Category Archives: Benjamin Netanyahu

Muna is Palestine, Yakub is Israel: The Untold Story of Sheikh Jarrah  

There are two separate Sheikh Jarrah stories – one read and watched in the news and another that receives little media coverage or due analysis.

The obvious story is that of the nightly raids and violence meted out by Israeli police and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the devastated East Jerusalem neighborhood.

For weeks, thousands of Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinian communities in Jerusalem’s Old City. Their objective is the removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They are not acting alone. Their riots and rampages are directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of extremist Zionist and Jewish groups, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement. Their unfounded claims, violent actions and abhorrent chant “Death to the Arabs” are validated by Israeli politicians, such as Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King.

Here is a little introduction to the political discourse of Ben-Gvir and King, who were caught on video shouting and insulting a wounded Palestinian protester. The video starts with MK Ben-Gvir disparagingly yelling at a Palestinian who was apparently wounded by Israeli police, yet returned to protest against the evictions planned for Sheikh Jarrah.

Ben-Gvir is heard shouting, “Abu Hummus, how is your ass?”

“The bullet is still there, that’s why he is limping,” responds the Deputy Mayor, King, to Ben-Gvir.  King continues, “Did they take the bullet out of your ass? Did they take it out already? It is a pity it did not go in here,” King continues, pointing to his head.

Delighted with what they perceive to be a whimsical commentary on the wounding of the Palestinian, Ben-Gvir and King’s entourage of Jewish extremists laugh.

While “Abu Hummus”, wounded yet still protesting, is a testament to the tenacity of the Palestinian people, King, Ben-Gvir, the settlers and the police are a representation of the united Israeli front aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians and ensuring Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

Another important participant in the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign in Jerusalem is Israel’s court system which has provided a legal cover for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The legal foundation of the Jewish settlers’ constant attempts at acquiring more Palestinian properties can be traced back to a specific 1970 law, known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allowed Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. While Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims, Israeli courts have generously handed Palestinian homes, lands and other assets to Jewish claimants. In turn, these homes, as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land.

Last February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to many Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Following a Palestinian and international backlash, it offered Palestinians a ‘compromise’, whereby Palestinian families relinquished ownership rights to their homes and agreed to continue to live there as tenants, paying rents to the very illegal Jewish settlers who have stolen their homes in the first place, but who are now armed with a court decision.

However, the ‘logic’ through which Jews claim Palestinian properties as their own should not be associated with a few extremist organizations. After all, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was not the work of a few extreme Zionists. Similarly, the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the massive settlement enterprise that followed was not the brainchild of a few extreme individuals. Colonialism in Israel was, and remains, a state-run project, which ultimately aims at achieving the same objective that is being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah – the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to ensure Jewish demographic majority.

This is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, one that cannot be expressed by a few news bytes or social media posts. However, this most relevant narrative is largely hidden. It is easier to blame a few Jewish extremists than to hold the entire Israeli government accountable. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is constantly manipulating the subject of demographics to advance the interests of his Jewish constituency. He is a strong believer in an exclusive Jewish state and also fully aware of the political influence of Jewish settlers. For example, shortly before the March 23 elections, Netanyahu made a decision to greenlight the construction of 540 illegal settlement units in the so-called Har-Homa E Area (Abu Ghneim Mountain) in the occupied West Bank, in the hope of acquiring as many votes as possible.

While the Sheikh Jarrah story is garnering some attention even in mainstream US media, there is a near-complete absence of any depth to that coverage, namely, the fact that Sheikh Jarrah is not the exception but the norm. Sadly, as Palestinians and their supporters try to circumvent widespread media censorship by reaching out directly to civil societies across the world using social media platforms, they are often censored there as well.

One of the videos initially censured by Instagram is that of Muna al-Kurd, a Palestinian woman who had lost her home in Sheikh Jarrah to a Jewish settler by the name of Yakub.

“Yakub, you know this is not your house,” Muna is seen outside her home, speaking to Yakub.

Yakub answers, “Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.

Muna: “You are stealing my house.”

Yakub: “And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”

Muna: “No. No one is allowed to steal it.”

The untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, of Jerusalem – in fact, of all of Palestine – is that of Muna and Yakub, the former representing Palestine, the latter, Israel. For justice to ever be attained, Muna must be allowed to reclaim her stolen home and Yakub must be held accountable for his crime.

The post Muna is Palestine, Yakub is Israel: The Untold Story of Sheikh Jarrah   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Extremism is on the Rise in Israel

After neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, North Carolina, and then President Donald Trump responded by saying there were “good people on both sides,” people who abhor white supremacism stood up, took notice, and condemned the marchers. Anti-racists would be wise to do the same about the far-right march that took place last week in Jerusalem.

The situation in Jerusalem began with clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces over restrictions placed on the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City. Then, in response to TikTok videos showing two Palestinian youths slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, the far-right Jewish group Lahava called for a “demonstration of national dignity.” Leaked WhatsApp messages revealed calls to lynch Palestinians.

As the Jewish-Israeli extremists marauded through the streets on Thursday, April 22, Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinian counterprotesters. The remarks of a young orthodox Jewish girl went viral on social media. “I don’t want to burn your villages, I just want you to leave and we’ll take them” she said. On her shirt was a sticker reading “Rabbi Kahane is right.” Kahane’s group was placed on the US terror list in 2004.

105 Palestinians were injured, twenty-two requiring hospitalization. Twenty Israeli police officers were also injured. The next morning, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana released a statement condemning “attacks by Arabs.” He said nothing of the violence committed by Jews.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the “rhetoric of extremist protestors.” However, the US embassy in Jerusalem’s statement that they were “deeply concerned” declined to weigh in on the issue of Jewish extremism.

Avi Mayer of the American Jewish Committee tweeted: “The individuals perpetrating it are as foreign to me and my Judaism as are skinheads, white supremacists, and other racists around the world.” But those who chanted “death to Arabs” in Jerusalem are a normalized, accepted part of Israel’s government.

Members of Lehava, the group that organized the extremist march in Jerusalem, are followers of Kahanism, a Jewish supremacist ideology based on the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Inspired by Kahane, in 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the West Bank Ibrahimi mosque. As recently as 2014, three members of Lehava were charged with setting fire to an integrated bilingual Palestinian-Jewish school.

In 1988, the Kach party was banned from running for the Israeli Knesset. In 2004, the US State Department labeled Kach a terrorist organization. However, the Kahanist movement has recently made its way back into Israel’s government where it is being met with open arms.

During Israel’s recent election, Netanyahu, willing to do anything to hold onto his prime ministership, encouraged voters from his own Likud party to cast their ballots for the anti-Arab Religious Zionism slate, which included the Kahanist-inspired Otzma Yehudit party, so that they could make it over the election threshold. Religious Zionism won six seats, bringing Kahanism back into Israel’s Knesset for the first time since the 1980s.

As Netanyahu is proving unable to form a coalition, attention is now turning towards Naftali Bennett, the next most likely candidate to become Israel’s prime minister.

In 2016, Bennett called Israelis to be willing to “give our lives” to annex the West Bank”, evoking the Kahanist view that terrorist acts against Palestinians are a patriotic act of martyrdom. Bennett’s negotiations, as he hopes to form a government, have included meetings with Religious Zionism.

Such statements as Bennett’s call for violence have surely led to increased levels of unrest in the Holy Land. After last week’s extremist march in Jerusalem, clashes continued between Palestinian protestors and Israeli forces. In addition, rockets were launched from Gaza and the Israeli military responded with bombings, Finally, on Sunday, April 25, in order to deescalate the situation, Israel’s police commissioner ordered the barricades at Damascus Gate be removed.

Though the situation in Jerusalem has now calmed, the floodgates of Jewish extremism have already been flung wide open.

The neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and Trump’s response rightfully alarmed the world. Though Trump has been ousted from office, we all know that the violent racist movement that blossomed during his presidency did not begin with him and is far from gone. We would be wise in the aftermath of last week’s “death to Arabs” march in Jerusalem to also speak out against Kahanism in Israel.

The post Extremism is on the Rise in Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Biden’s Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons is Crippling His Diplomacy

Biden with NATO’s Stoltenberg (Photo credit: haramjedder.blogspot.com)

President Biden took office promising a new era of American international leadership and diplomacy. But with a few exceptions, he has so far allowed self-serving foreign allies, hawkish U.S. interest groups and his own imperial delusions to undermine diplomacy and stoke the fires of war.

Biden’s failure to quickly recommit to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, as Senator Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, provided a critical delay that has been used by opponents to undermine the difficult shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna to restore the agreement.

The attempts to derail talks range from the introduction of the Maximum Pressure Act on April 21 to codify the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran to Israel’s cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Biden’s procrastination has only strengthened the influence of the hawkish Washington foreign policy “blob,” Republicans and Democratic hawks in Congress and foreign allies like Netanyahu in Israel.

In Afghanistan, Biden has won praise for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, but his refusal to abide by the May 1 deadline for withdrawal as negotiated under the Trump administration has led the Taliban to back out of the planned UN-led peace conference in Istanbul. A member of the Taliban military commission told the Daily Beast that “the U.S. has shattered the Taliban’s trust.”

Now active and retired Pentagon officials are regaling the New York Times with accounts of how they plan to prolong the U.S. war without “boots on the ground” after September, undoubtedly further infuriating the Taliban and making a ceasefire and peace talks all the more difficult.

In Ukraine, the government has launched a new offensive in its civil war against the ethnically Russian provinces in the eastern Donbass region, which declared unilateral independence after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014. On April 1, Ukraine’s military chief of staff said publicly that “the participation of NATO allies is envisaged” in the government offensive, prompting warnings from Moscow that Russia could intervene to protect Russians in Donbass.

Sticking to their usual tired script, U.S. and NATO officials are pretending that Russia is the aggressor for conducting military exercises and troop movements within its own borders in response to Kiev’s escalation. But even the BBC is challenging this false narrative, explaining that Russia is acting competently and effectively to deter an escalation of the Ukrainian offensive and U.S. and NATO threats. The U.S has turned around two U.S. guided-missile destroyers that were steaming toward the Black Sea, where they would only have been sitting ducks for Russia’s advanced missile defenses.

Tensions have escalated with China, as the U.S. Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense. The Pentagon is hoping to drag NATO allies into participating in these operations, and the U.S. Air Force plans to shift more bombers to new bases in Asia and the Pacific, supported by existing larger bases in Guam, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

Meanwhile, despite a promising initial pause and policy review, Biden has decided to keep selling tens of billion dollars worth of weapons to authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, even as they keep bombing and blockading famine-stricken Yemen. Biden’s unconditional support for the most brutal authoritarian dictators on Earth lays bare the bankruptcy of the Democrats’ attempts to frame America’s regurgitated Cold War on Russia and China as a struggle between “democracy” and “authoritarianism.”

In all these international crises (along with Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria and Venezuela, which are bedevilled by the same U.S. unilateralism), President Biden and the hawks egging him on are pursuing unilateral policies that ignore solemn commitments in international agreements and treaties, riding roughshod over the good faith of America’s allies and negotiating partners.

As the Russian foreign ministry bluntly put it when it announced its countermeasures to the latest round of U.S. sanctions, “Washington is unwilling to accept that there is no room for unilateral dictates in the new geopolitical reality.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed the same multipolar perspective on April 20th at the annual Boao Asian international business forum. “The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others,” Xi said. “The whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.”

The near-universal failure of Biden’s diplomacy in his first months in office reflects how badly he and those who have his ear are failing to accurately read the limits of American power and predict the consequences of his unilateral decisions.

Unilateral, irresponsible decision-making has been endemic in U.S. foreign policy for decades, but America’s economic and military dominance created an international environment that was extraordinarily forgiving of American “mistakes,” even as they ruined the lives of millions of people in the countries directly affected. Now America no longer dominates the world, and it is critical for U.S. officials to more accurately assess the relative power and positions of the United States and the countries and people it is confronting or negotiating with.

Under Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis launched negotiations to persuade Vietnam to host U.S. missiles aimed at China. The negotiations went on for three years, but they were based entirely on wishful thinking and misreadings of Vietnam’s responses by U.S. officials and Rand Corp contractors. Experts agree that Vietnam would never violate a formal, declared policy of neutrality it has held and repeatedly reiterated since 1998.

As Gareth Porter summarized this silly saga:

The story of the Pentagon’s pursuit of Vietnam as a potential military partner against China reveals an extraordinary degree of self-deception surrounding the entire endeavor. And it adds further detail to the already well-established picture of a muddled and desperate bureaucracy seizing on any vehicle possible to enable it to claim that U.S. power in the Pacific can still prevail in a war with China.

Unlike Trump, Biden has been at the heart of American politics and foreign policy since the 1970s. So the degree to which he too is out of touch with today’s international reality is a measure of how much and how quickly that reality has changed and continues to change. But the habits of empire die hard. The tragic irony of Biden’s ascent to power in 2020 is that his lifetime of service to a triumphalist American empire has left him ill-equipped to craft a more constructive and cooperative brand of American diplomacy for today’s multipolar world

Amid the American triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the neocons developed a simplistic ideology to persuade America’s leaders that they need no longer be constrained in their use of military power by domestic opposition, peer competitors or international law. They claimed that America had virtually unlimited military freedom of action and a responsibility to use it aggressively, because, as Biden parroted them recently, “the world doesn’t organize itself.”

The international violence and chaos Biden has inherited in 2021 is a measure of the failure of the neocons’ ambitions. But there is one place that they conquered, occupied and still rule to this day, and that is Washington D.C.

The dangerous disconnect at the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the result of this dichotomy between the neocons’ conquest of Washington and their abject failure to conquer the rest of the world.

For most of Biden’s career, the politically safe path on foreign policy for corporate Democrats has been to talk a good game about human rights and diplomacy, but not to deviate too far from hawkish, neoconservative policies on war, military spending, and support for often repressive and corrupt allies throughout America’s neocolonial empire.

The tragedy of such compromises by Democratic Party leaders is that they perpetuate the suffering of millions of people affected by the real-world problems they fail to fix. But the Democrats’ subservience to simplistic neoconservative ideas also fails to satisfy the hawks they are trying to appease, who only smell more political blood in the water at every display of moral weakness by the Democrats.

In his first three months in office, Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks and neocons has led him to betray the most significant diplomatic achievements of each of his predecessors, Obama and Trump, in the JCPOA with Iran and the May 1 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban respectively, while perpetuating the violence and chaos the neocons unleashed on the world.

For a president who promised a new era of American diplomacy, this has been a dreadful start. We hope he and his advisers are not too blinded by anachronistic imperial thinking or too intimidated by the neocons to make a fresh start and engage with the world as it actually exists in 2021.

The post Biden’s Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons is Crippling His Diplomacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios?

The Israeli government’s position regarding an impending investigation by the International Criminal Court of alleged war crimes committed in occupied Palestine has been finally declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself,” Netanyahu said in a statement on April 8. Subsequently, Israel “completely rejects” any accusations that it has committed war crimes.

But it won’t be so easy for Tel Aviv this time around. True, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, according to which the ICC was established, but it can still be held accountable, because the State of Palestine is a member of the ICC.

Palestine joined the ICC in 2015, and the alleged war crimes, which are under investigation, have taken place on Palestinian soil. This grants the ICC direct jurisdiction, even if war crimes were committed by a non-ICC party. Still, accountability for these war crimes is not guaranteed. So, what are the possible future scenarios?

But first, some context …

‘Blatant Impunity’

On March 22, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, declared that “the time has come to stop Israel’s blatant impunity”. His remarks were included in a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other top officials at the international body.

There is modest – albeit cautious – optimism among Palestinians that Israeli officials could potentially be held accountable for war crimes and other human rights violations in Palestine. The reason behind this optimism is a recent decision by ICC to pursue its investigation of alleged war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mansour’s letter was written with this context in mind. Other Palestinian officials, such as Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, are also pushing in this direction. He, too, wants to see an end to Israel’s lack of accountability.

Till Netanyahu’s official position, the Israeli response has been most predictable. On March 20, Israeli authorities decided to revoke Al-Maliki’s special travel permit in order to prevent him from pursuing Palestinian diplomacy that aims at ensuring the continuation of the ICC investigation. Al-Maliki had, in fact, just returned from a trip to The Hague, where the ICC is headquartered.

Furthermore, Israel is openly attempting to intimidate the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to discontinue its cooperation with the ICC, as can be easily gleaned from the official Israeli discourse. “The Palestinian leadership has to understand there are consequences for their actions,” an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on March 21.

Despite years of legal haggling and intense pressure on the ICC’s outgoing Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to scrap the investigation altogether, the legal proceedings have carried on, unhindered. The pressure was displayed in various forms: direct defamation by Israel, as in accusing the ICC of anti-Semitism; unprecedented American sanctions on ICC officials and constant meddling and intervention, on Israel’s behalf, by member states that are part of the ICC, and who are described as amici curiae.

They did not succeed. On April 30, 2020, Bensouda consulted with the Court’s Pre-trial Chamber regarding whether the ICC had jurisdiction over the matter. Ten months later, the Chamber answered in the affirmative. Subsequently, the Prosecutor decided to formally open the investigation.

On March 9, a spokesman for the Court revealed that, in accordance with Article 18 in the Rome Statute, notification letters were sent by the Prosecutor’s office to ‘all parties concerned’, including the Israeli Government and the Palestinian leadership, notifying them of the war crimes probe and allowing them only one month to seek deferral of the investigation.

Expectedly, Israel remains defiant. However, unlike its obstinacy in response to previous international attempts at investigating war crimes allegations in Palestine, the Israeli response, this time, appears confused and uncertain. On the one hand, Israeli media revealed last July that Netanyahu’s government has prepared a long list of likely Israeli suspects, whose conduct can potentially be investigated by the ICC. Still, the official Israeli response can only be described as dismissive of the matter as being superfluous, insisting that Israel will not, in any way, cooperate with ICC investigators.

Though the Israeli government continues to maintain its official position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel and occupied Palestine, top Israeli officials and diplomats are moving quickly to block what now seems to be an imminent probe. For example, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, was on an official visit to Germany where he, on March 18, met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, thanking him on behalf of Israel for opposing the ICC’s investigation of Israeli officials.

After lashing out at the Palestinian leadership for attempting to “legalize” the conflict, through an international investigation, Rivlin renewed Israel’s “trust that our European friends will stand by us in the important fight on the misuse of the International Criminal Court against our soldiers and civilians.”

Unlike previous attempts at investigating Israeli war crimes, for example, the Jenin massacre in the West Bank in 2002, and the various investigations of several Israeli wars on Gaza starting in 2008-09, the forthcoming ICC investigation is different. For one, the ICC investigation targets individuals, not states, and can issue arrest warrants, making it legally incumbent on all other ICC members to enforce the Court’s decisions.

Now that all attempts at dissuading the Court from pursuing the matter have failed, the question must be asked: What are the possible future scenarios?

The Next Step

In the case that the investigation carries on as planned, the Prosecutor’s next step would be to identify suspects and alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Dr. Triestino Mariniello, member of the legal team that represents the Gaza victims, told me that once these suspects have been determined, “the Prosecutor will ask the Pre-trial chamber to issue either arrest warrants or subpoena, at least in relation to the crimes already included in the investigation so far.”

These alleged war crimes already include Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements, the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014 and Israel’s targeting of unarmed civilian protesters during Gaza’s Great March of Return, starting in 2018.

Even more ideally, the Court could potentially widen the scope of the investigation, which is a major demand for the representatives of the Palestinian victims.

“We expect more crimes to be included: especially, apartheid as a crime against humanity and crimes against Palestinian prisoners by Israeli authorities, especially torture,” according to Dr. Mariniello.

In essence, this means that, even after the investigation is officially underway, the Palestine legal team can continue its advocacy to expand the scope of the investigation and to cover as much legal ground as possible.

‘Narrow Scope’ 

However, judging from previous historic experiences, ideal scenarios in cases where Israel was investigated for war crimes rarely transpired. A less than ideal scenario would be for the scope of the investigation to remain narrow.

In a recent interview with former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, he told me that even if the narrow scope remains in effect – thus reducing the chances of all victims seeing justice – the investigation is still a “breakthrough”.

The reason why the investigation may not be broadened has less to do with justice and much to do with politics. “The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor Falk said.

In other words, “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

Professor Falk does not agree with that view but, according to the seasoned international law expert, “it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure.”

Still, “it’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments.”

Israel’s Missed Opportunity

While the two above scenarios are suitable for Palestinians, they are a non-starter as far as the Israeli government is concerned, as indicated in Netanyahu’s recent statement in which he rejected the investigation altogether. According to some pro-Israeli international law experts, Netanyahu’s decision would represent a missed opportunity.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, international law expert Nick Kaufman had advises Israel to cooperate, only for the sake of obtaining a “deferral” from the Court and to use the ensuing delay for political maneuvering.

“It would be unfortunate for Israel to miss the opportunity of deferral which could provide the ideal excuse for reinitiating peace talks with the Palestinians,” he wrote, warning that “if Israel squanders such an opportunity it should come as no surprise if, at a later date, the Court will hint that the government has no one but itself to blame for the export of the judicial process to The Hague.”

There are other scenarios, such as even more intense pressures on the Court as a result of ongoing discussions between Israel and its benefactors, whether in Washington or among the amici curiae at the Court itself.

At the same time, while Palestinians remain cautious about the future of the investigation, hope is slowly rising that, this time around, things may be different and that Israeli war criminals will eventually be held accountable for their crimes. Time will tell.

  • Romana Rubeo contributed to this article
The post Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections

A ‘major setback’ was the recurring term in many news headlines reporting on the outcome of Israel’s general elections of March 23. While this depiction specifically referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to secure a decisive victory in the country’s fourth elections in two years, this is only part of the narrative.

Certainly, it was a setback for Netanyahu, who has repeatedly resorted to Israeli voters as a final lifeline in the hope of escaping his ever-growing list of problems – splits within his Likud Party, the constant plotting of his former right coalition partners, his own corruption trials and his lack of political vision that does not cater to his and his family’s interests.

Yet, as was the case in three previous elections, the outcome of the fourth was the same. This time, Netanyahu’s right-wing camp, thus potential government coalition partners, consists of even more ardent right-wing parties, including, aside from the ‘Likud’, which won 30 Knesset seats, ‘Shas’, with 9 seats, ‘United Torah Judaism’ with 7, and ‘Religious Zionism’ with 6. At 52 seats only, Netanyahu’s base is more vulnerable and more extreme than ever before.

‘Yamina’, on the other hand, which emerged with 7 seats, is a logical partner in Netanyahu’s possible coalition. Headed by an ardent right-wing politician, Naftali Bennett, who assumed the role of minister in various Netanyahu-led right-wing coalitions, sits, ideologically speaking, on the right of Netanyahu. A keen politician, Bennett has, for years, tried to escape Netanyahu’s dominance and to eventually claim the leadership of the right. While joining another right-wing coalition, again headed by Netanyahu, is hardly a best-case scenario, Bennett might reluctantly return to the Netanyahu camp for now, because he has no option.

Bennett could, however,  take another radical path, like that taken by former Likudist, Gideon Sa’ar of ‘New Hope’ and Avigdor Lieberman of ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’, ousting Netanyahu, even if the alternative means forming a shaky, short-lived coalition.

Indeed, the anti-Netanyahu camp does not seem to have much in common, neither in terms of politics, ideology nor ethnicity – a crucial component in Israeli politics – than their collective desire to dispose of Netanyahu. If an anti-Netanyahu coalition is, somehow cobbled together – uniting ‘Yesh Atid’ (17 seats), ‘Kahol Lavan’ (8), ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ (7), ‘Labor’ (7), ‘New Hope’ (6), the Arab ‘Joint List’ (6), ‘Meretz’ (6) – the coalition would still fail to reach the required threshold of 61.

To avoid returning to the polls for the fifth time within approximately two years, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would be forced to cross many political red lines. For example, former Netanyahu’s anti-Arab allies, namely Lieberman and Sa’ar, would have to accept joining a coalition that includes the Arab ‘Joint List’. The latter would have to do the same thing, cooperating with political parties with avowedly racist, chauvinistic and anti-peace agendas.

Despite this, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would still fail to secure the needed numbers. At 57 seats, they still need a push either from Bennet’s ‘Yamina’ or Mansour Abbas’ ‘United Arab List (Ra’am)’.

Bennett, known for his ideological rigidity, understands that a coalition with the Arabs and the left could jeopardize his position within his ideological base: the right and the far-right. If he is to join an anti-Netanyahu coalition, it would be for the sole purpose of passing legislation at the Knesset that prevents politicians on trial from participating in elections. This has been Lieberman’s main strategy for quite some time. Once this mission is achieved, these odd coalition partners would pounce on each other to claim Netanyahu’s position at the helm of the right.

For Mansour Abbas’ ‘Ra’am’, however, the story is quite different. Not only did Abbas betray desperately needed Arab unity in the face of an existential threat posed by Israel’s growing anti-Arab politics, he went on to suggest his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition.

However, even for opportunistic Abbas, joining a right-wing coalition with groups that champion such slogans as “Death to the Arabs” can be extremely dangerous. From the perspective of Arabs in Israel, Abbas’ politics already borders on treason. Joining the chauvinistic, violent Kahanists – who ran as part of the ‘Religious Zionism’ list – to form a government that aims at saving Netanyahu’s political career, would place this inexperienced and foolhardy politician in direct confrontation with his own Palestinian Arab community.

Alternatively, Abbas may wish to vote in favor of the anti-Netanyahu coalition as a direct partner, or from the outside. Similar to Bennett, both options would make Abbas a potential kingmaker, an ideal scenario from his point of view and less than ideal from the point of view of a coalition that, if formed, would be unstable.

Consequently, it is hardly sufficient to categorize the outcome of the latest Israeli elections as a ‘setback’ for Netanyahu alone. While that is true, it is also a setback for everyone else. Netanyahu failed to achieve a clear majority, but his enemies, too, failed to make a case to Israeli voters of why Netanyahu should be shunned from politics altogether. The latter remains the uncontested leader of the Israeli right and his Likud party still leads with a 13 seats difference from his closest rival.

Though the center temporarily unified in previous elections in the form of Kahol Lavan (‘Blue and White’), it quickly disintegrated, and this is equally true for the once unified Arab parties. Disuniting just before the fourth elections, these parties squandered Arab votes and, with it, any hope that racist, militaristic and religiously zealot Israeli politics could possibly be fixed from within.

This means that, whether Netanyahu goes or stays, the next Israeli government is likely to remain firmly within the right. Moreover, with or without Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Israel is unlikely to produce a politically unifying figure, one who is capable of redefining the country beyond Netanyahu-style cult of personality.

As for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, dismantling apartheid and, with it, the illegal Jewish settlements, these remain a distant hope, as these subjects were hardly part of the conversation that preceded the last elections.

The post Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu

As 13 parties struggle with Israel’s complex post-election maths, seeking alliances that can assure them power, the most significant outcome of the vote is easily missed. The religious fundamentalists and settler parties – Israel’s far right – won an unprecedented and clear-cut victory last week.

Even on the most cautious assessment, these parties together hold 72 seats in the 120-member parliament. For more than a decade they have underwritten Benjamin Netanyahu’s uninterrupted rule. That is why all the current talk in Israel and the western media about two equal camps, right and left, pitted against each other – implacably hostile and unable to build a majority – is patent nonsense.

The far right has a large majority. It could easily form a government – if it wasn’t mired in a now seemingly permanent crisis over the figure of Netanyahu.

Standing against the far right are what are loosely termed the “centrists”, equally committed to the takeover of swaths of the occupied territories, if in their case more by stealth.

There are two parties on the “centre-right” – Yesh Atid and Blue and White – that won between them 25 seats. The “centre-left”, represented by the Labor party and Meretz, still struggling to maintain the pretence that they comprise a “peace camp”, secured 13 seats. A final 10 seats went to the various parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

Both the far right and the “centrists” subscribe to versions of the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. To outsiders, the similarities between the two camps can sometimes look stronger than the differences. Ultimately, with the possible exception of Meretz, both want the Palestinians subjugated and removed.

The “centrists” may best be understood as the apologetic wing of Zionism. They worry about Israel’s image abroad. And that means they have, at least ostensibly, emphasised dividing territory between Jews and Palestinians – as the Oslo accords proposed – rather than visibly dividing rights. The centrists’ great fear is that they will be seen as presiding over a single apartheid state.

Jewish Supremacy

The 60 percent of the parliament now in the hands of extreme religious and settler parties takes the opposite view. They prefer to divide rights – to create an explicit apartheid system – if they can thereby avoid dividing the territory. They want all of the region, and ideally only for Jews.

They care little what others think. All subscribe to an ideology of Jewish supremacy, even if they differ on whether “Jewish” is defined in religious or ethnic-nationalist terms. In 2018 Netanyahu’s government began the process of legislating this worldview through the Jewish Nation State Law.

The far right explicitly views Palestinians, the native people whose homeland the European-led Zionist movement has been colonising for the past 100 years, as interlopers or unwelcome guests.

Unlike the centrists, the far right places little weight on the distinction between Palestinians under occupation and the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have degraded citizenship. All Palestinians, wherever they live and whatever their status, are seen as an enemy that needs to be subdued.

Allying with Centrists

So why, given the far right’s incontestible triumph last week, are the media filled with analyses about Israel’s continuing political impasse and the likelihood of a fifth election in a few months’ time?

Why, if a clear majority of legislators are unapologetic Jewish supremacists, has Netanyahu kept courting centrists to stay in power – as he did after the last election, when he ensnared battle-hardened general Benny Gantz into his coalition? And why after this election is he reported to be reaching out for the first time to a Palestinian party for support?

Part of the answer lies in a deep disagreement within the far right, between religious fundamentalists and its more secular components, on what “Jewish rule” means. Both sides focus on the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians and refuse to make a meaningful distinction between the occupied territories and Israel. But they have entirely different conceptions of Jewish sovereignty. One faction thinks Jews should take their orders from God, while the other looks to a Jewish state.

Further, they disagree on who counts as a Jew.

It is hard, for example, for Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to break bread with the extremist rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, when those rabbis don’t regard many of his supporters – immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as real Jews. To them, “Russians” no more belong to the Jewish collective than Palestinians.

Oppressive Shadow

But an even bigger obstacle is to be found in the figure of Netanyahu himself, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The far-right is largely unperturbed by Netanyahu’s trial on multiple corruption charges. Israel’s short history is full of major crimes: wars of aggression, forcible population transfer, executions and looting, land theft and settlement building. All Israeli leaders, Netanyahu included, have had a hand in these atrocities. The current focus on allegations against him of fraud and acceptance of bribes looks trivial in comparison.

The far right’s problem with Netanyahu is more complex.

He has been presiding over this bloc, relatively unchallenged, since the early 1990s. He has become by far the most skilled, experienced and charismatic politician in Israel. And for that reason, no other far right leader has been able to emerge from under his oppressive shadow.

He may be King Bibi – his nickname – but the far right’s more ambitious princes are getting increasingly restless. They are eager to fill his shoes. Their knives are out. Gideon Saar, his Likud protege, created a party, New Hope, to run in last week’s election precisely in the hope of ousting his old boss. But equally, Netanyahu is so wily and experienced that he keeps outsmarting his rivals. He has managed to avoid any of his opponent’s lethal lunges by exploiting the far right’s weaknesses.

Netanyahu has employed a twofold strategy. Despite perceptions abroad, he is actually one of the more moderate figures in the extreme religious and settler bloc. He is closer ideologically to Benny Gantz of Blue and White than he is either to the rabbis who dictate the policies of the religious parties or to the settler extremists – or even to the bulk of his own Likud party.

Netanyahu has become a bogeyman abroad chiefly because he is so adept at harnessing the energy of the religious and settler parties and mobilising it to his own political and personal advantage. Israeli society grows ever more extreme because Netanyahu has for decades provided an aura of respectability, statesmanship and intellectual heft to the rhetoric surrounding the far right’s most noxious positions.

In this election he even brokered a deal helping to bring Jewish Power – Israel’s most fascistic party – into parliament. If he has to, he will welcome them into the government he hopes to build.

Wearing Thin

But Netanyahu’s relative moderation – by Israel’s standards – means that he has, at least until recently, preferred to include centrists in his coalitions. That has helped to curb the excesses of a purely far right government that might antagonise the Europeans and embarrass Washington. And equally, it has kept the extreme right divided and dependent on him, as he plays its parties off against the centrists.

If the princes of the settlements push him too hard, he can always tempt in a Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), or a Gantz (Blue and White), or an Ehud Barak (Labor) to replace them.

He has been loyal to no one but himself.

Now that strategy is wearing thin. His corruption trial and the resulting campaign he has waged to weaken Israel’s legal and judicial systems to keep himself out of jail has left a sour taste with the centrists. They are now much warier of allying with him.

After last year’s election, Gantz only dared join a Netanyahu government after citing exceptional grounds: the urgent need to fight the pandemic in an emergency government. Even so, he destroyed his party in the process. Now, it seems, only a rookie, conservative Islamist leader like Mansour Abbas may be willing to fall for Netanyahu’s trickery.

Sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and his loss of alternative partners, parts of the far right have grown unruly and fractious.

Netanyahu has kept the extreme religious parties on board – but at a steep cost. He has given them what they demand above all else: autonomy for their community. That is why Israeli police have turned a blind eye throughout the pandemic as the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close their schools during lockdowns and turned out in enormous numbers – usually without masks – for rabbis’ funerals.

But Netanyahu’s endless indulgence of the ultra-Orthodox has served only to alienate the more secular parts of the far right.

Betrayed on Annexation

Worse, as Netanyahu has focused his energies on ways to draw attention away from his corruption trial, he has chosen to play fast and loose with the far right’s political and emotional priorities – most especially on annexation. In the recent, back-to-back election campaigns he has made increasingly earnest promises to formally annex swaths of the West Bank.

But he has repeatedly failed to make good on his pledge.

The betrayal hit hardest after the election a year ago. With then-President Donald Trump’s blessing, Netanyahu vowed to quickly begin annexation of large sections of the West Bank. But in the end Netanyahu ducked out, preferring to sign a “peace deal” with Gulf states on the confected condition that annexation be delayed.

The move clearly indicated that, if it aided his political survival, Netanyahu would placate foreign capitals – behaviour reminiscent of the centrists – rather than advance the core goals of the far right. As a result, there is a growing exasperation with Netanyahu. Sections of the far right want someone new, someone invested in their cause – not in his own political and personal manoeuvrings.

In the fashion of Middle Eastern dictators, Netanyahu has groomed no successor. He has cultivated a learnt helplessness in his own ideological camp, and the princes of the settlements are fearful of how they will cope without him. He has been their nursemaid for too long.

But like rebellious teenagers, they want a taste of freedom – and to wreak more havoc than Netanyahu has ever allowed.

They hope to break free of the political centre of gravity he has engineered for himself. If they finally manage it, we may yet look back on the Netanyahu era as a time of relative moderation and calm.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem

A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was killed by Israeli occupation forces on March 19 during a weekly protest against illegal Israeli settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.

Although tragic, the above news reads like a routine item from occupied Palestine, where shooting and killing unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. However, this is not true. Since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced, in September 2019, his intentions to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, tensions have remained high.

The killing of Hanaysha is only the tip of the iceberg. In occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and illegal armed Jewish settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other side, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.

The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – nearly 60% of the total size of the occupied West Bank – which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. No other place represents the perfect microcosm of this uneven war like that of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

On March 10, fourteen Palestinian and Arab organizations issued a ‘joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem’ to stop the Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families – 37 households of around 195 people – in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.

These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the Israeli occupation, dubbing, instead, Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel”.

To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government approved the Master Plan 2000, a massive scheme that was undertaken by Israel to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that it would ensure permanent demographic majority for Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The Master Plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the subsequent eviction of numerous families.

While news headlines occasionally present the habitual evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other parts of East Jerusalem as if a matter that involves counterclaims by Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, the story is, in fact, a wider representation of Palestine’s modern history.

Indeed, the innocent families which are now facing “the imminent risk of forced eviction” are re-living their ancestral nightmare of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.

Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed altogether, Israel enacted the so-called Absentees’ Property Law of 1950.

The law, which, of course, has no legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the State, to do with it as it pleases. Since those ‘absentee’ Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli law was a state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It ultimately aimed at achieving two objectives: one, to ensure Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine and, two, to give Israel a legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.

The Israeli military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the State and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 in the form of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law. According to the new legal framework, only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.

Much of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected and strange legal arguments: the Absentees’ Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law and the Master Plan 2000. Understood together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the State.

In their joint appeal, Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, culminate into the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch within the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General. The latter holds on to these properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 Law. Once Israeli courts honor Israeli Jewish individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, these individuals often transfer their ownership rights or management to settler organizations. In no time, the latter organizations utilize the newly-acquired property to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.

While the Israeli State claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome manifests in the ever-predictable scene, where an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned an UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.

While the above picture can be dismissed by some as another routine, common occurrence, the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel that they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Atef Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of that imminent, widespread confrontation.

The post The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel’s KKK on the way to government?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brokered an electoral alliance that is almost certain to bring Israel’s version of the Ku Klux Klan into the Israeli parliament when elections are held later this month.

Netanyahu’s primary aim is to make sure he wins a decisive majority by shoring up the far-right bloc so that he can pass an immunity law to neutralize his current corruption trial.

Enter Otzma Yehudit, or the Jewish Power party.

Otzma Yehudit is strongly influenced by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose virulently anti-Palestinian Kach party was barred from Israeli elections more than 30 years ago.

Since being proscribed, Kach has been declared a terrorist organisation in most western countries, including the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Most of the leadership of Jewish Power had previously been involved with Kach, including its current leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, who held a position in Kahane’s movement in his student days.

Jewish Power’s former leader and current chair, Michael Ben Ari, has been banned from entering the US because of his links to Jewish terrorism.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu is widely reported to have offered sweeteners to get Jewish Power and two other extreme right parties to establish a new alliance called Religious Zionism.

And despite claims by Netanyahu that Ben Gvir will not be given a ministerial post in his government after the 23 March election, Netanyahu may have to capitulate if his far-right and religious coalition needs Jewish Power to secure a majority of seats.

Polls currently suggest no one commands a clear majority.

‘Kosher certificate’

Since its formation in 2012, Jewish Power has not managed on its own to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of votes cast – the equivalent of about four seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Last month, however, Netanyahu’s Likud party signed a surplus vote-sharing agreement with Religious Zionism.

Netanyahu’s move in part reflects his desperation to win a decisive victory on 23 March after three stalemated elections over the past two years.

Without a clear parliamentary majority, he cannot pass an immunity law that will block his current trial on several charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. So far he has successfully dragged out the proceedings, using Covid-19 restrictions as the pretext.

After Netanyahu’s intervention, the electoral pact with Jewish Power is almost certain to ensure Ben Gvir makes it into the next parliament.

He has the third slot on Religious Zionism’s candidate list and current polls suggest the group will win between four and five seats.

Criticizing Netanyahu’s role as matchmaker, the Haaretz daily accused him of awarding “a kashrut [kosher] certificate to Kahanism” – the racist ideology that underpins Jewish Power.

Maximizing seats

Netanyahu’s aim is to ensure that the most extreme, small right-wing religious parties combine to pass the threshold and don’t waste votes that could be the difference between victory for his ultra-nationalist bloc and a win for his opponents.

As one Israeli analyst noted, Netanyahu’s dependence on Religious Zionism maximizing its seat count means he will be committed to doing everything possible to push the “ticket over the threshold” in the final stages of the campaign.

At the same time as aiding the extreme right, Netanyahu has also worked hard to break up the Joint List, a faction representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

He is not only trying to maximize seats in his favor, he is trying to weaken the coalition of parties ranged against him.

It is not the first time Netanyahu has sought to bring Jewish Power into the parliament, despite its overt Jewish supremacist politics. He brokered a similar deal in time for the April 2019 election, though Ben Gvir was not placed high enough to win a seat.

On that occasion, leading Jewish American organisations including AIPAC voiced their opposition, calling Jewish Power a “racist and reprehensible party.”

It has been notable that on this occasion there has been much less of a backlash.

In the new deal, Ben Gvir has a far more prominent place alongside Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union party, which has joined Netanyahu’s governments in the past. The third partner is Noam, another religious far-right party in a crowded field whose distinguishing feature is its venomous homophobia.

This has brought vocal opposition from other quarters. Ohad Hizki, head of an Israeli LGBT task force, responded: “Netanyahu has violated his promises to the gay community time and again, but this time a red line has been crossed that cannot be silently accepted.”

Banned from running

Previous Jewish Power leaders have been banned from standing by a judge-led Central Election Committee, comprising representatives from the major parties. However, Ben Gvir has faced no challenge.

Rather, he went on the offensive himself, petitioning the committee for a blanket ban on candidates who are Palestinian citizens of Israel, claiming they were all “terrorist supporters.”

Jewish Power’s electoral weakness since its founding reflects in part the fact that it has had difficulty differentiating itself ideologically from the larger mainstream parties as they move ever further rightwards.

It has also been stymied by the constraint that its platform must remain ostensibly within the law. Its vulgarity rather than its policies appears to put off many voters on the right.

Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is a former Kach member who has served in governments with Netanyahu as defense and foreign minister.

Lieberman has long promoted one of Jewish Power’s signature policies: that Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens be expelled unless they declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

Lieberman has even called for “disloyal” Palestinian citizens to be “beheaded.”

No miscegenation

Other Jewish Power policies overlap with prevailing views in Netanyahu’s Likud party, including the rejection of Palestinian statehood; support for the formal annexation of all or much of the West Bank; the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem; and vehement opposition to miscegenation, or relationships between Jews and Palestinians.

Smotrich, Jewish Power’s main partner in Religious Zionism, shares many of its anti-Palestinian views but has previously served as Netanyahu’s transport minister. He has called for Palestinian citizens to be denied housing and for Jewish-only maternity wards.

Jewish Power’s leader, Ben Gvir is also a prominent activist in the violent settler enclave established in the Palestinian city of Hebron with Israeli state support.

In 2007, he was convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terror group after holding up signs reading, “Expel the Arab enemy” and “Rabbi Kahane was right: The Arab MKs [members of Knesset] are a fifth column.”

He once prominently displayed in his home a photo of Baruch Goldstein, an extremist who killed 29 and wounded 125 Muslims at worship in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, in an effort to derail the Oslo accords.

As The Electronic Intifada has reported, a recently unearthed clip from 1995 of Ben Gvir shows him dressed as Goldstein for the Jewish holiday of Purim sayin: “He is my hero.”

Burn down churches

Trained as a lawyer, Ben Gvir has defended a series of far-right suspects in high-profile terrorism and hate-crime cases. Such work included two settlers who were charged with an arson attack on a Palestinian family in the village of Duma in 2015.

An 18-month-old baby was among the victims burnt to death.

Ben Gvir has also served as the lawyer for Lehava, an anti-miscegenation group whose members physically assault Palestinians they suspect of dating Jewish women.

Lehava’s leader, Bentzi Gopstein, has also expressed support for burning down churches.

Netanyahu has promised the Religious Zionism alliance a seat on the Judicial Appointments Committee. Ben Gvir will hope to use that position to bring yet more settlers into the courts as judges.

At least two judges on Israel’s high court – Noam Sohlberg and David Mintz – are known to live in the settlements.

Haaretz observed of the deal: “Netanyahu’s actions are an admission that Kahanism is an ally, a frequent visitor and practically a member of the Likud family.”

•  First published in The Electronic Intifada

The post Israel’s KKK on the way to government? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel

At a glance, it may appear that the split of Arab political parties in Israel is consistent with a typical pattern of political and ideological divisions which have afflicted the Arab body politic for many years. This time, however, the reasons behind the split are quite different.

As Israel readies for its fourth general elections within two years,  scheduled for March 23, Israel’s Palestinian Arab voters seem to be in a position of power, slated to become the kingmaker in the country’s future coalition government. But something peculiar has happened. The Joint List, which has successfully united the Arab vote in Israel in previous elections, suffered a major setback with the split of the United Arab List (Raam) on February 4.

Raam is the political arm of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. In April 2019, it entered the elections in a joint coalition with the National Democratic Alliance (Balad) Party. In September 2019 and, again, in March 2020, it contested in the general elections as part of the Joint List, an Arab alliance, which, in addition to al-Balad, included the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al).

Despite their ideological divides and different socio-economic visions, Arab parties in Israel have felt that their unity is more urgent than ever before. There are reasons for this.

Israel has been rapidly moving to the right, where ultra-nationalist and religious groups now represent mainstream Israeli politics. The center, which temporarily unified under the banner of Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), has actively promoted a similar discourse to Israel’s traditional right of yesteryears.  Finally, the left has disintegrated, to play an unprecedentedly marginal role with little or no impact on Israeli politics.

As the Israeli right has grown emboldened in recent years, various anti-Arab legislations were passed by the right-dominated Knesset (Parliament). The most obvious example is the ‘Nation-State Law’, which elevated the exclusive identity of Israel as a Jewish State, while devaluing Palestinian Arab rights, religions and language.

In the September 2019 elections, Arab unity finally paid dividends, as the Joint List won 13 of the Knesset’s 120 contested seats. In April 2020, united Arab parties performed even better, emerging, for the first time in Israel’s history, as the country’s third-largest political bloc after Likud and Kahol Lavan.

Clearly, Arab parties were ready to engage in the political process, not as marginal forces but active participants. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, had made several overtures to Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Kahol Lavan. Odeh had reasoned that, with the help of the Joint List, a centrist-led coalition would finally be ready to dislodge right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from power.

Gantz refused to allow Arab parties into his government coalition, preferring instead to seek common ground with his archenemy, Netanyahu. Both formed a unity government in May 2020, which only lasted for seven months.

By refusing to incorporate the Joint List, Gantz took the first step in destroying his own promising centrist coalition, which then included Yesh Atid and Telem. Leaders of the latter two factions officially split soon after Gantz agreed to the Netanyahu union. In the coming March elections, Yesh Atid will be contesting independently, while Telem decided to refrain from entering the election fray altogether so as, reportedly, not to further splinter the opposition’s votes.

From a strategic point of view, this would have been the most opportune moment for the Arab Joint List to finally translate its electoral victories into political success. There is a growing realization that a coalition government in Israel, even if formed, would remain unsustainable without Arab support. Consequently, the country’s leading political camps are openly jockeying to court the Arab vote.

Indeed, Netanyahu, who, in 2015 used fear mongering to rally the right behind him by saying that Arab voters were “heading to the polling stations in droves,’ is now turning around. During a visit to the Arab city of Nazareth on January 13, he claimed that his previous comments were misinterpreted. In other Arab towns, he boasted about his record in support of Arab communities and in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. His anti-Arab rhetoric is currently at an all-time low.

The centrist, Yair Lapid, of Yesh Atid has also shown willingness to work with Arab politicians, stating on January 17 that “It was a loss that we did not do it in the current Knesset,” referring to Gantz’s rejection of Arab endorsement and exclusion of Arabs from the coalition government.

Yet, instead of taking advantage of their electoral success, the Joint List, once again, splintered, or precisely, an important party, Raam, has exited the coalition. This time, however, the fragmentation was not an outcome of ideological differences but the result of the bewildering position of Raam’s leader, Mansour Abbas.

In February, Abbas had indicated his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition. He justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone,” and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu is largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Arabs’ future seems entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who is inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance even if it includes Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors.

Israeli right-wing newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, sums up Abbas’ devastating blow to Arab unity just before the elections, with this headline, “Meet Mansour Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unlikely ally”.

According to a recent poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 13, Abbas’ Raam party could potentially control 4 Knesset seats following the March elections. Also plausible, Raam might fail to achieve the required 3.25 percent threshold, thus receiving no political representation whatsoever. Either way, Abbas’ obvious self-serving folly could cost Arab parties a historic and unmatched opportunity to assert themselves as a decisive political force that could challenge Israeli racism and Palestinian Arab marginalization.

Now that all electoral alliances have been finalized, Mansour Abbas has clearly made the wrong choice and, no matter the outcome, he has already lost.

The post Ready to Work with Netanyahu: Mansour Abbas Splinters Arab Vote in Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat

Once again, video footage reveals that Israel’s account of a Palestinian “terror attack” bears no relationship to what actually happened. Not only did Israel dissemble about the circumstances in which its soldiers shot dead 26-year-old Ahmad Erekat last June, but it is still inflicting appalling suffering on his family eight months later based on those lies.

A new forensic investigation discredits Israel’s claim that Erekat used his car to launch a ramming attack on a military checkpoint near Bethlehem. It finds that the collision was more likely an accident, and that the soldiers responded by carrying out an extra-judicial execution.

Nonetheless, Israel is still refusing to hand Erekat’s body back to his parents for burial, in what amounts to the psychological torture of the family while Israel insists on holding on to the bodies of Erekat and some 70 other Palestinians for use as bargaining chips in potential future negotiations with Hamas.

Shot six times

Erekat was shot six times by soldiers on 23 June. He had been driving through the occupied West Bank to complete errands on his sister’s wedding day, on what should have been a simple journey. But more than five decades of Israel’s belligerent – and seemingly permanent – occupation have created an obstacle course of checkpoints and traffic holdups that Erekat had to negotiate.

By mid-afternoon, he arrived at the large “Container” checkpoint, one of many Israel has built to permanently divide up the West Bank. The purpose of these checkpoints is to limit Palestinian movement and thereby help Jews living in Israel’s illegal settlements to seize more Palestinian territory for themselves. In that sense, the checkpoints are integral to Israel’s decades-long effort to stop a Palestinian state from ever being born.

Erekat’s killing was widely reported in both Israeli and international media, in part because he was a nephew of Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian spokesperson until his own death late last year of complications related to Covid-19.

In reporting Ahmad Erekat’s killing, most media faithfully echoed Israel’s official line. He had rammed his car into the checkpoint in a “terror attack” that lightly injured a soldier. He was then fatally shot – or “neutralised” – when he emerged from his car to attack other soldiers.

None of this fitted with what was known even then. But Israel refused to conduct an investigation that risked clearing Erekat’s name. Witnesses were not interviewed and the the car was not checked for malfunctions.

Extrajudicial executions

Israel, however, has found it harder than usual to put Erekat’s killing in the rearview. As is often the case, Palestinians who witnessed the incident disputed the Israeli army’s account of an attack. Video from other drivers’ phones suggested that Erekat had been denied medical attention and left to bleed to death on the side of the road.

But more significantly, Saeb Erekat intervened to deny that his nephew was carrying out an attack, and accused the soldiers of executing him “in cold blood”.

Israel often refuses to release footage of these all-too-frequent checkpoint deaths. That alone should raise suspicions that in many cases, Israeli soldiers are not defending themselves – as the army claims – but carrying out extrajudicial executions when something, anything, takes them by surprise.

Trigger-happy soldiers shoot first, and the army barely bothers to ask questions later – both because Palestinian lives are considered cheap and because soldiers know they are operating in a system with no accountability. Impunity is what happens when a belligerent occupation becomes permanent rule by a master class over a serf class.

But in this case, with international pressure building, Israeli officials issued footage from one of the checkpoint’s cameras, assuming it would quiet the criticism. They were wrong.

Optical illusion

The problem for Israel is that today’s digital tools mean experts can reconstruct events in astonishing detail from even limited video.

The footage was studied by Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London and headed by British Israeli academic Eyal Weizman. The team was able to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of that afternoon’s events.

To the untrained eye, the footage appears to show Erekat’s car accelerating as it swerves towards a concrete blast wall protecting soldiers. But as experts found, that was an optical illusion caused by changing perspective as the car altered direction.

Forensic Architecture’s experts show that the car continued at roughly 15km per hour throughout. Had Erekat wished to, he could have driven the car much harder and faster into the checkpoint than he did.

Jeremy Bauer, a US collision expert who was part of the team, said the movement of the wheels suggests that Erekat might have tried to brake during the swerve.

‘Confirming the kill’

Many Israelis, of course, ignored this expert analysis and maintained last week that the incident was still a car-ramming. But they studiously avoided discussing the even more damning second and third parts of Forensic Architecture’s analysis.

The team also found that, after the crash, Erekat got out of the car and was moving backwards while trying to raise his hands when he was struck by the first shot. He was four metres from the nearest soldier. A further two bullets were fired in quick succession. Three more rounds were fired into him as he lay wounded on the ground. 

In other words, whether or not Erekat carried out a car-ramming – and the evidence suggests he did not – soldiers shot him even though he posed no threat.

In Israeli military parlance, the soldiers “confirmed the kill”. They followed an unwritten army code that allows them to carry out an extrajudicial execution of any Palestinian they have unilaterally decided is a “terrorist”.

Left to bleed

It was exactly the same logic that dictated what happened next. In the third part of the analysis, Forensic Architecture noted that an Israeli medical team arrived within 10 minutes. They left Erekat to bleed to death, even though footage from a driver’s phone showed him moving his arm after he was shot.

At the time, Israeli officials claimed that Erekat was given medical attention “within minutes”, but that it was determined he was dead. The truth is that Israeli paramedics attended solely to the lightly injured soldier, while a Palestinian ambulance was denied access to Erekat.

In the video footage, an Israeli soldier can be seen wandering past Erekat’s head shortly after he was shot, but the soldier offered no assistance. The Forensic Architecture report points out that the denial of medical assistance to Palestinians is an established practice of “killing by time” – a bureaucratic version of “confirming the kill”.

Erekat was left for around two hours on the ground. At some point his body was stripped of its clothes and, the report observes, he could be seen naked, surrounded by around 20 Israeli soldiers and police. How his family must feel about this additional indignity one can only imagine.

But even this degrading treatment pales in comparison to the fact that his parents have been denied access to their son’s body and the right to bury him ever since.

Erekat’s corpse – like those of 70 other Palestinians assumed to be “terrorists” – has been effectively kidnapped by the Israeli state and held as a bargaining chip.

Nothing exceptional

There is nothing exceptional about Israel’s treatment of Erekat. An earlier investigation by Forensic Architecture exposed almost identical lies justifying an extrajudicial execution in 2017 by police inside Israel of another Palestinian man – this one nominally an Israeli citizen.

Fed by a similar culture of racism to the army’s, Israeli police shot Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, a teacher, as he was driving down a hillside track in his Negev village. Badly injured, he lost control of the vehicle and hit and killed a police officer. In seeming revenge, Abu al-Qiyan was left to bleed to death for half an hour as police and medics milled around nearby.

Even more notoriously, a video from 2016 shows an Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, shooting a wounded Palestinian man in the head at close range as the man lies on the street in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron.

And last May, an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man, Iyad al-Halak, was shot seven times at close range by Israeli police as he lay on the ground, and while one of his teachers begged the officers not to harm him. Afterwards, Israel claimed that all the cameras at the site of his shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City were malfunctioning.

Dark secret

Despite Forensic Architecture’s work, Israeli police last week continued to claim that Erekat’s crash was “a documented terrorist attack”.

A joint statement from the government, army and Shin Bet intelligence service still falsely claimed that Erekat moved “quickly towards Border Police fighters while waving his hands in a manner taken as threatening”, adding that the soldiers “were certain that they were in immediate mortal danger”.

In Israel’s security worldview, even a Palestinian raising his hands in surrender proves only his “terrorist” intent.

It is important to remember that last summer, in the days preceding Erekat’s execution, the Israeli army had braced for what it assumed would be a wave of “terror attacks” that ultimately failed to materialise. The military expected retaliation after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s intent to annex swaths of the West Bank, in violation of international law.

The truth is that Erekat died not only because Israeli soldiers misread his intentions. He died because those same soldiers – like their military commanders and political leaders – live with the repressed knowledge that their presence on another people’s land, and their efforts to displace those people by force, can never be accepted.

Erekat was killed on his sister’s wedding day, and his body and his family continue to be abused to this day, so that Israel can avoid confronting what the occupation necessarily entails. He paid the price with his life so that Israelis can avoid facing that dark secret.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel is hiding the truth about the killing of Ahmad Erekat first appeared on Dissident Voice.