Category Archives: Apartheid

How Israel’s Religious Right is Now in the Driving Seat

The real fight in Israel’s re-run election next month is not between the right wing and a so-called “centre-left” but between two rival camps within the nationalist right, according to analysts.

The outcome may prove a moment of truth for the shrinking secular right as it comes up once again against an ever-more powerful camp that fuses religion with ultra-nationalism.

Will the secular right emerge with enough political weight to act as a power-broker in the post-election negotiations, or can the religious right form a government without any support from the secular parties? That is what the election will determine.

An earlier election in April, which failed to produce a decisive result between these two camps, nonetheless confirmed the right’s absolute dominance. The Zionist centre-left parties, including the founding Labor party, were routed, securing between them just 10 seats in the 120-member parliament.

Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, was forced to stage new elections, on 17 September, after April’s ballot left him unable to rope together secular and religious parties on the right.

To secure a majority in parliament, he needed to include the five seats of the anti-religious Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman eventually pulled out of coalition talks, saying he was not prepared to sit in a government with two parties effectively run by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. This time, he has indicated he won’t sit with any of the religious parties.

Vehicle for protest

Much of the rest of the secular right has deserted Netanyahu’s Likud party. At the last election, they mostly found a political home in the new Blue and White party, led by a former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

Polls suggest Lieberman may also attract a larger share of these voters after his recent stand-off with Netanyahu. He has demanded an exclusively secular right-wing government, comprising Likud, Blue and White, and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Blue and White has presented itself chiefly as a vehicle for protest against Netanyahu. They oppose a decade of governments in which he has allowed the religious right to play an increasingly assertive role, and the ever-deepening corruption scandals he has been embroiled in. Netanyahu is expected to be charged with fraud and breach of trust in the immediate wake of next month’s election.

Blue and White has been misleadingly labelled as centrist by some observers. But it tied with Netanyahu’s Likud, at 35 seats each, in April by appealing to a largely secular strain of right-wing nationalism that three decades ago was the domain of the Likud party.

Now Netanyahu and the religious right hope to work in tandem to secure between them a narrow majority of seats to form a government without relying on the secular right-wing parties of either Lieberman or Gantz.

A more polarised Israel

Yossi Gurvitz, an Israeli journalist and researcher on religious extremism, said the rise of the religious right was an indication of wider shifts in Israeli society.

“Israel is getting more religious, and its religious parties are getting more extreme, while much of what’s left of Israeli society is becoming more militantly secular in response,” he told Middle East Eye. “Israel is polarising, and each side is increasingly intolerant of the other.”

The secular camp, however, has been playing a less significant role with each passing government.

Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said he doubted whether it was still possible for a secular government to be established without including some of the religious parties.

“It would be a nightmare,” he told MEE. “Any move, whether allowing transport on Shabbat, dismantling settlements or talking to the Palestinian leadership would face an enormous social backlash if it was made without the sanction of the religious factions.”

‘Chosen people’

A poll of Israeli Jews last year by the liberal Haaretz newspaper highlighted Israeli society’s growing religiosity, which closely aligns with the rise of ultra-nationalism.

Some 54 percent of the Jewish public expressed a belief in God, with that figure rising to 78 percent among those describing themselves as on the right.

An overwhelming majority of right-wing Israelis – 79 percent – view Jews as the chosen people, and a similar number, 74 percent, believe Israel exists by divine promise.

Younger voters are markedly more religious than their grandparents – 64 percent compared to 22 percent. Exactly half of young Israelis reject the scientific theory of evolution, and 58 percent believe in life after death. Haaretz noted a clear correlation between Israeli youth’s growing religiosity and their embrace of right-wing views.

“If you think Israel is religious, conservative and hawkish enough as it is, wait for the fundamentalist theocracy that’s lurking around the corner,” the paper’s analyst Chemi Shalev concluded.

Rallying the right

How Israel’s coming election plays out will depend on how successful Netanyahu is in rallying religious voters to the polling booth, either for Likud or for a handful of more overtly religious parties.

The religious right itself is characterised by three main blocs. All believe that the occupied territories belong exclusively to the Jewish people, and are united in their unabashed support for the settlements and the entrenchment of the occupation.

Political differences relate chiefly to matters of how quickly and brazenly the occupied territories should be annexed and how the Palestinian population there should be dealt with.

More significant than ideological differences, however, are the varied religious constituencies that each bloc represents.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is the largest, and draws primarily on the support of religious traditionalists – Israeli Jews who are generally observant and socially conservative.

Likud, Gurvitz noted, has moved more firmly into the religious camp since 2005 when its then-leader, Ariel Sharon, pulled the last remaining settlers out of Gaza. A backlash from the settlers effectively forced Sharon and his supporters out of Likud to create a short-lived secular faction called Kadima.

“What was left behind in Likud was the hard right,” he said. “The party has been moving ever further to the right under Netanyahu.”

Since then, the settlers and their allies have come to dominate Likud’s internal committees, meaning none of its parliamentary candidates wish to risk alienating them, according to Gurvitz.

Politics of the rabbis

The second bloc comprises two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, which look to their respective chief rabbis for political direction. Between them they won 16 seats in April.

The main difference between the two relates to ethnicity. United Torah Judaism represents the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, whose recent ancestry is traced to Europe. Shas, meanwhile, represents the Mizrahim, Jews whose families hailed mostly from the Arab world.

Shas, observed Gurvitz, has blended its rigid belief in divine law with nationalism more easily than UTJ because of its long-held anti-Arab positions. A section of its followers serve in the army. Some also work, unlike most Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox men, who devote themselves to studying the Torah.

The UTJ, by contrast, has adapted more slowly. Historically, it was anti-Zionist, rejecting the secular institutions of an Israeli state – including the army and the courts – until the Messiah arrived to build God’s kingdom.

But over the past two decades, its leaders too have gradually, though more reluctantly, moved into the nationalist fold.

That change, according to Gurvitz, has happened because, given the ultra-Orthodox public’s high birth rates, many have been forced to seek cheap housing solutions in the settlements.

“As they move into the settlements, their politics shift further rightwards,” said Gurvitz. “Nowadays they give their leaders hell if they don’t stick fast to ultra-nationalistic positions, or if they try to cut deals with parties outside the right.”

Gurvitz added: “This means the ultra-Orthodox parties are today effectively in the bag for Netanyahu.”

Orders from God

The third bloc comprises various small far-right parties representing what are known in Israel as the national-religious camp – those who subscribe to the ideology of the settler community.

Gurvitz estimates the camp numbers close to one million – or about one in seven of Israel’s Jewish population. About half live in the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The majority are religious, but not all of them.

The camp has proved fractious, but its three main parties established an electoral coalition last week called United Right, which polls currently suggest may win up to 14 seats.

The oldest of the parties is Jewish Home, whose new leader is Rafael Peretz, a former chief rabbi of the Israeli army and currently serving as Netanyahu’s interim education minister.

Peretz has caused controversy recently by referring to a trend of American Jews marrying non-Jews as a “second Holocaust” and by speaking out in favour of gay conversion therapy, claiming to have performed it himself successfully in the past.

The second party, Tkuma, is led by Bezalel Smotrich, currently the transport minister. After being appointed, he declared that he took his orders from God, not Netanyahu.

Smotrich has in the past called for a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian children who throw stones, and demanded segregated maternity wards to prevent Israeli and Palestinian citizens mixing. He has also described himself as a “proud homophobe”.

Both Peretz and Smotrich were due to deliver speeches this week at a ceremony honouring Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The controversial rabbi has praised the King’s Torah, a notorious handbook that sanctions the murder of Palestinian children, and has previously lauded Baruch Goldstein, who massacred dozens of Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994.

Gaza’s ‘little snakes’

The third party in the coalition, New Right, which broke from Jewish Home late last year, narrowly failed to pass the electoral threshold in April, costing Netanyahu his victory.

Now led by Ayelet Shaked, a secular politician, New Right downplays the role of Jewish religious law. It has tried to appeal to secular, nationalistic Jews by adopting a more tolerant stance on identity issues, such as gay rights and feminism.

Shaked, who previously served as justice minister, has been outspoken in rejecting liberal democratic values, however, calling them “utopian”. She has said: “Zionism should not – and will not – bow before a system of individual rights interpreted universally.”

During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, she also declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy”, and appeared to approve of the slaughter of Gaza’s civilians, calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed to stop them giving birth to “little snakes”.

Three smaller national-religious parties are outside the United Right coalition and, barring last-minute changes, are not expected to make it into the parliament.

Noam is a backlash party from within the national-religious camp to the social liberalism of Shaked’s New Right, demanding a “normative” Jewish family life.

Jewish Power comprises the unrepentant remnants of the virulently anti-Arab Kach party, led by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, that was outlawed in Israel in the 1990s.

And the libertarian-nationalist Zehut party, led by Moshe Feiglin, an exile from Likud, demands full annexation of the West Bank.

State agencies infiltrated

Gurvitz observed that the three main national-religious factions all place a strong emphasis on military service, and have focused on getting settlers into senior roles inside the army.

Rather than rejecting the state’s secular institutions, as the ultra-Orthodox tend to do, the settler parties have been working hard to infiltrate and gradually take them over, with some success in the case of the police, the courts, the education system and even the ruling Likud party.

They view themselves as in a culture war, trying to infuse Israel with a stronger Jewish identity.

The three parties have minor differences over their approaches to annexation of the West Bank, likely the biggest issue facing the next parliament.

Shaked’s New Right and Peretz’s Jewish Home demand formal annexation of most of the West Bank, denying Palestinians there equal rights and imposing apartheid-style rule over them.

Since Donald Trump became US President, Likud has moved closer to openly adopting this as its policy.

Smotrich, meanwhile, would prefer to annex the entire West Bank and has been more explicit in suggesting it would be necessary to ethnic cleanse Palestinians as part of that annexation process.

Courts intimidated

Paradoxically, two of the three religious-dominated blocs are led by secular politicians: Likud by Netanyahu, and the coalition of settler parties by Shaked.

Shaked’s leadership role is the more surprising given that national-religious rabbis have pushed to remove women from public life.

However, Shaked has won support from influential figures such as Avichai Rontski, a former army chief rabbi. He has approved partnerships with nationalist secular politicians, calling them “religious in the broad sense of the word”.

Analysts noted that Shaked has won a dominant role in the political leadership of the national-religious public, over the rabbis’ objections, for two reasons.

First, she proved to be a very effective justice minister for the settlers in Netanyahu’s last government. She intimidated the courts and promoted a large number of conservative religious judges, including to the supreme court.

Equally importantly, noted Gurvitz, she changed the justice ministry’s position on settlement “outposts”, built in violation of a settlement freeze agreed by Israel in the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s.

Traditionally, justice ministry officials accepted – at least in public – that these 100 or so outposts were illegal and that they should be dismantled when the army or the government viewed the time as right.

But officials under Shaked changed tack, arguing to the courts that the outposts were in essence legal, but had been created with administrative irregularities that needed correcting. The Regularisation Law formalised this approach, clearing the way to future annexation of much of the West Bank.

Nationalism as ‘a bridge’

Second, Klein pointed out, Shaked was seen as a bridge between the religious and secular nationalist right that could maximise its electoral vote.

The complexity on the right, he said, was caused by the fact that “Jewish” identity had both religious and ethnic components.

“For some people their Jewish nationalism is based on theology and religious observance. For others, like Shaked and Netanyahu, their nationalism derives from an idea of Jewish peoplehood, without a religious element. You can find both types supporting Likud and the national-religious bloc.

“The ‘peoplehood nationalists’ are not interested in universal values. They think the Jewish people are special, and that they have extra rights as Jews. Any religious sentiments they harbour are subservient to this idea of peoplehood,” he said.

Polls have shown Shaked to be remarkably popular among religious nationalists, coming out way ahead of her rivals.

For all three parties to pass the electoral threshold and avoid wasting votes, Klein observed, they needed to unite.

In fact, to maximise votes for the religious right and avoid needing Lieberman’s seats, Netanyahu pushed hard to get the openly anti-Arab party Jewish Power into the United Right coalition – without success.

Klein noted that Netanyahu preferred working with the religious over the secular right. In the run-up to the election, all the religious parties have been keen to pledge allegiance to a Netanyahu government.

“They are very easy partners for Netanyahu,” he said. “Give them a few ministries and some budgets for their community and they will get behind whatever he wants to do.”

‘Difficult dance’ for votes

Shaked and Netanyahu are politically similar. Shaked worked as Netanyahu’s bureau chief back in 2006, and a short time later brought in Naftali Bennett, her current partner in New Right. Both left four years later after a personal falling out with Netanyahu.

The Israeli media widely reported Shaked’s efforts to return to Likud before the September election. Netanyahu rebuffed her. That may be in part because he fears she could be a major challenger for his Likud crown were she to gain a foothold.

Gurvitz observed that Netanyahu was involved in a “difficult dance” with the settler parties for votes.

“He needs their votes to ensure he can form a government, but he doesn’t want them so strong that they can dictate terms to him,” he said.

Gurvitz believed that, with the United Right now certain to pass the threshold, Netanyahu would seek to steal votes from them in the final stages of the election, as he has done before.

The fact that Likud and the United Right compete for largely the same pool of voters had fuelled even more extremist positions on the right, he added.

“The national-religious parties need to offer more extreme policies to distinguish themselves from Likud, otherwise they will lose votes to Netanyahu,” he said.

“But that then encourages Netanyahu to take more extreme positions to ensure he doesn’t look less nationalist than his rivals. It ends up creating a spiral of extremism.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Humanity Denied: What Is Missing from the Omar, Tlaib Story

Israel’s decision to bar two United States Democratic Representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering Israel and visiting Palestine has further exposed the belligerent, racist nature of the Israeli government.

But our understanding of the Israeli decision, and the massive controversy and discussion it generated, should not stop there. Palestinians, who have been at the receiving end of racist Israeli laws, will continue to endure separation, isolation and travel restrictions long after the two Congresswomen’s story dies down.

A news feature published by the British Guardian newspaper last June told the story of Palestinian children from Gaza who die alone in Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem.

Ever since Israel imposed near-complete isolation on the Gaza Strip in 2007, thousands of Palestinian patients requiring urgent medical care which is available in Palestinian East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank faced options, all of them painful. As a result, many died at home, while others waited for months, if not years, to be granted permission to leave the besieged Strip.

The Guardian reported on 56 Gaza babies who were brought to the Makassed Hospital, alas without any family accompanying them. Six of these babies died alone.

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, puts this sad reality in numbers. When the Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing between Gaza and Israel is not completely shut down, only 100 Gazans are allowed to cross into Israel (mostly on their way to the West Bank) per day. Before the breakout of the Second Palestinian Intifada, the Uprising of 2000, “the monthly average number of entries to Israel from Gaza by Palestinians was more than half a million.”

One can only imagine the impact of such a massive reduction on the Palestinian community in the Strip in terms of work, health, education and social life.

This goes well beyond Gaza. Indeed, if there is one consistent policy that has governed Israel’s relationship with Palestinians since the establishment of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948, it is that of separation, siege and physical restrictions.

While the establishment of Israel resulted in the massive influx of Palestinian refugees who are now numbered in the millions and are still denied the right to even visit their own homeland, those who remained in Palestine were detained in small, cut off spaces, governed by an inhumane matrix of control that only grows more sophisticated with time.

Immediately after the establishment of Israel, Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities that were not ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias during the war endured years of isolation under the so-called Defense (Emergency) Regulations. The movement of Palestinians in these areas were governed by military law and the permit system.

Following the 1967 occupation of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine, the emergency law was also applied to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, in the period between 1967 and 1972, all of the occupied territories were declared a “closed military area” by the Israeli army.

In the period between 1972 and 1991, Palestinian laborers were allowed entry to Israeli only to serve as Israel’s cheap workforce. Hundreds of thousands of impoverished, desperate, though often well-educated Palestinians, faced the inevitable option of enduring humiliating work conditions in Israel in order to sustain their families. But even that route was closed following the First Intifada of 1987 particularly after the Iraq war in 1991. Total closure was once more imposed on all Palestinians throughout the country.

The Oslo Agreement, which was put into effect in 1994, formalized the military permit system. Oslo also divided the West Bank into three Zones, A, B, C and with the latter two (comprising nearly 83 percent of the total size of the West Bank) falling largely under total Israeli control. This ushered in yet another horrific reality as it isolated Palestinians within the West Bank from one another.

Occupied East Jerusalem also fell into the same matrix of Israeli control. After 1967, Palestinian Jerusalemites were classified into those living in area J1 – Palestinians with blue cards living in areas annexed by Israel after the war and incorporated into the boundaries of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality; and J2- Palestinians residing outside the municipality area. Regardless, both communities were denied “fundamental residency rights to adequate housing and freedom of movement and their rights to health, work, (and) education,” wrote Fadwa Allabadi and Tareq Hardan in the Institute for Palestinian Studies.

The so-called ‘Separation Wall’, which Israel began building in June 2002, did not separate between Palestinians and Israel, for that has already been realized through numerous laws and restrictions that are as old as the Israeli state itself. Instead, the wall created yet more restrictions for Palestinians, who are now left isolated in Apartheid South Africa-style ‘Bantustans’. With hundreds of permanent and “flying” military checkpoints dotting the West Bank, Israel’s separation strategy was transformed from isolating all Palestinians at once, into individualized confinement that is aimed at destroying any sense of Palestinian socio-economic cohesion and continuity.

Moreover, the Israeli military “installed iron gates at the entrances to the vast majority of West Bank villages, allowing it to isolate them within minutes and with minimal personnel,” according to Israeli rights group, B’Tselem research.

It does not end here, of course. In March 2017, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) approved an amendment to the law that would deny entry to foreign nationals who “knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel.” The “Boycott law” was rooted in a 2011 bill and an Israeli Supreme Court decision (upholding the legal argument in the bill) in 2015.

According to the Israeli website, Globes, in 2018, almost 19,000 visitors to Israel were turned away at the country’s various entry points, compared to only 1,870 in 2011. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will now be added to that dismal statistic.

Every Palestinian, anywhere, is subjected to these restrictions. While some are denied the right to visit their families, others are dying in isolation in besieged areas, in “closed military zones”, while separated from one another by massive walls and numerous military checkpoints.

This is the story of Palestinian isolation by Israel that we must not allow to die out, long after the news cycle covering the two Congresswomen’s story move on beyond Omar, Tlaib and Israeli transgressions.

Sur Baher Home Demolitions illustrate a Vicious Spiral of Oppression in Palestine

Recent events have shone a spotlight not only on how Israel is intensifying its abuse of Palestinians under its rule, but the utterly depraved complicity of western governments in its actions.

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House two-and-a-half years ago has emboldened Israel as never before, leaving it free to unleash new waves of brutality in the occupied territories.

Western states have not only turned a blind eye to these outrages, but are actively assisting in silencing anyone who dares to speak out.

It is rapidly creating a vicious spiral: the more Israel violates international law, the more the West represses criticism, the more Israel luxuriates in its impunity.

This shameless descent was starkly illustrated last week when hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers, many of them masked, raided a neighbourhood of Sur Baher, on the edges of Jerusalem. Explosives and bulldozers destroyed dozens of homes, leaving many hundreds of Palestinians without a roof over their heads.

During the operation, extreme force was used against residents, as well as international volunteers there in the forlorn hope that their presence would deter violence. Videos showed the soldiers cheering and celebrating as they razed the neighbourhood.

House destructions have long been an ugly staple of Israel’s belligerent occupation, but there were grounds for extra alarm on this occasion.

Traditionally, demolitions occur on the two-thirds of the West Bank placed by the Oslo accords temporarily under Israeli control. That is bad enough: Israel should have handed over what is called “Area C” to the Palestinian Authority 20 years ago. Instead, it has hounded Palestinians off these areas to free them up for illegal Jewish settlement.

But the Sur Baher demolitions took place in “Area A”, land assigned by Oslo to the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting – as a prelude to Palestinian statehood. Israel is supposed to have zero planning or security jurisdiction there.

Palestinians rightly fear that Israel has established a dangerous precedent, further reversing the Oslo Accords, which can one day be used to justify driving many thousands more Palestinians off land under PA control.

Most western governments barely raised their voices. Even the United Nations offered a mealy-mouthed expression of “sadness” at what took place.

A few kilometres north, in Issawiya, another East Jerusalem suburb, Israeli soldiers have been terrorising 20,000 Palestinian residents for weeks. They have set up checkpoints, carried out dozens of random night-time arrests, imposed arbitrary fines and traffic tickets, and shot live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets into residential areas.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group, calls Issawiya’s treatment a “perpetual state of collective punishment” – that is, a war crime.

Over in Gaza, not only are the 2 million inhabitants being slowly starved by Israel’s 12-year blockade, but a weekly shooting spree against Palestinians who protest at the fence imprisoning them has become so routine it barely attracts attention any more.

On Friday, Israeli snipers killed one protester and seriously injured 56, including 22 children.

That followed new revelations that Israeli’s policy of shooting unarmed protesters in the upper leg to injure them – another war crime – continued long after it became clear a significant proportion of Palestinians were dying from their wounds.

Belatedly – after more than 200 deaths and the severe disabling of many thousands of Palestinians – snipers have been advised to “ease up” by shooting protesters in the ankle.

B’Tselem, another Israeli rights organisation, called the army’s open-fire regulation a “criminal policy”, one that “consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans”.

Rather than end such criminal practices, Israel prefers to conceal them. It has effectively sealed Palestinian areas off to avoid scrutiny.

Omar Shakir, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, is facing imminent deportation, yet more evidence of Israel’s growing crackdown on the human rights community.

A report by the Palestinian Right to Enter campaign last week warned that Israel is systematically denying foreign nationals permits to live and work in the occupied territories, including areas supposedly under PA control.

That affects both foreign-born Palestinians, often those marrying local Palestinians, and internationals. According to recent reports, Israel is actively forcing out academics teaching at the West Bank’s leading university, Bir Zeit, in a severe blow to Palestinian academic freedom.

Palestinian journalists highlighting Israeli crimes are in Israel’s sights too. Last week, Israel stripped one – Mustafa Al Haruf – of his Jerusalem residency, tearing him from his wife and young child. Because it is illegal to leave someone stateless, Israel is now bullying Jordan to accept him.

Another exclusion policy – denying entry to Israel’s fiercest critics, those who back the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – is facing its first challenge.

Two US congresswomen who support BDS – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank – have announced plans to visit.

Israeli officials have indicated they will exempt them both, apparently fearful of drawing wider attention to Israel’s draconian entry restrictions, which also cover the occupied territories.

Israel is probably being overly cautious. The BDS movement, which alone argues for the imposition of penalties on Israel until it halts its abuse of Palestinians, is being bludgeoned by western governments.

In the US and Europe, strong criticism of Israel, even from Jews – let alone demands for meaningful action – is being conflated with antisemitism. Much of this furore seems intended to ease the path towards silencing Israel’s critics.

More than two dozen US states, as well as the Senate, have passed laws – drafted by pro-Israel lobby groups – to limit the rights of the American public to support boycotts of Israel.

Anti-BDS legislation has also been passed by the German and French parliaments.

And last week the US House of Representatives joined them, overwhelmingly passing a resolution condemning the BDS movement. Only 17 legislators demurred.

It was a slap in the face to Ms Omar, who has been promoting a bill designed to uphold the First Amendment rights of boycott supporters.

It seems absurd that these curbs on free speech have emerged just as Israel makes clear it has no interest in peace, will never concede Palestinian statehood and is entrenching a permanent system of apartheid in the occupied territories.

But there should be no surprise. The clampdown is further evidence that western support for Israel is indeed based on shared values – those that treat the Palestinians as lesser beings, whose rights can be trampled at will.

Entry Ban at Israeli City Park provokes Apartheid Warnings

The barring of a lawyer and her infant from a public park in the Galilee last week has triggered a legal battle over whether local authorities in Israel can segregate citizens on a racial basis.

Human rights groups have warned that the ban marks a growing trend by local authorities representing the Jewish majority towards explicit separation of public space in ways reminiscent of apartheid South Africa.

An Israeli court will have to decide whether it is reasonable for Afula, a city in the country’s north, to deny non-residents entrance to the main local park, which includes a playground, a small zoo, basketball courts and a running track.

The restriction amounts to a ban on Palestinian citizens from surrounding communities using a public resource, according to Adalah, a legal human rights group representing Israel’s Palestinian minority, one in five of the country’s population.

These 1.8 million Palestinian citizens are the remnants of the native population expelled from their lands in 1948 during the creation of Israel – what Palestinians call their Nakba, or catastrophe.

‘Conquest’ of the park

Afula’s mayor, Avi Elkabetz, has done little to hide his motivation in closing the park to non-residents.

He won a local election late last year on a platform that he would stop what he termed the “conquest of the park” by Palestinian citizens and has urged Afula’s residents to “proudly hoist Israeli flags throughout the park and play music in Hebrew”.

In addition, Adalah observed, Elkabetz and other Afula officials have waged a battle over the past three years to block Palestinian citizens from moving to Afula from overcrowded, neighbouring communities like Nazareth.

The mayor has been involved in a series of demonstrations against Palestinian families trying to buy homes in Afula, including one last month arranged by a far-right, anti-Arab group.

After local elections last year, councillors were made to swear a revised oath that they would “preserve the city’s Jewish character”. Despite protests, the interior ministry did not oppose the change of wording.

Mother and son denied entry

Fady Khoury, an Adalah lawyer overseeing a petition to Nazareth’s district court to repeal Afula’s decision, said it was important to understand that this was not an isolated incident.

“There has always been a lot of racially based segregation in Israel, but it was done quietly, mostly out of view in rural communities and concealed with ostensibly neutral language so that such policies would not arouse scrutiny or criticism,” he told Middle East Eye.

“But now the discrimination is moving centre-stage, into the big cities. It is being done transparently, even proudly. It is a sign of the right’s ever-greater confidence.”

Adalah launched the case after another of its lawyers was barred from the park last week. Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, a resident of Nazareth, had hoped to take her one-year-old son there to play.

The guard refused them entry after asking her where she lived. Nazareth, the largest Palestinian community in Israel, is a short distance from Afula.

She noted that land shortages, following widespread government confiscations decades ago, meant Nazareth and other Palestinian communities lacked green spaces and public parks.

Shehadeh-Zoabi told MEE: “It was shocking and humiliating to be told to leave, especially when Jews were being allowed to enter the park without showing any form of identification. It is clear the policy is designed to prevent Arab citizens alone from entering.”

She added: “It starts with a ban on entering parks, but if we don’t challenge this policy of segregation based on ethnicity it will quickly escalate to bigger things.”

Courts wary to intervene

The Afula municipality declined to comment. A spokesman, Kfir Bazak, told MEE that it was not speaking to journalists because the Israeli media had in the past misrepresented its policy.

Adalah hopes it can overturn the park ban using two laws: one that denies municipalities the right to collect fees for public parks, and another that prohibits the denial of services based on various criteria, including place of residence.

Khoury said that, paradoxically, the residency non-discrimination clause was added by the parliament in a 2017 amendment designed to prevent companies from denying services to settlers.

Many Jewish communities in Israel, he added, placed residency restrictions on access to public facilities, such as swimming pools and sports centres, that were covertly designed to exclude Palestinian citizens. The courts had usually been reluctant to intervene.

“In those cases, there is limited space so there is an argument for prioritising local residents. Parks, on the other hand, cannot be treated as an exclusive space.

“The land is given by the state to the municipality and it is designated in city plans as an open area. It’s like a public highway. It can’t be treated as private property.”

He said if the court backed Adalah’s argument, those that are denied entry could sue the municipality.

City of ‘Arab haters’

On a visit to the park at the weekend, however, Afula residents were mostly supportive of the mayor’s move.

Tal Kauffman, aged 41, said he took his young daughter regularly to the park during the summer.

“It’s better this way. This city is known for being full of Arab-haters,” he told MEE. “I’m not against living together but the reality here is that mixing will lead to tension and fights.

“It’s just recognising how people are raised here – to hate Arabs. We have to separate the ideals of politics and real life.”

Most others, however, were more reluctant to ascribe the policy directly to racism.

Tal Cohen, aged 30, who grew up in Afula but now lives in Tel Aviv, was visiting his parents with his wife and children. He said the restriction was necessary because of “bad people”.

“It’s not about Arabs and Jews. It’s to stop troublemakers coming here and using the park. There’s a problem with alcohol and rubbish.”

‘Socially unsuitable’

Adi Aviram, aged 34, was watching over her three young children playing on a slide. She believes non-residents should not be banned but should pay a fee to use the park.

Referring to the widespread segregation in housing between the Jewish majority and Palestinian minority, she said it was good for children from different ethnic groups to meet in the park.

“The fact is if they don’t mix here, they won’t come across each other until they’re grown-ups when they have already developed prejudices. It’s good for the kids to meet each other, play together, hear different languages.”

Some 90 percent of Israelis live in communities that are almost completely segregated on a racial basis, noted Hana Swaid, a former Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who now heads the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning.

Hundreds of smaller Jewish communities employ admissions committees to bar Palestinian citizens from living there, he added, using the pretext that they are “socially unsuitable”.

“Even the rest who live in the larger, so-called ‘mixed cities’ – like Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Lod and Jaffa – are mostly living under a system of partial segregation, with Jewish and Palestinan citizens divided into separate neighbourhoods,” he told MEE.

Fear of mixing

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Palestinian citizens comprise less than 1 percent of Afula’s population.

However, small numbers of arrivals from neighbouring Palestinian communities over the past three years have triggered a backlash. The mayor has capitalised on fears among Afula residents that the city is in danger of becoming mixed.

That has effectively happened close by, in Nazareth Ilit, a Jewish city built in the 1950s on the lands of neighbouring Nazareth, the reputed site of Jesus’ childhood and the only Palestinian city to survive the Nakba.

Swaid said the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Nazareth Ilit may now be as high as 25 percent. Israeli authorities have been reluctant to issue official figures.

Last month, residents of Nazareth Ilit voted to rename their city Nof Hagalil (View of the Galilee) in a move the city’s mayor described as distancing the Jewish city from its neighbour.

Nazareth Ilit’s mayors have refused to build a school teaching in Arabic in violation of Israel’s Education Law – forcing Palestinian parents to send their children to Nazareth’s schools. Education is almost entirely segregated in Israel.

Compared to immigrants

A father with his children in Afula’s park who would only give his name as Nick said he lived in Nazareth Ilit for a time after arriving from Russia in 1992 before moving to Afula.

He warned that Afula would face a similar influx of Palestinian citizens if it did not act to stop it quickly, and compared the native Palestinian population to immigrants.

“Here is like everywhere else. People in London don’t want immigrants coming to their city. We feel the same.”

Last year, Afula city council voted down a move to incorporate in its municipal boundaries the small Palestinian village of Dahi, saying it wanted to “preserve the city’s character”. Beforehand, Elkabetz had referred to the council vote as “one of its most critical meetings ever”.

Judaising the Galilee

Swaid said Afula and other nearby Jewish cities were traditionally seen as “Judaising” – or making more Jewish – the Galilee, a region that had remained dominated by its Palestinian population since 1948.

“The problem is that after decades of government discrimination Palestinian communities like Nazareth lack lands for future housing,” he said.

“Residents have no choice but to seek solutions elsewhere. First they started moving to Nazareth Ilit, now it is Afula. That is provoking a reaction.”

Swaid and Khoury noted that Afula’s officials felt more confident excluding Palestinian citizens after the parliament passed the Nation State Basic Law last year, which has a constitutional-like status.

According to Article 7 of the law, “the state considers the development of Jewish settlement a national value, and will work to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening”.

Swaid said: “The intention behind the law is to make it possible for cities like Afula to implement segregation.”

Disturbed by Arabic

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and editor of a recent book comparing Israel and apartheid South Africa, said there was widespread support among Israeli Jews for apartheid-style segregation.

A public survey last December revealed that 74 percent were disturbed to hear conversations in Arabic, the mother tongue of a fifth of the population. And 88 percent would be worried if their son befriended an Arab girl.

“The reality today is that you will not a find a single cabinet minister who would be prepared to denounce what Afula is doing,” Pappe told MEE.

“Not only that but all of them would understand or support its actions.”

A Haaretz editorial last summer, during protests in Afula against house sales to Palestinian citizens, noted that not even Israel’s centre-left parties had voiced criticism of the involvement of the mayor and other city officials.

“In Israel … expressions of hatred for Arabs are met with total indifference at best or encouragement at worst,” it observed.

Template for future

Pappe said it was inevitable that with Israeli politicians no longer even paying lip-service to a two-state solution, policies inside Israel would grow more like those in the occupied territories.

“The right’s argument is that there is no difference between the parts of Palestine seized in 1948, which are today Israel, and those occupied in 1967,” he told MEE. “For them, they are the same, they are all Greater Israel.

“The result is that policies towards Palestinian citizens increasingly look the same as those faced by Palestinians under occupation. All will face the same kind of apartheid. The Nation State Law was a template for the future.”

Last year, Kfar Vradim, another Jewish community in the Galilee, halted an auction for land for house-building after several plots were bought by Palestinian citizens.

Some 50 municipal rabbis issued an edict in 2010 against Jews renting or selling homes to Palestinian citizens.

And around the same time the deputy mayor of the city of Karmiel in the central Galilee was implicated in setting up a hotline for residents to inform on neighbours suspected of selling to Palestinian citizens.

Back at Afula’s park, one man admitted to being a Palestinian citizen – from the nearby village of Daburriya. Only giving his name as Abdullah, he said he had been employed by Afula as a park-keeper for four years. He declined to comment on the mayor’s new policy.

• First published at Middle East Eye

Palestine and Kenya: Our Historic Fight against Injustice Is One and the Same

Note: Palestinian author and journalist, Dr. Ramzy Baroud arrived to Kenya for a 10-day speaking and media tour starting June 23. Exploring the subject of intersectionality, solidarity and popular resistance, Baroud is set to speak at various universities and appear on Kenyan television and radio stations.

*****

In 1948, my grandfather, along with thousands of Badrasawis, was expelled by Israeli military forces from our ancestral village of Beit Daras in Palestine.

Like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from over 500 other villages, my grandfather assumed he would be back home in a few weeks. “Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, when we know that we will return to Beit Daras in a week or so?” he asked my bewildered grandmother, Zeinab.

Beit Daras was located 32 kilometers north-east of the Gaza Strip, perched between a large hill and a small river that seemed never to run dry. A massacre took place as people fled the village. Houses were blown up, and wells and granaries sabotaged.

A peaceful village, that had existed for millennia, was completely destroyed with the intention of erasing it from existence. In its place now stands the Israeli towns of Giv’ati, Azrikam, and Emunim. The life of those Israeli towns is based on the death of our village.

Seventy years later, we have still not returned. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, who are scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East and a growing diaspora globally. Our good blankets have been lost forever, replaced with endless exile and dispossession.

The occupation of Palestine is not a “conflict” – as the Israelis like to present it. Israel is a colonial power that is ethnically cleansing an entire indigenous population in order to legitimize and grow its colony.

And like all people, we Palestinians have the right to resist colonial domination and occupation. This is an inalienable right enshrined in international law.

It is this right that justified Africa’s anti-colonial struggles and wars of liberation in the 1950s and 1960s, the American Revolution and the Cuban Revolution. This right also legitimates Palestinian resistance – whether that resistance is through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, prosecution of Israeli war criminals at the International Criminal Court, or through armed struggle.

Dedan Kimathi is celebrated as a hero to Kenyans because of his resistance to – not because of his subservience to – colonialism and occupation. The Mau Mau rebellion is a source of inspiration – not just for Kenyans – but for all of humanity.

Israel will claim its occupation of Palestine is self-defense; that its demolition of Palestinian homes, detention without trial policies, construction of illegal settlements, theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, are necessary for ‘security’. Israeli security and peace cannot be built on injustice and occupation – at the expense of Palestinian security, justice, dignity and peace. The life of one group should not be based on the death of the other.

Israeli military strikes on Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip are always portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian fire. But Palestinian fire is never contextualized. It is never “in return” for the cruel, years-long Israeli siege that has systematically destroyed Gaza’s economy and subjected an entire generation of Palestinian children to malnutrition-related deficiencies.

It is never “in return” for decades of devastating military occupation of Palestinian land and life. Fire from Gaza is never “in return” for the continued dispossession of historic Palestine which made most of the population in Gaza refugees in the first place.

The Palestinian liberation struggle is simply dismissed as “terrorism”. The word “terrorism” is readily applied to Palestinian individuals or groups who use homemade bombs, but never to a nuclear-armed Israeli state that has used white phosphorous, DIME bombs, and other internationally-prohibited weapons against Palestinian civilians.

What is happening in occupied Palestine is incremental genocide – not self-defense. Israel is asking the Palestinian people to let their freedom die so that the Israeli people can live.

Submit or fight. These were the two choices facing Kenyans during your anti-colonial struggle. Like you, we Palestinians have also chosen to fight for our dignity – for ourselves and our children. We will not let our dream of freedom die.

For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Israel can no longer rationalize its oppression of Palestinians by blaming Palestinians who exercise their natural and internationally recognized right to resist occupation and colonialism.

We will continue to resist Israeli colonialism, armed with our rights and international law.

• A version of this article first appeared in The Star

Annexation: How Israel Already controls More than Half of the West Bank

A state of de facto annexation already exists on the ground in most of the occupied West Bank.

Almost two-thirds of the Palestinian territory, including most of its most fertile and resource-rich land, is under full Israeli control. About 400,000 Jewish settlers living there enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizens.

At least 60 pieces of legislation were drafted by right-wing members of the Knesset during the last parliament to move Israel from a state of de facto to de jure annexation, according to a database by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group.

Yesh Din points out that the very fact that some of these bills have passed as laws constitutes a form of annexation: “The Israel Knesset [now] regards itself as the legislative authority in the West Bank and the sovereign there.”

Paradoxically, many of those bills were opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though they were drafted from within his own ruling coalition.

Netanyahu argued that it would be wrong to pre-empt US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, implying that annexation is high on the agenda.

Leaked details suggest that Washington is now preparing to green-light the formal annexation of at least some of that territory as part of its deal-making, though Netanyahu’s political difficulties and his decision to call another election in September could mean putting details on ice once again.

The Golan precedent

Three recent developments have also brought the idea of Israel annexing parts or all of the West Bank onto the agenda.

In March, US President Donald Trump recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed by Israel in 1981 in violation of international law. The US decision suggested a precedent whereby it might similarly approve a move by Israel to annex the West Bank.

In April, in the run-up to Israel’s general election, Netanyahu said he would use the next parliament to “extend sovereignty” to all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, using a phrase preferred by Israeli politicians to “annexation”.

About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank in 150 official settlements and another 120 so-called “unauthorised” outposts that have been covertly sponsored by the Israeli state since the 1990s. These settlements have jurisdiction over 42 percent of West Bank territory.

In early June, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a stalwart supporter of the settlements and one of the architects of Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, told the New York Times that he believed Israel was “on the side of God” and said: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Support in Israel growing

Support in Israel for annexation is growing, with 42 percent backing one of several variants in a recent poll, as opposed to 34 percent who were behind a two-state solution. Only 28 percent of Israelis explicitly rejected annexation.

Behind the scenes, debates about formally annexing the Palestinian territories have been rife in Israel since it occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967.

Successive Israeli governments, however, have demurred out of concern both that there would be strong international objections (most UN member states would be opposed to the annexation of territory recognised as illegally occupied in international law) and that Israel would be under pressure to give Palestinians in annexed areas citizenship, including the right to vote, that would undermine its Jewish majority.

Senior government ministers such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon were among the early proponents of annexing parts of the West Bank. They drew up maps for a permanent settlement programme that would allow Israel to hold on to swathes of the West Bank, especially the most fertile land and the aquifers.

Through the late 1970s and 1980s, a justice ministry official, Plia Albeck, declared large areas of the West Bank “state land”, allowing the government to treat it as effectively part of Israel and build settlements.

Speeding tickets and police stations

Israel has applied its laws to the settler population and dozens of Israeli police stations located in the West Bank operate as if the territory has been annexed, issuing speeding tickets and enforcing other infractions on Palestinians. Palestinians’ ultimate recourse to adjudication on legal matters is Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 2011, that court decided that Israel was allowed to exploit more than a dozen quarries, one of the Palestinians’ key resources, because the occupation had become “prolonged” – a ruling that treated the West Bank as if it had been de facto annexed.

Since the Olso accords, Israeli leaders have tended to pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, at some distant future point. But in practice, they have encouraged the rapid expansion of the settlements. This policy is sometimes referred to as “creeping annexation”.

A number of variants have been advanced by the Israeli right, ranging from the annexation of all Palestinian territories, including Gaza, to annexation limited to certain areas of the West Bank.

How Oslo gave Israel control

The main framework for the Israeli debate about annexation is the Oslo process which temporarily carved up the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C as a prelude, it was assumed, to eventually transferring sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority.

Area C, 62 per cent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control and where the settlements are located. It is also where most of the water, agricultural and mineral resources are to be found.

Area B, 20 percent, is under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. And Area A – mainly Palestinian built-up areas on 18 percent of the West Bank – is nominally under full Palestinian control.

The option favoured by most of Netanyahu’s Likud party involves the annexation of areas populated with settlers, or about 40 percent of the West Bank mostly located in Area C.

This option would keep West Bank Palestinians outside the annexed areas and make it easier to avoid conferring any residency or citizenship rights on them. The Palestinian Authority would be given “limited autonomy” – a kind of glorified municipal role – over the remaining fragments of the West Bank.

To the right of Likud, opinions range from annexing all of Area C to annexing the entire West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of Palestinian “Bantustans” modelled on South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Some propose a “salami” method, with Israel gradually slicing off more of the West Bank.

The Israeli centre-left fears formal annexation not only violates international law but will damage Israel’s image abroad by encouraging comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. In the absence of a Palestinian state, a minority of Jews might soon be ruling over a majority of Palestinians.

The centre-left is also concerned about the costs of annexation. Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of retired security officials, argue that annexation will lead to the inevitable collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, they believe Israel would incur annual costs of between $2.3bn and $14.5bn, depending on the extent of the West Bank area annexed. There would also be a loss of $2.5bn in foreign investments. Palestinian uprisings could cost Israel’s economy as much as $21bn.

Right-wing economists like Amatzia Samkai of the Caucus for Eretz Israel say Israel will benefit economically. If Area C is annexed, only a small number of Palestinians will be entitled to Israeli welfare payments, he says. Such costs, he adds, can be more than offset by an expanded labour force and a drop in real-estate prices after West Bank land is freed up for house building by Israelis.

Knesset ‘sovereign’ in West Bank already

Of the 60 pieces of draft annexation legislation brought before the Knesset, eight have passed into law.

The main laws that have been passed include:

  • annulling a special council overseeing higher education in West Bank settlements and transferring its powers to the main Israel Council for Higher Education.
  • approving retroactively the theft of private Palestinian land used to build settlements. The previous official position was that settlements should be built only on land Israel had declared state land because it was not owned by Palestinians.
  • extending benefits available in Israel – from tax exemptions and egg production quotas to renewable energy investments – to West Bank settlements.
  • unifying the criminal register used by police in Israel and the West Bank.
  • transferring powers to adjudicate matters involving the West Bank to lower courts in Israel.
  • prohibiting businesses from refusing to supply services to West Bank settlements.

In addition, Yesh Din notes, Israel has recently shifted its diplomatic position and legal arguments to the courts in relation to the West Bank.

It has rejected the West Bank’s status as being under occupation, asserted Israel’s authority to operate there and eroded the obligation to protect the rights and property of the Palestinian population.

Another significant piece of legislation Netanyahu is known to favour – chiefly for personal reasons because it could be used to protect him from corruption indictments – is an Override Law.

The measure is being aggressively promoted by settler groups because it would strip Israel’s Supreme Court of judicial review powers to block legislation annexing the West Bank.

Palestinian support?

On the Palestinian side, a tiny number, mostly business leaders, have backed annexation of the West Bank. They have been cultivated by the Trump administration as a potential alternative leadership to the Palestinian Authority. Most Palestinians consider them traitors or collaborators.

Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, for example, has entered into a partnership with settler counterparts in the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce”, using the settlers’ Biblical name for the West Bank.

The chamber promotes joint ventures such as shopping centres along West Bank main roads, tourism initiatives and infrastructure projects.

Jabari and others have consciously sought to package annexation on Israeli terms as similar to the one-state agenda of a growing section of the Palestinian population, especially those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).

“We have to think about this area as one entity, not two entities and two realities,” he told journalists recently.

Certainly, there are Palestinians who consider annexation and Israel’s direct re-occupation of the West Bank, unmediated by the PA, as a necessary condition for Palestinians launching a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle to realise a genuine one-state solution.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Kushner as a Colonial Administrator

In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries “Axios” on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his ‘Deal of the Century’ was a prime focus.

The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not capable of governing themselves.

Not surprising, because Kushner thinks he is capable of arranging the future of the Palestinian people without the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership. He has been pushing his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ relentlessly, while including in his various meets and conferences countries such as Poland, Brazil and Croatia, but not Palestine.

Indeed, this is what transpired at the Warsaw conference on ‘peace and security’ in the Middle East. The same charade, also led by Kushner, is expected to be rebooted in Bahrain on June 25.

Much has been said about the subtle racism in Kushner’s words, reeking with the stench of old colonial discourses where the natives were seen as lesser, incapable of rational thinking beings who needed the civilized ‘whites’ of the western hemisphere to help them cope with their backwardness and inherent incompetence.

Kushner, whose credentials are merely based on his familial connections to Trump and family friendship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now poised to be the colonial administrator of old, making and enforcing the law while the hapless natives have no other option but to either accommodate or receive their due punishment.

This is not an exaggeration. In fact, according to leaked information concerning Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ and published in the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, if Palestinian groups refuse to accept the US-Israeli diktats, “the US will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians and ensure that no country transfers funds to them.”

In the HBO interview, Kushner offered the Palestinians a lifeline. They could be considered capable of governing themselves should they manage to achieve the following: “a fair judicial system … freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

The fact that Palestine is an occupied country, subject in every possible way to Israel’s military law, and that Israel has never been held accountable for its 52-year occupation seems to be of no relevance whatsoever, as far as Kushner is concerned.

On the contrary, the subtext in all of what Kushner has said in the interview is that Israel is the antithesis to the unquestionable Palestinian failure. Unlike Palestine, Israel needs to do little to demonstrate its ability to be a worthy peace partner.

While the term ‘US bias towards Israel’ is as old as the state of Israel itself, what is hardly discussed are the specifics of that bias, the decidedly condescending, patronizing and, often, racist view that US political classes have of Palestinians – and all Arabs and Muslims, for that matter; and the utter infatuation with Israel, which is often cited as a model for democracy, judicial transparency and successful ‘anti-terror’ tactics.

According to Kushner a ‘fair judicial system’ is a conditio sine qua non to determine a country’s ability to govern itself. But is the Israeli judicial system “fair” and “democratic”?

Israel does not have a single judicial system, but two. This duality has, in fact, defined Israeli courts from the very inception of Israel in 1948. This de facto apartheid system openly differentiates between Jews and Arabs, a fact that is true in both civil and criminal law.

“Criminal law is applied separately and unequally in the West Bank, based on nationality alone (Israeli versus Palestinian), inventively weaving its way around the contours of international law in order to preserve and develop its ‘(illegal Jewish) settlement enterprise’,” Israeli scholar, Emily Omer-Man, explained in her essay ‘Separate and Unequal’.

In practice, Palestinians and Israelis who commit the exact same crime will be judged according to two different systems, with two different procedures: “The settler will be processed according to the Israeli Penal Code (while) the Palestinian will be processed according to military order.”

This unfairness is constituent of a massively unjust judicial apparatus that has defined the Israeli legal system from the onset. Take the measure of administrative detention as an example. Palestinians can be held without trial and without any stated legal justification. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to this undemocratic ‘law’ and hundreds of them are currently held in Israeli jails.

It is ironic that Kushner raised the issue of freedom of the press, in particular, as Israel is being derided for its dismal record in that regard. Israel has reportedly committed 811 violations against Palestinian journalists since the start of the ‘March of Return’ in Gaza in March 2018. Two journalists – Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – were killed and 155 were wounded by Israeli snipers.

Like the imbalanced Israeli judicial system, targeting the press is also a part of a protracted pattern. According to a press release issued by the Palestinian Journalists Union last May, Israel has killed 102 Palestinian journalists since 1972.

The fact that Palestinian intellectuals, poets and activists have been imprisoned for Facebook and other social media posts should tell us volumes about the limits of Israel’s freedom of press and expression.

It is also worth mentioning that in June 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted for a bill that prohibits the filming of Israeli soldiers as a way to mask their crimes and shelter them from any future legal accountability.

As for freedom of religion, despite its many shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority hardly discriminates against religious minorities. The same cannot be said about Israel.

Although discrimination against non-Jews in Israel has been the raison d’être of the very idea of Israel, the Nation-State Law of July 2018 further cemented the superiority of the Jews and inferior status of everyone else.

According to the new Basic Law, Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” only and “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.”

Palestinians do not need to be lectured on how to meet Israeli and American expectations, nor should they ever aspire to imitate the undemocratic Israeli model. What they urgently need, instead, is international solidarity to help them win the fight against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Resurrecting the PLO is Palestine’s Best Response to the “Deal of the Century”

Palestinian groups, Fatah, Hamas and others should not confine themselves to simply rejecting the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. Instead, they should use their resistance to the new American-Israeli plot as an opportunity to unify their ranks.

Leaked details of the ‘Deal of the Century’ confirm Palestinians’ worst fears: the ‘Deal’ is but a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for over a decade.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, a demilitarized state, ‘New Palestine’ will be established on territorial fragments of the West Bank, as all illegal Jewish settlements would permanently become part of Israel. If Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s diktats, according to the report, they will be punished through financial and political isolation.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, but an egregious act of bullying. However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of ‘peace-making,’ where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Israel to account. Washington has never refrained from supporting Israeli wars against Palestinians or even conditioned its ever-generous aid packages on the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements.

The only difference between the US ‘peace process’ of the past and today’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is in the style and tactics as opposed to the substance and details.

Undoubtedly, the ‘Deal’, championed by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, will fail. Not only will it not deliver peace – this is not the intention – but it is most likely to be rejected by Israel. The formation of Israel’s new government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership is centered round far-right and religious parties. It is no longer politically correct in the new Israeli lexicon to even discuss the possibility of a Palestinian state, let alone agree to one.

Netanyahu, however, is likely to wait for Palestinians to reject the deal, as they certainly should. Then, with the help of pro-Israel mainstream western media, a new discourse will evolve, blaming Palestinians for missing yet another opportunity for peace, while absolving Israel from any wrongdoing. This pattern is familiar, highlighted most starkly in Bill Clinton’s Camp David II in 2000 and George W. Bush’s Road Map for Peace in 2003.

In 2000, the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak’s ‘generous offer’, an entirely manufactured political hoax that, to this day, defines official and academic understanding of what had transpired in the secret talks then.

All Palestinians must reject the ‘Deal of the Century’, or any deal that is born out of a political discourse which is not centered on Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law, a political frame of reference that is agreed upon by every country in the world, save the US and Israel. Decades of fraudulent American ‘peace making’ prove that Washington will never fulfil its self-designated title as an ‘honest peacemaker.’

However, rejection per se, while going back to business as usual, is inadequate. While the Palestinian people are united behind the need to resist the Israeli Occupation, challenge Israeli apartheid and employ international pressure until Israel finally relents, Palestinian factions are driven by other selfish priorities. Each faction seems to rotate within the political sphere of foreign influence, whether Arab or international.

For example, Fatah, which is credited for ‘igniting the spark of the Palestinian revolution’ in 1965, has been largely consumed with the trappings of false power while dominating the Palestinian Authority, which itself operates within the space allocated to it by the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Hamas, which began as an organic movement in Palestine, is forced to play regional politics in its desperation for any political validation in order to escape the suffocating siege of Gaza.

Whenever both parties verge on forming a united leadership in the hope of resurrecting the largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), their benefactors manipulate the money and politics, thus resuming disunity and discord.

The ‘Deal of the Century’, however, offers both groups an opportunity, as they are united in rejecting the deal and equally perceive any Palestinian engagement with it as an act of treason.

More importantly, the steps taken by Washington to isolate the PA through denying Palestinians urgently needed funds, revoking the PLO’s diplomatic status in Washington and shunning the PA as a political ally  provide the opportunity to open the necessary political dialogue that could finally accomplish a serious Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

Israel, too, by withholding tax money collected on behalf of the PA, has lost its last pressure card against Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah.

At this point, there is little else that the US and Israel could do to exert more pressure on the Palestinians.

But this political space available for Palestinians to create a new political reality will be brief. The moment the ‘Deal of the Century’ is discarded as another failed American scheme to force a Palestinian surrender, the political cards, regionally and internationally, will be mixed again, beyond the ability of Palestinian factions to control their outcome.

Therefore, it is critical that Palestinian groups at home and in the diaspora push for Palestinian dialogue, not simply for the sake of forming a unity government in Ramallah, but to revitalize the PLO as a truly representative and democratic body that includes all Palestinian political currents and communities.

It is only through the resurrection of the PLO that Palestinians could finally return to their original mission of devising a national liberation strategy that is not manipulated by money and not subjected to regional politicking.

If history is any indication, the ‘Deal of the Century’ is another sinister American attempt to manage the situation in Palestine in order to assert political dominance in the region. This ‘Deal’ is essential for American reputation, especially among its disgruntled regional allies who feel abandoned by the progressive American military and political retreat from the region.

This latest charade does not have to be at the expense of Palestinians, and Palestinian groups should recognize and grasp this unique opportunity. The ‘Deal of the Century’ will fail, but efforts to achieve Palestinian unity could finally succeed.

It is the Indifference of Israelis that is Killing People

In the past, whenever I went to (or more precisely, ‘through’) Israel, it was for some antagonistic purpose: to write about the brutal suppression of the intifada in Gaza or Hebron, to comment on the insanity of the land grab around Bethlehem, or to report from the eerie and de-populated Golan Heights, which Israel occupies against all international rules and the UN resolutions. You name it and I worked there: Shifa Hospital or Rafah Camp in Gaza, ‘Golans’, border with Jordan, Bethlehem.

I used to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, sleep one night in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa, meet my contacts (my left-wing friends), hastily, and in the morning, dash towards the ‘front’, or towards one of the ‘fronts’ that the so-called ‘Jewish State’ sustains for decades at its ‘peripheries’.

But this time I decided to do exactly the opposite.

As it became evident that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost all his restraint and shame, as it has got clear that the United States will take full advantage of his madness, and as I was convinced that Europe as well as most of the Arab countries will do absolutely nothing to defend Palestine, Syria or Iran, being ‘in the neighborhood’ (Egypt), I bought my tickets to Tel Aviv, for just a 48 hour ‘visit’ and for one simple purpose: to observe Israeli citizens, talk to them, and to try to figure out how and what they think and want; how they see the world, and particularly how they perceive the region where they live, fight and kill.

And so, I flew to Israel, from Cairo and via Amman. Once there, for two days I commuted between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a brand new, fast and elegant double-decker train. I talked to many people, provoking them to describe the conditions in which they have been existing; to describe their political system, and the apartheid which most of them keep upholding through (as they constantly point out – ‘democratic’) elections.

*****

Of course, the more ‘democratic’ Israel really is, the more shameful the state into which it reduces the Palestinians, other Arabs and, in fact, the entire region. Israeli citizens are continuously voting in the governments that are locking millions inside the camps. They are electing those who are igniting wars and military conflicts in various countries of the Middle East.

Gaza Shifa Hospital — wounded by Israeli soldiers

Naturally, if you live in Beirut or Aleppo, it is easy to imagine that all this horror is happening because the Israeli citizens are simply ‘evil’; in fact, a bunch of blood-thirsty Rottweilers who have been let off the leash by their North American masters.

But when one interacts with Israelis, he or she quickly realizes that, bizarrely, this is not the case.

Many Israelis appear to be slightly confused, shy, and introverted.

They are ‘into themselves’. It appears that they ‘don’t give a damn about the world around them’.

The most shocking thing is not their brutality, but their detachment, indifference and selfishness.

But all of this is not ‘because most of them are Jews’, but because they are Europeans.

In fact, very little is known about the fact that most of the non-European Jews living in Israel (those originally from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia and elsewhere) are treated like second-class citizens, or even worse.

Israel is a European ‘outpost’ in the Middle East. The mindset of most of its inhabitants is predominantly European. Talk to people in Tel Aviv, Haifa, even Beersheba as well as in the non-religious parts of the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and you will most likely come to the same conclusion.

The ‘political awareness’ of the white, European Israeli Jews, is precisely on the same level as that of the Europeans, meaning near zero.

The US and UK military are involved in several ‘projects’ – occupations and attempts to overthrow foreign governments, and these ‘projects’ are killing millions of innocent people, annually. But go to Tate Modern or the Covent Garden Opera House, or just to one of those countless funky nightclubs in London or New York, and try to engage people in conversations about their nation’s murderous legacy. They will laugh at you, or confront you, or simply would not understand what are you talking about, and why.

Do the same in France, and most likely, the results would be identical. France is involved in the neo-colonialist projects in Africa, and millions of ‘lower humans’ are being ruined in the process. But how many French people know, and if they do, how many of them care, let alone try to stop it. Look at the Yellow Vests: how many of them are demanding justice for the French neo-colonies?

The mindset of Israelis is very similar.

Classic music at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem

Take Tel Aviv – the biggest city in Israel: it is one of the richest places on earth, with infrastructure better than that in North America or the United Kingdom, with cultural institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, a masterpiece built by the architect Preston Scott Cohen. The green areas of Tel Aviv, public spaces, all this could rank it as one of the most livable cities on earth.

But for whom? At what price to the enslaved, exiled and exploited people of the region?

Does it sound familiar? Like all those museums, cathedrals, parks, public hospitals, universities that Europe constructed on the bones, on the corpses and misery of the Congolese, Indonesian, Indian and other people. All for the benefit of the Europeans, but paid for by the slave labor of “The Others”, as well as by the looted resources of “The Others”.

Talk about all of this in Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon or London. The chances are, you will not be understood. Chances are, you will get confronted: thrown out of cab or a pub, insulted, or even physically attacked (it happened to me in London, for instance).

Talk about it in Haifa or Tel Aviv, and the outcome would be similar; a bit milder (in Israel there is greater number of self-critical people than in Europe), but those who may disagree with you could be extremely unpleasant, and sometimes even violent.

And then, when all the other arguments are exhausted, the Holocaust would almost certainly be mentioned.

*****

And Holocaust is one word that is, when pronounced, simply supposed to end all arguments and criticism of Israel. It is like a password, to shut everyone up.

The Holocaust is then connected to the exodus of the Jews from Europe to the Middle East, after the end of the WWII. “Millions of Jews were killed, therefore they had full right to move, or to be moved, to the Middle East”, the argument goes.

It is bizarre, and powerful proof of how intellectually obedient and ‘shy’ the Western, as well as the Israeli public, has become.

Mentioning Holocaust should not be ‘the end’: this is precisely where the discussion should begin!

The Holocaust was committed by the Europeans (Germans, but also by several of its allies) against the Jews, the Roma and Communists. Millions of people died atrocious, unimaginably terrible deaths.

And then?

In a typically cynical and sinister British colonialist way, the perpetrators got rewarded, and then new victims created.

Germany got fully rebuilt, while Palestinians (un-people in the British minds), were singled out as those who were supposed to pay for the European crimes.

Why not award the Jews with the entire Bavaria? That’s where Hitler came from. That’s where his early supporters were living. This is where some terrible killings were perpetrated.

Bavaria, Germany, Central Europe, is where millions of Jews felt at home, before the Nazi madness began. For example, the greatest writer of the 20th Century – Franz Kafka: he often described himself as a Czech, of Jewish origin, who wrote in the German language.

Before they realized the gravity and monstrosity of the situation, most of the Jews in Germany simply felt ‘betrayed’. As far as they were concerned, they were Europeans, not any less than that perverted freak Adolf Hitler, or his beer-guzzling buddies.

So, why not Bavaria, as compensation? Why Palestine?

The unpronounced truth has been: because the UK and US wanted that mighty Middle Eastern outpost, and because they wanted a powerful, industrialized Germany again, precisely where it was before and during the war.

Because the Allies knew: in terrible pain, full of outrage, the European Jews would come to Palestine and almost in unison declare: “Never Again!” “We will fight for our survival right now and right here!”

The sad reality was, however, that it was not Arabs, not Palestinians, who burnt the Jewish people in the concentration camps. The Arabs were actually fellow victims, suffering from different horrors – the horrors of European colonialism.

Instead of uniting the two groups of people, two victims, against European racism, colonialism and imperialism, the Brits and others succeeded in ‘dividing and ruling’ them; a horrid imperialist tactic they have been using all over the world, for the long centuries.

*****

Of course, after the horrors of WWII, many Jews went to the Middle East as Communists, or anarchists. They wanted to build a new world. They wanted to turn deserts into gardens, and to live in harmony with the Palestinians and other Arabs, in a wonderful and tolerant state. This dream never came through. Communism in Israel was defeated, and so was internationalism.

Militarism, nationalism and religious extremism (conservative religious parties in Israel are always a political minority, but no government, it appears, can be formed, without taking them into a coalition).

Then came the tsunami of the anti-Communist Soviet Jews, (and those who claimed to be Jews, but often weren’t). Accepting them was clearly a political decision of the Israeli elites – they moved Israel towards the right, and ‘rejuvenated’ “the Israeli struggle for ‘exclusive Jewish rights’, and against the rights of the Arab population. Cynical; tremendously cynical, but it all worked perfectly well – for the nationalists and the conservatives.

For the Palestinians, it was yet another disaster; the end of all hopes.

Like in Europe and North America, the Israeli political landscape has become fully re-defined: extreme right, right, and center-right. The left – Communists, internationalists and real socialists – can only be found in a few avant-garde theatres and at the ‘margins of society’.

*****

So, back to the Israeli life. Its Human Development Index (HDI) is the 22nd highest in the world, above that of France, South Korea and Italy. Not bad, is it?

The question is again – for whom?

The interesting thing was that whenever I tried to discuss Palestine, Golan Heights, Syria, Iran, I encountered no anger. Do the white, European Israelis really hate Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians? My conclusion is: no, they don’t! They don’t, because these people do not exist. You cannot hate what doesn’t exist, can you?

Israeli tank being moved towards Occupied Golan Heights

The bombing of Syrians, shooting at Palestinians – it all has become like a video game. Nothing personal – something that ‘has to be done’ in order to preserve privileged status of European Jews. The same as building the settlements.

You know, when I was there, Tel Aviv was obsessed with new electric pushbikes. Bicycle lanes were full of them. Who gives a damn about the Palestinians?

Modern Art Museum in Tel Aviv

The museums were packed, people waiting in lines for hours for the latest exhibitions. Concerts everywhere. The best stuff. Syria? Screw Syria! Falafel fusion has reached new heights, in countless cafes. Classical musicians were practicing, in front of the public, on grand pianos, at the new train station in Jerusalem; a station so deep that one could have no doubt – it is a posh, high tech nuclear shelter.

Another, even newer station will soon be called “Donald Trump”, as a big thank you for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Pianist practicing in front of public at new train station in Jerusalem

In Israel, hardly anyone practices religion, yet on Shabbat, the entire country comes to a standstill. And that is just a few hours after those countless pubs, bars and clubs were regurgitating drunkards, until the wee hours.

Iran? Israeli politicians are professionals. They know what the West wants. And they go out of their way to please. Same as the Saudis, great allies of Washington, and secret cohorts of Israel.

After one day, everything began to feel extremely familiar. I couldn’t help it: I felt that I was in Europe. The same cynicism, opportunism, indifference.

“As long as we live well, we will do anything to keep it like that! If millions ‘elsewhere’ have to die for our wellbeing, who cares? Let them die!”

Opera performances, top notch public transportation (German), luxury cars (mostly German), and classical music (big chunk of it, German again). Top European brands at local luxury boutiques. Cute pet dogs in public parks.

Palestinians do not exist. Arabs exist mainly as a nuisance. Non-European Jews are good for cleaning latrines.

Seriously, have you heard about a Moroccan or Yemeni Jew commanding a battalion, giving orders to open fire on Palestinian women and children? Then ask a question: is it really about ‘Jewishness’ or about European colonialist legacy?

An Ethiopean Jewish reservist … whom is she ready to defend, really?

Actually… Really familiar, isn’t it? The only difference between the UK or France and Israel, is that the distance between London, Paris and the devastated neo-colonies can be counted by thousands of kilometers. From Tel Aviv to the ruined lives of the Palestinian people, it is often just a few minutes’ drive.

*****

Before the holocaust in Europe, Germans perpetrated their very first holocaust in their colony – in Southwest Africa, what is now called Namibia. They murdered over 85% of the native people there, including the Herero tribe. Almost no one knows about it. I went there to investigate, wrote and published reports.

German doctors like Mengele, those who tortured and experimented on Jews in the concentration camps during WWII, were trained by the doctors who previously murdered and beastly tortured African people.

‘Holocaust-deniers’ hate this information. It totally contradicts their ‘discoveries’ that ‘the Holocaust did not happen’, or that “humiliated Germany, after the unjust peace after WWI, just went ‘overboard’.” No, Germany had proven that it could easily exterminate almost an entire population. But African people do not matter to the Europeans, do they? Holocaust is only what occurred on the European continent (although Gypsies/Roma somehow do not qualify as victims, either. In Czech Republic, extermination camps for Roma have been converted to pig farms, with no monuments). They – non-European victims – do not matter to most of the Israelis, either.

When the Holocaust in Europe began, most of the Jews could not believe that their good neighbors – Germans – could commit such barbarity. They did not know their own history, obviously. Germany and other European countries have been committing holocausts all over the world; on all continents. For centuries. The victims, however, were not white, and so they did not qualify as fellow victims.

After WWII was over, and after (mainly) the Soviet Union defeated the German Nazis, many Jews who survived, went to Palestine. As we mentioned before, the murderers were never really punished. Those who had to pay for the German slaughterhouses, were the innocent Palestinians.

But who were those Jews who arrived first? Most of them were those who at the beginning of WWII ‘could not believe that Germans were “capable of committing such crimes”. Let’s face it; they were Europeans, maybe more European than the French, Italians, Dutch, Czechs or even the Germans.

Like Kissinger, who ended up in the United States, instead of Israel. His “Jewish blood” is totally irrelevant. What matters is his “culture”. And his culture is that of a European colonialist, imperialist bigot!

The suffering apart, European Jews were earlier, before WWII, educated in Europe. Their cultural references were those of the Europeans. Most of them saw Arabs with the same eyes as the Europeans observed Arabs in the late 1940’s. Should I say more?

*****

And now, 64 years after the fall of the Reichstag, Israel is an inseparable part of the “Western civilization”. Which means; it is obsessed with its complex of superiority. It is fully convinced, fanatically, that the only truth is the European and North American truth. It would not hesitate to sacrifice millions of non-Western/non-Jewish lives, for the advancement of their own cause. Justice exists only for the white Jews, as well as for the Europeans, and North Americans.

Israel is not a ‘fascist country’. But it is an apartheid state, the same as the West, which treats the entire planet in an apartheid-style manner. It is what it is. Apartheid is used in order to guarantee a great life for its own people, and to hell with the rest.

Israel is fully integrated into the horrible imperialist adventures of the West, all over the Middle East, in Africa and Kashmir, in the Philippines and many other parts of the world.

And, like in the West, its people know nothing, want to know nothing, care about nothing except themselves.

Vacation in Australia, Thailand or Mexico? It can be discussed for long hours. That matters. But not the lives of conquered and colonized people.

I did not like what I saw and heard in Israel. As I do not like what I see and hear in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris or Madrid.

The same self-righteousness, hypocrisy, arrogance and brutality:

“You do it our way, or we will break your legs. We can bomb your cities, steal your land, but you shoot back at us, and we will bomb you back to the Stone Age. Why? Because, we simple can, because, we are part of that omnipotent Western world. Because you know what we can do if you start defending yourself! Because you are scared, frightened into submission. And above all: because our people are only ones who matter.”

Yes, this is the way the colonies were controlled, first by the Europeans and then by the United States. Israel learned; it learned quickly. From the victims, people can swiftly convert themselves into victimizers.

The Laws of any country are clear on this: Just because many of your family members and relatives were brutally murdered, does not give you any right to start beating, robbing and killing totally different groups of people.

Just because you were victim of racism, does not justify your colonialist behavior towards others.

Yes, as always, I was impressed by Israel’s infrastructure, but not by whom it serves. South Africa, during apartheid, built some of the greatest highways in the world. For the whites. Others were forced to live in the gutter. Israel does the same.

To make it worse, Israel’s Prime Minister is behaving like a war criminal. And he has been re-elected by his own people as a reward.

I believe in collective guilt. The indifference of people, who tolerate theft and murder committed on their behalf, becomes a terrible crime itself.

For long awful centuries, Jews were tortured, humiliated and killed by the racist fanatic Europeans. Now, instead of joining internationalist, progressive forces, Israeli Jews of European origin, have changed their identity, and firmly joined the ranks of the imperialist oppressors. They joined their former torturers.

Now they are committing crimes against humanity not because they are Jews, but because they are Europeans.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

Rim Banna, a famous Palestinian singer who translated Palestine’s most moving poetry to song passed away on March 24, 2018, at the age of 51. Rim captured the struggle for Palestinian freedom in the most dignified and melodious ways. If we could imagine angels singing, they would sound like Rim.

When Rim died, all Palestinians mourned her death. Although a few international outlets carried the news of her passing at a relatively young age, her succumbing to cancer did not receive much coverage or discussion. Sadly, a Palestinian icon of cultural resistance who had inspired a whole generation, starting with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, hardly registered as an event worthy of remembrance and reflection, even among those who purport to champion the Palestinian cause.

Compare Rim to Madonna, an ‘artiste’ who has stood for self-aggrandizing personal fame and money-making. She has championed the most debased moral values, utilizing cheap entertainment while catering to the lowest common denominator to remain relevant in the music world for as long as possible.

While Rim had a cause, Madonna has none. And while Rim symbolized cultural resistance, Madonna symbolizes globalized cultural hegemony – in this case, the imposition of consumerist western cultures on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony defines the US and other Western cultures’ relationship to the rest of the world. It is not culture as in the collective intellectual and artistic achievements of these societies, but as a set of ideological and cultural tools used by ruling classes to maintain domination over the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed.

Madonna, along with Michael Jordan, the Beatles and Coca Cola represent far more than mere performers and fizzy drinks, but also serve as tools used to secure cultural, thus economic and political dominance, as well. The fact that in some cities around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere, Coca Cola “flows more freely than water” speaks volumes about the economic toll and political dimension of cultural hegemony.

This issue becomes critical when a pro-Israel Madonna decides to perform in Israel, as she has done repeatedly in the past, as part of the Eurovision contest. Knowing who she is and what she stands for, her decision should not come as a surprise; after all, in her September 2009 Tel Aviv concert, she sang while wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Of course, it is essential that artistes of her caliber and the contestants representing 41 different countries, are reminded of their moral responsibilities towards occupied and oppressed Palestinians. It is also important that Israel is confronted regarding its unrelenting efforts to mask its apartheid and war crimes in Palestine.

Indeed, the whitewashing of Israeli human rights violations using art – also known as “art washing” – should not be allowed to continue when Gaza is under siege, where Palestinian children are shot and killed daily without remorse and without the least legal accountability.

This is why such artistic events are important for the Israeli government and society. Israel has used Eurovision as a distraction from the blood and gore that has been taking place not far from that venue. Those who labored to ensure the success of the event, knowing fully how Israel is using the brand as an opportunity to normalize its war against Palestinians, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

But, on the other hand, should we be the least surprised? Aren’t such global music events, as Eurovision, at the heart of the western-centric globalization scheme of cultural hegemony, which sole purpose is to enforce a capitalist view of the world, where western culture is consumed as a commodity, no different from a McDonald’s sandwich or a pair of Levi jeans?

Calling on 60-year-old Madonna to refrain from entertaining apartheid Israel can be considered beneficial as a media strategy, for it helped highlight, although momentarily, an issue that would have been otherwise absent from news headlines. However, by placing so much focus on Madonna, and whatever human rights’ values she supposedly stands for, we also take the risk of inadvertently validating her and the consumerist values she represents. More, in this Madonna-driven trajectory, we are also neglecting Palestine’s cultural resistance, the core drive behind Palestinian ‘somoud’ – steadfastness – over the course of a century.

In response to her critics, Madonna answered, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” In the eyes of many who are ignorant of the facts, such an answer may appear as if an ‘empowered’ response to those who are trying to sway a genuine, pure artiste from following her calling.

In fact, Madonna is an expert in appearing as if morally-guided, yet never translating such morality to anything meaningful in reality. In a speech described as “powerful” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Madonna declared during a Women’s March in Washington D.C. in 2017 “to the rebellion, to our refusal as women to accept this new age of tyranny. Where not just women are in danger, but all marginalized people.”

Of course, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women – who have paid a heavy price for Israeli Occupation, war and marginalization – are not to be included in Madonna’s false revolution. And the chances are, shortly after she sings and dances in a jubilant, apartheid Israel, she will once more take on many platforms as if the Rosa Parks of revolutionary art.

While it is important that we keep the pressure on those who engage and validate Israel politically, economically and culturally, these efforts should come secondary to embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance. Behaving as if Madonna’s stage shenanigans represent true culture, while ignoring Palestinian culture altogether, is similar to academics addressing decolonization from the point of view of the colonizer, not the colonized. The truth is, nations cannot truly rid themselves from the colonial mindset without having their narratives take the center-stage of politics, culture and every other aspects of knowledge.

“The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even more, without feeling and being impassioned,” wrote Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. This entails the intellectual and the artist to feel “the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and, therefore, explaining and justifying them.”

The truth is that appealing to Madonna’s moral sense without immersing ourselves passionately in the art of Rim Banna will, in the long run, do Palestinians no good. Only embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance will, ultimately, keep the self-serving, hegemonic and cheap cultural messages of the Madonnas of this world at bay.