality, or write headlines about the first female Druze judge or TV anchor, or the first Druze officer managing the occupation.

But for the vast majority of Druze men, military service qualifies them only to become fodder for Israel’s extensive security industries, working as security guards at shopping malls, or as low-ranking policemen and prison wardens.

They can hope for little more after a childhood spent in the segregated Druze education system. Historically, its matriculation rates have been low, even when compared with the dismal standards set in state schools provided for the rest of the Palestinian minority.

And judged in terms not of Druze individuals but of Druze communities, the picture is even worse.

Despite the community’s “loyalty”, notes Druze analyst Dalia Halabi, the Israeli state has seized some 70 percent of Druze lands – as it has done with the rest of the Palestinian minority – to build new communities exclusively for Jews. It demolishes homes in Druze communities where land and building permits are denied, while retroactively approving homes built in violation of Israeli law by Jewish settlers on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Today, Druze villages are as overcrowded, ghetto-like and underfunded as those of Christians and Muslims. There was no obvious reward for communal Druze “loyalty”.

Celebration of apartheid

The Druze may have been fooling themselves about their rights, but they have been far from alone. Much of the debate – and outrage – about the Basic Law outside Israel has been deeply wrong-headed.

The legislation changes very little in practice. Those, especially liberal Jews in the US and Europe, who fear that the new nation-state law has changed Israel do not understand what Israel was before. The crime committed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right is not that they ended equality and introduced apartheid; it is that they drew attention to the existing situation of apartheid. They gave apartheid constitutional standing. They took apartheid out of the shadows and celebrated it.

This Basic Law has been in the drafting process for the best part of a decade. Over that period, the Zionist centre-left parties now calling for equality did not object to the proposed legislation because it would change things, but because they considered it “unnecessary” and “redundant”. The things the Basic Law codifies have existed since Israel’s birth.

In a recent interview, Yariv Levin, the tourism minister and a confidant of Netanyahu, made that clear. He explained that one important reason why equality was not enshrined in the new law was that it would have conflicted with the 1950 Law of Return, foundational legislation that made the new state the collective property not of citizens (which included a fifth who were Palestinian) but of Jews everywhere, even those outside Israel’s borders.

Having in 1948 denied the vast majority of Palestinians a right to return to their homes from which they had just been expelled, Israeli officials passed the Law of Return to open the floodgates, allowing every Jew in the world to come and settle in their stead.

Unequal from the start

Netanyahu, let’s remember, did not draft the Law of Return. It was the brainchild of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, and his supposedly socialist Labor party.

In accordance with the Law of Return, Israel’s “liberal” Supreme Court has concurred that there is no “Israeli nation”, only a worldwide “Jewish nation” that has an automatic right to citizenship in Israel. This ethnic idea of “nationality” confers on Jews all sorts of additional rights denied to Palestinian citizens – a database by the legal group Adalah lists nearly 70 such laws.

The so-called Jewish nation’s ancestral home is, according to the state’s founding document drafted in 1948, the Declaration of Independence, the “Land of Israel”, not the “state of Israel”. The term, echoed in the Basic Law, evokes vague biblical boundaries that include parts of many neighbouring states, and most especially the occupied Palestinian territories.

Similarly, the clause in the new Basic Law encouraging Jews to “settle” the land was not conjured out of thin air by the Israeli far-right. Israel’s revered founding generation long ago invoked the idea of a “land without people” to justify Jewish settlement to “make the desert bloom”.

It was Ben-Gurion and his “civilising” socialist kibbutz movement that established “admissions committees” overseeing hundreds of communities across Israel to ensure no Palestinian citizens, whether Druze, Christian or Muslim, would ever be allowed inside. While 93 percent of Israel’s land was reserved for the “Jewish nation” – for world Jewry – Palestinian citizens were confined to little more than two percent of the land they had once called their homeland.

Hypocrisy of Israeli left

But if the Druze and outsiders allowed themselves to be misled, the masters of self-deception were the Israeli Jewish public, especially its leftist and centrist components, who are currently standing shoulder to shoulder with the Druze.

Strangely, given their passionate calls for equality for all citizens, these same Israeli Jews have long ignored the only political parties in the Israeli parliament whose programmes are committed to equality. In fact, not only have they ignored these parties, but they have accused them of sedition over their platforms for equality.

It was the Balad party that back in the late 90s first popularised the slogan that Israel should become a “state of all its citizens” – a state where all citizens had equal rights. But that party, led by Palestinian citizens, was ostracised by almost all Israeli Jews.

Later, in 2006, the Palestinian leadership in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, which called for Israel to become a “consensual democracy”. How did Israel respond? Its intelligence services – led by officials who are now joining the Druze call for equality – termed the Future Vision “subversion”.

Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian Christian professor of philosophy and leader of Balad, was chased into exile, accused of treason. And Israeli Jews, from right to left, cheered on this campaign of vilification and incitement.

All this happened before Netanyahu led his current succession of right-wing governments from 2009 onwards. It was the centre-left, now apparently so sensitive to the principles of equality and democracy, that hounded the Palestinian parties’ campaign for democratic reform into the shadows.

Underscoring the hypocrisy, the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties, now so supportive of the Druze equality campaign, stood mutely by only two months ago when, in a “highly unusual” move, the Israeli parliament’s presidium disqualified Balad from even submitting legislation on a state of all its citizens.

It would be reassuring to think we are seeing the beginnings of a political awakening by the Israeli left and centre, that sections of the Israeli public are starting to reconsider their former ugly illiberalism. But sadly, all the evidence points in the opposite direction.

State OF Denial

The Israelis Jews who supported the Druze at the 4 August protest did so not because they believe in equality and liberal democracy, but because they want their ethnocracy – an ethnic state of privileges for Jews – to continue masquerading as a liberal democracy. Israeli Jews have allied with the Druze only insofar as it is necessary to maintain that illusion.

Meanwhile, almost the entire Israeli Jewish public has shunned the rest of the Palestinian minority because its demands for substantive equality threaten to force Israeli Jews out of their state of denial. That is why polls show that more than half of Israeli Jews express sympathy for the Druze struggle for equality, even as almost none are prepared to back the rest of the Palestinian minority when it makes the same demand.

A giant banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with “Crime Minsiter” inscribed on it, is spread on the ground as Israeli Arabs and their supporters protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018/ AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI

A banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with ‘Crime Minister’ inscribed on it, as part of a protest in Tel Aviv on 11 August (AFP)

A decade ago, the far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, now the defence minister, started campaigning under the slogan “No citizenship without loyalty”. His threat was that, unless the Palestinian minority started to prove their loyalty by becoming Zionists and serving in the army, he would strip them of citizenship.

Lieberman’s political platform hit a major hurdle. According to international law, states cannot leave sections of their population stateless by revoking citizenship. But Lieberman’s efforts have paid off nonetheless, as these latest events prove.

Through their highly circumscribed support for equality – for Druze but not other Palestinian citizens – Israeli Jews have made clear their unquestioning acceptance of what “loyalty” entails.

Israeli citizens are not supposed to be loyal to a democratic principle, or universal human rights, or even the welfare of their compatriots. In Israel, “loyal” citizens are required to bow down before the Jewishness of the state and uphold the values of Jewish supremacism, even if it means their own permanent abasement.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege

When Mike Treen, the National Director of the ‘Unite Union’ in New Zealand arrived at the airport in the capital, Auckland, on August 1, a group of people were anxiously waiting for him at the terminal with Palestinian flags and flowers. They hugged him, chanted for Palestinian freedom and performed the customary native Haka dance.

For them, Mike, as all of those who set sail aboard the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last July, were heroes.

But the truth is Mike Treen and his comrades were not the only heroes for braving the sea with the aim of breaking the hermetic Israeli military blockade on the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip. Without those who were present at the Auckland airport, upon Mike’s arrival, and without the thousands of supporters all across the world who have mobilized as a community – held numerous meetings, raised funds, created a powerful media discourse, and so on – Treen’s attempted trip to Gaza would not have been possible in the first place.

The first boats to successfully break the Gaza siege, in October, 2008 were the ‘Free Gaza’ and the ‘Liberty’. They carried 44 people from 17 countries. The activists wanted to push their countries to acknowledge the illegality of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and to, eventually, challenge the siege.

Their triumphant arrival in Gaza ten years ago, marked a historic moment for the international solidarity movement, a moment, perhaps, unparalleled. Since then, Israel has launched several massive and deadly wars on Gaza. The first war took place merely weeks after the arrival of the first boats, followed by another war in 2012 and, the deadliest of them all, in 2014. The siege grew tighter.

Also, since then, many attempts have been made at breaking the siege. Between 2008 and 2016, 31 boats have sailed to Gaza from many destination, all intercepted, their cargo seized and their passengers mistreated. The most tragic of these incidents was in May 2010 when the Israeli navy attacked the ‘Mavi Marmara’ ship – which sailed alongside other boats – killing 10 activists and wounding many more.

Even then, the stream of solidarity boats continued to arrive, not only unhindered by the fear of Israeli retribution, but also stronger in their resolve. Palestinians consider the killed activists as ‘martyrs’ to be added to their own growing list of martyrs.

However, none of the boats made it to Gaza; so why keep on trying?

Last May, I arrived in New Zealand as part of a book tour that took me to other countries as well. However, in New Zealand, a relatively small Pacific island with a population that does not exceed five million people, the solidarity with Palestine was exceptional.

I asked about the strong Palestine solidarity work in New Zealand, inquiring with the coordinator for ‘Kia Ora Gaza’, Roger Fowler, who, at the time, was busy with final preparations for the Freedom Flotilla.

In New Zealand, he said, “for many years support for the Palestinian struggle lingered, often perceived as being too distant, and falsely portrayed as being ‘too complicated’. But the global outrage at Israel’s murderous attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’-led humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in 2010 was a major turning-point that changed all that.”

Fowler, himself, along with other New Zealand activists joined the ‘Lifeline to Gaza’ convoy soon after the attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’, reaching Gaza with three ambulances, packed with badly needed medicine, as the Israeli siege also deprived the Strip of hospital equipment and urgently needed medicine. Coordinating all of this was not a simple task as it also needed to be streamlined with the global efforts for the convoy, which included the dispatching of 140 other ambulances and 300 activists arriving from 30 countries.

“There were many moving scenes as Palestinians learned how far we had come from to offer solidarity – their Israel overlords had told the Palestinians for years that nobody cared about them, which is a big line,” Fowler told me.

I also spoke with Mike Treen upon his return from his Gaza sea journey. Treen is a seasoned activist, who works daily at defending the rights of workers from across the country. He sees his struggle for workers’ rights in New Zealand as part and parcel of his global solidarity outlook as well.

“In my role as part of the union movement in this country, I was also able to explain (to New Zealanders) that innocent working people (in Gaza) are the victims of this siege and that Israel has driven unemployment to over 50% for working people – one of the highest rates in the world,” he told me.

Treen, just like Fowler, understands that the boat solidarity is not merely an issue of providing urgently needed supplies, but as a well-coordinated effort at exposing the evils of the Israeli blockade.

“Unless Israel is directly bombing Gaza, the siege and its hideous human implications simply drop off the radar of public consciousness,” he said.

And this is precisely the real mission of the Gaza flotillas: While Israel wants to normalize the Gaza siege as it is currently normalizing its Occupation and Apartheid regimes, the solidarity movement has created a counter discourse that constantly foils Israeli plans.

In other words, whether the boats arrive on the Gaza coast or are hijacked by the Israeli navy, it makes little difference.

The power and effectiveness of this kind of solidarity goes even beyond Gaza and Palestine. “Our involvement in international solidarity endeavors, such as the Freedom Flotillas has, in turn, sparked a resurgence in other important elements of building the strength of the world-wide movement for justice”, Fowler told me, soon after Treen’s return to New Zealand.

Mike Treen also has his work cut out for him as he is now busy engaging the media and various communities in his own country, sharing his experiences on the boat, which led to his arrest, beating, tasering and deportation.

And like the horrific Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Israeli Apartheid will collapse, too, because Palestinians continue to resist and because millions of people, like Mike and Roger, are standing by their side.

Jewish Nation-state Law: Why Israel Was Never a Democracy

The head of the Arab Joint List Alliance at the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), Aymen Odeh, described the passing of the racist Jewish Nation-state Law as “the death of our democracy.”

Did Odeh truly believe that, prior to this law, he had lived in a true democracy? 70 years of Israeli Jewish supremacy, genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars, sieges, mass incarceration, numerous discriminatory laws, all aimed at the very destruction of the Palestinian people should have given enough clues that Israel was never a democracy, to begin with.

The Jewish Nation-state Law is merely the icing on the cake. It simply gave those who argued, all along, that Israel’s attempt at combining democracy with ethnic supremacy was racism masquerading as democracy, the munition they needed to further illustrate the point.

There is no escaping the moral imperative now. Those who insist on supporting Israel must know that they are supporting an unabashed Apartheid regime.

The new law, which was passed after some wrangling on January 19, has divorced Israel from any claim, however untrue, to being a democratic state.

In fact, the law does not mention the word ‘democracy’ in its wording, not even once. References to the Jewish identity of the state, however, are ample and dominant, with the clear exclusion of the Palestinian people from their rights in their historic homeland:

– “The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people …

– “The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

– “The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people …

– “The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora,” and so on.

But most dangerous of all is the stipulation that “the state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

True, illegal Jewish settlements already dot the Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem; and a de facto segregation already exists in Israel itself. In fact, segregation is so deep and entrenched, even maternity wards in Israeli hospitals separate between mothers, based on their race.

The above stipulation, however, will further accelerate segregation and cement Apartheid, making the harm not merely intellectual and political, but physical as well.

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, has documented in its ‘Discriminatory Laws Database’ a list of over 65 Israeli laws that “discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.”

According to Adalah, “These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention.”

While it would be accurate to argue that the Jewish Nations-state bill is the officiation of Apartheid in Israel, this realization should not dismiss the previous reality upon which Israel was founded 70 years ago.

Apartheid is not a single law, but a slow, agonizing build-up of an intricate legal regime that is motivated by the belief that one racial group is superior to all others.

Not only does the new law elevate Israel’s Jewish identity and erase any commitment to democracy, it also downgrades the status of all others. Palestinian Arabs, the natives of the land of historic Palestine upon which Israel was established, did not feature prominently in the new law at all. There was a mere stipulation made to the Arabic language, but only to downgrade it from being an official language, to a ‘special one.’

Israel’s decision to refrain from formulating a written constitution when it was founded in 1948 was not a haphazard one. Since then, it has been following a predicable model where it would alter reality on the ground to the advantage of Jews at the expense of Palestinian Arabs.

Instead of a constitution, Israel resorted to what it termed ‘Basic Laws’, which allowed for the constant formulation of new laws guided by the ‘Jewish State’s’ commitment to racial supremacy rather than to democracy, international law, human rights or any other ethnical value.

The Jewish Nation-state Law is itself a ‘Basic Law.’ And with that law, Israel has dropped the meaningless claim to being both Jewish and democratic. This impossible task was often left to the Supreme Court which tried, but failed, to strike any convincing balance.

This new reality should, once and for all, end the protracted debate on the supposed uniqueness of Israel’s political system.

And since Israel has chosen racial supremacy over any claim, however faint, to real democracy, western countries that have often shielded Israel must also make a choice as to whether they wish to support an Apartheid regime or fight against it.

The initial statement by EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini was lackluster and feeble. “We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context,” she said, while renewing her commitment to the ‘two-state solution.’

This is hardly the proper statement in response to a country that had just announced its membership in the Apartheid club.

The EU must end its wishy-washy political discourse and disengage from Apartheid Israel, or it has to accept the moral, ethical and legal consequences of being an accomplice in Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

Israel has made its choice and it is, unmistakably, the wrong one. The rest of the world must now make its choice as well, hopefully the right one: standing on the right side of history – against Israeli Jewish Apartheid and for Palestinian rights.

Rebuffed Parliamentary Bills Foil Efforts to End Israeli Apartheid

For most of the seven decades after its establishment, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to craft an image of itself as a “light unto the nations”.

It claimed to have “made the desert bloom” by planting forests over the razed houses of 750,000 Palestinians it exiled in 1948. Soldiers in the “most moral army in the world” reputedly cried as they were compelled to shoot Palestinian “infiltrators” trying to return home. And all this occurred in what Israelis claimed was the Middle East’s “only democracy”.

An industry known as hasbara – a euphemism for propaganda – recruited Jews in Israel and abroad to a campaign to persuade the world that the Palestinians’ dispossession was for the good of mankind. Israel’s achievements in science, agriculture and medicine were extolled.

But in a more interconnected world, that propaganda campaign is swiftly unravelling. Phone cameras now record “moral” soldiers executing unarmed Palestinians in Gaza or beating up children in Hebron.

The backlash, including a growing international boycott movement, has driven Israel’s right wing into even greater defiance and self-righteousness. It no longer conceals its goal to aggressively realise a longed-for “Greater Israel”.

A parallel process is overtaking Israel’s traditional left but has been far less noticed. It too is stubbornly committed to its ideological legacy – the creation of a supposed “Jewish and democratic state” after 1948.

And just as the immorality of Israel’s belligerent rule in the occupied territories is under ever greater scrutiny, so too is its claim to be a democracy conferring equal rights on all citizens.

Israel includes a large minority of 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, the remnants of those who survived the expulsions required for its creation. Although Palestinian citizens have the vote, it was an easy generosity after Israel gerrymandered the electoral constituency in 1948 to ensure Palestinians remained a permanent and decisive minority.

In a system of residential apartheid, Palestinian citizens have been confined to ghettos on a tiny fraction of land while Israel has “nationalised” 93 per cent of its territory for Jews around the world.

But after decades of repression, including an initial 20 years living under military rule, the Palestinian minority has gradually grown more confident in highlighting Israel’s political deficiencies.

In recent days, Palestinian legislators have submitted three legislative measures before parliament to explode the illusion that Israel is a western-style liberal democracy.

None stood the faintest chance of being passed in a system rigged to keep Palestinian lawmakers out of any of Israel’s complex but entirely Zionist coalition governments.

The first measure sought to revoke the quasi-governmental status of major international Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Jewish Agency.

Although they are treated like state bodies, these organisations are obligated through their charters to discriminate in allocating state resources and rights to Jews around the world rather than to Israelis. The aim is to exclude Palestinian citizens from major state benefits.

The JNF bans access for non-Jews to most land in Israel and develops new communities exclusively for Jews, while the Jewish Agency restricts immigration and associated perks to Jews alone.

The bill – designed to end decades of explicit discrimination against one fifth of Israel’s citizenry – was defeated when all the Jewish parties voted against it. Zuheir Bahloul, the sole Palestinian legislator in Zionist Union, the centre-left party once called Labour, was furiously denounced by Jewish colleagues for breaking ranks and voting for the bill.

That was no surprise. The party’s previous leader, Isaac Herzog, is the frontrunner to become the next chair of the Jewish Agency. Israel’s left still venerates these organisations that promote ethnic privileges – for Jews – of a sort once familiar from apartheid South Africa.

Mr Bahloul also found himself in the firing line after he submitted a separate bill requiring that for the first time the principle of equality be enshrined in all 11 Basic Laws, Israel’s equivalent of a constitution. The proposal was roundly defeated, including by his own party.

The third measure was a bill demanding that Israel be reformed from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens, representing all equally. In a highly irregular move, a committee dominated by Jewish legislators voted to disqualify the bill last week from even being allowed a hearing on the parliament floor.

The parliament’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, warned that the measure would alter Israel’s character by giving Jewish and Palestinian citizens “equal status”. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the bill “preposterous”. “Any intelligent individual can see it must be blocked immediately,” he said.

Law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, meanwhile, conceded that the bill exposed Israeli democracy as “fundamentally flawed”.

These three bills from Palestinian legislators might have redressed some of the inequities contained in nearly 70 Israeli laws that, according to Adalah, a legal rights group, explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity.

Paradoxically, the number of such laws has grown prolifically in recent years as Adalah and others have challenged Jewish privileges in the courts.

The Israeli left and right have joined forces to shore up these threatened racist practices through new legislation – secure that an intimidated supreme court will not dare revoke the will of parliament.

The reality is that left-wing Israelis – shown beyond doubt that their state is not the liberal democracy they imagined – have hurried to join the right in silencing critics and implementing harsher repression.

Palestinian citizens who peacefully protested against the massacre of demonstrators in Gaza by army snipers were assaulted in police custody last month. One arrested civil society leader had his knee broken. There have been barely any objections, even on the left.

Today, Israelis are hunkering down. Boycott activists from abroad are denied entry. Unarmed Palestinian demonstrators have been gunned down in Gaza. And critics inside Israel are silenced or beaten up.

All these responses have the same end in mind: to block anything that might burst the bubble of illusions and threaten Israelis’ sense of moral superiority.

First published in The National

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.