Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Occupied Palestine: From BDS To ODS

We spent the last week in Occupied Palestinian Territory, commonly referred to as Israel, where we traveled around the country to visit communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Bethlehem, the West Bank, the Nagab, and more.

We call Israel Occupied Palestine because it is not just the West Bank and Gaza that are occupied, but all of historic Palestine, the entire Palestinian nation. Palestinian people do not have equal rights and their communities are constantly encroached upon by settlers pushing them into small, crowded areas. The mistreatment of Palestinians happens right before the eyes of the Israeli Jews. If they do not see it, it is either because they do not want to see it or because they are encouraged not to see it. Just as Jim Crow racism was evident to all in the southern states of the US, apartheid in Palestine is obvious.

This visit deepened our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement because we saw modern apartheid, Jim Crow-segregation laws, ongoing land theft, and ethnic cleansing. For example, we were in Jerusalem when a squadron of fighter jets flew over our heads to bomb the open-air prison of Gaza killing more than 30 people. The Israeli people, media and politicians applauded that, displaying a sickness that runs deep in this colonized land founded on theft, terrorism, and violence.

To end the colonization, there is great hope of developing a movement for the creation of One Democratic State (ODS). This is being organized by a large group of Palestinians and Jews as the formation of two separate states is impossible. ODS envisions a universally equal and democratic nation where minority communities are protected and every person can vote. ODS is the first step to the decolonization and healing of Palestine.

Aida Refugee Camp (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

Correcting The Record

Palestinians are disenfranchised:  Occupied Palestine is called a liberal democracy. In reality, while Palestinians are the majority, most of them can’t vote. Out of a total population of twelve million people, five million Jews can vote and five million Palestinians can’t. The remaining two million Palestinians who live in “The 48,” the land between the West Bank and Gaza, can vote but often boycott elections in protest. The dominant parties all support anti-Palestinian policies.

Sign entering Area A, Israeli Citizens Forbidden.

Palestine has hyper-segregation: Palestine can only be described as a modern apartheid state with updated Jim Crow laws. We drove on Jewish-only roads where the color of a person’s license plate determines if they can use the road. There are military checkpoints along these roads. Palestinians are often forced to take long detours to get around the segregated roads and walls. Many Jews never meet a Palestinian because their lives are so segregated.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Occupied Palestine was divided into Areas A, B and C. We visited Bethlehem, classified as Area A, where a sign upon entry warns it is against the law for Israeli-citizens to enter. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority (PA) serves as police and can arrest Israeli-Jews and turn them over to Israeli-police. In Area B, both the PA and Israeli-police have power. And, in Area C, the majority of the country, only the Israeli-police have authority.

Land Theft Against Palestinians Continues: People are often told that no one lived here before 1948 when the occupation of the area by Jewish settlers began. This massive land theft continues today. Although the German Holocaust is used to justify this, the Zionist project began well before then.

Jaffa, above, as depicted by Gutman, and, below, as the crowded Arab city that actually existed (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

This false picture is depicted by the well-known Zionist artist Nahum Gutman. His famous painting of the major Arab city of Jaffa showed only sand dunes and a few buildings where hundreds of houses stood. Today Sir Charles Clore Park covers the remains of this section of the city. Similar tactics have hidden thousands of Palestinian villages that existed before “The Nakba” in 1948.

Jaffa was an important Arab port city with a population of 90,000 before 1948 that served as an entry point into Jerusalem and beyond. The first Jewish neighborhoods were built there in the late 19th Century. Tel Aviv, the first Jewish-governed city, began in the early 20th century as a suburb of Jaffa. More than ninety-five percent of the population of Jaffa was expelled by Zionist militias in 1948 and beyond. The remaining residents were confined to an area under guard and forced to operate the port. Between 1947 and 1949, the Nakba terrorized Palestinians and forced 800,000 to flee their homes. The Absentee Property Law was used to seize the homes of those who fled.

Zionist settlers continue encroaching on land in Palestinian neighborhoods. In the historic walled city of Old Jerusalem, they come up from underground tunnels to seize homes in the Palestinian quadrant and put them under armed guards. In Palestinian East Jerusalem, Zionists continue to confiscate houses and land, pushing Palestinians to the other side of the segregation wall where they are crowded into areas without city services. Similar forced urbanization and crowding is occurring throughout Palestine. Gaza is perhaps the most severe example of this. Over the last 50 years, the Israeli government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 settlers to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in at least 160 settlements and outposts.

In the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, this land annexation has made a two-state solution physically impossible. The combination of hundreds of thousands of settlers, Jewish-only roads plus the Expansion (or Annexation) Wall that divides Palestinian communities, and more than 200 checkpoints have severely restricted movement for Palestinians and seized 78% of their country.

A banner hanging in Mea Shearim, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Judaism is not Zionism: In the 1880s, Palestinian Jews amounted to three percent of the total population. They were apolitical and did not aspire to build a Jewish state. We met with Rabbi Meir Hirsch in the Mea Sharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. This tightly-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood has signs posted on the walls that say: ‘A Jew Not a Zionist,’ ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good.’

Hirsch’s family came to Palestine 150 years ago from Russia. His people came to better worship God, not to take land from Palestinians. Hirsch told us about Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch Jew who worked to prevent the 1917 Balfour Declaration and almost succeeded. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government, announced support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. De Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities. His murder led to the Neturei Karta movement, which resists Zionism to this day.

Hirsch views Zionism as contradictory to the Jewish religion. His community believes the Torah does not allow Jewish sovereignty of any kind over the Holy Land and those who want to live there must have the approval of the native Palestinian people. Hirsch says that ultra-Orthodox Jews “want to see the end of the Zionist tragedy and the restoration of peace to the Middle East.”  His views counter those who claim criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic as, he says, “Judaism and Zionism are as foreign to each other as day and night, good and evil.”

Graffiti made by the graffiti artist Banksy is seen on Israel’s Separation Wall in Abu Dis on August 6, 2005. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

One Democratic State

There is a positive path to resolving the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. The path comes from the movement for One Democratic State, which envisions a genuinely just and workable political agreement developed by Palestinians and Jews together.

There has been a marked decline in support for a two-state solution. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research from September 11-14, 2019 found only 42% of Palestinians now support the two-state solution. When President Netanyahu entered office a decade ago, that figure was 70%. Similarly, fewer than half of the Jews now support a two-state solution. Further, 63% of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of the settlements and 83% support the local and international boycott (BDS) movement against Israel.

We met separately with two leaders of this campaign, Awad Abdelfattah, a founder of the Arab Balad Party, and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian. Along with many others in the ODS campaign, they seek a multicultural and constitutional democracy in which all people enjoy a common citizenship, a common parliament, and equal civil rights, with constitutional protection granted to national, ethnic and religious views. ODS means equal rights for Palestinians and protection of the rights of Jews.

Their vision includes making the Palestinian ‘right of return’ a reality. Palestinian homes and communities were demolished years ago. According to the Palestinian geographer Salman Abu-Sitta, 85% of Palestinian lands taken in 1948 are still available for resettlement. While more than 530 villages, towns, and urban areas were systematically demolished, their agricultural lands still exist. Other lands lie under public parks and forests. Refugees could actually return, if not to their former homes, at least to the parts of the country where they originated. Palestinian planners could design modern communities for refugees and their descendants in the areas they left with new communities and economic infrastructure that is integrated with other segments of the society. Land redistribution, financial compensation, and equal access to education, training and the economy would enable refugees, like other Palestinians, to achieve economic parity with Jews within a fairly short time.

For Jews, their security will increase by providing constitutional protection of their collective rights. While structures of privilege and domination would be dismantled, the “collective rights” of groups to maintain their community in the framework of a multi-cultural democracy (e.g., communities of ethnic Russians, African asylum-seekers, foreign workers, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, and others) give Jews the collective security they need.

ODS views the establishment of a just and working state as requiring: decolonization, restoration, and reconciliation. Decolonization includes ending economic, cultural, political, and legal domination. This means building an egalitarian, inclusive and sustainable society that restores the rights, properties (actual or through compensation), identities and social position of those expelled, excluded and oppressed. This is followed by reconciliation to confront the still-open wounds of the Nakba and the Occupation, and the suffering they have caused.

While the view may sound Utopian to some, in fact, it is the practical path out of the current disaster of Occupied Palestine. Palestine is already one nation. The issue is whether it will be a democratic state with equal rights for all citizens that dismantles the apartheid system or whether it will remain an undemocratic and unequal settler-colonial nation.

We titled this article “BDS to ODS” because while this solution must come from the Palestinian people, along with Jews, people in the United States and throughout the world who support peace and justice have an important role to play through the growing BDS campaign to pressure Israel into accepting ODS. This struggle will be won through solidarity between popular movements inside and outside Occupied Palestine.

We encourage you to visit Occupied Palestine to see and learn for yourself. If you visit Jerusalem, be sure to take the tour offered by Grassroots Jerusalem. They also offer a guide to Palestinian places to stay, shop and eat. Zochrot is an organization that also offers tours and resources about the Nakba. If you are interested in direct service, you can volunteer to assist with the olive harvest or volunteer in places such as the Aida Refugee Camp. They need all sorts of volunteers, especially those who can provide instruction to children in music and arts. Visit Volunteer Palestine to see the many opportunities available.

Israeli Zionist Racism Unmasked

Imagine if following the recent federal election in Canada, where the Liberal Party was left with a minority government, that prime minister Justin Trudeau had stated, “We are facing an emergency that is unprecedented in the history of Canada.”

Why?

Imagine that Trudeau explained that “setting up a government that depends on the First Nation parties is an even bigger disaster. It’s a historic danger to Canada’s security. It will gravely hurt the security of Canada.”

Would that be acceptable for most Canadians?

Granted there is no official First Nations party in Canada, but such a situation could exist. This is a hypothetical situation posed to highlight the situation faced by indigenous Palestinians in Israel.

Or let’s flip it to the United States context.

Imagine if following the upcoming 2020 US election that some third-party Black candidates were to be elected leaving both Democrats and Republicans forced to try and form a minority government. Imagine if the president Donald Trump were to say, “We are facing an emergency that is unprecedented in the history of the United States.”

Because, said Trump, “Setting up a government that depends on the Black parties is an even bigger disaster. It’s a historic danger to America’s security. It will gravely hurt the security of America.”

Would that be acceptable for most Americans?

Supporters of an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, charged with manslaughter after he shot a wounded Palestinian alleged attacker as he lay on the ground in Hebron in 2016 — Reuters

How then should people consider the similar situation in which Zionist Jews view Palestinians in Israel?

Because this is how Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded about the possibility that his opponent Benny Gantz will establish a minority government backed by Arab lawmakers: “We are facing an emergency that is unprecedented in the history of the State of Israel.”

“[S]etting up a government that depends on the Arab parties is an even bigger disaster. It’s a historic danger to Israel’s security. It will gravely hurt the security of Israel,” said Netanyahu.1

Should that be acceptable to anyone inside or outside Israel?

Why is there any doubt that Israeli Zionism is racist at its core? How is it that western governments staunchly support Israel and demonize the victims of Israeli occupation, oppression, and racism?

*****

  1. For more on Zionist Israeli Racism read Kim Petersen and BJ Sabri, “Defining Israeli Zionist Racism,” Dissident Voice, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.
  2. David Sheen, “Black lives do not matter in Israel,” Aljazeera, 29 March 2018.
  1. See Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu Warns of ‘Unprecedented Emergency’ if Gantz Forms Government Backed by Arab Party,” Haaretz, 16 November 2019.

How Western Media Bias Allows Israel to Getaway with Murder in Gaza

An Israeli attack on Gaza was imminent, and not because of any provocations by Palestinian groups in the besieged, impoverished Gaza Strip. The Israeli military escalation was foreseeable because it factors neatly in Israel’s contentious political scene. The war was not a question of “if”, but “when”.

The answer came on November 12, when the Israeli military launched a major strike against Gaza, killing an Islamic Jihad Commander, Bahaa Abu al-Ata, along with his wife Asma.

More strikes followed, targeting what the Israeli military described as Islamic Jihad installations. However, the identities of the victims, along with damning social media footage, pictures, and eyewitness accounts indicate that civilians and civilian infrastructure were bombed and destroyed as well.

As of November 14, when a truce was announced, 32 Palestinians have been killed and over 80 wounded in the Israeli aggression.

What truly frustrates any meaningful discussion on the horrific situation in Gaza is the feeble response, whether by international organizations that exist with the sole purpose of ensuring world peace or by Western monopoly media, that ceaselessly celebrates its own accuracy and impartiality.

A most disappointing response to the Israeli violence was offered by Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Mladenov, whose job should have long been deemed pointless considering that no “peace process” actually exists, expressed his “concern” about the “ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel”.

Not only Mladenov’s statement creates a moral equivalence between an occupying power, which instigated the war in the first place, and a small group of a few hundred armed men, it is also dishonest.

“The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centres is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately,” Mladenov elaborated, putting great emphasis on the fact that, “there can be no justification for any attacks against civilians”.

Shockingly, Mladenov was referring to Israeli, not Palestinian civilians. At the time that his statement was released to the media, there were already dozens of Palestinian civilians that had been killed and wounded, while Israeli media reports spoke of few Israelis who had been treated for “anxiety”.

The European Union did not fare any better. The EU parroted the same American knee-jerk response by condemning “the barrage of rocket attacks reaching deep into Israel”.

“The firing of rockets on civilian populations is totally unacceptable and must immediately stop,” a statement by the European bloc read.

Is it not possible that Mladenov and top EU foreign policymakers do not truly comprehend the political context of the latest Israeli onslaught — that embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using military escalation as a way of fortifying his weakening grip on power.

Considering this, what is one to make of the poor media coverage, the inept analyses and the absence of balanced reports in major Western news media?

In a report published by the BBC on November 13, the British broadcaster referred to “cross-border violence between Israel and militants in Gaza”.

But Gaza is not an independent country and, per international law, it is still under Israeli occupation. Israel declared Gaza a “hostile territory” in September 2007, arbitrarily establishing a “border” between it and the besieged Palestinian territory. For some reason, the BBC finds this designation acceptable.

CNN, on the other hand, reported on November 13 that “Israel’s military campaign against Islamic Jihad” is entering its second day, while emphasizing the UN condemnation of the rocket attacks.

CNN, like most of its American corporate counterparts, reports on Israeli military campaigns as a part and parcel of some imagined “war on terror”. Therefore, analyzing the language of US mainstream media with the purpose of underlining and emphasizing its failures and biases, is a useless exercise.

Sadly, US bias regarding Palestine has extended to mainstream media in European countries that were, to some degree, fairer, if not somewhat sympathetic, with the Palestinian peoples’ situation.

El Mundo of Spain, for example, spoke of a number of Palestinians — making sure to emphasize that they were “mostly militants”, — who “died” as opposed to “were killed” by the Israeli military.

“The escalation followed the death of Gaza’s armed branch leader,” El Mundo reported, failing once more to pinpoint the culprits in these seemingly mysterious deaths.

La Repubblica, which is perceived in Italy as a “leftist” outlet, sounded more like a right-wing Israeli newspaper, in its description of the events that led to the death and wounding of many Palestinians. The Italian newspaper used a fabricated timeline that only exists in the mind of Israeli military and decision-makers.

“Violence continued. Several rockets were thrown towards Israel by Gaza’s Islamic Jihad (militants), breaking the brief truce, according to (right-wing Israeli newspaper) The Jerusalem Post and to the Israeli army”.

It remains unclear what “truce” La Repubblica was referring to.

France’s Le Monde followed suit, reporting the same deceptive and cliched Israeli lines and emphasizing statements by the Israeli military and government. Interestingly, the death and wounding of many Palestinians in Gaza did not deserve a place on the French newspaper’s homepage. Instead, it chose to highlight a comparatively irrelevant news item where Israel denounced the labeling of illegal settlement products as “discriminatory”.

Maybe, one could have excused these across-the-board journalistic and moral failings if it were not for the fact that the Gaza story has been one of the most covered news topics anywhere in the world for over a decade.

It is obvious that the West’s “newspapers of record” have maintained their blindspot on fairly reporting on Gaza and intentionally kept the truth from their readers for many years so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Israeli government and its powerful allies and lobbies.

While one cannot help but bemoan the death of good journalism in the West, it is also important to acknowledge with much appreciation the courage and sacrifices of Gaza’s young journalists and bloggers who, at times, are targeted and killed by the Israeli army for conveying the truth on the plight of the besieged but tenacious Strip.

A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons Behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri

The release on November 6 of two Jordanian nationals, Heba al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Mi’ri from Israeli prisons was a bittersweet moment. The pair were finally reunited with their families after harrowing experiences in Israel. Sadly, thousands of Palestinian prisoners are still denied their freedom, still subjected to all sorts of hardships at the hands of their Israeli jailers.

Despite the jubilant return of the two prisoners, celebrated in Jordan, Palestine and throughout the Arab world, several compelling questions remain unanswered: why were they held in the first place? Why were they released and what can their experience teach Palestinians under Israeli occupation?

Throughout the whole ordeal, Israel failed to produce any evidence to indict Labadi and Mi’ri for any wrongdoing. In fact, it was this lack of evidence that made Israel hold the two Jordanian nationals in Administrative Detention, without any judicial process whatsoever.

Oddly, days before the release of the two Jordanians, an official Israeli government statement praised the special relationship between Amman and Tel Aviv, describing it as “a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East”.

The reality is that the relationship between the two countries has hit rock bottom in recent years, especially following US President Donald Trump’s advent to the White House and the subsequent, systematic dismantling of the “peace process” by Trump and the Israeli government.

Not only did Washington and Tel Aviv demolish the region’s political status quo, one in which Jordan featured as a key player, top US diplomats also tried to barter with King Abdullah II so that Jordan would settle millions of Palestinian refugees in the country in exchange for large sums of money.

Jordan vehemently rejected US offers and attempts at isolating the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

On October 21, 2018, Jordan went even further by rejecting an Israeli offer to renew a 25-year lease on two enclaves in the Jordan Valley, Al-Baqura and Al-Ghamar. The government’s decision was a response to protests by Jordanians and elected parliamentarians, who insist on Jordan’s complete sovereignty over all of its territories.

This particular issue goes back years. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. An additional annex in the treaty allowed Israel to lease part of the Jordan Valley for 25 years. A quarter of a century later, the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty failed to achieve any degree of meaningful normalization between both countries, especially as neighboring Palestine remains under Israeli occupation. The stumbling block of that coveted normalization was – and remains – the Jordanian people, who strongly rejected a renewed Israeli lease over Jordanian territories.

Israeli negotiators must have been surprised by Jordan’s refusal to accommodate Israeli interests. With the US removing itself, at least publicly, from the brewing conflict, Israel resorted to its typical bullying by holding two Jordanians hostage, hoping to force the government to reconsider its decision regarding the Jordan Valley.

The Israeli strategy backfired. The arrest of Labadi – who started a hunger strike that lasted for over 40 days –  and Mi’ri, a cancer survivor, was a major PR disaster for Israel. Not only did the tactic fail to deliver any results, it further galvanized the Jordanian people and government regarding the decision to reclaim Al-Baqura and al-Ghamar.

Labadi and Mi’ri were released on November 6. The following day, the Jordanian government informed Israel that its farmers will be banned from entering Al-Baqura area. This way, Jordan retrieved its citizens and its territories within the course of 24 hours.

Three main reasons allowed Jordan to prevail in its confrontation with Israel. First, the steadfastness of the prisoners themselves; second, the unity and mobilization of the Jordanian street, civil society organizations and elected legislators; and third, the Jordanian government responding positively to the unified voice of the street.

This compels the question: what is the Palestinian strategy regarding the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held unlawfully in Israel?

While the prisoners themselves continue to serve as a model of unity and courage, the other factors fundamental to any meaningful strategy aimed at releasing all Palestinian prisoners remain absent.

Although factionalism continues to undermine the Palestinian fight for freedom, prisoners are fighting the same common enemy. The famed “National Conciliation Document”, composed by the unified leadership of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in 2006, is considered the most articulate vision for Palestinian unity and liberation.

For ordinary Palestinians, the prisoners remain an emotive subject, but political disunity is making it nearly impossible for the energies of the Palestinian street to be harnessed in a politically meaningful way. Despite much lip service paid to freeing the prisoners, efforts aimed at achieving this goal are hopelessly splintered and agonizingly factionalized.

As for the Palestinian leadership, the strategy championed by Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is more focused on propping up Abbas’ own image than alleviating the suffering of the prisoners and their families. Brazenly, Abbas exploits the emotional aspect of the prisoners’ tragedy to gain political capital, while punishing the families of Palestinian prisoners in order to pursue his own self-serving political agenda.

“Even if I had only one penny, I would’ve given it to the families of the martyrs, prisoners and heroes,” Abbas said in a theatrical way during his United Nations General Assembly speech last September.

Abbas, of course, has more than one penny. In fact, he has withheld badly needed funds from the families of the “martyrs, prisoners and heroes.” On April 2018, Abbas cut the salaries of government employees in Gaza, along with the money received by the families of Gaza prisoners held inside Israeli jails.

Heba al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Mi’ri were released because of their own resolve, coupled with strong solidarity exhibited by ordinary Jordanians. These two factors allowed the Jordanian government to publicly challenge Israel, leading to the unconditional release of the two Jordanian prisoners.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including 500 administrative detainees continue to languish in Israeli prisons. Without united and sustained popular, non-factional mobilization, along with the full backing of the Palestinian leadership, the prisoners are likely to carry on with their fight, alone and unaided.

Israel is silencing the last voices trying to prevent abuse of Palestinians

It has been a week of appalling abuses committed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank – little different from the other 2,670 weeks endured by Palestinians since the occupation began in 1967.

The difference this past week was that several entirely unexceptional human rights violations that had been caught on film went viral on social media.

One shows a Palestinian father in the West Bank city of Hebron leading his son by the hand to kindergarten. The pair are stopped by two heavily armed soldiers, there to help enforce the rule of a few hundred illegal Jewish settlers over the city’s Palestinian population.

The soldiers scream at the father, repeatedly and violently push him and then grab his throat as they accuse his small son of throwing stones. As the father tries to shield his son from the frightening confrontation, one soldier pulls out his rifle and sticks it in the father’s face.

It is a minor incident by the standards of Israel’s long-running belligerent occupation. But it powerfully symbolises the unpredictable, humiliating, terrifying and sometimes deadly experiences faced daily by millions of Palestinians.

A video of another such incident emerged last week. A Palestinian man is ordered to leave an area by an armed Israeli policewoman. He turns and walks slowly away, his hands in the air. Moments later she shoots a sponge-tipped bullet into his back. He falls to the ground, writhing in agony.

It is unclear whether the man was being used for target practice or simply for entertainment.

The reason such abuses are so commonplace is that they are almost never investigated – and even less often are those responsible punished.

It is not simply that Israeli soldiers become inured to the suffering they inflict on Palestinians daily. It is the soldiers’ very duty to crush the Palestinians’ will for freedom, to leave them utterly hopeless. That is what is required of an army policing a population permanently under occupation.

The message is only underscored by the impunity the soldiers enjoy. Whatever they do, they have the backing not only of their commanders but of the government and courts.

Just that point was underlined late last month. An unnamed Israeli army sniper was convicted of shooting dead a 14-year-old boy in Gaza last year. The Palestinian child had been participating in one of the weekly protests at the perimeter fence.

Such trials and convictions are a great rarity. Despite damning evidence showing that Uthman Hillis was shot in the chest with a live round while posing no threat, the court sentenced the sniper to the equivalent of a month’s community service.

In Israel’s warped scales of justice, the cost of a Palestinian child’s life amounts to no more than a month of extra kitchen duties for his killer.

But the overwhelming majority of the 220 Palestinian deaths at the Gaza fence over the past 20 months will never be investigated. Nor will the wounding of tens of thousands more Palestinians, many of them now permanently disabled.

There is an equally disturbing trend. The Israeli public have become so used to seeing YouTube videos of soldiers – their sons and daughters – abuse Palestinians that they now automatically come to the soldiers’ defence, however egregious the abuses.

The video of the father and son threatened in Hebron elicited few denunciations. Most Israelis rallied behind the soldiers. Amos Harel, a military analyst for the liberal Haaretz newspaper, observed that an “irreversible process” was under way among Israelis: “The soldiers are pure and any criticism of them is completely forbidden.”

When the Israeli state offers impunity to its soldiers, the only deterrence is the knowledge that such abuses are being monitored and recorded for posterity – and that one day these soldiers may face real accountability, in a trial for war crimes.

But Israel is working hard to shut down those doing the investigating – human rights groups.

For many years Israel has been denying United Nations monitors – including international law experts like Richard Falk and Michael Lynk – entry to the occupied territories in a blatant bid to stymie their human rights work.

Last week Human Rights Watch, headquartered in New York, also felt the backlash. The Israeli supreme court approved the deportation of Omar Shakir, its Israel-Palestine director.

Before his appointment by HRW, Mr Shakir had called for a boycott of the businesses in illegal Jewish settlements. The judges accepted the state’s argument: he broke Israeli legislation that treats Israel and the settlements as indistinguishable and forbids support for any kind of boycott.

But Mr Shakir rightly understands that the main reason Israel needs soldiers in the West Bank – and has kept them there oppressing Palestinians for more than half a century – is to protect settlers who were sent there in violation of international law.

The collective punishment of Palestinians, such as restrictions on movement and the theft of resources, was inevitable the moment Israel moved the first settlers into the West Bank. That is precisely why it is a war crime for a state to transfer its population into occupied territory.

But Mr Shakir had no hope of a fair hearing. One of the three judges in his case, Noam Sohlberg, is himself just such a lawbreaker. He lives in Alon Shvut, a settlement near Hebron.

Israel’s treatment of Mr Shakir is part of a pattern. In recent days other human rights groups have faced the brunt of Israel’s vindictiveness.

Laith Abu Zeyad, a Palestinian field worker for Amnesty International, was recently issued a travel ban, denying him the right to attend a relative’s funeral in Jordan. Earlier he was refused the right to accompany his mother for chemotherapy in occupied East Jerusalem.

And last week Arif Daraghmeh, a Palestinian field worker for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, was seized at a checkpoint and questioned about his photographing of the army’s handling of Palestinian protests. Mr Daraghmeh had to be taken to hospital after being forced to wait in the sun.

It is a sign of Israel’s overweening confidence in its own impunity that it so openly violates the rights of those whose job it is to monitor human rights.

Palestinians, meanwhile, are rapidly losing the very last voices prepared to stand up and defend them against the systematic abuses associated with Israel’s occupation. Unless reversed, the outcome is preordained: the rule of the settlers and soldiers will grow ever more ruthless, the repression ever more ugly.

• First published in The National

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the Israel authorities are losing patience with the Bedouin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in The National

Israeli police “turning a blind eye to killing spree”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towns turn lawless

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

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

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

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

Ties to criminals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Very violent society’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brutal policing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government incitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live ammunition

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

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

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

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

Demand for equal treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More police stations

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

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

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

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

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

‘Destroyed from within’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fight against terror’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye

An Outside View from the Palestinian Camps of Lebanon raises Troubling Questions

Every time I return from visiting Palestinian refugee camps dispersed throughout Lebanon, I’m haunted by the monumental suffering that has been systematically imposed on the twelve million Palestinians. There are between 5-6 million Palestinians in exile, and 6 million under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Whether they live in historic Palestine or among the exiled diaspora in Lebanon and beyond, the level of discrimination Palestinians experience on a daily basis is relentless. In this proxy ‘war on terror’ tearing apart several Middle Eastern countries; whether identified as an eschatological ‘last days’ scenario or viewed as a competitive agenda of dominance over land and resources, the Palestinian people are the primary victims.

Exodus from Palestine 1948

Palestinians have suffered massacres and ethnic cleansing beginning with the events of the 1948 apocalyptic catastrophe (Nakba), when more than 750,000 were expelled from their homes. During the succeeding years Palestinians have known further massacres (Jenin 2002), and death, injury and imprisonment within the West Bank. Exiled Palestinians in Lebanon later fled the destruction of the refugee camps including Tel al-Zataar (1976) only to take sanctuary in Sabra/Shatila where many faced the massacre in 1982. In 1985 the war of the camps Sabra/Shatila and Bourj Barajneh, Palestinians again became victims. Palestinians were victims, alongside their Lebanese neighbours during the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon; a year later they suffered during the siege and bombing of Nahr Al-Bared Camp, (2007) when fourteen members of the Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group fleeing the Lebanese Army, took the camp hostage. The extremists escaped but the entire camp, home to 32,000 refugees, was flattened. Today, more than twelve years later, from a total population of 32,000, only 22,000 Palestinians have been able to return. Many are still living on containers.

Khiam Prison

 

List of people who had been imprisoned at Khiam Prison

The liberation of Khaim Prison in 2000 (photo attached to the ruins)

Current day Palestinian exiles fleeing the war in Syria are also fleeing Islamic extremist groups who infiltrated Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Palestinians in Gaza, under an Israeli controlled siege, have suffered huge military bombardment from the air, sea and land as they struggle to ward off a creeping genocide. The litany of crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians are too numerous to  enumerate in this short article. These targeted attacks and an endemic discrimination that has pursued Palestinians around the globe has continued for more than seven decades. It is a holocaust on a time-scale that shows no sign of ending. In a collective mindset of cognitive dissonance, the irony is that given that Palestinians are of the semitic race, those who speak out about these crimes are frequently labelled as anti-semitic.

Despite what Palestinians have already been through the situation for them in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. Through a complex system of changing laws on residency Palestinians are regularly denied travel documents and the right to work legally. They are specifically denied the right to work in several leading professions such as doctor, teacher, banker, nurse, pharmacist, lawyer and engineer. By identifying Palestinians as foreign they come under the Lebanese law of reciprocity which is impossible to be complied with given that their country of origin is occupied Palestine. In addition Palestinians don’t have the right to own property and in circumstances where a Palestinian refugee has acquired property under earlier laws, the property can now no longer be passed on to their children.

Electric cables in Shatila

Palestinian refugee camps are insecure, overcrowded, unsanitary and with electric cables strung haphazardly in the narrow passages the rate of death by electrocution, of both children and adults, in Shatila Camp alone number around fifty. Sabra/Shatila, situated on the outskirts of downtown Beirut is approximately one kilometre in size. It was designed to accommodate a population of around 800; however, with the influx of Palestinian refugees fleeing earlier massacres in South Lebanon and the current war in Syria, Sabra/Shatila now has a population of around 30,000. At the time of the 1982 massacre, the population was about 80,000 since all the South Lebanon camps were flattened. The same holds true for the twelve refugee camps dispersed around Lebanon. There is no room to accommodate those who are being born or to bury those who die.

An alley in Shatila, Beirut

A year ago Trump withdrew the US share of financial support for UNWRA, the organisation charged with responsibility for the economic well-being of Palestinian refugees. The US contribution to the UNWRA budget was 50%. Saudi Arabia has agreed to pick up the shortfall; however it’s widely believed that acceptance of this money will soon become conditional on Palestinians giving up their legal ‘Right of Return’. This is a Machiavellian choice — feed one’s children or give up one’s lawful right to a homeland in their lost but not forgotten, paradise. Palestinians will be unlikely to accept such an offer since feeding their children today would condemn these children to a life of exile, poverty and statelessness. It’s the hope of returning that has kept them alive.

UNWRA

Lebanon is facing a new dilemma which could indicate a further hardening of opinion against the Palestinian refugees and a strengthening of pro-Zionist forces outside and within Lebanon. With the return from America of one of the Lebanese Zionist Israeli collaborator administrators at the Khiam Detention Centre (1982- 2000), where many Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners were subjected to years of brutal torture, questions are being raised as to whether those who collaborated with Israel in the torture of prisoners should be allowed to return without penalty. Sectarian Lebanon has always had a core of pro-zionist supporters who have historically collaborated with Israel. The prime example of this was the orchestrated massacre of an estimated 3,000  Palestinians in Sabra/Shatila carried out by armed Christian Phalange with Israeli support. No one has ever been held accountable in a court of law for this crime against a defenceless population of women, children and old men. The PLO men of fighting age had agreed to leave Lebanon and go into further exile because they believed the promise made by the International Community that their families would be protected.

Nahr al-Bared Camp after 2007 bombing by Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group, who held the camp hostage

 

Another image of Nahr al-Bared Camp

It’s not possible to look at this injustice without first understanding the role of both Christians and Jews in the eschatological belief system of messianic zionism. Were it not for the support of these evangelical Christian Zionists the initial Jewish Zionist endeavour to claim Palestine as a Jewish State might have been resolved with people of different faiths living together, as was the case within historic Palestine. Christian Zionist supporters hold with the Prophesy that when Jews ‘return’ to the Holy Land (historic Palestine and beyond) and King David’s City and Solomon’s Temple is ‘restored’ in place of the Haram al-Sharif; the Islamic sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the world will enter into a state of final days. Destruction of Islam’s third most holy site would certainly risk plunging the world into a full scale global war. Israel has never defined its borders and Eretz Israel maps Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sinai and parts of Saudi Arabia as its promised land.

(For a full understanding of this complex Christian evangelical movement I would refer the reader to the studies of Stephen Sizer and Don Wagner.) Christian and Jewish Messianic Zionism as a theological and political belief system would not be significant were it not so widely supported within the US establishment and also within several European countries, including the UK. The war with Iraq, John Bolton’s moves toward war with Iran, Trump’s move to place the US Embassy in Jerusalem and his declaration that the Syrian Golan Heights is part of Israel, are all indicative of the strength and power of this movement to propel events in order to bring about this Armageddon ‘last days Prophesy’.

This brings me back to the question of who are the drivers of conflict in the Middle East. Since I am neither a Christian or Jewish messianic zionist I would be amongst those left to face the ‘last days’ in the rivers of blood as foretold in this ‘prophesy’. Were that to be a natural event (or even assuming by ‘God’s’ hand), it would be a tragedy; however, were the event to have been engineered by messianic zealots who are seeking the (first…/or if Christian, the second) coming of the Messiah, such an act would be a war crime of genocidal and epic proportions. Given this possible scenario and the decades-long persecution of the exiled Muslim and Christian Palestinians I’m lost as to the reason why the mainstream Christian Church is so silent on this and almost by default supportive of this Israeli endeavour to requisition Palestine and beyond as a Jewish State. Where is the Christ message of love and inclusiveness in Christian Zionism?

Britain has a clearly documented history which has led to the establishment of Israel on historic Palestine beginning with the Sykes/Picot agreement 1916 and the letter by Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild in 1917. Palestine never was a country without a people. In fact, it has a rich cultural heritage where Muslim, Christian and Jew lived comfortably side by side (Jews having always been a small minority). In 1948 the population of Palestinian Christians and Muslims was 1.5 million. Of these 50% were uprooted by force and fled into exile and remained refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and beyond to this very day. One might think that given Britain’s promise to the Arabs of sovereignty over their own land and having liberated Jerusalem from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Britain would be honour-bound to keep that promise.

Not so…. It’s quite evident from Parliamentary discussions and the recent (2017) centennial celebration when Theresa May (totally ignoring the Palestinian catastrophe that resulted in exile of now around 6 million Palestinian refugees), proudly welcomed Netanyahu to the UK in acknowledgment of Britain’s role which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel. The message constantly repeated by successive US and UK leaders is that we stand by Israel regardless of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Other than receiving some criticism from international leaders purporting Israel’s ‘response to be disproportionate’,  Israel operates with complete immunity. It is also clear from a recent Parliamentary debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords that the UK government also stands by Israel and the US in proscribing the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. French President Macron has chosen not to follow the US and UK lead stating that France and no other power has a right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not. This, Macron says, is up to the Lebanese people.

So why this move on the part of the UK government, now?’ The NOW raises interesting questions. What clearly has changed is that Hezbollah, as part of a Syrian coalition, has been largely successful in halting ISIS and along with Russia, preventing regime change in Syria. Given that ISIS is a known fundamentalist terrorist umbrella group one might have thought that defeating them was in the UK’s interests. From an Israeli perspective, however, Hezbollah’s strengthened resistance capabilities will not be viewed as serving their expansionist interests, particularly as Lebanon shares a border with Israel.

Had ISIS not been defeated and had regime change taken in place Syria (an ally of Iran) this would have weakened Iran. Iran, an oil and gas rich country with an Islamic interest free banking system, has been viewed as a military target these past few decades. Israel regards Syria, Hezbollah and Iran as hostile to their illegal occupation of Palestine, the Golan Heights and repeated invasions of South Lebanon. One wonders if Israel initiated the move for the US and  UK to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation as a prelude to gaining support for an attack on Iran? Trump’s rejection of the agreed nuclear peace agreement and recent allegations made against Iran nudges us closer to war.

The majority of Lebanese are aware that were it not for the Hezbollah resistance, Israel would have likely acquired South Lebanon years ago. Besides the gas fields of Golan Heights, Lebanon’s Litani River has a natural supply of fresh water. Hezbollah came into existence after the 1982 Sabra/Shatila massacre. If there was no threat from Israel to Palestinians and to Lebanese, there would be no need for Hezbollah to form a resistance group. Those who responded to the call to protect Lebanon would likely melt back into the community and take up earlier professions. When Israel invaded and bombed Lebanon in 2006 it was the Hezbollah resistance fighters who forced them back across the border. Lebanon is a sectarian country that has not only been invaded and attacked by Israel on numerous occasions, it has also known devastating civil war. It holds together by a delicate balance of sharing power between the various factions. The political wing of Hezbollah holds a significant role within the Lebanese government.

Just days before I arrived in Lebanon, Israel dropped bombs on the Al Manar media office in Beirut and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) office in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Israel also dropped bombs in Syria and Iraq killing several Iranian citizens who were there by invitation of those countries’ leadership. It was the skill of Hezbollah in capturing a drone that identified Israel as the perpetrator, which made it clear that Hezbollah’s military response was retaliatory and not an unprovoked attack. Such action by Hezbollah may have averted a full scale attack by Israel on Lebanon.

The UK government’s insistence on Israel’s right to defend itself (even when Israeli forces are dropping bombs and white phosphorous on the defenceless population of Gaza or sending drones into Beirut), fails to acknowledge that Palestinians and Lebanese also have a right to defend themselves. It is the Palestinians who are suffering from an illegal occupation and genocidal siege. Are these moves the precursor to the US, Israel and UK creating a World War Three scenario by heightening the likelihood of war with Iran and other major powers — a war that could easily escalate into an Armageddon ‘Last Days’ scenario? Or is it that the UK, like the Anglican Church, is unwilling to take a strong public stance against the prevailing power by addressing this decades long injustice and very real threat to all of humanity?

An Open Letter to Bari Weiss

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

Dear Ms. Weiss:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you and yours well.

Sincerely,

Donna Ross

Film Charts Failed Experiment Inviting Palestinian Teens to Become Kibbutzniks

A new documentary brings to light an episode almost completely erased from Israel’s official history – and one that reveals how Israel’s apartheid character was established from its birth.

The The Voice of Ahmad by directors Avshalom Katz, David Ofek, Ayelet Bechar, Shadi Habib Allah, Naom Kaplan, Mamdooh Afdile, and Iddo Soskolne is being screened in Israel this month. It centers on the extraordinary early life of Ahmad Masrawa back in the 1950s, as the recently established Jewish state was finding its feet.

Masrawa was one of many hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in Israel who were adopted by a kibbutz, agricultural communes that were at the core of the Zionist movement’s efforts to Judaize lands just stolen from the Palestinian people – both from refugees forced out of Israel and from the small number of Palestinians, like Masrawa, who managed to remain inside the new state.

Today, hundreds of these kibbutzim exist, all of them exclusively Jewish and controlling the vast bulk of Israeli territory. Israel’s Palestinian citizens are effectively banned from living in them.

But, as this new film shows, there was a brief moment when a handful of progressive Israeli Jews imagined a different future in which Jewish and Arab kibbutzniks could live together. That experiment ended in complete failure.

A stab in the back

Masrawa is part of the largely-overlooked Palestinian minority in Israel – today a fifth of the country’s population. He was among a rump population of Palestinians who avoided the mass expulsions of the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, that created Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.

A few years later, under international pressure, Israel belatedly gave this minority a very second-class citizenship.

The fact that Palestinian citizens, now numbering 1.8 million, have the vote is often cited as proof that Israel is a normal western-style democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this documentary underscores.

Ahmad’s strange teenage years have been unearthed now because he starred in a short documentary in the mid-1960s, called “I Am Ahmad,” that was initially censored and, when it was finally screened, caused uproar. Ram Loevy, its director, says in the new film that his documentary was viewed by most Israeli Jews at the time as “a stab in the back.”

Slum neighborhoods

It was the first time an Israeli film had ever allowed an “Israeli Arab” – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – to be the protagonist.

“I Am Ahmad” follows Masrawa as a near-two-decade military government imposed on Israel’s Palestinian minority is being lifted just before the outbreak of the Six-Day war. He is filmed leaving his poor village of Arara in northern Israel to travel to the rapidly expanding Jewish coastal city of Tel Aviv to find work.

Masrawa narrates the film, providing personal reflections in Hebrew on what it is like to live effectively as a foreign worker in your own country.

Like many thousands of other Palestinians in Israel, he was forced by day to work as a casual laborer on construction sites, disappearing at night to dwell in slum neighborhoods of tin shacks set up by Palestinian citizen workers on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

High death toll

The Voice of Ahmad is compilation film, comprising six short documentaries inspired by or expanding on I Am Ahmad, a restored version of which opens the new movie.

Sky of Concrete sees an elderly Masrawa spend the day with a group of today’s casual laborers from his village on a building site. Little has changed half a century later, as Masrawa discovers, including the same tragically high death toll in an industry that barely seems to value the lives of its non-Jewish workers.

But the most fascinating segment of the Voice of Ahmad is the backstory of why Masrawa ended up in the 1960s building new homes for Jewish immigrants arriving to entrench the dispossession of Palestinians like himself. That context is not provided by I Am Ahmad.

It would have to wait another half-century for that story to be revealed in “I Used To Be Zvi,” a kind of belated prequel to “I Am Ahmad.” Its co-director, Ayelet Bechar, recently expanded on her research for the film in an article for the liberal Haaretz newspaper.

Judaizing Palestinian land

“I Used To Be Zvi” concerns the 18-year period between 1949 and 1967 before Israel seized control of the occupied territories, a time when Palestinians in Israel lived under harsh military rule despite their citizenship. They were locked up inside their few surviving communities while their new rulers confiscated almost all their farmland to settle Jewish immigrants in their place.

While this land larceny was taking place, however, two prominent Jewish socialists began a limited experiment in mixed living that appeared – at least, superficially – to challenge Zionism’s core principle.

The lands seized from Israel’s Palestinian minority were transferred to hundreds of kibbutz, socialist-style agricultural communes set up for Jews as part of Israel’s official Judaization policy.

Many decades on, these communities control almost all of Israel’s land, which they hold as nationalized territory on behalf of all Jews around the world, not Israel’s citizens.

Although the kibbutz has been widely extolled in the west as a model of egalitarian, cooperative living – and in Israel’s first decades attracted starry-eyed European and American volunteers – all of these communities use vetting committees to ensure no Palestinian citizens gain admission.

Mixing with girls

In Israel’s early years, however, a few Jewish socialists argued that the kibbutz movement should live up to its supposed ideals of “Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of nations.” They established a Pioneer Arab Youth organization, recruiting Palestinian teenagers in Israel like Masrawa to live on a kibbutz.

The obstacles were many. Each had to harbor its Palestinian youngsters as fugitives from the authorities. The military government required them to live in their own, segregated and imprisoned communities.

And despite professed lofty ideals, most Jews in the kibbutz movement regarded their Palestinian neighbors not as potential brothers but as a threat to Israel’s ethnic state-building project.

These young Palestinian recruits, meanwhile, were not there out of a love of Zionism. They wished to break free of the stifling economic and social restrictions imposed by the military government. A few admit they were enticed too by the chance to mix with kibbutz girls.

Kibbutz ambassadors

Masrawa arrived at his kibbutz, aged 14, under a new Hebrew identity he had been assigned: “Zvi”. But differences of treatment were apparent from the outset.

Palestinian members were required to wear a different uniform and allocated menial tasks. Even Pioneer Youth’s motto prioritized subservience, amending the kibbutz slogan “strong and brave” to “strong and loyal.”

And while the kibbutzim were grudgingly allowing handfuls of Palestinian teens into their midst, they also colluded with the military government to steal the remaining farmlands of the villages from which their Palestinian wards hailed.

There was a subtext of political missionary work too. Avraham Ben Tzur, a Pioneer Youth founder, observed that the aim was to turn impressionable Palestinian youth into ambassadors for the kibbutzim, presumably in the hope that when they returned to their villages they would try to justify to their extended families the theft of the villages’ lands by the kibbutzim.

The project quickly started unraveling when it became clear that Pioneer Youth’s organizers had no vision beyond a parochial, Jewish one.

Feelings bottled up

A heartbreaking, reconstructed scene in “I Used To Be Zvi” shows young Masrawa, filled with the kibbutz ideals of shared, egalitarian living, heading to the offices of the Israel Lands Authority to inquire about setting up the first Arab kibbutz next to his village of Arara, south of Nazareth.

The senior official burdens him with a long list of conditions he must meet before he can be given approval. When Masrawa fulfills his side of the bargain, he is given yet more demands, and more, until finally the exasperated official explains the facts of life to Masrawa.

He tells him the government will never allow an Arab kibbutz. Not only that, he adds: “On the expropriated land of your village we will establish three Jewish communities, which will take up arms when needed.”

The clear implication is that these Jewish communities will, if needs be, use their weapons against Masrawa and his fellow villagers to enforce the theft of Arara’s lands.

Indeed, no Palestinian kibbutz, or even a genuinely mixed one, was ever permitted.

Walid Sadik, who later served as a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, observed that he and the other Palestinian kibbutzniks had “kept our mouths shut and our feelings bottled up.”

Intermarriage rejected

But it was the experience of another Palestinian, Rashid Masarawa, that sounded the death knell of Pioneer Youth.

In the mid-1960s he fell in love with and married a Jewish woman, Tzvia Ben Matityahu, on Kibbutz Hashlosha. Given Israel’s restrictions on mixed marriages, which continue to this day, the couple had to travel abroad to wed.

On their return, they were exiled from Hashlosha, and sought refuge among friends at another kibbutz, Gan Shmuel.

Their application to live there was rejected too, however. The vast majority of members objected because the Masarawa family originated from Sarkas, a village destroyed by Israel in 1948 to prevent its refugees from ever returning. Gan Shmuel had been built on Sarkas’s stolen lands to appropriate them.

Masarawa tearfully noted: “If I was accepted as a member, it would mean that I was being returned to my village.” In the Zionist worldview, the danger was that the kibbutz members were being asked to concede something that might set a precedent for a right of return.

‘Sand thrown in our eyes’

The Zionism of these Jewish socialists decisively trumped any semblance of shared humanity or compassion. The Pioneer Youth dissolved soon afterward as young Palestinians in Israel shifted allegiance towards the new Arab nationalism of Nasserist Egypt.

Ben Tzur, founder of Pioneer Youth, recorded his shock to Bechar that, after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, his Palestinian recruits voted down a plan much favored by kibbutz members to create an alternative state for Palestinians outside their homeland, in Jordan.

Masrawa observed: “Looking back now, I say they threw sand in our eyes. They made a mockery of the [kibbutz] ideal.”

No hope of brotherhood

The military government may be a distant memory now but its legacy persists.

Israel’s Jewish character still precludes equality for Palestinians, even those with citizenship. Assumptions among Israeli Jews of disloyalty from Palestinians are still commonplace. Palestinian land is still being Judaized, though now that Palestinian citizens have lost all but a tiny fraction of their lands, that process is chiefly taking place in the occupied territories. Rigid ethnic segregation ensures mixed marriages are still rare and deplored.

Palestinian voting is still no more than window-dressing, and now increasingly characterized by Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu as fraud. He declared only this month that Palestinian citizens had tried to “steal the election” by exercising their democratic right.

And brotherhood, of course, is today not even an aspiration.

Ugly ethnic supremacism

The “Voice of Ahmad” ends with a short film, The Helsinki Accord, by two Israeli citizens – one Jewish, the other Palestinian – who have sought a self-imposed exile in Finland. There they live as neighbors, share a passion for sweating it out together in a sauna, and jest about Israel’s destruction by a nuclear bomb.

The Jewish friend, Iddo Soskolne, whose family originates from Poland, says Finns have nicknamed him “felafel” for being from the Middle East.

Finally, the pair concede, they have found equality in their status as a minority, as outsiders, in Finland. They have found a true brotherhood that would be impossible in Israel.

It was, after all, the good guys – the socialists – who established Israel’s version of apartheid alongside and enforced by the “egalitarian” kibbutz. These racist political structures were created by an Israeli Labour party whose political demise is now – after a decade of rule by the ultra-nationalist right – much lamented abroad.

But the reality is that the Zionism of Israel’s founders was as ugly a project of ethnic supremacy as the Zionism of today’s nationalist right led by Netanyahu. Ahmad Masrawa’s story is a helpful reminder of that truth.

• First published in Mondoweiss