Category Archives: Jerusalem

Israel wages a New War of Attrition in Jerusalem

Czech president Milos Zeman offered Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government a fillip during his visit to Israel last week. He inaugurated a cultural and trade centre, Czech House, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

At the opening, he expressed hope it would serve as a precursor to his country relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If so, the Czech Republic would become the first European state to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in moving the US embassy in May.

It is this kind of endorsement that, of late, has emboldened Mr Netanyahu’s government, the Israeli courts, Jerusalem officials and settler organisations to step up their combined assault on Palestinians in the Old City and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Israel has never hidden its ambition to seize control of East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967 and then annexed, as a way of preventing a viable Palestinian state from emerging.

Israel immediately began building an arc of Jewish settlements on Jerusalem’s eastern flank to seal off its Palestinian residents from their political hinterland, the West Bank.

More than a decade ago, it consolidated its domination with a mammoth concrete wall that cut through East Jerusalem. The aim was to seal off densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods on the far side, ensuring the most prized and vulnerable areas – the Old City and its environs – could be more easily colonised, or “Judaised”, as Israel terms it.

This area, the heart of Jerusalem, is where magnificent holy places such as the Al Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are to be found.

Under cover of the 1967 war, Israel ethnically cleansed many hundreds of Palestinians living near the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the elevated Al Aqsa compound that is venerated in Judaism. Since then, Israeli leaders have grown ever hungrier for control of the compound itself, which they believe is built over two long-lost Jewish temples.

Israel has forced the compound’s Muslim authorities to allow Jews to visit in record numbers, even though most wish to see the mosque replaced with a third Jewish temple. Meanwhile, Israel has severely limited the numbers of Palestinians who can reach the holy site.

Until now, Israel had mostly moved with stealth, making changes gradually so they rarely risked inflaming the Arab world or provoking western reaction. But after Mr Trump’s embassy move, a new Israeli confidence is tangible.

On four fronts, Israel has demonstrated its assertive new mood. First, with the help of ever-more compliant Israeli courts, it has intensified efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Old City and just outside its historic walls.

Last month, the supreme court handed down a ruling that sanctions the eviction of 700 Palestinians from Silwan, a dense neighbourhood on a hillside below Al Aqsa. Ateret Cohanim, a settler organisation backed by government-subsidised armed guards, is now poised to take over the centre of Silwan.

It will mean more Israeli security and police protecting the settler population and more city officials enforcing prejudicial planning rules against Palestinians. The inevitable protests will justify more arrests of Palestinians, including children. This is how bureacratic ethnic cleansing works.

The supreme court also rejected an appeal against a Palestinian family’s eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, another key neighbourhood near the Old City. The decision opens the way to expelling dozens more families.

B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, characterised these rulings as “sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since 1967”.

At the same time, Israel’s parliament approved a law to accelerate the settler takeover.

Over many years, Israel created a series of national parks around the Old City on the pretext of preserving “green areas”. Some hem in Palestinian neighbourhoods to stop their expansion while others were declared on the land of existing Palestinian homes to justify expelling the occupants.

Now the parliament has reversed course. The new law, drafted by another settler group, Elad, will allow house-building in national parks, but only for Jews.

Elad’s immediate aim is to bolster the settler presence in Silwan, where it has overseen a national park next to Al Aqsa. Archaeology has been co-opted to supposedly prove the area was once ruled by King David while thousands of years of subsequent history, most especially the current Palestinian presence, are erased.

Elad’s activities include excavating under Palestinian homes, weakening their foundations.

A massive new Jewish history-themed visitor centre will dominate Silwan’s entrance. Completing the project is a $55 million cable car, designed to carry thousands of tourists an hour over Silwan and other neighbourhoods, rendering the Palestinian inhabitants invisible as visitors are delivered effortlessly to the Western Wall without ever having to encounter them.

The settlers have their own underhand methods. With the authorities’ connivance, they have forged documents to seize Palestinian homes closest to Al Aqsa. In other cases, the settlers have recruited Arab collaborators to dupe other Palestinians into selling their homes.

Once they gain a foothold, the settlers typically turn the appropriated home into an armed compound. Noise blares out into the early hours, Palestinian neighbours are subjected to regular police raids and excrement is left in their doorways.

After the recent sale to settlers of a home strategically located in the Old City’s Muslim quarter, the Palestinian Authority set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. But the PA is near-powerless to stop this looting after Israel passed a law in 1995 denying it any role in Jerusalem.

The same measure is now being vigorously enforced against the few residents trying to stop the settler banditry.

Adnan Ghaith, Jerusalem’s governor and a Silwan resident, was arrested last week for a second time and banned from entering the West Bank and meeting PA officials. Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, is under a six-month travel ban by Israel.

Last week dozens of Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, accused of working for the PA to stop house sales to the settlers.

It is a quiet campaign of attrition, designed to wear down Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. The hope is that they will eventually despair and relocate to the city’s distant suburbs outside the wall or into the West Bank.

What Palestinians in Jerusalem urgently need is a reason for hope – and a clear signal that other countries will not join the US in abandoning them.

• First published in the National

“A Cruel Choice”: Why Israel Targets Palestinian Schools

Several Palestinian students, along with teachers and officials, were wounded in the Israeli army attack on a school south of Nablus in the West Bank on October 15. The students of Al- Sawiya Al-Lebban Mixed School were challenging an Israeli military order to shut down their school based on the ever-versatile accusation of the school being a “site of popular terror and rioting.”

“Popular terror,” is an Israeli army code for protests. The students, of course, have every right to protest, not just the Israeli military Occupation but also the encroaching colonization of the settlements of Alie and Ma’ale Levona. These two illegal Jewish settlements have unlawfully confiscated thousands of dunams of land belonging to the villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lebban.

“The Israeli citizens”, that the Occupation army is set to protect by shutting down the school, are, in fact, the very armed Jewish settlers who have been terrorizing this West Bank region for years.

According to a 2016 study commissioned by the United Nations, at least 2,500 Palestinian students from 35 West Bank communities must cross through Israeli military checkpoints to reach their schools every day. About half of these students have reported army harassment and violence for merely attempting to get to their classes or back home.

However, this is only half of the story, as violent Jewish settlers are always on the lookout for Palestinian kids. These settlers, who “also set up their own checkpoints”, engage in regular violence as well, by “throwing stones” at children, or “physically pushing (Palestinian children) around.”

“UNICEF’s protective presence teams have reported that their volunteers have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrest and detention, and death threats,” according to the same UN report.

In other words, even the ‘protectors’ themselves often fall victim to the army and Jewish settler terror tactics.

Add to this that Area C – a major part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control – represents the pinnacle of Palestinian suffering. An estimated 50,000 children face numerous hurdles, including the lack of facilities, access, violence, closure and unjustified demolition orders.

The school of Al Sawiya Al Lebban located in Area C is, therefore, under the total mercy of the Israeli military, which has no tolerance for any form of resistance, including non-violent popular protests by school children.

What is truly uplifting, however, is that, despite the Israeli military Occupation and ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom, the Palestinian population remains one of the most educated in the Middle East.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the literacy rate in Palestine (estimated at 96.3%) is one of the highest in the Middle East and the illiteracy rate (3.7% among individuals over the age of 15) is one of the lowest in the world.

If these statistics are not heartening enough, bearing in mind the ongoing Israeli war on Palestinian school and curricula, consider this: the besieged and war-stricken Gaza Strip has an even higher literacy rate than the West Bank, as they both stand at 96.6% and 96% respectively.

In truth, this should not come as a total surprise. The first wave of Palestinian refugees that were ethnically-cleansed from historic Palestine were so keen on ensuring their children strive to continue their education, they established school tents, operated by volunteer teachers as early as 1948.

Palestinians understand well that education is their greatest weapon to obtain their long-denied freedom. Israel, too, is aware of this dichotomy, knowing that an empowered Palestinian population is far more capable of challenging Israeli dominance than a subdued one, thus the relentless and systematic targeting of the Palestinian educational system.

Israel’s strategy in destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian schooling system is centered on the allegation of ‘terror’: that is, Palestinians teach ‘terror’ in their schools; Palestinian school books celebrate ‘terrorists’; schools are sites for ‘popular terror’ and various other accusations that, per Israeli logic, compels the army to seal off schools, demolish facilities, arrest and shoot students.

Take, for example, the recent comments made by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is now leading a government campaign aimed at shutting down operations by the UN organization that caters for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“It is time to remove UNRWA from Jerusalem,” Barkat announced early October.

Without any evidence whatsoever, Barkat claimed that “UNRWA is strengthening terror,” and that “the children of Jerusalem are taught under their auspices, terror, and this must be stopped.”

Of course, Barkat is being dishonest. The jibe at UNRWA in Jerusalem is part of a larger Israeli-US campaign aimed at shutting down an organization that proved central to the status and welfare of Palestinian refugees.

According to this skewed thinking, without UNRWA, Palestinian refugees would have no legal platform, thus closing down UNRWA is closing down the chapter of Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return altogether.

The link between the shutting down of Al Sawiya Al Lebban, the targeting of UNRWA by Israel and the US, the numerous checkpoints separating students from their schools in the West Bank and more, have more in common than Israel’s false allegation of ‘terror.’

Israeli writer, Orly Noy, summed up the Israeli logic in one sentence. “By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures,” she wrote earlier this year.

It is this brutal logic that has guided the Israeli government strategy regarding Palestinian education for 70 years. It is a war that cannot be discussed or understood outside the larger war on Palestinian identity, freedom, and, in fact, the very existence of the Palestinian people.

The students’ fight for their right to education in Al Sawiya Al Lebban Mixed School is by no means an isolated skirmish involving Palestinian school kids and trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. Rather, it is at the heart of the Palestinian people’s fight for their freedom.

Saving the Holy Land

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation…. “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning ‘a critical moment in time’. The document was called ‘A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering’. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/9.

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came ‘The Iona Call’ in answer to the Kairos Palestine document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel.We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is an evil and a sin.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli State) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants…. This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other….

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice…. abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.”

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organizations to join and work as a united force.

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Nonviolent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen:

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab World. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on ‘interfaith dialogue’ and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland.

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretzs Bradley Burston describes it as an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,” shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.” 

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations”. Oh, the irony of it.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land?

What Sabeeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The ‘enemy within’ is often the Christian Zionist;
  • Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better co-operation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law;
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted;
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; and,
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently.

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I, for one, want to see campaigners target the those in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

Palestinians Suffer as Trump Tears Up Rules-based Order

Washington’s decision to intensify swingeing aid cuts to the Palestinians – the latest targets include cancer patients and peace groups – reveals more than a simple determination to strong-arm the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table.

Under cover of a supposed peace effort, or “deal of the century”, the Trump administration hopes to solve problems closer to home. It wants finally to shake off the burden of international humanitarian law, and the potential for war crimes trials, that have overshadowed US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and may yet prove treacherous in dealings with Iran.

The Palestinians have been thrust into the centre of this battle for good reason. They are the most troublesome legacy of a post-war, rules-based international order that the US is now committed to sweeping away. Amputate the Palestinian cause, an injustice festering for more than seven decades, and America’s hand will be freer elsewhere. Might will again be right.

An assault on the already fragile international order as it relates to the Palestinians began in earnest last month. The US stopped all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that helps more than five million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East.

The pressure sharpened last week when $25m in aid was blocked to hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide a lifeline to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, whose health services have withered under a belligerent Israeli occupation.

Then at the weekend, the US revealed it would no longer hand over $10m to peace groups fostering ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only significant transfer the US still makes is $60m annually to the Palestinian security services, which effectively enforce the occupation on Israel’s behalf. In short, that money benefits Israel, not the Palestinians.

At the same time, the Trump administration revoked the US visa of the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, shortly after shuttering his diplomatic mission. The Palestinians have been cast fully out into the cold.

Most observers wrongly assume that the screws are simply being tightened to force the Palestinians to engage with Mr Trump’s peace plan, even though it is nowhere in sight. Like an unwanted tin can, it has been kicked ever further down the road over the past year. A reasonable presumption is that it will never be unveiled. While the US keeps everyone distracted with empty talk, Israel gets on with its unilateral solutions.

The world is watching, nonetheless. The Palestinian community of Khan Al Ahmar, outside Jerusalem, appears to be days away from demolition. Israel intends to ethnically cleanse its inhabitants to clear the way for more illegal Jewish settlements in a key area that would eradicate any hope of a Palestinian state.

Mr Trump’s recent punitive actions are designed to choke into submission the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, just as Israel once secretly put Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation “diet” to make them more compliant. Israel’s long-standing collective punishment of Palestinians – constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention – has now been supplemented by similar types of collective punishment by the US, against Palestinian refugees and cancer patients.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, admitted as much at the weekend. He told the New York Times that the cuts in aid were punishment for the Palestinian leadership “vilifying the [US] administration”.

In an apparent coded reference to international law, Mr Kushner added that it was time to change “false realities”. However feeble international institutions have proved, the Trump administration, like Israel, prefers to be without them.

In particular, both detest the potential constraints imposed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is empowered to prosecute war crimes. Although it was established only in 2002, it draws on a body of international law and notions of human rights that date back to the immediate period after the Second World War.

The crimes committed by Zionist leaders in establishing Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland occurred in 1948, just as international law was being born. The Palestinians were among the first, and are still the most glaring, violation of that new rules-based global order.

Righting those historic wrongs is the biggest test of whether international law will ever amount to more than jailing the odd African dictator.

That the Palestinian cause continues to loom large was underscored this month by two challenges conducted in international forums.

Legislators from Israel’s large Palestinian minority have appealed to the United Nations to sanction Israel for recently passing the apartheid-like Nation-State Basic Law. It gives constitutional standing to institutionalised discrimination against the fifth of the population who are not Jewish.

And the Palestinian Authority has alerted the Hague court to the imminent destruction by Israel of Khan Al Ahmar. The ICC is already examining whether to bring a case against Israel over the settlements built on occupied land.

The US State Department has said the aid cuts and closure of the Palestinian embassy were prompted partly by “concerns” over the Hague referral. John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has vowed to shield Israel from any war crimes trials.

Sitting on the fence have been the Europeans. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution warning that Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction and the “forcible transfer” of its inhabitants would be a “grave breach” of international law. In an unusual move, it also threatened to demand compensation from Israel for any damage to infrastructure in Khan Al Ahmar funded by Europe.

Europe’s leading states anxiously wish to uphold the semblance of an international order they believe has prevented their region’s descent into a Third World War. Israel and the US, on the other hand, are determined to use Palestine as the test bed for dismantling these protections.

The Israeli bulldozers sent to Khan Al Ahmar will also launch an assault on Europe and its resolve to defend international law and the Palestinians. When push comes to shove, will Europe’s nerve hold?

• First published in The National

The Veiled Danger of the “Dead” Oslo Accords

Yossi Beilin is back. This unrepentant Israeli ‘peacemaker’ is like the mythical phoenix, constantly resurrecting from its own ashes. In a recent article in Al-Monitor, Beilin wrote in support of the idea of a confederation between Israel and Palestine.

A confederation “could prevent the need to evacuate settlers and allow those interested to live in Palestine as Israeli citizens, just as a similar number of Palestinian citizens could live in Israel,” he wrote.

Bizarrely, Beilin is promoting a version of an idea that was promoted by Israel’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

The difference between Beilin and Lieberman is in how we choose to perceive them: the former was the godfather of the Oslo Accords 25 years ago, a well-known political ‘dove’ and the former Chairman of the ‘left-leaning’ Meretz party. Lieberman, on the other hand, is purportedly the exact opposite.

Yet, when Lieberman suggested population transfer and territorial swaps, all hell broke loose. When Beilin did it, his efforts were perceived as an honest attempt at reviving the dormant ‘peace process.’

That is the brilliance of Beilin, his followers and the whole ‘peace process’ that culminated in the Oslo Accords and the famous White House handshake between the late PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, and the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in September 1993. They successfully branded this hideous infringement on international law as a sincere effort at achieving peace between two conflicting parties.

The Donald Trump Administration has long surpassed Oslo and its tired clichés of ‘peace process’, ‘painful compromises’ and ‘trust building’ exercises, etc., as it is promoting something else entirely, the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’.

But Oslo will not go away. It remains a problem because the intellectual foundation that led to its conception is still firmly in place – where only Israel matters and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are still inconsequential.

While Beilin is no longer an influential politician, there are many Yossi Beilins who are still lurking, playing the role of ‘peacemakers‘, meeting behind closed doors, on the sideline of conferences, offering their services as interlocutors, wheelers and dealers, and saviors.

The late Palestinian Professor, Edward Said, was not prophesying when he warned of the disastrous future consequences of Oslo as it was being signed. He was dismissed by mainstream media and pundits as radical, lumped with the other ‘enemies of peace’ on ‘both sides’. But, he, like many other Palestinians, was right.

“Labor and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in noncontiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity,” he wrote in The Nation.

The colonization of Palestine, for the first time, was accelerating with the consent of the Palestinian leadership. The PLO was turned into a local body with the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. The rights of millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora were relegated. The West Bank was divided to areas A, B and C, each governed by different rules, mostly under the control of the Israeli military.

The ‘Palestinian revolution’ turned into an agonizing process of ‘state building’, but without state or even contiguous territories. Palestinians who rejected the horrific outcomes of Oslo – protracted expansion of Jewish colonies, continued violent Occupation, normalized through ‘security coordination’ between Israel and the PA – were often abused and deemed extremists.

Meanwhile, successive US administrations continued to fund and defend Israel, unconcerned about its self-tailored job title as the ‘honest peace broker.’

The PA played along because the perks were far too lucrative to be abandoned on principle. A new class of Palestinians had risen, dependent on Oslo for its wealth and affluence.

Even when the Trump Administration cut off the Palestinian Refugees Agency, UNRWA, of all funds, and scrapped the $200 million in humanitarian aid to the PA, the US still released $61 million dollars to the PA to maintain its ‘security cooperation’ with Israel. ‘Israel’s security’ is just too sacred a bond to be broken.

This is why Oslo remains dangerous. It is not the agreement itself that matters, but the mindset behind it – the political and diplomatic discourse that is wholly manufactured to serve Israel exclusively.

In January 2017, Daniel Pipes of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum came up with what seemed like a puerile idea: a ‘way to peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the simple declaration that Israel has won.

The new strategy requires little by way of negotiations. It merely entails that Israel declares ‘victory’, which Pipes defined as “imposing one’s will on the enemy, compelling him through loss to give up his war ambitions.’

As unconscionable as Pipes’ logic was, a few months later, Congressional Republicans in the US launched the “Israel Victory Caucus.” The co-Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Bill Johnson, ‘predicted’ in April 2017 that Trump would soon be heading to Israel to announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, the US is obviously following a blueprint of a strategy in which the US advances Israel’s ‘victory’, while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its more diplomatic and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.

Trump, to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may think that he has single handedly destroyed the Oslo Accords or whatever remained of it. However, judging by his words and actions, Trump has indicated that the spirit of Oslo remains alive: the bribes, the bullying and the fighting for that coveted and final Israeli ‘victory.’

Oslo is not a specific legal document that can be implemented or rejected. It is a spectrum in which the likes of Beilin, Lieberman and Pipes have more in common than they may think, and in which the fate of the Palestinian people is left to inept leaders, incapable of thinking outside the permissible space allocated to them by the Israelis and the Americans.

Unfortunately, Abbas and his Authority are still reveling at the expense of the empty space that is Oslo, not the ‘accords’ – provisions, stipulations and heaps of paper – but the corrupt culture – money, perks and unmitigated defeat.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National

What Lies Beneath: The US-Israeli Plot to “Save” Gaza

Israel wants to change the rules of the game entirely. With unconditional support from the Trump Administration, Tel Aviv sees a golden opportunity to redefine what has, for decades, constituted the legal and political foundation for the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’

While US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has, thus far, been erratic and unpredictable, his administration’s ‘vision’ in Israel and Palestine is systematic and unswerving. This consistency seems to be part of a larger vision aimed at liberating the ‘conflict’ from the confines of international law and even the old US-sponsored ‘peace process.’

Indeed, the new strategy has, so far, targeted the status of East Jerusalem as an Occupied Palestinian city, and the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. It aims to create a new reality in which Israel achieves its strategic goals while the rights of Palestinians are limited to mere humanitarian issues.

Unsurprisingly, Israel and the US are using the division between Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, to their advantage. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah while Hamas controls besieged Gaza.

A carrot and a stick scenario is being applied in earnest. While, for years, Fatah received numerous financial and political perks from Washington, Hamas subsisted in isolation under a permanent siege and protracted state of war. It seems that the Trump Administration – under the auspices of Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner – are turning the tables.

The reason that the PA is no longer the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership it used to be in Washington’s ever self-serving agenda is that Mahmoud Abbas has decided to boycott Washington in response to the latter’s recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. True, Abbas’ subservience has been successfully tested in the past but, under the new administration, the US demands complete ‘respect‘, thus total obedience.

Hamas, which is locked in Gaza between sealed borders from every direction, has been engaging Israel indirectly through Egyptian and Qatari mediation. That engagement has, so far, resulted in a short-term truce, while a long-term truce is still being discussed.

The latest development on that front was the visit by Kushner, accompanied with Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to Qatar on August 22. There, Gaza was the main topic on the agenda.

So, why is Gaza, which has been isolated (even by the PA itself) suddenly the new gate through which top US, Israeli and regional officials are using to reactivate Middle East diplomacy?

Ironically, Gaza is being particularly suffocated these days. The entire Gaza Strip is sinking deeper in its burgeoning humanitarian crisis, with August being one of the most grueling months.

A series of US financial aid cuts has targeted the very socio-economic infrastructure that allowed Gaza to carry on, despite extreme poverty and the ongoing economic blockade.

On August 31, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US administration is in the process of denying the UN Palestinian refugees agency, UNRWA – which has already suffered massive US cuts since January – of all funds. Now the organization’s future is in serious peril.

The worrying news came only one week after another announcement, in which the US decided to cut nearly all aid allocated to Palestinians this year – $200 million, mostly funds spent on development projects in the West Bank and humanitarian aid to Gaza.

So why would the US manufacture a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza – which suits the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu well – while, simultaneously, engaging in discussions regarding the urgent need to end Gaza’s humanitarian woes?

The answer lies in the need for the US to manipulate aid to Palestinians in order to exact political concessions for Israel’s sake.

Months before rounds of Egyptian-sponsored indirect talks began between Israel and Hamas, there has been an unmistakable shift in Israeli and U.S. attitudes regarding the future of Gaza:

On January 31, Israel presented to a high-level conference in Brussels ‘humanitarian assistance plans’ for Gaza at a proposed cost of $1 billion. The plan focuses mostly on water distillation, electricity, gas infrastructure and upgrading the joint industrial zone at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel. In essence, the Israeli plan is now the core discussion pertaining to the proposed long-term ceasefire.

The meeting was attended by Greenblatt, along with Kushner who is entrusted with implementing Trump’s unclear vision, inappropriately termed ‘the deal of the century.’

Two months later, Kushner hosted top officials from 19 countries to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Clearly, there is a common thread between all of these activities.

Since the US decided to defy international law and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last December, it has been in search of a new strategy that will circumvent the PA in Ramallah.

PA President, Abbas, whose political apparatus is largely reliant on ‘security coordination’ with Israel, US political validation and financial handouts, has little with which to bargain.

Hamas has relatively greater political capital – as it has operated with less dependency on the Israeli-US-western camp. But years of relentless siege, interrupted by massive deadly Israeli wars, have propelled Gaza into a permanent humanitarian crisis.

While a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian groups in Gaza went into effect on August 15, a long-term truce is still being negotiated. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, citing Israeli officials, the truce would include a comprehensive ceasefire, opening all border crossings, expansion of the permitted fishing area off the Gaza coast, and the overhauling of Gaza’s destroyed economic infrastructure – among other stipulations.

Concurrently, Palestinian officials in Ramallah are fuming. ‘Chief negotiator,’ Saeb Erekat, accused Hamas of trying to “destroy the Palestinian national project,” by negotiating a separate agreement with Israel. The irony is that the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and PA have done just that for over 25 years.

However, delinking the future of Gaza from the future of all Palestinians can, indeed, lead to dangerous consequences.

Regardless of whether a permanent truce is achieved between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza factions, the sad truth is that, whatever grand illusion is harbored by Washington and Tel Aviv at the moment, is almost entirely based on exploiting Palestinian divisions, for which the Palestinian leadership is to be wholly blamed.

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

Crucifying Corbyn: Former Chief Rabbi joins in

The nasty slur campaign against Jeremy Corbyn has just plumbed new depths with a hark-back to 1968 and the “Rivers of Blood” speech by Enoch Powell. It seems to have been prompted by a remark Corbyn made in 2013 that British Zionists had two problems: “One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony.”

In anti-Semitism terms that’s a flogging offence, even when it might be true. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, immediately took umbrage saying that Corbyn’s criticism of British Zionists was the most offensive statement made by a senior politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. Sacks told the New Statesman: “It was divisive, hateful and, like Powell’s speech, it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

He said Corbyn had implied “Jews are not fully British” and that he was “using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism”, adding that Corbyn was an anti-Semite who “defiles our politics and demeans the country we love”. He had “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map”.

Sacks’ words could equally be taken to mean those who align themselves with Israeli hate and the wish to kill Palestinians and wipe Palestine from the map – which they have already done quite literally. And if Corbyn defiles our politics so does the Israel lobby. But the irony must have escaped him.

Just how righteous is the moralising Lord Sacks? In a House of Lords debate in 2014 on the Middle East in general and the question of formal recognition of Palestine by the UK in particular, the former Chief Rabbi got up and made a speech that was more like a pro-Israel rant. After a long winded spiel about the history of Israel and Jerusalem – from the Jewish angle, of course – he went on to demonise Hamas and Hezbollah in the manner recommended by Israel’s ‘hasbara’ handbook and all the more absurd when Israel’s hands are so unclean. Everyone knows that Hamas has agreed to a long-term truce with Israel provided it ends the illegal occupation, gets back behind its 1967 borders and accepts the refugees’ right of return – all as per UN resolutions and subject to a Palestinian referendum. And Hezbollah, as Sacks knows perfectly well, was formed to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. As an ardent promoter of the Jewish religion, the Jewish state and the idea that God gave Jews exclusive title to Jerusalem, he seemed oblivious to the irony of his speech especially where he said: “When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends, they speak a very dangerous language indeed. So, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah, both self-defined as religious movements, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel within any boundaries whatever and seek only its complete destruction.”

Where does he get his information? Israel won’t define its boundaries, leaving them fluid for endless expansion, and does a first-class job of de-legitimising itself by its defiance of international law and utter contempt for norms of human decency and obligations under UN Charter and other agreements.

Zionists distort the scriptures to claim Jerusalem is theirs by Divine right, but it was already 2000 years old and an established, fortified city when King David captured it.  The Jews lost Jerusalem to the Babylonians, recaptured it, then lost it again to the Roman Empire in 63BC. When they rebelled Hadrian threw them out in 135. Until the present illegal occupation the Jews had only controlled Jerusalem for some 500 years, small beer compared to the 1,277 years it was subsequently ruled by Muslims and the 2000 years, or thereabouts, it originally belonged to the Canaanites.

Jerusalem was also a Christian city. The 4th century saw the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Persians came and went. Then, after the Islamic conquest in 690, two major shrines were constructed over the ruins of the earlier temples — the Dome of the Rock from which Muhammed is said to have ascended to Heaven, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Crusaders re-took Jerusalem in 1099 and The Temple Mount became the headquarters of the Knights Templar. In 1187 Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom and restored the city to Islam while allowing Jews and Christians to remain if they wished.

As the saying goes, “None has claim. All have claim!”

Nowhere in his speech did Lord Sacks address the main question of British recognition of Palestinian statehood. Nowhere did he recommend the jackboot of oppression be immediately lifted and the Palestinians granted their human rights and their freedom. That would surely have been the Christian position and, I imagine, the true Jewish one.

It is what the Rabbi failed to say on this important occasion that makes me wonder whether he’s an instrument of God or just another preacher of Israeli ‘hasbara’. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Most Palestinians can demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land. Can he?

Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock and the antisemites crawled out”

Corbyn is also in trouble over a remark he made in 2010 at a meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign suggesting that MPs who took part in a parliamentary debate on the Middle East had their comments prepared for them by the Israeli ambassador. I’d say that was fair comment although the scriptwriters were more likely to have been Mark Regev’s propaganda team in Tel Aviv. Regev, a propaganda expert from the dark side, is now Israel’s ambassador in London. Oh, the irony (again).

And a few days ago we heard that Jews are preparing to quit Britain because they fear Jeremy Corbyn taking power, according to former chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Feldman. So says The Times.

Feldman wrote an open letter to Mr Corbyn telling him that Jewish people were making contingency plans to emigrate because Labour had become a hotbed of anti-Jewish feeling. “Many Jewish people in the United Kingdom are seriously contemplating their future here in the event of you becoming prime minister. Quietly, discreetly and extremely reluctantly, they are making contingency plans.”

One of these is Mark Lewis, a prominent solicitor and a former director of lawfare firm UK Lawyers for Israel, who is emigrating to Israel with his partner, Mandy Blumenthal. It is believed she is the National Director of Likud-Herut UK, an affiliate of the Zionist Federation and whose website is full of preposterous ideas such as: “We believe that terms like ‘illegal occupation’ should never go unchallenged….” and “Such criticism as we may have [of Israel] should never be expressed publicly….”

Lewis, who describes himself as an ‘unapologetic Zionist’, said: “Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock and the antisemites crawled out from underneath.” And he told the Evening Standard: “I don’t feel welcome in this country any more.” So he’s off to that hotbed of racism and apartheid, Israel.

Being unwelcome is not a happy feeling. I know this from my trips to Israel, what with their rudeness, threatening behaviour, intrusive searches, hostile questioning and unforgivably vile treatment of our Palestinian friends. It’s not as if we want to be in Israel – we are forced to divert there on account of Israel’s illegal military occupation. And when we eventually reach Palestine we have to put up with the presence of arrogant Israeli gunslingers strutting the streets, setting up hundreds of roadblocks, using obstructive tactics with brutish behaviour, creating endless queues and interfering with Palestinian life at every level.

And if we try traveling to Palestine direct, like the humanitarian aid boats Al-Awda and Freedom last month, we get violently and unlawfully assaulted on the high seas, beaten up, thrown in a stinking Israeli jail and have our belongings and money stolen by the Israeli military desperate to maintain their illegal blockade of Gaza.

So, if Messrs Feldman, Lewis and Blumenthal feel more comfortable with those criminals, they’d better join them.

In answer to the babble put out by Zio-propagandists, church leaders in the Holy Land issued their 2006 Jerusalem Declaration saying:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine… We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation.

This still stands. And as the Declaration also points out:

Discriminative actions [by the Occupation] are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

That comes from genuine churchmen working in the front line against armed Zio-thugs whose vicious day-to-day persecution of the Christian and Muslim communities in the Holy Land makes a nonsense of accusations of anti-semitism in the UK.

I think we can deduce from all this that Zionism is a menace. Nothing has changed for the better; it has got steadily worse.

‘We want our Jerusalem back, and our state’

In 2010 Fr Manuel Musallam, a gritty Catholic priest with long experience of Israel’s cruel and illegal occupation, told members of the Irish Government:

Christianity in the region has been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel. Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora…  We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the Government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink…  I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990.

Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Greek Orthodox Church) told them:

Palestine is the place from where Christianity comes…. Everything that has happened to the Palestinians between 1948 and today has happened to all Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians.

What we are after is freedom and dignity just as freedom and dignity have been bestowed on so many nations in the world. We want that too. When we speak about peace, we also speak about justice because it is impossible to have peace without justice. Peace is part of justice. Unfortunately, in the Holy Land there is no such thing as justice.

Corbyn should remind his tormentors of all this and take no lectures from those who support Zionism and adore the racist state it spawned.

When Illness is a ‘Death Sentence’: The Victimization of Gaza Women

Hanan al-Khoudari resorted to Facebook in a cry for help when Israeli authorities rejected her request to accompany her three-year-old son, Louay, to his chemotherapy treatment in East Jerusalem.

The boy is suffering from an ‘aggressive soft tissue sarcoma’. Israeli authorities then justified their decision based on a vague claim that one of Hanan’s relatives is a ‘Hamas operative.”

The rights group, Gisha reported that the state remains unwilling to define precisely what it means to be a ‘Hamas operative.’ Even if an explanation is offered, denying gravely ill Palestinians from receiving life-saving treatment remains an immoral and illegal act.

“The state is sentencing the petitioners to death or a lifetime of suffering,” said Muna Haddad, an advocate with Gisha. By ‘petitioners’, she was referring to seven Gaza women who were denied access to urgent medical treatment by Israel, which required them to leave the besieged Gaza Strip.

The suffering of Gaza women rarely makes headlines. When Palestinian women are not invisible in Western media coverage, they are seen as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The fact that a woman from Gaza is ‘sentenced to death’ simply because a male relative is shunned by Israel is quite typical behavior from a country that oddly presents itself internationally as an oasis for equality and women rights.

It feeds into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a “conflict” in which they play no part. Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole.

In truth, Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization. They deserve to be made visible and understood within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court, and the story of Hanan al-Khoudari, are but a small representation of thousands of women who are suffering in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.

I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience – who deserve more than mere recognition, but an urgent remedy as well.

Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The pain that this 19-year-old is enduring is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling but, nevertheless, Shaima has been determined to get an education.

She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.

But March 12 changed all of that.

On that day, Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.

The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. But there was more bad news; further tests in a Gaza hospital showed that the tumor was not fully removed and it must be quickly extracted before it spreads any further.

To make matters worse, on August 12, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged enclave.

Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for an urgent surgery.

Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, while her whole family constantly prays that their eldest daughter prevails in her fight against cancer and resumes her pursuit of a university degree.

On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33, from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however, also looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.

She had to become the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work.

She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed. She used to help them, too, whenever she could.

Dwlat is a strong person; she has always been that way. Perhaps it was her experience on November 3, 2006, that strengthened her resolve. An Israeli soldier shot her while she was protesting with a group of women against the Israeli attack and destruction of the historic Umm Al-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun. Two women were killed that day. Dwlat was hit by a bullet in her pelvis, but she survived.

After months of treatment, she recovered and resumed her daily struggle. She also never missed a chance to raise her voice in solidarity with her people at protests.

On May 14, 2018, when the United States officially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded at the Gaza-Israel fence. Dwlat was shot in her right thigh, the bullet penetrating the bone and cutting through the artery.

Her health has deteriorated quickly since then, and she is now unable to work. But Israel still has not approved her application to be transferred to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem to receive treatment.

Yet, Dwlat insists she will continue to be an active and empowered member of the Gaza community, even if it means joining the protests along the Gaza fence on crutches.

In truth, these women embody the remarkable spirit and courage of every Palestinian woman living under Israeli Occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.

They endure and persist, despite the massive price they pay, and continue the struggle of generations of courageous Palestinian women who came before them.