Category Archives: Discrimination

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Christians that nobody is talking about

Palestine’s Christian population is dwindling at an alarming rate. The world’s most ancient Christian community is moving elsewhere. And the reason for this is Israel.

Christian leaders from Palestine and South Africa sounded the alarm at a conference in Johannesburg on October 15. Their gathering was titled: “The Holy Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective”.

One major issue that highlighted itself at the meetings is the rapidly declining number of Palestinian Christians in Palestine.

There are varied estimates on how many Palestinian Christians are still living in Palestine today, compared with the period before 1948 when the state of Israel was established atop Palestinian towns and villages. Regardless of the source of the various studies, there is near consensus that the number of Christian inhabitants of Palestine has dropped by nearly ten-fold in the last 70 years.

A population census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 concluded that there are 47,000 Palestinian Christians living in Palestine – with reference to the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. 98 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the West Bank – concentrated mostly in the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem – while the remainder, a tiny Christian community of merely 1,100 people, lives in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The demographic crisis that had afflicted the Christian community decades ago is now brewing.

For example, 70 years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was 86 percent Christian. The demographics of the city, however, have fundamentally shifted, especially after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in June 1967, and the construction of the illegal Israeli apartheid wall, starting in 2002. Parts of the wall were meant to cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem and to isolate the former from the rest of the West Bank.

“The Wall encircles Bethlehem by continuing south of East Jerusalem in both the east and west,” the ‘Open Bethlehem’ organization said, describing the devastating impact of the wall on the Palestinian city. “With the land isolated by the Wall, annexed for settlements, and closed under various pretexts, only 13% of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use.”

Increasingly beleaguered, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem have been driven out from their historic city in large numbers. According to the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, as of 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped to 12 percent, merely 11,000 people.

The most optimistic estimates place the overall number of Palestinian Christians in the whole of Occupied Palestine at less than two percent.

The correlation between the shrinking Christian population in Palestine, and the Israeli occupation and apartheid should be unmistakable, as it is obvious to Palestine’s Christian and Muslim population alike.

A study conducted by Dar al-Kalima University in the West Bank town of Beit Jala and published in December 2017, interviewed nearly 1,000 Palestinians, half of them Christian and the other half Muslim. One of the main goals of the research was to understand the reason behind the depleting Christian population in Palestine.

The study concluded that “the pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians,” who are finding themselves in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves”.

Unfounded claims that Palestinian Christians are leaving because of religious tensions between them and their Muslim brethren are, therefore, irrelevant.

Gaza is another case in point. Only 2 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the impoverished and besieged Gaza Strip. When Israel occupied Gaza along with the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, an estimated 2,300 Christians lived in the Strip. However, merely 1,100 Christians still live in Gaza today. Years of occupation, horrific wars and an unforgiving siege can do that to a community, whose historic roots date back to two millennia.

Like Gaza’s Muslims, these Christians are cut off from the rest of the world, including the holy sites in the West Bank. Every year, Gaza’s Christians apply for permits from the Israeli military to join Easter services in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Last April, only 200 Christians were granted permits, but on the condition that they must be 55 years of age or older and that they are not allowed to visit Jerusalem.

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, described the Israeli army decision as “a further violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights to freedom of movement, religious freedom and family life”, and, rightly, accused Israel of attempting to “deepen the separation” between Gaza and the West Bank.

In fact, Israel aims at doing more than that. Separating Palestinian Christians from one another, and from their holy sites (as is the case for Muslims, as well), the Israeli government hopes to weaken the socio-cultural and spiritual connections that give Palestinians their collective identity.

Israel’s strategy is predicated on the idea that a combination of factors – immense economic hardships, permanent siege and apartheid, the severing of communal and spiritual bonds – will eventually drive all Christians out of their Palestinian homeland.

Israel is keen to present the ‘conflict’ in Palestine as a religious one so that it could, in turn, brand itself as a beleaguered Jewish state in the midst of a massive Muslim population in the Middle East. The continued existence of Palestinian Christians does not factor nicely into this Israeli agenda.

Sadly, however, Israel has succeeded in misrepresenting the struggle in Palestine – from that of political and human rights struggle against settler colonialism – into a religious one. Equally disturbing, Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States and elsewhere are religious Christians.

It must be understood that Palestinian Christians are neither aliens nor bystanders in Palestine. They have been victimized equally as their Muslim brethren, and have also played a major role in defining the modern Palestinian identity, through their resistance, spirituality, deep connection to the land, artistic contributions and burgeoning scholarship.

Israel must not be allowed to ostracize the world’s most ancient Christian community from their ancestral land so that it may score a few points in its deeply disturbing drive for racial supremacy.

Equally important, our understanding of the legendary Palestinian ‘soumoud’ – steadfastness – and of solidarity cannot be complete without fully appreciating the centrality of Palestinian Christians to the modern Palestinian narrative and identity.

Bedouin Mass Eviction is Part of Israel’s Efforts to Drive Palestinians off their Historic Lands


The decades-long struggle by tens of thousands of Israelis against being uprooted from their homes – some for the second or third time – should be proof enough that Israel is not the western-style liberal democracy it claims to be.

Last week 36,000 Bedouin – all of them Israeli citizens – discovered that their state is about to make them refugees in their own country, driving them into holding camps. These Israelis, it seems, are the wrong kind.

Their treatment has painful echoes of the past. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled by the Israeli army outside the borders of the newly declared Jewish state established on their homeland – what the Palestinians call their Nakba, or catastrophe.

Israel is regularly criticised for its belligerent occupation, its relentless expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land and its repeated and savage military attacks, especially on Gaza.

On rare occasions, analysts also notice Israel’s systematic discrimination against the 1.8 million Palestinians whose ancestors survived the Nakba and live inside Israel, ostensibly as citizens.

But each of these abuses is dealt with in isolation, as though unrelated, rather than as different facets of an overarching project. A pattern is discernible, one driven by an ideology that dehumanises Palestinians everywhere Israel encounters them.

That ideology has a name. Zionism provides the thread that connects the past – the Nakba – with Israel’s current ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the destruction of Gaza, and the state’s concerted efforts to drive Palestinian citizens of Israel out of what is left of their historic lands and into ghettos.

The logic of Zionism, even if its more naive supporters fail to grasp it, is to replace Palestinians with Jews – what Israel officially terms Judaisation.

The Palestinians’ suffering is not some unfortunate side effect of conflict. It is the very aim of Zionism: to incentivise Palestinians still in place to leave “voluntarily”, to escape further suffocation and misery.

The starkest example of this people replacement strategy is Israel’s long-standing treatment of 250,000 Bedouin who formally have citizenship.

The Bedouin are the poorest group in Israel, living in isolated communities mainly in the vast, semi-arid area of the Negev, the country’s south. Largely out of view, Israel has had a relatively free hand in its efforts to “replace” them.

That was why, for a decade after it had supposedly finished its 1948 ethnic cleansing operations and won recognition in western capitals, Israel continued secretly expelling thousands of Bedouin outside its borders, despite their claim on citizenship.

Meanwhile, other Bedouin in Israel were forced off their ancestral lands to be driven either into confined holding areas or state-planned townships that became the most deprived communities in Israel.

It is hard to cast the Bedouin, simple farmers and pastoralists, as a security threat, as was done with the Palestinians under occupation.

But Israel has a much broader definition of security than simple physical safety. Its security is premised on the maintenance of an absolute demographic dominance by Jews.

The Bedouin may be peaceable but their numbers pose a major demographic threat and their pastoral way of life obstructs the fate intended for them – penning them up tightly inside ghettos.

Most of the Bedouin have title deeds to their lands that long predate Israel’s creation. But Israel has refused to honour these claims and many tens of thousands have been criminalised by the state, their villages denied legal recognition.

For decades they have been forced to live in tin shacks or tents because the authorities refuse to approve proper homes and they are denied public services like schools, water and electricity.

The Bedouin have one option if they wish to live within the law: they must abandon their ancestral lands and their way of life to relocate to one of the poor townships.

Many of the Bedouin have resisted, clinging on to their historic lands despite the dire conditions imposed on them.

One such unrecognised village, Al Araqib, has been used to set an example. Israeli forces have demolished the makeshift homes there more than 160 times in less than a decade. In August, an Israeli court approved the state billing six of the villagers $370,000 (Dh1.6 million) for the repeated evictions.

Al Araqib’s 70-year-old leader, Sheikh Sayah Abu Madhim, recently spent months in jail after his conviction for trespassing, even though his tent is a stone’s throw from the cemetery where his ancestors are buried.

Now the Israel authorities are losing patience with the Bedouin.

Last January, plans were unveiled for the urgent and forcible eviction of nearly 40,000 Bedouin from their homes in unrecognised villages under the guise of “economic development” projects. It will be the largest expulsion in decades.

“Development”, like “security”, has a different connotation in Israel. It really means Jewish development, or Judaisation – not development for Palestinians.

The projects include a new highway, a high-voltage power line, a weapons testing facility, a military live-fire zone and a phosphate mine.

It was revealed last week that the families would be forced into displacement centres in the townships, living in temporary accommodation for years as their ultimate fate is decided. Already these sites are being compared to the refugee camps established for Palestinians in the wake of the Nakba.

The barely concealed aim is to impose on the Bedouin such awful conditions that they will eventually agree to be confined for good in the townships on Israel’s terms.

Six leading United Nations human rights experts sent a letter to Israel in the summer protesting the grave violations of the Bedouin families’ rights in international law and arguing that alternative approaches were possible.

Adalah, a legal group for Palestinians in Israel, notes that Israel has been forcibly evicting the Bedouin over seven decades, treating them not as human beings but as pawns in its never-ending battle to replace them with Jewish settlers.

The Bedouin’s living space has endlessly shrunk and their way of life has been crushed.

This contrasts starkly with the rapid expansion of Jewish towns and single-family farming ranches on the land from which the Bedouin are being evicted.

It is hard not to conclude that what is taking place is an administrative version of the ethnic cleansing Israeli officials conduct more flagrantly in the occupied territories on so-called security grounds.

These interminable expulsions look less like a necessary, considered policy and more like an ugly, ideological nervous tic.

• First published in The National

Israeli police “turning a blind eye to killing spree”

Palestinian citizens of Israel escalated their protests against the police and government on Thursday by bringing sections of the country’s busiest highway to a crawl as they drove in a slow convoy towards Jerusalem for a major demonstration.

It was the latest in a series of high-stakes confrontations by Israel’s large Palestinian minority with the authorities to express their anger at police inaction over a tide of violence that has swept their communities. More than 70 lives have been claimed so far this year.

Over the weekend, Palestinians in Israel took over numerous road junctions to block traffic, causing long tailbacks, as they sought to bring their campaign to the attention of a seemingly indifferent Israeli Jewish public.

Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens – descended from those who avoided expulsion during Israel’s creation in 1948 – comprise a fifth of the country’s population. However, this year, they account for as much as 80 percent of the country’s murders – up from 5 percent 20 years ago.

According to figures from the Aman Centre, which campaigns against violence in Palestinian society in Israel, September was the deadliest month ever: 13 Palestinian citizens were killed in criminal activity.

An investigation by the Haaretz newspaper this week found that the police had solved less than a third of murders in Palestinian communities in Israel this year – half its clear-up rate in Jewish communities.

Towns turn lawless

Palestinian citizens of Israel also held a one-day general strike last week, shutting down schools, local authority offices and shops, to protest the police’s long-running failure to crack down on well-known crime families, collect their arsenal of weapons, and properly investigate the killing spree.

Leaders of the Palestinian minority say their towns and villages have been largely abandoned by the police, creating a vacuum filled by criminals. Many of the killings are the result of vendettas, criminal gangs’ turf wars and domestic violence. In several incidents bystanders have been shot too, including children. Tens of thousands attended the largest protest in Majd al-Krum, a Palestinian town in the central Galilee, where three men died in a shoot-out last week.

But there are also widespread suspicions that the police are actively complicit in the bloodshed. Historically, the police have recruited Palestinian crime families as informers, as a way to gather inside information on the minority.

The impression, say community leaders, is that the police are more interested in maintaining relations with these criminals than tackling the crime wave.

Ties to criminals

The Higher Follow-Up Committee, effectively the collective political leadership of the Palestinian minority, issued a statement over the weekend noting “a conspiracy between the police and the criminal organisations. The authorities know very well where the weapons are coming from into the Arab towns”.

Police estimates suggest that there may be as many as half a million weapons in Palestinian communities in Israel. Most are believed to have originated from Israeli army bases.

Ahmed Tibi, a senior Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, observed: “It is delusional to think that police intelligence is unaware of who is bringing them in and where from. If it were weapons smuggled in to be used by terrorists, the weapons would’ve been confiscated, and the responsible individuals put in jail at a moment’s notice.”

The committee’s statement complained that Israeli officials were exploiting the tide of violence as a way to “attack the social fabric of the Arab public”.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of the Israeli parliament for the Joint List faction, which comprises four Palestinian parties, said police had the tools to prevent the violence but lacked the will.

“People are wondering, how is it possible the police suddenly become incompetent only when the problem is curbing crime in Arab communities?” she told Middle East Eye.

Like many, Touma-Suleiman suspects foul play. She believes Israeli officials hope to replace the existing Palestinian national leadership in Israel with compromised local leaders tied to the criminal underworld.

“There is a rotten circle of interests between the police, the politicians and the criminal class to maintain a situation where Palestinian communities are left weak, divided and fearful,” she said.

‘Very violent society’

The police, on the other hand, argue that their efforts have been stymied by a lack of cooperation. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, told MEE the crime wave was largely the result of a “failure by the Arab leadership to help the police”.

The Palestinian minority’s leaders, however, complain that they have found few allies in a years-long campaign to end the bloodshed.

That was highlighted this week by comments from the public security minister, Gilad Erdan, an ultra-nationalist ally of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He attributed the wave of killings to a violent “Arab culture”.

He told Jerusalem Radio on Monday: “It’s a very, very – and another thousand times – very violent society. … A lot of disputes that end here [among Israeli Jews] with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and gun.”

Accusing the government of “blaming the victim”, Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, observed that crime figures gave the lie to Erdan’s claim.

In an article for Haaretz this week, he pointed out that, despite the large number of weapons in the occupied territories, the rate of murders among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was little different from that in Israeli Jewish society.

Some 20 years ago, he added, the number of murders among Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel was identical. But in recent years, the rate had rocketed in Israel’s Palestinian communities, to six times that of Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Perfect storm

Thabet Abu Ras, co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes coexistence between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, told MEE that Israel’s Palestinian communities had been hit by a perfect storm of problems created by officials.

A lack of public institutions, from police stations to governmental offices, meant they were effectively cut off from the rest of Israeli society. Poverty and neglect had created conditions ripe for exploitation by criminals, he said.

The state’s confiscation of land from Palestinian communities and a policy of denying them new building permits had created serious overcrowding and housing shortages that readily triggered disputes between families that turned violent.

The absence of banking services in many Palestinian towns, and the difficulties Palestinian citizens faced gaining loans and mortgages, had strengthened the role of criminal groups. They lent money at extortionate rates that borrowers could often not afford to repay.

Weak local institutions in Palestinian communities and the state’s cultivation of extended families as an alternative leadership had paved the way for criminal groups to intimidate local officials to gain control over communal resources.

And a major police crackdown in Jewish communities like Nahariya and Netanyahu in recent years had forced Jewish crime gangs to make alliances with organised criminal groups in Palestinian communities in Israel to continue their activities.

“Crime is the one place in Israel where there is some kind of meaningful integration between Jews and Arabs,” he said.

Brutal policing

In his Haaretz article, Odeh blamed “government racism” that “sees us as enemies instead of citizens”. He called on ordinary Israeli Jews “who believe in democracy to join us in a battle for a society without guns. Eliminating violence is in the civic interest of us all”.

The move to the streets is seen as a way to bypass the seeming indifference of Israeli officials by appealing directly to ordinary Israeli Jews.

The national police command is almost exclusively Jewish, and was led until recently by a former secret police officer, Roni Alsheikh, known for being an avid supporter of the illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Few police stations are operational in Palestinian communities in Israel, and the force is widely distrusted. Police officers typically enter the country’s Palestinian towns and villages in military-style operations to enforce house demolitions or to forcibly quell demonstrations.

Trust has been further eroded by the fact that the paramilitary Border Police, a major component of Israel’s security services, operate in Palestinian communities both inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank, using similar methods of violent repression.

Dozens of Palestinian citizens have died at the hands of the police over the past two decades, often in unexplained circumstances. Such deaths are rarely investigated.

And a judicial-led commission of inquiry nearly two decades ago concluded that there was a culture in the police of treating Palestinian citizens as “an enemy”. Little seems to have changed since.

Government incitement

There are similar problems at the political level. Palestinian parties have always been excluded from governmental roles, and the Palestinian minority’s legislators have no influence in the parliament.

Both Erdan and Netanyahu regularly incite against the Palestinian minority. During last month’s election campaign, Netanyahu sought to mobilise Jewish voters by warning: “Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men.”

Erdan was also recently exposed as having actively help cover up evidence that police unlawfully shot a Palestinian citizen dead during house demolitions in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran in 2017. In the same incident, Odeh of the Joint List is believed to have been shot with a sponge-tipped bullet by police.

This hostility has forced the community’s leadership to take drastic action to make their concerns visible to the wider Israeli public.

In addition to the go-slow on Road 6 highway this week, there are plans for large protests outside the regional police headquarters in Nazareth later this month and for a protest tent next to government offices in Jerusalem.

The blocking of roads is a form of direct action familiar in Israel – but mainly from the Jewish public. Settlers have repeatedly obstructed roads, as well as throwing stones at the security services, as part of their demonstrations.

But whereas Jewish protests, however violent they become, are usually handled delicately by Israeli security forces, Palestinian citizens are used to very different responses to their own demonstrations, especially when they take place in areas visible to the Jewish public.

Live ammunition

Palestinian demonstrators in Israel have often found themselves beaten, doused in tear gas and arrested.

Last year a leading Palestinian community activist, Jafar Farah, was arrested along with 20 others during a peaceful protest in the city of Haifa against the army’s lethal shooting of demonstrators in Gaza. While in custody, a police officer broke his leg and is reported to have assaulted several other demonstrators.

But etched even more deeply into the Palestinian minority’s collective memory are the so-called October 2000 events, when Palestinian citizens demonstrated on main roads in solidarity with Palestinians being killed by the Israeli army in large numbers at the start of the second intifada.

In a matter of days, the police had killed 13 Palestinian citizens and wounded many hundreds more using live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets. Investigations were cursory and not one policeman was charged over those deaths.

Demand for equal treatment

This time Palestinian leaders in Israel trust the police will have to tread more carefully.

At a protest outside Nazareth last Friday, hundreds of protesters blocked a road junction leading to the neighbouring Jewish city of Nof Hagalil. Furious motorists, caught in lengthy tailbacks, honked their horns in frustration.

A single policeman watched from inside an unmarked car at the side of the intersection. When spotted, he emerged to warn the demonstrators that they would be allowed an hour to cause disruption before his colleagues would arrive to make arrests.

Unusually, given the large number of such protests last weekend, not a single arrest or injury was reported.

The police caution is a reflection of their difficulties. The demonstrations are not overtly “political” – or not in the ordinary sense understood by the Jewish public – because they do not relate to issues in the occupied territories.

The chief demand is for a right to personal security – and the police themselves are the focus of the protests.

For years, Palestinian leaders in Israel have been calling for a new approach by the authorities to help end the violence, including enforcement campaigns, the collection of guns, and education programmes to change attitudes to crime.

“Our demands fell on deaf ears,” Odeh, head of the Joint List, wrote in his Haaretz article. He and other community leaders hope to prick the consciences of liberal Israeli Jews.

The question is whether the protests, which have been causing major disruption, rebound on the government for appearing intransigent or the Palestinian minority for inconveniencing the Jewish public.

More police stations

There are initial signs that the police and government are starting to feel the heat.

Erdan called for a meeting with the minority’s leaders this week to try to ease tensions. Netanyahu also pledged to allocate extra resources, including manpower, to tackle the crime wave.

But there are complex obstacles for both sides to resolve the stand-off.

Some of the placards at the Nazareth protest called not for more engagement by the police but less. There are genuine fears that Netanyahu’s idea of “greater enforcement” will simply mean more heavy-handed and provocative police invasions of Palestinian communities in Israel to create an impression that something is being done.

Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said seven new police stations had been opened in Palestinian communities in the past few years and that there were plans for another eight to open in the next year.

‘Destroyed from within’

But one of the protest organisers in Nazareth, where there are already two big police stations, said the problem was not just a lack of policing, it also involved the wrong kind of policing.

Kamar Khutaba, a 27-year-old sports teacher, told MEE: “Palestinian blood doesn’t matter to the police. They know how to tackle crime in our communities but they choose not to.

“We are telling the police either do your job properly or get out. Our society is being destroyed from within and the police are allowing it to happen.”

In Jisr al-Zarqa, a poor Palestinian village on Israel’s Mediterranean coast where gun crime is now rampant, the local council leader told Haaretz last month that he had been wrong to support the opening of a police station in his community.

“We made absolutely no progress,” Amash Morad Fathi said, stating that gun crime and the drugs trade were worse than ever. “The police have no leads,” he added, noting that the police had not located a single gun.

He regretted ignoring warnings from fellow council members that the police would use their presence as a pretext to “suffocate” the village by setting up roadblocks and issuing traffic fines.

Abu Ras observed that the police station was only operational during daylight hours. “That’s useless when 90 percent of the crime takes place at night,” he said.

‘Fight against terror’

What is urgently needed, Palestinian leaders in Israel agree, is a dramatic change in police culture.

In his response to the protests, Erdan equated the fight against criminal violence in Israel’s Palestinian communities to the “fight against terrorism”. A Haaretz editorial warned that it was a sign that Erdan and the government continue to view Palestinian citizens as “an internal enemy”.

Even if Palestinian leaders in Israel cannot influence regional issues, such as the peace process, they want to advance the basic civic rights of their community. The question is whether it can be done inside a self-declared Jewish state.

Odeh broke with a long-standing political tradition of the Palestinian community in Israel when he chose sides last month in the ongoing coalition negotiations over forming a Zionist government. He recommended Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff and head of the Blue and White party, over Netanyahu for prime minister.

Gantz has indicated he may be prepared to make concessions on civic, if not the national, rights of Palestinians in Israel. Nonetheless, improving policing in Israel’s Palestinian communities may prove a tall order.

Abu Ras and others note that the police still see their role chiefly in ethnic terms – as protecting the Jewish public from a supposed Palestinian menace, both in Israel and in the occupied territories.

“The difficulty is that policing towards the Arab community in Israel is not seen primarily in civic terms, as preventing crime, but in security terms, as dealing with a national threat,” he said.

“That whole approach has to change, otherwise the criminal gangs in Arab communities will continue to grow stronger.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

An Open Letter to Bari Weiss

Ms. Bari Weiss, Op Ed columnist
The New York Times

Dear Ms. Weiss:

As I listened to you this morning on NPR, I heard a very poised and polished explanation of why you so ardently support the state of Israel and why you believe that you can be both anti-occupation and pro-Israel–both a Liberal and a Zionist. There was a time when I would have bought your argument. No more. I, and countless others, have studied the history of Israel/Palestine, have met and debated at length with highly intelligent people on both sides of the issue, and have come to the clear conclusion that all of Palestine–from the river to the sea, is occupied.

Zionism is a cruel, master-race-supremacist, expansionist, colonialist, modern-day political ideology. Israel is an Apartheid State. The UN violated its own charter in its proposal to divide up Palestine (Chapter 1, Article 2, Principle 4). As if that wasn’t bad enough, its division of Palestine was unfair: It awarded the far smaller group of people, the Jews, the far larger portion of the land, and gave the much larger group of people, the indigenous Christian and Muslim Arabs, who had lived there for more than 19 generations in many cases, the much smaller portion. Naturally, the Arabs never agreed to such a proposal. Why would they? It was insulting and unfair.

Yet, despite not having come to an agreement, and with Jewish terrorists (Irgun, Lehi, Haganah) rampaging across Palestine, Ben Gurion unilaterally declared themselves a state in May 1948, having driven out or killed more than three quarters of a million indigenous, Arab people. (I am friends with some of them, as well as with their descendants.) That would be like a man who files for divorce and before the attorneys get the now-estranged spouses to sign on the dotted line, after having reached an agreement, goes off to another country and marries another woman and starts a new family with her. Put another way, the Arabs were ready to “move into” a home they had been patiently and carefully laying the foundation for when the Zionists forced them out, only to rapidly finish the house and move into it themselves.

The way you characterized those of us on the Left who oppose Apartheid Israel is that we oppose the “Jewish state” simply because it is a Jewish state. Not true. We oppose the Jewish state because it was founded by terrorism and bigotry, it is maintained using aid from the United States’ taxpayers, ($7,000.00 per MINUTE), it has never defined its borders, it refuses to sign the NNPT, it claims to be a democracy but actually is an Apartheid state that privileges one ethnic group (Jews) over another (Arabs), it breaks virtually every pact and promise it makes, it is in violation of more than 70 UN resolutions, it attacked our ship (the USS Liberty) and killed and wounded our naval officers and sailors, it assassinated a brave and just Swedish aristocrat and diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis (Count Folke Bernadotte), it bombed our buildings (the Lavon Affair), its terrorists dressed up as Arabs and bombed the King David Hotel, killing 90+ people, it demolishes the homes of Palestinians on a routine basis, it deprives people in Gaza of enough clean water, food, and electricity, its blockade making it impossible to carry on commercial affairs, fishing, and agriculture. I could go on and on, but, these are but a few of the more glaring reasons Leftists like me oppose Zionism.

The lie that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land” is hasbara, like so many lies created by Zionists. Ironically, the Christian and Muslim Palestinians, now in Israel/Palestine and in the Diaspora, are probably the true descendants of the ancient Hebrews (the Israelites) of the Bible who, over generations, converted to either Christianity and/or Islam. The top-of-the-pecking-order-Ashkenazi Jews, are Europeans or Russians whose ancestors probably converted centuries ago, possibly in the area now known as Belarus, and who then immigrated to Western and Eastern Europe, and later to Palestine and the North and South America.

After WW1, the international community said, “no more settler-colonialism”. After WW2, the international community said, “No more master-race-supremacism”!! Apartheid Israel is both, a settler-colonial project and a master-race supremacist state. So, it is not that “Israel is the only Jewish state in the world”, it is that “Israel is now the only master-race-supremacist state in the world”.

I wish all the best to all people of good will. I believe that Israelis and Palestinians can eventually live and work in harmony in one, truly democratic state based on equality rather than land theft and ethnic cleansing. I see beautiful examples of this in the great West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by the late Palestinian author and scholar, Professor Edward Said, and his dear friend, Israeli Jew, Maestro Daniel Barenboim. (Maestro Barenboim might be the only person in the world to hold both an Israeli AND a Palestinian passport.)

I deplore racism in all its forms. I deplore hate crimes of any type. I see all of us as connected and no one group better or worse than another.

I wish you and yours well.

Sincerely,

Donna Ross

Challenging the NDP on Palestine During the Election Campaign

Last week I interrupted Jagmeet Singh at a public event to criticize the NDP’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.

Holding a placard with the words “Jagmeet, Palestinian Lives Matter”, I demanded the NDP leader apologize for overturning the vote of members who elected Rana Zaman to represent the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour ridding because she defended Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers. I also asked him to apologize for suppressing debate at last year’s convention on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations. I also criticized his refusal to heed the call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG).

While my intervention was a bit chaotic — there was a concurrent disruption and my phone rang — it served its purpose. It was mentioned in a La Presse story and Global News did a 2 ½ minute clip titled “Protester asks Jagmeet Singh for apology over removal of former NDP candidate in Halifax.” Two hundred people in the room heard the criticism and the video I shot of the intervention was viewed more than 3,000 times online.

In his response, Singh claimed he wasn’t responsible for ousting Zaman but rather a party committee. While technically correct, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t okay it, particularly considering NDP National Director Melissa Bruno – quoted justifying Zaman’s ouster – was Singh’s chief of staff as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP between 2012 and 2017. (Bruno took a break to be “part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign”, notes her bio.) Similarly, during the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the Palestine Resolution at the convention. Additionally, Singh explicitly rejected the call for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.

Zaman is not the only candidate the NDP blocked from running at least partly because they support Palestinian rights. A number of individuals who signed the open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG had their bids sabotaged. Robbie Mahood and Barry Weisleder were formally disallowed while Saron Gebresellassi and Sid Ryan’s bids to run in the upcoming election were subverted. Christeen Elizabeth who didn’t sign the letter but supports the Palestinian led boycott movement was also blocked.

The recent decision to block pro-Palestinian candidates follow on the heels of the NDP stopping as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates in 2015 for defending Palestinian rights. Back then at least the NDP had the excuse that it was the official opposition and atop the polls with Thomas Mulcair explicitly positioning the party as the mainstream alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Today, after the Liberals campaigned to their left in the last election, the NDP has the third most seats in the House of Commons, is languishing below 10% in the polls and the Green Party is polling ahead of them. Many NDP MPs are not running again and the Liberals are portraying themselves as the only credible “left” alternative to the Conservatives.

While it is clear that most voters have decided there is little point to a ‘Liberal-lite’ brand of NDP, the party brass seems determined to follow the same anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian, centrist script that proved a dead end before. It seems they are more eager to play to the dominant media than party members.

But, there’s a better way. When the Liberals recently ousted Hassan Guillet as a candidate for challenging Israeli apartheid, the NDP should have asked the high-profile Imam to run for the party. The winner of the Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack. Offering Guillet a spot would have embarrassed the Liberals, brought many Quebec Muslims into the NDP fold and increased the party’s chance of winning Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel or another Montréal riding. It would be good for the NDP to be seen as willing to challenge the Israel lobby, dominant media and Liberals over the issue.

Pro-Palestinian supporters of the NDP should not be afraid of challenging the party leadership during the election campaign. Having seen Singh in action during a confrontation, as well as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, I can tell you the NDP leader performs better than the others. Rather than have security usher me out, he at least responded by expressing sympathy towards the plight of Palestinians.

The right wing, Israeli nationalist lobby will be active during the election campaign. So too must the Palestinian solidarity movement.

While B’nai B’rith can garner coverage of their criticism of the NDP by releasing a statement, Palestine solidarity activists must disrupt public events for the media to take interest. If that means wherever he goes across the country Jagmeet Singh is confronted by Palestine solidarity activists raising the name of Rana Zaman, the Palestine Resolution and the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, so be it. Palestinian lives matter. Certainly, more than the comfort of politicians and political parties.

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.

United Church of Canada should Come Clean on Anti-Palestinian Accord

Toronto church Trinity-St. Paul’s shameful suppression of a Palestinian youth cultural event highlights anti-Palestinian rot festering in the United Church of Canada. It ought to also shine a light on a little discussed anti-Palestinian accord UCC leaders signed with Israel lobby groups five decades ago.

Under pressure from B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Defence League the Trinity-St. Paul Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts recently canceled a room booking “to celebrate the artistic and cultural contributions of Palestinians in the diaspora.” The Palestinian Youth Movement’s spoken word event was to “showcase the winners of the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship”, which the JDL and B’nai B’rith chose to target on the grounds the famous novelist was a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the early 1970s. After Kanafani and his 17-year old niece were assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon’s Daily Star labeled the novelist “a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”

As I detailed in this article Trinity-St. Paul’s spiritual leader is anti-Palestinian leftist Cheri DiNovo. Since publishing that piece the former NDP MPP admitted — to vicious anti-Palestinian/Islamophobe Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, of all people — that she forwarded B’nai B’rith’s concerns to the church’s board, which then cancelled the event. Dropping her progressive standing further, DiNovo unfriended a number of individuals on Facebook who politely questioned her role in suppressing the Palestinian cultural event.

To be fair to DiNovo she isn’t the only Progressive Except for Palestine voice in the UCC. “What happened at Trinity St. Paul’s is not isolated”, wrote Karen Rodman, an ordained UCC minister and prominent Palestine solidarity activist. Last year the UCC seminary at the University of Toronto’s Victoria University withdrew from a Palestinian Liberation Theology program with Reverend Naim Ateek. According to Rodman, work had been underway on Emmanuel College’s continuous learning initiative with Ateek for a year when pressure was brought to bear by Israeli nationalist groups.

Resolutions endorsed at UCC conventions in the 2000s called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as an ethnic/religious supremacist state. The 2009 motion called for “the emergent State of Palestine” to recognize “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within safe and secure borders.” In an interview after the 2009 convention Palestinian Canadian journalist Hanna Kawas complained the UCC was asking the victims of a European colonial movement to endorse the supremacist ideology that dispossessed them. In 2012 the UCC “advised against the use of ‘the language of apartheid’ when applied to Israel” and called for a solution to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return so long as it “maintains the demographic integrity of Israel.”

In another sign of the church hierarchy’s encouragement of a colonial ideology, Rodman was harassed and bullied for supporting Palestinian rights. Church officials purportedly called her a “terrorist” for traveling to the West Bank. In response to attacks and biased review process, Rodman filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against the UCC for discriminating against her anti-Zionist worldview. Last year the HRTO granted Rodman a hearing, which awaits scheduling, to show her anti-Zionist worldview/creed is not just a political view.

(The UCC has supported labelling settlement goods and condemned other aspect of Israel’s occupation. But these resolutions have not been implemented. As an example, no congregation or UCC body implemented a 2012 resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting or supporting the occupation even though a resolution was passed at the subsequent General Council requesting implementation of the 2012 resolution.)

An anti-Palestinian deal UCC leaders brokered decades ago has influenced the church’s indifference to the plight of Palestinians. In the 1950s and 60s the UCC passed a number of resolutions upholding the rights of Palestinians, including those of the refugees to return to their homes. More significantly, the UCC’s influential magazine championed the Palestinian cause. With a circulation of 350,000 in the early 1970s, The Observer criticized Israeli human rights violations. But editor Rev. A.C. Forrest’s support for Palestinians prompted vicious attacks. Emboldened by the blow Israel delivered against pan-Arabism in the 1967 war, B’nai B’rith dubbed Forrest a “Haman”, “Pharaoh” and “anti-Semitic”.

In response, Forrest threatened to sue for libel. B’nai B’rith countersued. A high-profile battle between B’nai B’rith and the UCC ensued. But, new UCC leaders didn’t care much about Palestinians and opposed Forrest, as well as a pro-Palestinian resolution passed at the 1972 UCC convention. Moderator Bruce McLeod and General Secretary George Morris soon sought a “gentleman’s agreement” in which both the UCC and B’nai B’rith would drop the lawsuits. Couched in the language of interfaith sensitivity, the 1973 “peace pact” was about deterring criticism of Israel. As then Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) President Sol Kanee wrote in a private letter, “it would appear the United Church is determined to chart a more positive course with regard to Israel and the Jewish people, which we hope will be reflected in the ‘Observer.’”

Dozens of pages detail the B’nai B’rith-UCC battle at the Canadian Jewish Archives in Montréal. In one internal file CJC officials say only part of the B’nai B’rith-UCC agreement was published (a similar agreement is thought to have been made between the UCC and CJC and/or Canadian Council of Churches). Part of the “peace pact” published noted, “we recognize and appreciate the interests of Jews everywhere and of the United Church for the events in the Middle East and in the survival of Israel.”

As part of the agreement, the UCC seems to have committed to inform B’nai B’rith/CJC about Israel related affairs or even seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. A 2009 Globe and Mail article reported that UCC general council officer Bruce Gregersen indicated that CJC president Bernie Farber “gave his blessing to the UCC resolution” on Israel.

Rodman and others have pushed the church hierarchy to reveal whether the anti-Palestinian agreement is still respected. But UCC leaders have failed to release the full agreement or say it is no longer being followed.

The agreement with B’nai B’rith/CJC has undercut grassroots initiatives within the church that challenge Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession. But, the decision to succumb to B’nai B’rith’s disingenuous attacks 45 years ago has had another equally damaging impact on Palestinians. It has emboldened the anti-Palestinian group to make evermore outrageous demands.

After a half-century more of Israeli land theft and violence, B’nai B’rith demanded a Toronto church suppress an event because it included the name of a famous novelist driven from his home as a child and then blown up by Israel (a quintessential victim of terrorism). If Kanafani’s name “glorifies terrorists and murderers”, as B’nai B’rith claims, then what should we say of a group that defends every act of Israeli violence, including the assassination of a novelist and his niece?

If the UCC won’t have anything to do with a Palestinian youth group that mentions Kanafani’s name they sure better sever all ties to groups promoting Israeli “terrorists and murderers”.

Guardianship System Eased, but Saudi Arabia Still Oppresses Women

The Saudi government announced it will be eliminating part of the male guardianship system, finally granting women the right to obtain passports and travel (if 21 years of age or over), and obtain family identification cards without the need for male authorization.

The change comes in the context of the bad publicity that Saudi Arabia has been receiving about “runaway girls,” a growing number of Saudi women who have been fleeing the country to seek asylum abroad. Several of these high-profile cases of women claiming intense gender-based repression and receiving asylum in countries like Canada have placed global scrutiny on the male guardianship system.

The latest decrees also come in the context of intense criticism of the government’s appalling treatment of women’s rights activists. In 2018, when the government announced it was lifting the ban on women drivers, it then went on to arrest the very women who had campaigned for that right. Some of these women are released pending trial; others are still languishing in prison, enduring terribly abusive conditions. When making the announcement about the easing of the guardianship system, the government made no mention of the plight of these women activists.

While the easing of the guardianship system is indeed welcome news, Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s most repressive societies for women.

  • Key aspects of the guardianship system are still in place. One particularly onerous restriction is that women need the permission of a male guardian to marry or divorce.
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code. By law, in public places women must cover their everyday clothing with an abaya– a long cloak – and a head scarf.
  •  When it comes to family issues such as child custody, child support and divorce laws, they all favor men over women. Women can easily lose access to their own children when they separate from their husbands.
  • In certain types of court cases, female testimony is worth half as much as male testimony.
  • While Saudi women have made great gains in education, they still make up only 23% of the labor force, and they are mainly employed “women’s jobs” such as education and public health. Women are discriminated against in the hiring process, and then must endure gender segregation in the workplace.
  • Saudi Arabia is the most gender-segregated society in the world. The majority of public buildings have separate entrances for men and women; some even ban women from entering. Most workplaces are segregated, so are schools. The separation in restaurants has been somewhat easing, but most eating areas are still separated to keep unrelated men and women apart–with one section for “singles,” meaning men, and one for “families,” meaning women, children, and close male relatives like husbands.
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws setting a minimum age for marriage. Child brides are still acceptable, especially among poor, rural families where girls may be married off to richer, older men.
  • Regarding representation, there are no women elected at the national and provincial level, because there are no national or provincial elections. It was only in 2015 that women were granted the right to vote and to run in municipal councils, but in 2019 women still represent just 1 percent of those local seats (19 women elected and 15 appointed).
  • As of 2013, women were granted 20% of the seats on the Shura Council–an appointed 150-member body that advises the king. In July 2019, women on the Shura Council introduced a proposal to have 30% women on the municipal councils, but the proposal was rejected. By law, the proposal cannot be brought up again for two years.

Saudi women have a long way to go to achieve equality. Onerous laws remain in place and conservative traditions that give men control over women will be hard to transform. The best way to do this, however, is to grant Saudi women the freedom to openly advocate for their rights. Now, these rights are “bestowed upon them” by male rulers while women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their jobs, and in other ways silenced. The Saudi rulers must free the women activists languishing in prison and open the system so that women can freely advocate for the society they want to live in.

How the Goliath of the Jerusalem Settler Movement Persuaded the World It’s Really David

JERUSALEM — Israeli police forced out the Siyam family from their home in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem last week, the final chapter in their 25-year legal battle against a powerful settler organisation.

The family’s defeat represented much more than just another eviction. It was intended to land a crushing blow against the hopes of some 20,000 Palestinians living in the shadow of the Old City walls and Al Aqsa mosque.

Dozens of families in the Silwan neighbourhood have endured the same fate as the Siyams, and the Israeli courts have approved the imminent eviction of many hundreds more Palestinians from the area.

But, unlike those families, the Siyams’ predicament briefly caught public attention. That was because one of them, Jawad Siyam, has become a figurehead of Silwan’s resistance efforts.

Mr Siyam, a social worker, has led the fight against Elad, a wealthy settler group that since the early 1990s has been slowly erasing Silwan’s Palestinian identity, in order to remake it as the City of David archeological park.

Mr Siyam has served as a spokesman, drawing attention to Silwan’s plight. He has also helped to organise the community, setting up youth and cultural centres to fortify Silwan’s identity and sense of purpose in the face of Israel’s relentless oppression.

However, the settlers of Elad want Silwan dismembered, not strengthened.

Elad’s mission is to strip away the Palestinian community to reveal crumbling relics beneath, which it claims are proof that King David founded his Israelite kingdom there 3,000 years ago.

The history and archeological rationalisations may be murky, but the political vision is clear. The Palestinians of Silwan are to be forced out like unwelcome squatters.

An Israeli human rights group, Peace Now, refers to plans for the City of David as “the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing”.

It is the most unequal fight imaginable – a story of David and Goliath, in which the giant fools the world into believing he is the underdog.

It has pitted Mr Siyam and other residents against not only the settlers, but the US and Israeli governments, the police and courts, archaeologists, planning authorities, national parks officials and unwitting tourists.

And, adding to their woes, Silwan’s residents are being forced to fight both above and below ground at the same time.

The walls and foundations of dozens of houses are cracking and sinking because the Israeli authorities have licensed Elad to flout normal safety regulations and excavate immediately below the community’s homes. Several families have had to be evacuated.

Late last month Elad flexed its muscles again, this time as it put the finishing touches to its latest touristic project: a tunnel under Silwan that reaches to the foot of Al Aqsa.

On Elad’s behalf, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, wielded a sledgehammer to smash down a symbolic wall inaugurating the tunnel, which has been renamed the Pilgrimage Road.

Elad claims – though many archaeologists doubt it – that in Roman times the tunnel was a street used by Jews to ascend to a temple on the site where today stands the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa.

The participation of the two US envoys in the ceremony offered further proof that Washington is tearing up the peacemaking rulebook, destroying any hope the Palestinians might once have had of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Mr Friedman called the City of David complex – at the core of occupied Palestinian Jerusalem – “an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel”. Ending the occupation there would be “akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty”.

While Israel, backed by the US, smashes Silwan’s foundations, it is also dominating the sky above it.

Last month Israel’s highest planning body approved a cable car from Israeli territory in West Jerusalem into the centre of Silwan.

It will connect with the City of David and a network of boardwalks, coffee shops and touristic tunnels, such as like the Pilgrimage Road, all run by Elad settlers, to slice apart Silwan.

And to signal how the neighbourhood is being reinvented, the Israeli municipality enforcing the occupation in East Jerusalem recently named several of Silwan’s main streets after famous Jewish rabbis.

Former mayor Nir Barkat has said the goal of all this development is to bring 10 million tourists a year to Silwan, so that they “understand who is really the landlord in this city”.

Few outsiders appear to object. This month, the tourism website TripAdvisor was taken to task by Amnesty International for recommending the City of David as a top attraction in Jerusalem.

And now, Elad has felled the family of Jawad Siyam in a bid to crush the community’s spirits and remaining sense of defiance.

As it has with so many of Silwan’s homeowners, Elad waged a decades-long legal battle against the family to drain them of funds and stamina.

The Siyams’ fate was finally sealed last month when the Israeli courts extended the use of a 70-year-old, draconian piece of legislation, the Absentee Property Law, to Silwan.

The law was crafted specifically to steal the lands and homes of 750,000 Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 by the new state of Israel.

Ownership of the Siyams’ home is shared between Jawad’s uncles and aunts, some of them classified by Israel as “absentees” because they now live abroad.

As a result, an Israeli official with the title Custodian of Absentee Property claimed ownership of sections of the house belonging to these relatives, and then, in violation of his obligations under international law, sold them on to Elad. Police strong-armed the family out last week.

To add insult to injury, the court also approved Elad seizing money raised via crowdfunding by more than 200 Israeli peace activists, with the aim of helping the Siyams with their legal costs.

Palestinians such as Jawad Siyam exist all over the occupied territories – men and women who have given Palestinians a sense of hope, commitment and steadfastness in the face of Israel’s machinery of dispossession.

When Israel targets Jawad Siyam, crushes his spirits, it sends an unmistakable message not only to other Palestinians, but to the international community itself, that peace is not on its agenda.

  • A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.
  • 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