Category Archives: Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)

Israel’s “Loyal” Druze move into Open Revolt

Israel’s small Druze community, long seen as “loyal” to the state, is on a collision course with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu over a new law guaranteeing superior citizenship rights for Jews, according to analysts.

Israel has traditionally cited the Druze, a secretive religious sect whose men serve in the Israeli army, as proof that non-Jews can prosper inside a self-declared Jewish state.

However, recent days have seen an unprecedented outpouring of anger from large segments of the Druze community over a nation-state law passed last month by the Israeli parliament.

The new legislation has been widely criticised for making explicit the privileged status of the Jewish majority while omitting any reference to “democracy” or “equality”.

One Druze scholar, Rabah Halabi, said his community’s response had been like a mini-“intifada” – the word Palestinians used for two lengthy uprisings against the occupation.

“Much of the Druze community are in a state of shock,” he told Middle East Eye. “They thought that by proving their loyalty, they would be treated as equals. But now they are being forced to re-evaluate, to accept that this view was mistaken.”

Halabi, who has written a book on Druze identity, added: “Their illusions are being shattered. It looks like a process of awakening has begun that will leave both sides bruised.”

Protesters call for equality

The new law, which has a constitutional-like status, has angered the fifth of Israel’s population that are not Jewish, mostly descended from Palestinians who survived a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948. This Palestinian minority eventually received citizenship.

But unlike the Muslim and Christian communities, the 120,000-strong Druze sect in Israel has long been showcased as “loyal” and plays a key role in the army, especially in combat duties in the occupied territories.

Druze leaders have angrily pointed to the disproportionate sacrifices made by their community, including more than 420 Druze killed while in uniform.

The Druze also enjoy outsized influence in Israeli politics. Although comprising about 1.5 percent of Israel’s population, they have five legislators in the 120-member parliament, four of them in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Unusually, the figurehead of the protests has been a retired and much-decorated Druze general, Amal Asad.

He led the speakers at a rally in Tel Aviv earlier this month, attended by some 60,000 Druze and Israeli Jewish sympathisers, including many former senior security officials.

The protesters demanded that the new Basic Law – one of a body that serves as Israel’s equivalent of a constitution – be annulled or amended to confer equal rights on all citizens.

Another key Druze figure, spiritual leader Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, told the crowds: “Despite our unreserved loyalty, Israel doesn’t see us as equals.”

Crowds chanted “Equality! Equality!” and banners bore the slogan: “If we are brothers, we must be equals.”

Netanyahu blindsided

Druze legislators and Palestinian leadership organisations in Israel have separately petitioned the Israeli supreme court to overturn the legislation. The court is not expected to hear the cases until early next year.

Adalah, a legal rights group for the Palestinian minority, has described the law as having “apartheid characteristics” and noted that there is “no [other] constitution in the world that does not include the right to equality for all its citizens and residents”.

The Druze protests appear to have blindsided Netanyahu and his cabinet, even though the law was under consideration for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, he has stood his ground. According to analysts, the law is the centrepiece of his efforts to win elections, expected in the coming months, as he tries to face down intensifying corruption investigations.

In a sign of his hardline approach, Netanyahu walked out of a meeting held shortly before the rally when Druze leaders – including Asad, Tarif and several mayors – refused to accept a compromise that would have offered special benefits to the Druze while keeping the law unchanged.

Wahib Habish, mayor of the Druze town of Yarka in the Galilee, who attended the meeting, told the Israeli media afterwards: “We can’t be bought off with benefits and rhetoric on closing gaps.”

Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University and a Druze resident of Habish’s town, said Netanyahu’s strategy was to stoke “internal divisions” in Druze society.

“He has no intention of backing down,” he told MEE. “He hopes to dismiss the protests by saying: ‘If the Druze can’t agree among themselves, how is it possible for us to find a solution?’”

Secretive religious sect

The Druze are a secretive religious sect that broke away from Islam some 1,000 years ago. For protection, they chose to live in a mountainous region of the Middle East that is today split between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Scholars have noted that, as a survival strategy, the Druze traditionally preferred to ally with whoever was in power.

Some Druze communities in the Galilee supported Zionist forces during the 1948 war that founded Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. A few years later, the Druze leadership in Israel signed a pact with the state, agreeing that the community’s men would be conscripted for three years into the army.

In return, Israel recognised the Druze as a “national” group, rather than as a religion, separating them from the rest of the Palestinian minority.

Complicating the picture, a much smaller Druze population fell under Israeli rule in 1967 when Israel occupied the Golan Heights, part of Syria. The 25,000 Druze in the Golan have mostly stayed loyal to Syria and refused Israeli citizenship. They are not drafted.

‘Brainwashed’ at school

Jamal said sections of Israeli Druze society were increasingly wondering whether they had paid a “double price” for their agreement to conscription.

“Not only were the Druze discriminated against like other Arab citizens, but they sacrificed their lives on the battlefield too,” he noted. “Look at it this way, the Druze are not just second-class citizens, they are second-class Arabs.”

As part of the agreement, Israel introduced a separate school system for the Druze in the 1970s, which has encouraged them to view their military service as a “covenant of blood” with the Jewish people.

Dalia Halabi, herself Druze and the executive director of Dirasat, a policy research centre in Nazareth, said the Druze education system was among the worst in Israel for matriculation rates. Instead, Israel had used the schools to “brainwash” Druze children.

“The Druze are taught to fear other Arabs, not only their neighbours in the Galilee but in the wider region,” she said. “They are encouraged to believe that they would be vulnerable and alone without the protection of the Israeli army.”

Refusal movement growing

Israel has long trumpeted the Druze’s military service as proof that it is possible for non-Jewish minorities to integrate.

Druze analysts consulted by MEE, however, noted that for many years there had been an intensifying split within the Druze community on the issue of military service that the new Basic law had brought to a head.

A refusal movement among young Druze men has become more prominent over the past decade, as have complaints that successive Israeli governments failed to make good on promises to give the Druze equal rights.

Druze communities are generally as overcrowded and poorly resourced as other Palestinian communities in Israel, noted Dalia Halabi: “Some 70 percent of Druze lands were confiscated by the state, despite our communities’ ‘loyalty’. They did not get a better deal than other Palestinian communities.”

Rabah Halabi, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that the loss of their farmland left many Druze men dependent on Israel’s extensive security economy.

More than a quarter are recruited after army service as security guards, prison wardens or border policemen, the latter a paramilitary force operating inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, he said.

“For a substantial section of Druze youth, army service is the only way to ensure a career. It is primarily an economic issue for them.”

Army officers resign

The new Basic Law has inflamed these existing tensions by enshrining privileges for Jewish citizens in a range of key areas, including immigration rights, access to land, and in housing and budgets. It also downgrades Arabic, stripping it of its status as an official language.

In an unprecedented move for a Druze leader, Asad, the general leading the protests, warned on social media that the Basic Law risked laying the foundations for “apartheid”. He called the measure “evil and racist”.

The groundswell of anger was apparent too at a recent awards ceremony attended by Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence service and one of the architects of the law. He needed protection as Druze protesters publicly confronted him, denouncing him as a “traitor” and “Nazi”.

Several Druze army officers have resigned and others have threatened to stop serving, sparking fears of mass insubordination.

Druze leaders have so far refused to cooperate with a special ministerial committee set up by Netanyahu to advance a solution for the Druze, as well as a tiny Circassian community and sections of the Bedouin that also serve.

It seems likely to propose extra benefits on an individual basis for Palestinian citizens who serve in the army.

Jamal, of Tel Aviv University, said: “There are many Druze who have invested in this so-called ‘historical bond’ and do not want to lose their special status.

“But at the same time they can’t accept the deal Netanyahu is offering of perks for army service. They don’t want to look like they have been bought off with money, to seem like mercenaries.”

‘We’re not going anywhere

Unless one side backs down, the Druze community now looks set for a major clash with the government for the first time in the country’s history.

A recent poll indicated that 58 percent of Israeli Jews support the law, though a similar number expressed sympathy for Druze concerns.

Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, has already warned of “an earthquake” on the political right if the courts dare to annul the law.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has appeared in no mood for compromise. After his meeting with Druze leaders broke up in acrimony, his officials implied that General Asad and his supporters were disloyal.

Channel 2 TV quoted a source close to Netanyahu stating, apparently in reference to Asad and his followers: “Whoever doesn’t like it [the Basic Law], there’s a large Druze community in Syria, and they’re invited to found the state of Druzistan there.”

Dalia Halabi observed: “Netanyahu is fanning the flames because he assumes the Druze will agree to whatever he says. He thinks we now have no option but to be loyal.”

But Mano Abu Salha, aged 58 from Yarka, and among those who attended the mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, told MEE that Netanyahu would be proved wrong.

He said: “We didn’t come from Syria. We are living on our historic lands and we’re not going anywhere. We are the native population. Netanyahu better realise that we are staying put and will fight for our rights.”

Important Update on the Zionist Storming of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Al Awda, by Doctor on Board

Events from 29 July when the Israeli Navy stormed the Freedom Flotilla al-Awda hijacked and diverted it from its intended course to Gaza to Israel.

*****

The last leg of the journey of al-Awda (the boat of return) was scheduled to reach Gaza on 29 July 2018. We were on target to reach Gaza that evening. There are 22 on board including crew with US $15,000 of antibiotics and bandages for Gaza. At 12.31 pm we received a missed call from a number beginning with +81… Mikkel was steering the boat at that time. The phone rang again with the message that we were trespassing into Israeli waters. Mikkel replied that we were in International waters and had right of innocent passage according to maritime laws. The accusation of trespassing was repeated again and again with Mikkel repeating the message that we were sailing in international waters. This carried on for about half an hour, while Awda was 42 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza.

Prior to the beginning of this last leg, we had spent two days learning non-violent actions and had prepared ourselves in anticipation of an Israeli invasion of our boat. Vulnerable individuals, especially those with medical conditions, were to sit at the rear of the top deck with their hands on the deck table. The leader of this group was Gerd, a 75 year old elite Norwegian athlete and she had the help of Lucia a Spanish nurse in her group.

The people who were to provide a non-violent barrier to the Israelis coming on deck and taking over the boat formed 3 rows – two rows of threes and the third row of two persons blocking the wheel house door to protect the wheel house for as long as possible. There were runners between the wheel house and the rear of the deck. The leader of the boat Zohar and I were at the two ends of the toilets’ corridor where we looked out at the horizon and informed all of any sightings of armed boats. I laughed at Zohar and said we are the Toilet Brigade, but I think Zohar did not find it very funny. It was probably bad taste under the circumstances. I also would be able to help as a runner and would have accessibility to all parts of the deck in view of being the doctor on board.

Soon we saw at least three large Israeli warships on the horizon with 5 or more speed boats (zodiacs) zooming towards us. As the Zodiacs approached I saw that they carried soldiers with machine guns and there was on board the boats large machine guns mounted on a stand pointing at our boat. From my lookout point the first Israeli soldier climbed on board to the cabin level and climbed up the boat ladder to the top deck. His face was masked with a white cloth and following him were many others, all masked. They were all armed with machine guns and small cameras on their chests.

They immediately made to the wheel house overcoming the first row by twisting the arms of the participants, lifting Sarah up and throwing her away.  Joergen, the chef, was large to be manhandled so he was tasered before being lifted up. They attacked the second row by picking on Emelia the Spanish nurse and removed her thus breaking the line. They then approached the door of the wheel house and tasered Charlie the first mate and Mike Treen who were obstructing their entry to the wheel house. Charlie was beaten up as well. Mike did not give way with being tasered in his lower limbs so he was tasered in his neck and face. Later on I saw bleeding on the left side of Mike’s face. He was semi-conscious when I examined him.

They broke into the wheel house by cutting the lock, forced the engine to be switched off and took down the Palestine flag before taking down the Norwegian flag and trampling on it.

They then cleared all people from the front half of the boat around the wheel house and moved them by force and coercion, throwing them to the rear of the deck. All were forced to sit on the floor at the back, except Gerd, Lucy and the vulnerable people who were seated around the table on wooden benches around her. Israeli soldiers then formed a line sealing off people from the back and preventing them from coming to the front of the boat again.

As we entered the back of the deck we were all body searched and ordered to surrender our mobile phones or else they will take it by force. This part of search and confiscation was under the command of a woman soldier. Apart from mobile phones, medicines and wallets were also removed. No one as of today (4 August 2018) got our mobile phones back.

I went to examine Mike and Charlie. Charlie had recovered consciousness and his wrists were tied together with plastic cable ties. Mike was bleeding from the side of his face, still not fully conscious. His hands were very tightly tied together with cable ties and the circulation to his fingers was cut off and his fingers and palm were beginning to swell. At this stage the entire people seated on the floor shouted demanding that the cable ties be cut. It was about half an hour later before the ties were finally cut off from both of them.

Around this time Charlie, the first mate, received the Norwegian flag. He was visibly upset telling all of us that the Norwegian flag had been trampled on. Charlie reacted more to the trampling of the Norwegian flag than to his being beaten and tasered.

The soldiers then started asking for the captain of the boat. The boys then started to reply that they were all the captain. Eventually the Israelis figured out that Herman was the captain and demanded to take him to the wheel house. Herman asked for someone to come with him, and I offered to do so. But as we approached the wheel house, I was pushed away and Herman forced into the wheel house on his own. Divina, the well known Swedish singer, had meanwhile broken free from the back and went to the front to look through the window of the wheel house. She started to shout and cry “Stop! Stop! They are beating Herman. They are hurting him”.  We could not see what Divina saw, but knew that it was something very disturbing. Later on, when Divina and I were sharing a prison cell, she told me they were throwing Herman against the wall of the wheel house and punching his chest. Divina was forcibly removed and her neck was twisted by the soldiers who took her back to the rear of the deck.

I was pushed back to the rear of the boat again. After a while the boat engine started. I was told later by Gerd who was able to hear Herman tell the story to the Norwegian Consul in prison that the Israelis wanted Herman to start the engine, and threatened to kill him if he would not do so. But what they did not understand was that with this boat, once the engine stopped it can only be restarted manually in the engine room in the cabin level below. Arne, the engineer, refused to restart the engine, so the Israelis brought Herman down and hit him in front of Arne making it clear that they will continue to hit Herman if Arne would not start the engine. Arne is 70 years old, and when he saw Herman’s face go ash colour, he gave in and started the engine manually. Gerd broke into tears when she was narrating this part of the story. The Israelis then took charge of the boat and drove it to Ashdod.

Once the boat was on course, the Israeli soldiers brought Herman to the medical desk. I looked at Herman and saw that he was in great pain, silent but conscious, breathing spontaneously but shallow breathing. The Israeli Army doctor was trying to persuade Herman to take some medicine for pain. Herman was refusing the medicine. The Israeli doctor explained to me that what he was offering Herman was not army medicine but his personal medicine. He gave me the medicine from his hand so that I could check it. It was a small brown glass bottle and I figured that it was some kind of liquid morphine preparation probably the equivalent of oromorph or fentanyl. I asked Herman to take it and the doctor asked him to take 12 drops after which Herman was carried off and slumped on a mattress at the back of the deck. He was watched over by people around him and fell asleep. From my station I saw he was breathing better.

With Herman settled I concentrated on Larry Commodore, the Native American leader and an environmental activist. He had been voted Chief of his tribe twice. Larry has labile asthma and with the stress all around my fear was that he might get a nasty attack, and needed adrenaline injection. I was taking Larry through deep breathing exercises. However, Larry was not heading for an asthmatic attack, but was engaging an Israeli who covered his face with a black cloth in conversation. This man was obviously in charge.

I asked the Israeli man with black mask his name and he called himself Field Marshall Ro…..Larry misheard him and jumped to conclusion that he called himself Field Marshall Rommel and shouted how can he an Israeli take a Nazi name. Field Marshall objected and introduced himself as Field Marshall ? Ronan. As I spelt out Ronan he quickly corrected me that his name is Ronen, and he Field Marshall Ronen was in charge.

The Israeli soldiers all wore body cameras and were filming us all the time. A box of sandwiches and pears were brought on deck for us. None of us took any of their food as we had decided we do not accept Israeli hypocrisy and charity. Our chef Joergen had already prepared high calorie high protein delicious brownies with nuts and chocolate, wrapped up in tin foil to be consumed when captured, as we know it was going to be a long day and night. Joergen called it food for the journey. Unfortunately when I needed it most, the Israelis took away my food and threw it away. They just told me ”It is forbidden” I had nothing to eat for 24 hours, refusing Israeli Army food and had no food of my own.

As we sailed towards Israel we could see the coast of Gaza in total darkness. There were 3 oil /gas rigs in the northern sea of Gaza. The brightly burning oil flames contrasted with the total darkness the owners of the fuel were forced to live in. Just off the shore of Gaza are the largest deposit of natural gas ever discovered and the natural gas belonging to the Palestinians were already being siphoned off by Israel.

As we approached Israel, Zohar, our boat leader, suggested that we should start saying goodbye to each other. We were probably 2-3 hours from Ashdod. We thanked our boat leader, our Captain, the crew, our dear chef, and encouraged each other that we will continue to do all we can to free Gaza and also bring justice to Palestine. Herman, our Captain, who managed to sit up now, gave a most moving talk and some of us were in tears.

We knew that in Ashdod there would be the Israeli media and film crews. We will not enter Ashdod as a people who had lost hope as we were taken captive. So we came off the boat chanting “Free Free Palestine” all the way as we came off. Mike Treen, the union man, had by then recovered from his heavy tasering and led the chanting with his mega-voice and we filled the night sky of Israel with Free Free Palestine as we approached. We did this the whole way down the boat into Ashdod.

We came directly into a closed military zone in Ashdod. It was a sealed off area with many stations. It was specially prepared for the 22 of us. It began with a security x-ray area. I did not realise they retained my money belt as I came out of the x-ray station. The next station was strip search, and it was when I was gathering up my belongings after being stripped that I realised my money belt was no longer with me. I knew I had about a couple hundred Euros and they were trying to steal it. I demanded its return and refused to leave the station until it was produced. I was shouting for the first time. I was glad I did that as some other people were parted from their cash. The journalist from Al Jazeera Abdul had all his credit cards and USD 1,800 taken from him, as well as his watch, satellite phone, his personal mobile, his ID. He thought his possessions were kept with his passport but when he was released for deportation he learnt bitterly that he only got his passport back. All cash and valuables were never found. They simply vanished.

We were passed from station to station in this closed military zone, stripped searched several times, possessions taken away until in the end all we had was the clothes we were wearing with nothing else except a wrist band with a number on it.  All shoe laces were removed as well. Some of us were given receipts for items taken away, but I had no receipts for anything. We were photographed several times and saw two doctors. At this point I learnt that Larry was pushed down the gangway and injured his foot and sent off to Israeli hospital for check-up. His blood was on the floor.

I was cold and hungry, wearing only one tee-shirt and pants by the time they were through with me. My food was taken away; water was taken away, all belongings including reading glasses taken away. My bladder was about to explode but I was not allowed to go to the toilet. In this state I was brought out to two vehicles – Black Maria painted gray. On the ground next to it were a great heap of ruqsacks and suit cases. I found mine and was horrified that they had broken into my baggage and took almost everything from it – all clothes clean and dirty, my camera, my second mobile, my books, my Bible, all the medicines I brought for the participants and myself, my toiletries. The suitcase was partially broken. My ruqsack was completely empty too. I got back two empty cases except for two dirty large man size tee-shirts which obviously belonged to someone else. They also left my Freedom Flotilla tee-shirt. I figured out that they did not steal the Flotilla tee-shirt as they thought no Israeli would want to wear that tee-shirt in Israel. They had not met Zohar and Yonatan who were proudly wearing theirs. That was a shock as I was not expecting the Israeli Army to be petty thieves as well. So what had become of the glorious Israeli Army of the Six Day War which the world so admired?

I was still not allowed to go to the toilet, but was pushed into the Maria van, joined by Lucia the Spanish nurse and after some wait taken to Givon Prison. I could feel myself shivering uncontrollably on the journey.

The first thing our guards did in Givon Prison was to order me to go to the toilet to relieve myself. It was interesting to see that they knew I needed to go desperately but had prevented me for hours to! By the time we were re-x-rayed and searched again it must be about 5 – 6 am. Lucia and I were then put in a cell where Gerd, Divina, Sarah and Emelia were already asleep. There were three double decker bunk beds – all rusty and dusty.

Divina did not get the proper dose of her medicines; Lucia was refused her own medicine and given an Israeli substitute which she refused to take. Divina and Emelia went straight on to hunger strike. The jailors were very hostile using simple things like refusal of toilet paper and constant slamming of the prison iron door, keeping the light of the cell permanently on, and forcing us to drink rusty water from the tap, screaming and shouting at us constantly to vent their anger at us.

The guards addressed me as “China” and treated me with utter contempt. On the morning of 30 July 2018, the British Vice Consul visited me. Some kind person had called them about my whereabouts. That was a blessing as after that I was called “England” and there was a massive improvement in the way England was treated compared to the way China was treated. It crossed my mind that “Palestine” would be trampled over, and probably killed.

At 6.30 am 31 July 2018, we heard Larry yelling from the men’s cell across the corridor that he needed a doctor. He was obviously in great pain and crying. We women responded by asking the wardens to allow me to go across to see Larry as I might be able to help. We shouted “We have a doctor” and used our metal spoons to hit the iron cell gate to get their attention. They lied and said their doctor would be over in an hour. We did not believe them and started again. The doctor actually turned up at 4 pm, about 10 hours later and Larry was sent straight to hospital.

Meanwhile to punish the women for supporting Larry’s demand, they brought hand cuffs for Sarah and took Divina and me to another cell to separate us from the rest. We were told we were not going to be allowed out for our 30 minutes fresh air break and a drink of clean water in the yard. I heard Gerd saying “Big deal”.

Suddenly Divina was taken out with me to the courtyard and Divina given 4 cigarettes at which point she broke down and cried. Divina had worked long hours at the wheel house steering the boat. She had seen what happened to Herman. The prison had refused to give her one of her medicines and given her only half the dose of the other. She was still on hunger strike to protest our kidnapping in international waters. It was heart-breaking to see Divina cry. One of the wardens who called himself Michael started talking to us about how he will have to protect his family against those who want to drive the Israelis out. And how the Palestinians did not want to live in peace…and it was not Israel’s fault. But things suddenly changed with the arrival of an Israeli Judge and we were all treated with some decency even though he only saw a few of us personally. His job was to tell us that a Tribunal will be convened the following day and each prisoner had been allocated a time to appear, and we must have our lawyer with us when we appear.

Divina by the end of the day became very giddy and very unwell so I persuaded her to come out of hunger strike, and also she agreed to sign a deportation order. Shortly after that possibly at 6 pm since we had no watches and mobile phones, we were told Lucia, Joergen, Herman, Arne, Abdul from Al Jazeera and I would be deported within 24 hours and we would be taken to be imprisoned in the deportation prison in Ramle near Ben Gurion airport immediately to wait there. It was going to be the same Ramle Prison from which I was deported in 2014. I saw the same five strong old palm trees still standing up proud and tall. They are the only survivors of the Palestinian village destroyed in 1948.

When we arrived at Ramle prison Abdul found to his horror that he his money, his credit cards, his watch, his satellite phone, his own mobile phone, his ID card were all missing – he was entirely destitute. We had a whip round and raised around a hundred Euros as a contribution towards his taxi fare from the airport to home. How can the Israeli Army be so corrupt and heartless to rob someone of everything?

Conclusion

We, the six women on board al-Awda, had learnt that they tried to completely humiliate and dehumanise us in every way possible. We were also shocked at the behaviour of the Israeli Army especially petty theft and their treatment of international women prisoners. Men jailors regularly entered the women’s cell without giving us decent notice to put our clothes on.

They also tried to remind us of our vulnerability at every stage. We know they would have preferred to kill us but, of course, the publicity incurred in so doing might be unfavourable to the international image of Israel.

If we were Palestinians it would be much worse with physical assaults and probably loss of lives. The situation is therefore dire for the Palestinians.

As to international waters, it looks as though there is no such thing for the Israeli Navy. They can hijack and abduct boats and persons in international water and get away with it. They acted as though they own the Mediterranean Sea. They can abduct any boat and kidnap any passengers, put them in prison and criminalise them.

We cannot accept this. We have to speak up, stand up against this lawlessness, oppression and brutality. We were completely unarmed. Our only crime according to them is we are friends of the Palestinians and wanted to bring medical aid to them. We wanted to brave the military blockade to do this. This is not a crime. In the week we were sailing to Gaza, they had shot dead 7 Palestinians and wounded more than 90 with live bullets in Gaza. They had further shut down fuel and food to Gaza. Two million Palestinians in Gaza live without clean water, with only 2-4 hours of electricity, in homes destroyed by Israeli bombs, in a prison blockaded by land, air and sea for 12 years.

The hospitals of Gaza since the 30 March had treated more than 9,071 wounded persons, 4,348 shot by machine guns from a hundred Israeli snipers while they were mounting peaceful demonstrations inside the borders of Gaza on their own land. Most of the gun-shot wounds were to the lower limbs and with depleted treatment facilities the limbs will suffer amputation. In this period more than 165 Palestinians had been shot dead by the same snipers, including medics and journalists, children and women. The chronic military blockade of Gaza has depleted the hospitals of all surgical and medical supplies. This massive attack on an unarmed Freedom Flotilla bringing friends and some medical relief is an attempt to crush all hope for Gaza. As I write I learnt that our sister Flotilla, Freedom, has also been kidnapped by the Israeli Navy while in international waters.

BUT we will not stop. We must continue to be strong to bring hope and justice to the Palestinians and be prepared to pay the price, and to be worthy of the Palestinians. As long as I survive I will exist to resist.  To do less will be a crime.

• A version of this article appeared in 21st Century Wire.com

How Israel helped to revive Europe’s Ugly Ethnic Nationalism

Polarisation within western societies on issues relating to migration and human rights has been intensifying over recent weeks and months. To many observers, it looks suspiciously as if an international order in place since the end of the second world war – one that emphasised universal rights as a way to prevent dehumanisation and conflict – is rapidly unravelling in Europe and the United States.

In the past few weeks in Donald Trump’s America, it has emerged that thousands of migrant children have been snatched from their parents while trying to enter at the southern border, with some held in cages; the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of border officials to bar entry to Muslims from proscribed countries; and the Trump administration has quit the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, a key institution for monitoring human rights violations.

Meanwhile, far-right parties across Europe have ridden to electoral success on the back of mounting fears at a wave of migrants displaced from North Africa and the Middle East by wars and famines. Joining the trenchant anti-immigration stances of governments in Hungary and Poland, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has turned away boatloads of migrants from his country’s ports. He called last month for the European Union to “defend its border” and deny access to human rights groups, while also threatening to cut his country’s budget to Europe unless action was taken against migrants. Salvini is among the Italian politicians demanding the expulsion of the Roma minority.

Other European governments led by Germany, fearful of internal political instability that might undermine their continuing rule, called a hasty summit to consider options for dealing with the “migrant crisis”.

And casting a long shadow over the proceedings is Britain’s efforts to negotiate its exit from the EU, a blow that might eventually lead to the whole edifice of the European project crumbling.

Two ideas of citizenship

These are not random events. They are part of a quickening trend, and one that signals how an international order built up over the past 70 years and represented by pan-national institutions like the United Nations and the EU is gradually breaking down.

While the evidence suggests that there is no particular migration crisis at the moment, there are long-term factors that readily provoke populist fears and can be readily exploited, especially over the depletion of key global resources like oil, and environmental changes caused by climate breakdown. Together they have stoked resource conflicts and begun to shrink world economies. The effects are ideological and political shockwaves that have put a system of long-standing international agreements and norms under unprecedented strain.

The emerging struggle faced today is one that was fought out a century ago in western Europe, and relates to differing conceptions of citizenship. In the early 20th century, Europe was riven by ethnic nationalisms: each state was seen as representing a separate biological people – or in the terminology of the time, a race or Volk. And each believed it needed territory in which to express its distinct heritage, identity, language and culture. In the space of a few decades, these antagonistic nationalisms tore Europe apart in two “world wars”.

At the time, ethnic nationalism was pitted against an alternative vision of citizenship: civic nationalism. It is worth briefly outlining how the two differed.

Civic nationalists draw on long-standing liberal ideas that prioritise a shared political identity based on citizenship inside the stable territorial unit of a democratic state. The state should aspire – at least in theory – to be neutral towards ethnic minorities, and their languages and cultures.

Civic nationalism is premised on individual rights, social equality and tolerance. Its downside is an inherent tendency to atomise societies into individuals, and cultivate consumption over other social values. That has made it easier for powerful corporations to capture the political system, leading to the emergence of neoliberal capitalist economies.

Minorities scapegoated

Ethnic nationalists, by contrast, believe in distinct peoples, with a shared heritage and ancestry. Such nationalists not only resist the idea that other groups can integrate or assimilate, but fear that they might weaken or dissolve the ties binding the nation together.

Ethnic nationalists therefore accentuate an imagined collective will belonging to the dominant ethnic group that guides its destiny; emphasise threats from external enemies and subversion from within by those opposed to the values of the core group; encourage the militarisation of the society to cope with such threats; and anxiously guard existing territory and aggressively seek to expand borders to increase the nation’s resilience.

Even before Europe’s two great wars, most western states were a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalist impulses. But in a political climate of competition over resources and paranoid vigilance against rivals that prevailed before the second world war, especially fears among western elites about how best to counter the growing threat of Soviet Communism, ideas associated with ethnic nationalism tended to dominate.

It was for this reason that ethnic minorities – especially those such as Jews and Roma whose loyalties to the core nation were considered suspect – found themselves scapegoated and faced rampant discrimination. This took different forms.

In Britain, ethnic nationalism contributed to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a document proposing that British Jews be transplanted to the Middle East. In part this was a colonial project to create an outpost of Jews in the Middle East dependent on British favour for their security. But as noted by Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the British cabinet at the time, the Balfour Declaration had strong anti-semitic overtones, reinforcing the idea that Jews did not belong and should be relocated elsewhere.

Ethnic nationalism in France was evidenced by the notorious Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish captain in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason in 1894 for leaking military secrets to Germany. In fact, as it later emerged, another French officer was responsible for the leak, but the military preferred to falsify documents to ensure that blame rested with Dreyfus.

And in Germany, racism towards minorities like Jews and Roma culminated in the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s and a short time later a policy of mass extermination that claimed the lives of many millions.

Rebuilding a post-war Europe

After the devastation of the second world war, western Europe had to be rebuilt, both physically and ideologically. With the dangers of ethnic nationalisms now apparent, greater emphasis was placed on civic nationalism.

This trend was encouraged by the US through its Marshall Plan, an economic recovery programme to reconstruct western Europe. The US wanted a united, peaceful Europe – its ethnic antagonisms a thing of the past – so that a culture of individualism and consumerism could be fostered, guaranteeing an export market for American goods. A US-dependent Europe could also be relied on as a bulwark against Washington’s chief ideological rival, Soviet communism.

By the end of the 20th century, these developments would lead to the emergence of a common market, later the European Union, a single currency and the dropping of border controls.

At the same time, in the immediate post-war period, it was decided to put safeguards in place against the recent slaughter. The Nuremberg Trials helped to define the rules of war, and classed their violations as war crimes, while the UN’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions began the process of formalising international law and the concept of universal human rights.

All of that post-war order is now unravelling.

Bucking the trend

Israel was established in 1948, the year of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, which was itself intended to prevent any return to the horrors of the Holocaust. Israel was presented as a sanctuary for Jews from a depraved Europe that had been overrun by aggressive racial ideologies. And Israel was extolled as a “light unto the nations”, the political fruit of the new international legal order to promote the rights of minorities.

But paradoxically, the “western” state that most visibly bucked the trend towards civic nationalism in the post-war period was Israel. It stuck rigidly with a political model of ethnic nationalism that had just been discredited in Europe. Today Israel embodies a political alternative to civic nationalism – one that is slowly and increasingly helping to rehabilitate ethnic nationalism.

From the outset, Israel was not what it appeared to most outsiders. It had been sponsored as a colonial settler project by western patrons that variously included Britain, the Soviet Union, France and, latterly, the US. Set up to be an explicitly “Jewish state”, it was built on the ruins of the native Palestinian people’s homeland after a campaign of expulsions historians have characterised as “ethnic cleansing”.

Israel was not the liberal democracy claimed in its campaigns of self-promotion, known as hasbara. In fact, far from being an antidote to ethnic nationalism, Israel was decisively a product – or more specifically, a mirroring – of this form of nationalism.

Israel’s tribal ideology

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

Making racism respectable

Israel preserved the model of ethnic nationalism and is now seeking to help make it respectable again among sections of western public opinion.

Just as historically there were different varieties of ethnic nationalisms in Europe, so there are among the popular and political movements in Israel.

At the most disturbing extreme of the spectrum are the religious settlers who have actively taken up the task of once again uprooting the native Palestinian population, this time in the occupied territories. Such settlers now dominate the middle ranks of the Israeli army.

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

The ‘danger’ of intermarriage

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.”

An ethnic fortress

But the problem is not restricted to the prejudices of individuals and communities. It has state sanction, just as in Europe a century ago.

That can be seen not only in rampant institutional racism in Israel – some 70 laws that explicitly discriminate based on ethnic belonging – but in Israel’s obsession with wall-building. There are walls sealing off Gaza, and the densely Palestinian-populated parts of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In another indication of the ethnic fortress mentality, Israel has built a wall to block the entry of African asylum seekers through the Sinai peninsula as they flee wars. Israel has been deporting these refugees back to Africa – in violation of international conventions it has ratified – putting their lives in danger.

And while western liberals have grown exercised at the separation of children from their parents by the Trump administration, they have ignored decades of similarly brutal Israeli policies. In that time, thousands of Palestinian children have been seized from their homes, often in night-time raids, and jailed in trials with a near-100 per cent conviction rate.

Extrajudicial violence

Throughout its history, Israel has glorified in its military prowess and brazenly celebrated a tradition of extrajudicial violence against opponents. That has included practices such as torture and political assassinations that international law seeks to prohibit. The sophistry used by Israel to defend these actions has been enthusiastically taken up in Washington – in particular, when the US began its own programmes of torture and extrajudicial murder after the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Israel has ready-made rationalisations and specious soundbites that have made it much easier to sell to western publics the dismantling of international norms.

The upending of international law – and, with it, a reversal of the trend towards civic nationalism – has intensified with Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza over the past decade. Israel has subverted the key principles of international law – proportionality, distinction and necessity – by hugely widening the circle of potential targets of military action to include swaths of civilians, and using massive force beyond any possible justification.

That has been graphically illustrated of late in its maiming and killing of thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters for being supposedly too close to the perimeter fence Israel has built to encage Gaza. That fence simply delimits the Palestinian land occupied by Israel. But in another success for Israeli hasbara, western reporting has almost universally suggested that the fence is a border Israel is entitled to defend.

Israeli expertise in demand

Israel’s expertise is increasingly in demand in a west where ethnic nationalisms are again taking root. Israel’s weapons have been tested on the battlefield, against Palestinians. Its homeland security systems have proven they can surveill and control Palestinian populations, just as western elites think about their own protection inside gated communities.

Israel’s paramilitary police train and militarise western police forces needed to repress internal dissent. Israel has developed sophisticated cyberwarfare techniques based on its efforts to remain a regional superpower that now satisfy the west’s politically paranoid atmosphere.

With an abiding aversion to the Communist ideology of their former Soviet rulers, central and east European states have led the move towards a renewal of ethnic nationalism. Civic nationalism, by contrast, is seen as dangerously exposing the nation to outside influences.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader, who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

For leaders like Orban, Israel has led the way. It has shown that ethnic politics is not discredited after all, that it can work. For Europe and America’s new ethnic nationalists, Israel has proven that some peoples are destined for greatness, if they are allowed to triumph over those who stand in their way.

It will be a darker, far more divided and frightening world if this logic prevails. It is time to recognise what Israel represents, and how it does not offer solutions – only far greater problems.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Sisi holds Key to Trump’s Sinai Plan for Palestinians

Israel and the US are in a race against time with Gaza. The conundrum is stark: how to continue isolating the tiny coastal enclave from the outside world and from the West Bank – to sabotage any danger of a Palestinian state emerging – without stoking a mass revolt from Gaza’s two million Palestinians?

In Gaza, Israel does not have the luxury of time it enjoys in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the two additional Palestinian territories it occupies. In those areas, it can keep chipping away at the Palestinian presence, using the Israeli army, Jewish settlers and tight restrictions on Palestinian movement to take over key resources like land and water.

Gaza: A death camp

While Israel is engaged in a war of attrition with the West Bank’s population, a similar, gradualist approach in Gaza is rapidly becoming untenable. The United Nations has warned that the enclave may be only two years away from becoming “uninhabitable”, its economy in ruins and its water supplies unpotable.

More than a decade of a severe Israeli blockade as well as a series of military assaults have plunged much of Gaza into the dark ages. Israel desperately needs a solution, before Gaza’s prison turns into a death camp. And now, under cover of Donald Trump’s “ultimate peace plan”, Israel appears to be on the brink of an answer.

Recent weeks have been rife with reports in the Israeli and Arab media of moves by Washington and Israel to pressure Egypt into turning over a swath of territory in northern Sinai, next to Gaza, for infrastructure projects designed to alleviate the enclave’s “humanitarian crisis”.

Late last month Hamas, which rules Gaza, sent a delegation to Cairo to discuss the measures. This followed hot on the heels of a visit to Egypt by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law who is overseeing the Middle East peace plan.

Exploiting Egyptian fears

According to reports, Trump hopes soon to unveil a package – associated with his “deal of the century” peace-making – that will commit to the construction of a solar-power grid, desalination plant, seaport and airport in Sinai, as well as a free trade zone with five industrial areas. Most of the financing will come from the oil-rich Gulf states.

Egyptian diplomatic sources appear to have confirmed the reports. The programme has the potential to help relieve the immense suffering in Gaza, where electricity, clean water and freedom of movement are in short supply. Palestinians and Egyptians would jointly work on these projects, providing desperately needed jobs. In Gaza, youth unemployment stands at over 60 per cent.

It has been left unclear whether Palestinians from Gaza would be encouraged to live close to the Sinai projects in migrant workers’ towns. Israel will doubtless hope that Palestinian workers would gradually make Sinai their permanent home.

Egypt, meanwhile, will benefit both from the huge injection of capital in an economy currently in crisis, as well as from new infrastructure that can be used for its own population in the restive Sinai peninsula.

It is worth noting that for two years an Israeli cabinet minister has been proposing similar infrastructure projects for Gaza located on an artificial island to be established in Palestinian territorial waters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly balked at the proposal.

Locating the scheme instead in Egypt, under Cairo’s control, will tie Egyptian security concerns about Gaza to Israel’s, and serve to kill the Palestinian national cause of statehood.

A decade of arm-twisting

It is important to understand that the Sinai plan is not simply evidence of wishful thinking by an inexperienced or deluded Trump administration. All the signs are that it has enjoyed vigorous support from the Washington policy establishment for more than a decade.

In fact, four years ago, when Barack Obama was firmly ensconced in the White House, Middle East Eye charted the course of attempts by Israel and the US to arm-twist a succession of Egyptian leaders into opening Sinai to Gaza’s Palestinians.

This has been a key Israeli ambition since it pulled several thousand settlers out of Gaza in the so-called disengagement of 2005 and claimed afterwards – falsely – that the enclave’s occupation was over.

Washington has reportedly been on board since 2007, when the Islamist faction Hamas took control of Gaza, ousting the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was then that Israel, backed by the US, intensified a blockade that has destroyed Gaza’s economy and prevented key goods from entering.

A Palestinian statelet

The advantages of the Sinai plan are self-evident to Israel and the US. It would:

  • make permanent the territorial division between Gaza and the West Bank, and the ideological split between the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas;
  • downgrade Gaza from a diplomatic issue to a humanitarian one;
  • gradually lead to the establishment of a de facto Palestinian statelet in Sinai and Gaza, mostly outside the borders of historic Palestine;
  • encourage the eventual settlement of potentially millions of Palestinian refugees in Egyptian territory, stripping them of their right in international law to return to their homes, now in Israel;
  • weaken the claims of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, located in the West Bank, to represent the Palestinian cause and undermine their moves to win recognition of statehood at the United Nations;
  • and lift opprobrium from Israel by shifting responsibility for repressing Gaza’s Palestinians to Egypt and the wider Arab world.

‘Greater Gaza’ plan

In summer 2014, Israel’s media reported that, with Washington’s blessing, Israeli officials had been working on a plan dubbed “Greater Gaza” that would attach the enclave to a large slice of northern Sinai. The reports suggested that Israel had made headway with Cairo on the idea.

Egyptian and Palestinians officials publicly responded to the leaks by denouncing the plan as “fabricated”. But, whether Cairo was privately receptive or not, it provided yet further confirmation of a decade-long Israeli strategy in Gaza.

At around the same time, an Arab newspaper interviewed a former anonymous official close to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president ousted in 2011. He said Egypt had come under concerted pressure from 2007 onwards to annex Gaza to northern Sinai, after Hamas took control of the enclave following Palestinian elections.

Five years later, according to the same source, Mohamed Morsi, who led a short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, sent a delegation to Washington where the Americans proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.

And since 2014, it appears, Morsi’s successor, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has faced similar lobbying.

Carrots and sticks

Suspicions that Sisi might have been close to capitulating four years ago were fuelled at that time by Abbas himself. In an interview on Egyptian TV, he said Israel’s Sinai plan had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it.”

Israel’s neoconservative cheerleaders in Washington who reportedly leant on Mubarak in 2007, during George W Bush’s presidency, are now influencing Middle East policy again in the Trump administration.

And although Sisi appears to have stood his ground in 2014, subsequent dramatic changes in the region are likely to have weakened his hand.

Both Abbas and Hamas are more isolated than ever, and the situation in Gaza more desperate. Israel has cultivated much closer ties to the Gulf states as they fashion joint opposition to Iran. And the Trump administration has dropped even the pretence of neutrality in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, Trump’s Middle East team led by Kushner adopted from the outset Israel’s so-called “outside-in” paradigm for arriving at a peace agreement.

The idea is to use a carrot-and-stick approach – a mix of financial inducements and punitive sanctions – to bully Abbas and Hamas into making yet more major concessions to Israel that would void any meaningful moves towards Palestinian statehood. Key to this idea is that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be recruited to help Israel in its efforts to force the Palestinian leadership’s hand.

Egypt, current reports indicate, has come under similar pressure from the Gulf to concede territory in Sinai to help Trump with his long-delayed “deal of the century”.

Muslim Brotherhood threat

Sisi and his generals have good reason to be reluctant to help. After they grabbed power from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, they have done everything possible to crush homegrown Islamist movements, but have faced a backlash in Sinai.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is the sister organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s generals have worried that opening the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and Gaza could bolster Islamist attacks that Egypt has struggled to contain. There are fears too in Cairo that the Sinai option would shift the burden of Gaza onto Egypt’s shoulders.

This is where Trump and Kushner may hope their skills at wheeler-dealing can achieve a breakthrough.

Egypt’s susceptibility to financial inducements from the Gulf were on display last year when Sisi’s government agreed effectively to sell off to Saudi Arabia two strategic Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir. They guard the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez canal.

In return, Egypt received billions of dollars in loans and investments from the kingdom, including large-scale infrastructure projects in Sinai. Israel reportedly approved the deal.

Analysts have suggested that the handover of the islands to Saudi Arabia was intended to strengthen security and intelligence cooperation between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in dealing with Islamic militants in Sinai.

This now looks suspiciously like the prelude to Trump’s reported Sinai plan.

Over the Palestinians’ heads

In March, the White House hosted 19 countries in a conference to consider new ideas for dealing with Gaza’s mounting crisis. As well as Israel, participants included representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Palestinians boycotted the meeting.

Much favoured by the Trump team was a paper delivered by Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli general and key official overseeing Israel’s strategy in the occupied territories. Many of his proposals – for a free trade zone and infrastructure projects in Sinai – are now being advanced.

Last month Kushner visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan to drum up support. According to interviews in the Israel Hayom daily, all four Arab states are on board with the peace plan, even if it means bypassing Abbas.

Jackie Khoury, a Palestinian analyst for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, summed up the plan’s Gaza elements: “Egypt, which has a vital interest in calming Gaza down because of the territory’s impact on Sinai, will play the policeman who restrains Hamas. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and perhaps the United Arab Emirates will pay for the projects, which will be under United Nations auspices.”

Israel’s efforts to secure compliance from Hamas may be indicated by recent threats to invade Gaza and dissect it in two, reported through veteran Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. The US has also moved to deepen the crisis in Gaza by withholding payments to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. A majority of Gaza’s population are refugees dependent on UN handouts.

An advantage for Hamas in agreeing to the Sinai plan is that it would finally be freed of Israeli and Palestinian Authority controls over Gaza. It would be in a better able to sustain its rule, as long as it did not provoke Egyptian ire.

Oslo’s pacification model

Israel and Washington’s plans for Gaza have strong echoes of the “economic pacification” model that was the framework for the Oslo peace process of the late 1990s.

For Israel, Oslo represented a cynical chance to destroy the largely rural economy of the West Bank that Palestinians have depended on for centuries. Israel has long coveted the territory both for its economic potential and its Biblical associations.

Hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank rely on these lands for agriculture, rooting them to historic locations through economic need and tradition. But uprooting the villagers – forcing them into a handful of Palestinian cities, and clearing the land for Jewish settlers – required an alternative economic model.

As part of the the Oslo process, Israel began establishing a series of industrial areas – paid for by international donors – on the so-called “seam zone” between Israel and the West Bank.

Israeli and international companies were to open factories there, employing cheap Palestinian labour with minimal safeguards. Palestinians would be transformed from farmers with a strong attachment to their lands into a casual labour force concentrated in the cities.

An additional advantage for Israel was that it would make the Palestinians the ultimate “precariat”. Should they start demanding a state or even protest for rights, Israel could simply block entry to the industrial areas, allowing hunger to pacify the population.

New prison wardens

There is every reason to believe that is now the goal of an Israeli-Trump initiative to gradually relocate Palestinians to Sinai through investment in infrastructure projects.

With the two countries’ security interests safely aligned, Israel can then rely on Egypt to pacify the Palestinians of Gaza on its behalf. Under such a scheme, Cairo will have many ways to teach its new workforce of migrant labourers a lesson.

It can temporarily shut down the infrastructure projects, laying off the workforce, until there is quiet. It can close off the sole Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai. It can shutter the electricity and desalination plants, depriving Gaza of power and clean water.

This way Gaza can be kept under Israel’s thumb without Israel sharing any blame. Egypt will become Gaza’s visible prison wardens, just as Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have shouldered the burden of serving as jailers in much of the West Bank.

This is Israel’s model for Gaza. We may soon find out whether it is shared by Egypt and the Gulf states.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Young Protesters are defying Israel’s Blockade with Scraps of Paper and Plastic

First Israel built a sophisticated missile interception system named Iron Dome to neutralise the threat of homemade rockets fired out of Gaza.

Next it created technology that could detect and destroy tunnels Palestinians had cut through the parched earth deep under the fences Israel erected to imprison Gaza on all sides.

Israel’s priority was to keep Gaza locked down with a blockade and its two million inhabitants invisible.

Now Israel is facing a new and apparently even tougher challenge: how to stop Palestinian resistance from Gaza using flaming kites, which have set fire to lands close by in Israel. F-16 fighter jets are equipped to take on many foes but not the humble kite.

These various innovations by Palestinians are widely seen by Israelis as part of the same relentless campaign by Hamas to destroy their country.

But from inside Gaza, things look very different. These initiatives are driven by a mix of recognisably human emotions: a refusal to bow before crushing oppression; a fear of becoming complicit through silence and inaction in being erased and forgotten; and a compelling need to take back control of one’s life.

Palestinians encaged in Gaza, denied entry and exit by Israel via land, sea and air for more than a decade, know that life there is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Most young people are unemployed, much of the infrastructure and housing are irreparably damaged, and polluted water sources are near-unpotable.

After waves of military attacks, Gaza’s children are traumatised with mental scars that may never heal.

This catastrophe was carefully engineered by Israel, which renews and enforces it daily.

The kites have long served as a potent symbol of freedom in Gaza. Children have flown them from the few spots in the tiny, congested enclave where people can still breathe – from rooftops or on Gaza’s beaches.

Five years ago, the film Flying Paper documented the successful efforts of Gaza’s children to set a new world record for mass kite-flying. The children defied Israel’s blockade, which prevents entry of most goods, by making kites from sticks, newspapers and scraps of plastic.

The children’s ambition was – if only briefly – to retake Gaza’s skies, which Israel dominates with its unseen, death-dealing drones that buzz interminably overhead and with missiles that can flatten a building in seconds.

A young girl observed of the kite’s lure: “When we fly the kite, we know that freedom exists.” A message scrawled on one read: “I have the right to pride, education, justice, equality and life.”

But the world record attempt was not only about the children’s dreams and their defiance. It was intended to highlight Gaza’s confinement and to issue a reminder that Palestinians too are human.

That same generation of children have grown into the youths being picked off weekly by Israeli snipers at unarmed protests at the perimeter fence – the most visible feature of Israel’s infrastructure of imprisonment.

A few have taken up kite-flying again. If they have refused to put away childish things, this time they have discarded their childish idealism. Their world record did not win them freedom, nor even much notice.

After the snipers began maiming thousands of the demonstrators, including children, medics and journalists, for the impudence of imagining they had a right to liberty, the enclave’s youths reinvented the kite’s role.

If it failed to serve as a reminder of Palestinians’ humanity, it could at least remind Israel and the outside world of their presence, of the cost of leaving two million human beings to rot.

So the kites were set on fire, flaming emissaries that brought a new kind of reckoning for Israel when they landed on the other side of the fence.

Gaza’s inhabitants can still see the lands from which many of them were expelled during the mass dispossession of the Palestinian people in 1948 – under western colonial sponsorship – to create a Jewish state.

Not only were those lands taken from them, but the Jewish farming communities that replaced them now irrigate their crops using water Palestinians are deprived of, including water seized from aquifers under the West Bank.

The kites have rained fire down on this idyll created by Israel at the expense of Gaza’s inhabitants. No one has been hurt but Israel claims extinguishing the fires has already cost some $2 million and 7,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

Sadly, given the profound sense of entitlement that afflicts many Israelis, a small dent in their material wellbeing has not pricked consciences about the incomparably greater suffering only a few kilometres away in Gaza.

Instead, Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan called last week for anyone flying a kite, even young children, to be shot. He and other ministers have argued that another large-scale military assault on Gaza is necessary to create what Mr Erdan has termed “durable deterrence”.

That moment seems to be moving inexorably closer. The last few days have seen Israel launch punitive air strikes to stop the kites and Palestinian factions retaliate by firing significant numbers of rockets out of Gaza for the first time in years.

The Trump administration is no longer pretending to mediate. It has publicly thrown in its hand with Israel. It withdrew last week from the United Nations Human Rights Council, accusing it of being a “cesspool of political bias” after the council criticised Israel for executing Gaza’s unarmed demonstrators.

On a visit to the region last week, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, urged ordinary Palestinians to rebel against their leaders’ refusal to accept a long-awaited US peace plan that all evidence suggests will further undermine Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

Mr Kushner is apparently unaware that the Palestinian public is expressing its will, for liberation, by protesting at the Gaza fence – and risking execution by Israel for doing so.

Meanwhile, Prince William is due in Israel on Monday, the first British royal to make an official visit since the mandate ended 70 years ago. While Kensington Palace has stressed that the trip is non-political, Prince William will meet both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in an itinerary that has already been claimed by both sides as a victory.

From the vantage point of the Mount of Olives, from which he will view Jerusalem’s Old City, the prince may not quite manage to see the kite battles in Gaza’s skies that underscore who is Goliath and who is David. But he should see enough in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem to understand that western leaders have decisively chosen the side of Goliath.

• First published in The National

Separation and killing of children

President Trump’s cruel policy of separating immigrant children from their parents as they sought asylum here mocked the idea that the US government values families. Unfortunately the US has a long and sad history of separating children from their parents. For example, the US took American-Indian children from their parents and Black slave families were often torn apart.

Fortunately the media provided non-stop coverage of Trump’s latest abomination. In addition, the US public continues to express its outrage about this horrific situation. This public outrage is one of the factors that finally caused Trump to end his appalling policy.

Unfortunately, the media has not provided much coverage of the reasons these immigrant families are leaving everything familiar behind and seeking asylum. The media sometimes mentions the terrifying violence in Central America while ignoring the US role in creating it.

Some US interventions

For example, since early in the twentieth century, the US has frequently intervened in Central and South America in support of US corporate interests. For example, in 1935 US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most highly decorated Marines in US history, wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

In his writing, Butler specifically referred to his service in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras among other places on behalf of Wall Street, US banks and other corporate interests.

The US has continued to intervene in Central and South America, including the overthrow of elected governments. In 1954 the US supported the illegal coup against the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. Perhaps more well known is the US support for the military coup against the democratically-elected Salvador Allende, president of Chile, in 1973 that led to a brutal dictatorship and horrendous human rights abuses.

Skipping over many more interventions, more recently the US quickly recognized the results of a coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya who was not favored by the US. Increasing violence and repression against the Honduran people by the coup government and gangs followed almost immediately and continues today.

Little media coverage of some children’s deaths

Contrast highly warranted public outrage over the separation of families to the relatively little public reaction to the reported large number of extra deaths of Iraqi children during the 1990s. These deaths followed the attack on Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent sanctions. In a 1996 interview, Leslie Stahl asked Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN: “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” The number of deaths reported was likely overestimated but, regardless, Albright’s response is chilling. The sanctions preceded the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq that was even more destructive.

Perhaps this lack of public outrage was partially related to the US media that didn’t provide non-stop coverage of US war crimes similarly to its current coverage of Trump’s sickening and indefensible separations.

Also note the meager media coverage of the killing of children and their families and the US role in these murders in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. Have we as a people become so jaded to the deaths of the other when it is supported by both major political parties? Or is the lack of outrage related to the media’s poor coverage?

In addition, where is the outrage against the illegal siege of and the lethal Israeli attacks on Gaza that are incredibly devastating to the entire Palestinian population in Gaza, particularly to the children? Unfortunately the US media pays little attention to Palestinians, allowing the incredible suffering and the trauma to continue.

Lastly, consider the Israeli treatment of Palestinian children who are forcefully separated from their families and imprisoned where they are often further abused. Rep. Betty McCollum has introduced H.R. 4391 that would stop US support for Israeli abuse of Palestinian children. Encourage your representative to support this bill.

Will the Slaughter in Gaza Finally prick the International Conscience for Firm Action?

“We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do,” David Steel tells the House of Lords.

I’d like to share with you the speech by Steel (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) in a recent House of Lords debate, the motion being ‘That this House takes note of the situation in the Palestinian Territories’. Steel himself opened proceedings with as good a summing-up of the appalling situation as I have heard anywhere.

Here it is word for word from Hansard:

My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset ​declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians — and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.

Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.

In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.

That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.

The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one: “Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of ​Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.

A second clause reads: “Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.

A third reads: “Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.

Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.

But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames hoped that our Foreign Office would “indulge in a little less limp response to the wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”, while Sir Hugo Swire said that “one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

David Steel, son of a Church of Scotland minister, was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1965 and, being only 23, was dubbed  the “Baby of the House”. He wasted no time making his mark and introduced, as a Private Member’s Bill, the Abortion Act 1967. Following the Jeremy Thorpe scandal he became Liberal Party leader until the merger with Labour renegades that formed the Liberal Democrats. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2004 as Baron Steel of Aikwood.

As Steel mentions in his speech, he served for 7 years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a remarkable organisation that “works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees”.

He lives in Aikwood Tower, a Borders fortified house built in 1535 which he painstakingly restored and modernised in the 1990s.

Aikwood Tower or Oakwood Tower (MacGibbon and Ross) Courtesy of Castles of Scotland

 

Will the Slaughter in Gaza Finally prick the International Conscience for Firm Action?

“We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do,” David Steel tells the House of Lords.

I’d like to share with you the speech by Steel (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) in a recent House of Lords debate, the motion being ‘That this House takes note of the situation in the Palestinian Territories’. Steel himself opened proceedings with as good a summing-up of the appalling situation as I have heard anywhere.

Here it is word for word from Hansard:

My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset ​declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians — and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.

Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.

In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.

That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.

The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one: “Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of ​Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.

A second clause reads: “Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.

A third reads: “Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.

Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.

But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames hoped that our Foreign Office would “indulge in a little less limp response to the wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”, while Sir Hugo Swire said that “one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

David Steel, son of a Church of Scotland minister, was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1965 and, being only 23, was dubbed  the “Baby of the House”. He wasted no time making his mark and introduced, as a Private Member’s Bill, the Abortion Act 1967. Following the Jeremy Thorpe scandal he became Liberal Party leader until the merger with Labour renegades that formed the Liberal Democrats. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2004 as Baron Steel of Aikwood.

As Steel mentions in his speech, he served for 7 years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a remarkable organisation that “works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees”.

He lives in Aikwood Tower, a Borders fortified house built in 1535 which he painstakingly restored and modernised in the 1990s.

Aikwood Tower or Oakwood Tower (MacGibbon and Ross) Courtesy of Castles of Scotland

 

Necessity to Expose Israel’s Self-indictments in Gaza Protests

In May 2018 Gaza demonstrations, by its arrogant and aggressive stance toward legitimate demands of a people it has oppressed for decades, Israel indicted itself several times, validated Palestinian actions, and exposed its tyrannical manner. Translating Israel’s self-indictments to actions by the world community is an obligatory challenge for those who comprehend Israel’s oppressive policies.

One self-indictment

Israel’s effort to divert attention from its oppression by posing the protests as Hamas instigated and orchestrated. Kudos to an authority that coalesces a subjugated people and enables vocalization of legitimate demands to their oppressor. The Israeli government showed that Hamas is a well-organized authority, which has support of the Palestinian people, and by not engaging with this recognized authority, Israel deliberately closes all avenues to a peaceful resolution of the crises it has caused.

Regardless of who organized the demonstrations, the Gazans had legitimate demands to which any democratic government would respond with “we hear your words, and will make amends.” Israel replied with bullets, killing and wounding harmless demonstrators, causing more grief, and instilling more fear. Dubiously claiming that most of the casualties were Hamas militants is another self-indictment. Does Israel have the right to maim anyone it does not like?

History explains the demands of the Gazan Palestinians

Coastal territory awarded to the Palestinians in the United Nations Partition Plan extended to Ashdod, 38 kilometers above Gaza. Contrary to Israel’s claim of being attacked in the 1948 war, the Egyptian army tried to protect the Palestinian state and refrained from entering into territory awarded to the Jewish state. Egypt’s army stopped at Ashdod, crossed the Negev, proceeded to defend Beer Sheeva, which had also been awarded to a Palestinian state, and continued through Palestinian territory to safeguard Hebron. The Egyptian army did not try to occupy territory awarded to Ben Gurion’s government. Regard Al-Majdal, one of many towns in Palestinian territory, captured by Israel.

In August 1950, Israel expelled and trucked Al-Majdal’s 1000-2000 inhabitants to Gaza. According to Eyal Kafkafi (1998): “Segregation or integration of the Israeli Arabs – two concepts in Mapai.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 30: 347-367, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan promoted the expulsion, while Pinhas Lavon, secretary-general of the Histadrut, “wished to turn the town into a productive example of equal opportunity for the Arabs.” The Egyptian-Israel Mixed Armistice Commission ruling that the Arabs transferred from Al-Majdal should be returned to Israel was never fulfilled. Why?

The nightmares for the residents from the ethnically cleansed Palestinian Al-Majdahl, Beit Daras, Falujah, Isdud, Qastina, Hamameh, and other villages did not end with their arduous trips to Gaza; ethnic cleansing was an initial step before wholesale theft of property and valuables. Two hundred thousand Palestinians were pushed into Gaza to live in tents, sleep on ground, and exist from aid by Quaker organizations and wages from subservient labor. Internment in refugee camps, brutal occupation, military raids, destruction of facilities, destruction of crops and arable lands, prevention of fishing rights, denial of livelihood, and denial of access to the outside world continue to punish the Gazans without an end.

After the Oslo accords, Israel constructed a 60-kilometer fence around the Gaza Strip. Later, Israel destroyed Gaza’s only airport. After removing illegal Israeli settlers from Gaza, who were mainly there to give Israel an excuse for its military presence, infiltration by Israeli forces into Gaza continued. Several wars caused thousands of Palestinian casualties and immense infrastructure destruction. The lives of the surviving displaced and their descendants evolved from being wards of the United Nations to virtual imprisonment in an overly crowded environment.

Another self-indictment

Because Israel has no defined borders, and the land from which most Gazans originated was awarded to the Palestinian state in the 1947 Partition Plan that Israel accepted, the Palestinians would not be entering Israeli territory but their own legal lands.

Israel’s Supreme Court reinforces this proposition, and provides another self-indictment

Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove their families lived in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 can claim ownership rights to property.

One, of many examples ─ in 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Jewish person as owner of a house occupied by the Palestinian Shamasneh family for 50 years.

Tens of thousands of Gazans, who have legal deeds, did not flee but were forcibly removed from their homes. Under the deceptive Israel law that has denied Palestinians legal grievances, those who stole the homes are allowed tenant status, but do not the Palestinians still own the properties? When the court self-indicts itself, what is left for justice?

The casualties in Gaza 2018, reported by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 118 dead and 13,190 wounded as of May 25, 2018, should be remembered as heroes who protested against oppression, and for human rights, human dignity, and social justice. It will be tragic, as has happened too many times, if their struggle will become a footnote to history. Exposing the self-indictments of Israel shreds the fabric that cloaks oppressive Israel from an unknowing world.

Psychopathic

Fadi Hassan Abu Salah, killed by Israeli sniper on May 14, 2018 in Gaza

Psychopathic: (Adjective) Suffering from or constituting a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent behavior.

This is Oxford’s best shot at describing a condition I feel quite comfortable framing within its succinct parameters the State of Israel, the vast majority of its population – if the analysis of Max Blumenthal and Norman Finkelstein mean anything – the disease of Zionism, a highly virulent form of theocratic nationalism, as well as that country’s primary enabler – the greatest purveyor of terror on earth – the United States.

The instantly iconic photograph of Fadi Hassan Abu Salah, a double amputee who lost his legs during an Israeli carpet bombing of the Gaza called Operation Cast Lead in 2008 was murdered by a sniper Monday, May 14th in the context of an Israel now completely unfettered.  From the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 – the forced displacement of Palestinians numbering in the many hundreds of thousands from their homes and homeland marking the genesis of Israel’s blood soaked breech birth – to the present moment, there have been, to be sure, many, many worse slaughters by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and its various precursors, but the non-violent nature of this particular act of Palestinian resistance, The Right of Return, has placed Israel in the untenable absurdity of ascribing kites as lethal weapons of Hamas.

Not that Israel has the least concern for world opinion.  Their psychopathic horrors are salvific in the writ of impunity granted by the United States, an American propaganda machine of stunning homogeneity and the abysmal, ahistoric ignorance of its citizenry – what Henry A. Giroux aptly refers to as a culture of manufactured illiteracy.  Genocide plays well here as it mirrors the white, western European, Christian bedrock of America’s own DNA.  Forget about the living wake of Reaganomics. America is still sheep dipped in the tragic misery of 15th century papal bulls.

How else to explain the spectacle of an indeed feckless heiress cum garmento Ivanka Trump and her ne’er-do-well moron of a husband Jared Kushner partying in Jerusalem on the site of our new embassy at the very moment 60-plus unarmed Palestinian men, women and children were being gassed and mowed down by bunkered IDF snipers less than 40 miles from the festivities.  It would be bad fiction were it not true.

And where in aggregate, exactly, is the hue and cry of the progressive Jewish diaspora outside the confines of Pacifica Radio?  Nowhere.  While I’m of the mind that all organized religion is poison, to the extent there is anything redemptive in the tenets of Judaism I would think gaggles of observant American Jewry would be falling over themselves to point out in ear splitting decibels and in the most public of ways the malign injury beyond reckoning or repair perpetrated by Zionism on one of the earth’s greatest and venerable faiths.  But no.  Fucking crickets.  Jewish Voice for Peace?  Well, bless Rebecca Vilkomerson, the organization’s Executive Director.  She gets high grades for effort but in the end her message strikes me as tepid, like an AA member telling a raging alcoholic they’ll be there when they’re ready.  Where is the bottom for American Jews?

All I do hear is fearful malevolence and psychopathy from the oxygen starved brains of barking chows Nikki Haley at the U.N. and Fox News host turned State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert – a clone of her Obama era predecessors Jen Psaki and Marie Harf.  John Kelly, John Bolton, Fred Fleitz, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman . . . . where do we grow psychopaths of such timeless uniformity, I wonder?  At the finest colleges to be sure.  Only the best and the brightest have brought us to this moment.

When Guatemala and Paraguay are the only countries in a “coalition of the willing” to join the United States in opening embassies in Jerusalem, you know America is alone in the world and absolutely collapsing as a global empire.  All we have left are tech companies that have made the inane ubiquitous, the closely related export of death and an increasingly shaky petro-dollar.

When all one hears is the ceaseless din of an utterly seamless merger of media on the left and the right bloviating preposterous Russophobic bullshit amidst a welter of false flag chemical attacks from Syria to Britain that are debunked as fast as they occur – but not by the voices on the left who should know better – then the writing, as they say, is on the wall.

In the meantime, every day, clearly identified Palestinian healthcare workers armed with cotton balls and saline are targeted like 21 year old paramedic Razan al-Najjar who had her heart blown out through her back 100 yards from an IDF rampart Friday, June 1st, followed by her cousin Ramzi al-Najjar on Monday. Canadian Palestinian Dr. Tarek Loubani, journalists like Ahmed Abu Hussein and Yaser Murtaja continue to be scoped and then murdered or crippled in the largest open air prison on earth with a reckless abandonment by psychotic Zionists at a level of carnage approaching what Hindu nationalists have been perpetrating on Muslims, dalits, tribals and women in general throughout India for decades.  Yet another predominant genocidal theocracy with roots in Nazism and caste given to rape, hacking and immolation that make death by a clean bullet in the Gazan dirt seem like a blessing.  But then, no one but Arundhati Roy is talking about that and it is, admittedly, bad form to compare atrocities.  Most especially when the bullets aren’t clean.

IDF snipers are using what used to be referred to in 1980’s as “cop killers” or “dum-dum” bullets.  These iterations on a grisly theme mushroom and fragment upon impact to maximize the internal carnage, exiting the body through a hole the size of a fist. They’re now referred to as “butterfly bullets”.  Splendid marketing largely under-appreciated by the 123 dead and the amputees among 13,700 injured since March 30th.

The 70 year genocide of Palestinians by the State of Israel is psychopathic.  It is not a conflict.  It is genocide.

The 11 year Israeli blockade of Gaza by air, sea and land is psychopathic.

America’s support of the apartheid State of Israel through our media, billions in military hardware and United Nations obstruction is psychopathic.

Indifference is complicity and, yes, psychopathic.

As language becomes a weaponized virus unhinged from historical precedence and critical thought, precision becomes imperative to call things by their proper name.  We are all of us in the cold embrace of psychopaths.  The prisoners of Gaza and the West Bank know this.  So should we.