Category Archives: Land ownership

Israel’s Machinery of Dispossession has crushed the Hopes of an Inspirational Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entry Ban at Israeli City Park provokes Apartheid Warnings

The barring of a lawyer and her infant from a public park in the Galilee last week has triggered a legal battle over whether local authorities in Israel can segregate citizens on a racial basis.

Human rights groups have warned that the ban marks a growing trend by local authorities representing the Jewish majority towards explicit separation of public space in ways reminiscent of apartheid South Africa.

An Israeli court will have to decide whether it is reasonable for Afula, a city in the country’s north, to deny non-residents entrance to the main local park, which includes a playground, a small zoo, basketball courts and a running track.

The restriction amounts to a ban on Palestinian citizens from surrounding communities using a public resource, according to Adalah, a legal human rights group representing Israel’s Palestinian minority, one in five of the country’s population.

These 1.8 million Palestinian citizens are the remnants of the native population expelled from their lands in 1948 during the creation of Israel – what Palestinians call their Nakba, or catastrophe.

‘Conquest’ of the park

Afula’s mayor, Avi Elkabetz, has done little to hide his motivation in closing the park to non-residents.

He won a local election late last year on a platform that he would stop what he termed the “conquest of the park” by Palestinian citizens and has urged Afula’s residents to “proudly hoist Israeli flags throughout the park and play music in Hebrew”.

In addition, Adalah observed, Elkabetz and other Afula officials have waged a battle over the past three years to block Palestinian citizens from moving to Afula from overcrowded, neighbouring communities like Nazareth.

The mayor has been involved in a series of demonstrations against Palestinian families trying to buy homes in Afula, including one last month arranged by a far-right, anti-Arab group.

After local elections last year, councillors were made to swear a revised oath that they would “preserve the city’s Jewish character”. Despite protests, the interior ministry did not oppose the change of wording.

Mother and son denied entry

Fady Khoury, an Adalah lawyer overseeing a petition to Nazareth’s district court to repeal Afula’s decision, said it was important to understand that this was not an isolated incident.

“There has always been a lot of racially based segregation in Israel, but it was done quietly, mostly out of view in rural communities and concealed with ostensibly neutral language so that such policies would not arouse scrutiny or criticism,” he told Middle East Eye.

“But now the discrimination is moving centre-stage, into the big cities. It is being done transparently, even proudly. It is a sign of the right’s ever-greater confidence.”

Adalah launched the case after another of its lawyers was barred from the park last week. Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, a resident of Nazareth, had hoped to take her one-year-old son there to play.

The guard refused them entry after asking her where she lived. Nazareth, the largest Palestinian community in Israel, is a short distance from Afula.

She noted that land shortages, following widespread government confiscations decades ago, meant Nazareth and other Palestinian communities lacked green spaces and public parks.

Shehadeh-Zoabi told MEE: “It was shocking and humiliating to be told to leave, especially when Jews were being allowed to enter the park without showing any form of identification. It is clear the policy is designed to prevent Arab citizens alone from entering.”

She added: “It starts with a ban on entering parks, but if we don’t challenge this policy of segregation based on ethnicity it will quickly escalate to bigger things.”

Courts wary to intervene

The Afula municipality declined to comment. A spokesman, Kfir Bazak, told MEE that it was not speaking to journalists because the Israeli media had in the past misrepresented its policy.

Adalah hopes it can overturn the park ban using two laws: one that denies municipalities the right to collect fees for public parks, and another that prohibits the denial of services based on various criteria, including place of residence.

Khoury said that, paradoxically, the residency non-discrimination clause was added by the parliament in a 2017 amendment designed to prevent companies from denying services to settlers.

Many Jewish communities in Israel, he added, placed residency restrictions on access to public facilities, such as swimming pools and sports centres, that were covertly designed to exclude Palestinian citizens. The courts had usually been reluctant to intervene.

“In those cases, there is limited space so there is an argument for prioritising local residents. Parks, on the other hand, cannot be treated as an exclusive space.

“The land is given by the state to the municipality and it is designated in city plans as an open area. It’s like a public highway. It can’t be treated as private property.”

He said if the court backed Adalah’s argument, those that are denied entry could sue the municipality.

City of ‘Arab haters’

On a visit to the park at the weekend, however, Afula residents were mostly supportive of the mayor’s move.

Tal Kauffman, aged 41, said he took his young daughter regularly to the park during the summer.

“It’s better this way. This city is known for being full of Arab-haters,” he told MEE. “I’m not against living together but the reality here is that mixing will lead to tension and fights.

“It’s just recognising how people are raised here – to hate Arabs. We have to separate the ideals of politics and real life.”

Most others, however, were more reluctant to ascribe the policy directly to racism.

Tal Cohen, aged 30, who grew up in Afula but now lives in Tel Aviv, was visiting his parents with his wife and children. He said the restriction was necessary because of “bad people”.

“It’s not about Arabs and Jews. It’s to stop troublemakers coming here and using the park. There’s a problem with alcohol and rubbish.”

‘Socially unsuitable’

Adi Aviram, aged 34, was watching over her three young children playing on a slide. She believes non-residents should not be banned but should pay a fee to use the park.

Referring to the widespread segregation in housing between the Jewish majority and Palestinian minority, she said it was good for children from different ethnic groups to meet in the park.

“The fact is if they don’t mix here, they won’t come across each other until they’re grown-ups when they have already developed prejudices. It’s good for the kids to meet each other, play together, hear different languages.”

Some 90 percent of Israelis live in communities that are almost completely segregated on a racial basis, noted Hana Swaid, a former Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who now heads the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning.

Hundreds of smaller Jewish communities employ admissions committees to bar Palestinian citizens from living there, he added, using the pretext that they are “socially unsuitable”.

“Even the rest who live in the larger, so-called ‘mixed cities’ – like Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Lod and Jaffa – are mostly living under a system of partial segregation, with Jewish and Palestinan citizens divided into separate neighbourhoods,” he told MEE.

Fear of mixing

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Palestinian citizens comprise less than 1 percent of Afula’s population.

However, small numbers of arrivals from neighbouring Palestinian communities over the past three years have triggered a backlash. The mayor has capitalised on fears among Afula residents that the city is in danger of becoming mixed.

That has effectively happened close by, in Nazareth Ilit, a Jewish city built in the 1950s on the lands of neighbouring Nazareth, the reputed site of Jesus’ childhood and the only Palestinian city to survive the Nakba.

Swaid said the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Nazareth Ilit may now be as high as 25 percent. Israeli authorities have been reluctant to issue official figures.

Last month, residents of Nazareth Ilit voted to rename their city Nof Hagalil (View of the Galilee) in a move the city’s mayor described as distancing the Jewish city from its neighbour.

Nazareth Ilit’s mayors have refused to build a school teaching in Arabic in violation of Israel’s Education Law – forcing Palestinian parents to send their children to Nazareth’s schools. Education is almost entirely segregated in Israel.

Compared to immigrants

A father with his children in Afula’s park who would only give his name as Nick said he lived in Nazareth Ilit for a time after arriving from Russia in 1992 before moving to Afula.

He warned that Afula would face a similar influx of Palestinian citizens if it did not act to stop it quickly, and compared the native Palestinian population to immigrants.

“Here is like everywhere else. People in London don’t want immigrants coming to their city. We feel the same.”

Last year, Afula city council voted down a move to incorporate in its municipal boundaries the small Palestinian village of Dahi, saying it wanted to “preserve the city’s character”. Beforehand, Elkabetz had referred to the council vote as “one of its most critical meetings ever”.

Judaising the Galilee

Swaid said Afula and other nearby Jewish cities were traditionally seen as “Judaising” – or making more Jewish – the Galilee, a region that had remained dominated by its Palestinian population since 1948.

“The problem is that after decades of government discrimination Palestinian communities like Nazareth lack lands for future housing,” he said.

“Residents have no choice but to seek solutions elsewhere. First they started moving to Nazareth Ilit, now it is Afula. That is provoking a reaction.”

Swaid and Khoury noted that Afula’s officials felt more confident excluding Palestinian citizens after the parliament passed the Nation State Basic Law last year, which has a constitutional-like status.

According to Article 7 of the law, “the state considers the development of Jewish settlement a national value, and will work to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening”.

Swaid said: “The intention behind the law is to make it possible for cities like Afula to implement segregation.”

Disturbed by Arabic

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and editor of a recent book comparing Israel and apartheid South Africa, said there was widespread support among Israeli Jews for apartheid-style segregation.

A public survey last December revealed that 74 percent were disturbed to hear conversations in Arabic, the mother tongue of a fifth of the population. And 88 percent would be worried if their son befriended an Arab girl.

“The reality today is that you will not a find a single cabinet minister who would be prepared to denounce what Afula is doing,” Pappe told MEE.

“Not only that but all of them would understand or support its actions.”

A Haaretz editorial last summer, during protests in Afula against house sales to Palestinian citizens, noted that not even Israel’s centre-left parties had voiced criticism of the involvement of the mayor and other city officials.

“In Israel … expressions of hatred for Arabs are met with total indifference at best or encouragement at worst,” it observed.

Template for future

Pappe said it was inevitable that with Israeli politicians no longer even paying lip-service to a two-state solution, policies inside Israel would grow more like those in the occupied territories.

“The right’s argument is that there is no difference between the parts of Palestine seized in 1948, which are today Israel, and those occupied in 1967,” he told MEE. “For them, they are the same, they are all Greater Israel.

“The result is that policies towards Palestinian citizens increasingly look the same as those faced by Palestinians under occupation. All will face the same kind of apartheid. The Nation State Law was a template for the future.”

Last year, Kfar Vradim, another Jewish community in the Galilee, halted an auction for land for house-building after several plots were bought by Palestinian citizens.

Some 50 municipal rabbis issued an edict in 2010 against Jews renting or selling homes to Palestinian citizens.

And around the same time the deputy mayor of the city of Karmiel in the central Galilee was implicated in setting up a hotline for residents to inform on neighbours suspected of selling to Palestinian citizens.

Back at Afula’s park, one man admitted to being a Palestinian citizen – from the nearby village of Daburriya. Only giving his name as Abdullah, he said he had been employed by Afula as a park-keeper for four years. He declined to comment on the mayor’s new policy.

• First published at Middle East Eye

The Book of Palestine: National Liberation vs Endless Negotiations  

Those who are still hoping that the new American agenda on Palestine and Israel is temporary, or reversible, should abandon this false hope. Washington’s complete adoption of Israel’s messianic, extremist policies regarding Occupied Palestine has been a long time in the making. And it is here to stay.

Despite the unmistakable clarity in the American political discourse regarding Palestine, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still trapped in a 25-year long, ineffectual political paradigm. Unable to move past their disproportionate reliance on American validation, and lacking any real strategic vision of their own, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men are operating within a clichés-centered trajectory of a ‘negotiated peace’ – a discourse that was, itself, invented and championed by Washington and its allies.

Newly-appointed (not elected) Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, conveyed this very sentiment in his June 24 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “If you look at the literature, if you look at the statements, our President has been working by the book,” he said.

What book was Shtayyeh referring to? Certainly not the book of international and humanitarian law, which has devised a clear path aimed at achieving Palestinian freedom, rights and territorial sovereignty.

It is, rather, a book that is written by Washington, from which brazen pro-Israel agenda has preceded the Donald Trump administration by decades.

This is, in fact, the core ailment of Palestinian politics, as practiced by the PA. Throughout the years, the PA has received hundreds of millions in American funds, in exchange for sidelining the UN in favor of a complete American hegemony over the so-called ‘peace process’. Abbas’ recent attempts at reviving the role of the UN and its affiliated institutions is a belated attempt at correcting a historical mistake.

What will it take for Shtayyeh, and his boss in Ramallah, to abandon the American option and, instead, to develop a rounded strategy that is founded on national unity, democratic representation and international solidarity? Much precious time has been lost subscribing to the one-sided American book, which has no room for a Palestinian discourse of national liberation, unconditional freedom and basic human rights.

While Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was referring to Palestinians as “hysterical and erratic,” following the two-day Bahrain economic conference (June 25-26), US Middle East ‘peace envoy’, Jason Greenblatt, was challenging the very terminology used by the entire international community regarding the illegal Israeli Jewish colonies in Occupied Palestine.

“People (should) stop pretending (that) settlements, or what I prefer to call ‘neighborhoods and cities,’ are the reason for the lack of peace,” the American envoy told participants at the ‘Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israeli Relations’.”

For the record, the widely-circulated right wing Israeli newspaper, ‘Israel Hayom’ which sponsored the conference, is financed by pro-Israel American casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson. The latter is known to be the primary advocate behind Trump’s misguided policies in Palestine, including Washington’s recognition of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital.

Greenblatt is but one of several unabashedly pro-Israel American politicians, who have taken the already biased US foreign policy to a whole new low. This clique also includes former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

In an interview, also with ‘Israel Hayom’ on June 11, Haley tried to assure Israelis that “Israel should not be worried,” about having to make any political concessions in exchange for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

“Through the Middle East plan (so-called ‘Deal of the Century’), one of the main goals that Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt focused on was to not hurt the national security interests of Israel,” Haley said. “They understand the importance of security; they understand the importance of keeping Israel safe.”

While Haley’s, Kushner’s and Greenblatt’s statements can be viewed as part of the ever-skewed, pro-Israel language emanating from Washington, one must not be too hasty. The fact is, Washington has now fully embraced the Zionist Israeli discourse without the slightest attempt at playing the role of the impartial arbitrator.

It is as if Haley et al are now members of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party.

But no one represents this blatant American realignment into the Israeli camp better than Ambassador Friedman, who has, in an interview with the New York Times, on June 8, backed any future Israeli annexation of parts of the Occupied West Bank.

A few weeks later, in a disturbing and highly symbolic gesture, the American Ambassador carried a sledgehammer and broke open a tunnel that snakes underneath the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The tunnel, part of Israel’s expansionistic policy in Occupied Jerusalem, has already damaged the foundation of over 80 Palestinian homes.

The determined and gratified look on Friedman’s face spoke volumes about the ‘hysterical, erratic’ and extremist US foreign policy under Trump.

So what hope is left for the PA in Ramallah, now that Washington has taken all the political, financial and every other practical step to sideline Palestinians, to marginalize their rights and push them into submission? And what good will appealing to American sensibilities through CNN and any other platform do, considering that Washington’s strategy is deeply entrenched and irrevocable?

Much can be said about Palestinian failure to change course when it became repeatedly clear since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, that Washington has no interest in pressuring Israel to end illegal settlement construction and to respect international law. Worse, while Washington paid lip service to ‘peace’, it supported the Israeli war machine, military occupation and settlement construction with billions of dollars.

While it is good that the PA is finally waking up to the fact that subscribing to Washington’s foreign policy book is a historic mistake, mere awareness is simply not enough.

It is time for the Palestinians to write their own book, one that is guided by the concept of national liberation, not endless negotiations; one that is predicated on unity, not mortifying factionalism; one that appeals to the whole global community, not to American handouts.

Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed

Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define western relationship with this rich continent.

This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates.

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent, as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project.

Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.

Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936.

The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its indepedence in December 1963.

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.

We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.

Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), right wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.

Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support.

Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel, if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders.

This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

In Bahrain, the Horizon of Peace stretched Further Away from Palestinians

Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, offering the Palestinians economic bribes in return for political submission, is the endgame of western peace-making, the real goal of which has been failure, not success.

For decades, peace plans have made impossible demands of the Palestinians, forcing them to reject the terms on offer and thereby create a pretext for Israel to seize more of their homeland.

The more they have compromised, the further the diplomatic horizon has moved away – to the point now that the Trump administration expects them to forfeit any hope of statehood or a right to self-determination.

Even Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the peace plan, cannot really believe the Palestinians will be bought off with their share of the $50 billion inducement he hoped to raise in Bahrain last week.

That was why the Palestinian leadership stayed away.

But Israel’s image managers long ago coined a slogan to obscure a policy of incremental dispossession, masquerading as a peace process: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

It is worth examining what those landmark “missed opportunities” consisted of.

The first was the United Nations’ Partition Plan of late 1947. In Israel’s telling, it was Palestinian intransigence over dividing the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that triggered war, leading to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of most of the Palestinians’ homeland.

But the real story is rather different.

The recently formed UN was effectively under the thumb of the imperial powers of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three wanted a Jewish state as a dependent ally in the Arab-dominated Middle East.

Fueled by the dying embers of western colonialism, the Partition Plan offered the largest slice of the Palestinian homeland to a minority population of European Jews, whose recent immigration had been effectively sponsored by the British empire.

As native peoples elsewhere were being offered independence, Palestinians were required to hand over 56 per cent of their land to these new arrivals. There was no chance such terms would be accepted.

However, as Israeli scholars have noted, the Zionist leadership had no intention of abiding by the UN plan either. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called the Jewish state proposed by the UN “tiny”. He warned that it could never accommodate the millions of Jewish immigrants he needed to attract if his new state was not rapidly to become a second Arab state because of higher Palestinian birth rates.

Ben Gurion wanted the Palestinians to reject the plan, so that he could use war as a chance to seize 78 per cent of Palestine and drive out most of the native population.

For decades, Israel was happy to entrench and, after 1967, expand its hold on historic Palestine.

In fact, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who made the biggest, unreciprocated concessions to peace. In 1988, he recognised Israel and, later, in the 1993 Olso accords, he accepted the principle of partition on even more dismal terms than the UN’s – a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

Even so, the Oslo process stood no serious chance of success after Israel refused to make promised withdrawals from the occupied territories. Finally, in 2000 President Bill Clinton called together Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to a peace summit at Camp David.

Arafat knew Israel was unwilling to make any meaningful compromises and had to be bullied and cajoled into attending. Clinton promised the Palestinian leader he would not be blamed if the talks failed.

Israel ensured they did. According to his own advisers, Barak “blew up” the negotiations, insisting that Israel hold on to occupied East Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque, and large areas of the West Bank. Washington blamed Arafat anyway, and refashioned Israel’s intransigence as a “generous offer”.

A short time later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Peace Initiative offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a minimal Palestinian state. Israel and western leaders hurriedly shunted it into the annals of forgotten history.

After Arafat’s death, secret talks through 2008-09 – revealed in the Palestine Papers leak – showed the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions. They included allowing Israel to annex large tracts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ expected capital.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat was recorded saying he had agreed to “the biggest [Jerusalem] in Jewish history” as well as to only a “symbolic number of [Palestinian] refugees’ return [and a] demilitarised state … What more can I give?”

It was a good question. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s negotiator, responded, “I really appreciate it” when she saw how much the Palestinians were conceding. But still her delegation walked away.

Trump’s own doomed plan follows in the footsteps of such “peace-making”.

In a New York Times commentary last week Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, candidly encapsulated the thrust of this decades-long diplomatic approach. He called on the Palestinians to “surrender”, adding: “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”

The peace process was always leading to this moment. Trump has simply cut through the evasions and equivocations of the past to reveal where the West’s priorities truly lie.

It is hard to believe that Trump or Kushner ever believed the Palestinians would accept a promise of “money for quiet” in place of a state based on “land for peace”.

Once more, the West is trying to foist on the Palestinians an inequitable peace deal. The one certainty is that they will reject it – it is the only issue on which the Fatah and Hamas leaderships are united – again ensuring the Palestinians can be painted as the obstacle to progress.

The Palestinians may have refused this time to stumble into the trap, but they will find themselves the fall guys, whatever happens.

When Trump’s plan crashes, as it will, Washington will have the chance to exploit a supposed Palestinian rejection as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory.

The Palestinians will be left with a shattered homeland. No self-determination, no viable state, no independent economy, just a series of aid-dependent ghettos. And decades of western diplomacy will finally have arrived at its preordained destination.

• First published in The National

Palestine and Kenya: Our Historic Fight against Injustice Is One and the Same

Note: Palestinian author and journalist, Dr. Ramzy Baroud arrived to Kenya for a 10-day speaking and media tour starting June 23. Exploring the subject of intersectionality, solidarity and popular resistance, Baroud is set to speak at various universities and appear on Kenyan television and radio stations.

*****

In 1948, my grandfather, along with thousands of Badrasawis, was expelled by Israeli military forces from our ancestral village of Beit Daras in Palestine.

Like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from over 500 other villages, my grandfather assumed he would be back home in a few weeks. “Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, when we know that we will return to Beit Daras in a week or so?” he asked my bewildered grandmother, Zeinab.

Beit Daras was located 32 kilometers north-east of the Gaza Strip, perched between a large hill and a small river that seemed never to run dry. A massacre took place as people fled the village. Houses were blown up, and wells and granaries sabotaged.

A peaceful village, that had existed for millennia, was completely destroyed with the intention of erasing it from existence. In its place now stands the Israeli towns of Giv’ati, Azrikam, and Emunim. The life of those Israeli towns is based on the death of our village.

Seventy years later, we have still not returned. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, who are scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East and a growing diaspora globally. Our good blankets have been lost forever, replaced with endless exile and dispossession.

The occupation of Palestine is not a “conflict” – as the Israelis like to present it. Israel is a colonial power that is ethnically cleansing an entire indigenous population in order to legitimize and grow its colony.

And like all people, we Palestinians have the right to resist colonial domination and occupation. This is an inalienable right enshrined in international law.

It is this right that justified Africa’s anti-colonial struggles and wars of liberation in the 1950s and 1960s, the American Revolution and the Cuban Revolution. This right also legitimates Palestinian resistance – whether that resistance is through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, prosecution of Israeli war criminals at the International Criminal Court, or through armed struggle.

Dedan Kimathi is celebrated as a hero to Kenyans because of his resistance to – not because of his subservience to – colonialism and occupation. The Mau Mau rebellion is a source of inspiration – not just for Kenyans – but for all of humanity.

Israel will claim its occupation of Palestine is self-defense; that its demolition of Palestinian homes, detention without trial policies, construction of illegal settlements, theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, are necessary for ‘security’. Israeli security and peace cannot be built on injustice and occupation – at the expense of Palestinian security, justice, dignity and peace. The life of one group should not be based on the death of the other.

Israeli military strikes on Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip are always portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian fire. But Palestinian fire is never contextualized. It is never “in return” for the cruel, years-long Israeli siege that has systematically destroyed Gaza’s economy and subjected an entire generation of Palestinian children to malnutrition-related deficiencies.

It is never “in return” for decades of devastating military occupation of Palestinian land and life. Fire from Gaza is never “in return” for the continued dispossession of historic Palestine which made most of the population in Gaza refugees in the first place.

The Palestinian liberation struggle is simply dismissed as “terrorism”. The word “terrorism” is readily applied to Palestinian individuals or groups who use homemade bombs, but never to a nuclear-armed Israeli state that has used white phosphorous, DIME bombs, and other internationally-prohibited weapons against Palestinian civilians.

What is happening in occupied Palestine is incremental genocide – not self-defense. Israel is asking the Palestinian people to let their freedom die so that the Israeli people can live.

Submit or fight. These were the two choices facing Kenyans during your anti-colonial struggle. Like you, we Palestinians have also chosen to fight for our dignity – for ourselves and our children. We will not let our dream of freedom die.

For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Israel can no longer rationalize its oppression of Palestinians by blaming Palestinians who exercise their natural and internationally recognized right to resist occupation and colonialism.

We will continue to resist Israeli colonialism, armed with our rights and international law.

• A version of this article first appeared in The Star

It is the Indifference of Israelis that is Killing People

In the past, whenever I went to (or more precisely, ‘through’) Israel, it was for some antagonistic purpose: to write about the brutal suppression of the intifada in Gaza or Hebron, to comment on the insanity of the land grab around Bethlehem, or to report from the eerie and de-populated Golan Heights, which Israel occupies against all international rules and the UN resolutions. You name it and I worked there: Shifa Hospital or Rafah Camp in Gaza, ‘Golans’, border with Jordan, Bethlehem.

I used to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, sleep one night in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa, meet my contacts (my left-wing friends), hastily, and in the morning, dash towards the ‘front’, or towards one of the ‘fronts’ that the so-called ‘Jewish State’ sustains for decades at its ‘peripheries’.

But this time I decided to do exactly the opposite.

As it became evident that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost all his restraint and shame, as it has got clear that the United States will take full advantage of his madness, and as I was convinced that Europe as well as most of the Arab countries will do absolutely nothing to defend Palestine, Syria or Iran, being ‘in the neighborhood’ (Egypt), I bought my tickets to Tel Aviv, for just a 48 hour ‘visit’ and for one simple purpose: to observe Israeli citizens, talk to them, and to try to figure out how and what they think and want; how they see the world, and particularly how they perceive the region where they live, fight and kill.

And so, I flew to Israel, from Cairo and via Amman. Once there, for two days I commuted between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a brand new, fast and elegant double-decker train. I talked to many people, provoking them to describe the conditions in which they have been existing; to describe their political system, and the apartheid which most of them keep upholding through (as they constantly point out – ‘democratic’) elections.

*****

Of course, the more ‘democratic’ Israel really is, the more shameful the state into which it reduces the Palestinians, other Arabs and, in fact, the entire region. Israeli citizens are continuously voting in the governments that are locking millions inside the camps. They are electing those who are igniting wars and military conflicts in various countries of the Middle East.

Gaza Shifa Hospital — wounded by Israeli soldiers

Naturally, if you live in Beirut or Aleppo, it is easy to imagine that all this horror is happening because the Israeli citizens are simply ‘evil’; in fact, a bunch of blood-thirsty Rottweilers who have been let off the leash by their North American masters.

But when one interacts with Israelis, he or she quickly realizes that, bizarrely, this is not the case.

Many Israelis appear to be slightly confused, shy, and introverted.

They are ‘into themselves’. It appears that they ‘don’t give a damn about the world around them’.

The most shocking thing is not their brutality, but their detachment, indifference and selfishness.

But all of this is not ‘because most of them are Jews’, but because they are Europeans.

In fact, very little is known about the fact that most of the non-European Jews living in Israel (those originally from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia and elsewhere) are treated like second-class citizens, or even worse.

Israel is a European ‘outpost’ in the Middle East. The mindset of most of its inhabitants is predominantly European. Talk to people in Tel Aviv, Haifa, even Beersheba as well as in the non-religious parts of the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and you will most likely come to the same conclusion.

The ‘political awareness’ of the white, European Israeli Jews, is precisely on the same level as that of the Europeans, meaning near zero.

The US and UK military are involved in several ‘projects’ – occupations and attempts to overthrow foreign governments, and these ‘projects’ are killing millions of innocent people, annually. But go to Tate Modern or the Covent Garden Opera House, or just to one of those countless funky nightclubs in London or New York, and try to engage people in conversations about their nation’s murderous legacy. They will laugh at you, or confront you, or simply would not understand what are you talking about, and why.

Do the same in France, and most likely, the results would be identical. France is involved in the neo-colonialist projects in Africa, and millions of ‘lower humans’ are being ruined in the process. But how many French people know, and if they do, how many of them care, let alone try to stop it. Look at the Yellow Vests: how many of them are demanding justice for the French neo-colonies?

The mindset of Israelis is very similar.

Classic music at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem

Take Tel Aviv – the biggest city in Israel: it is one of the richest places on earth, with infrastructure better than that in North America or the United Kingdom, with cultural institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, a masterpiece built by the architect Preston Scott Cohen. The green areas of Tel Aviv, public spaces, all this could rank it as one of the most livable cities on earth.

But for whom? At what price to the enslaved, exiled and exploited people of the region?

Does it sound familiar? Like all those museums, cathedrals, parks, public hospitals, universities that Europe constructed on the bones, on the corpses and misery of the Congolese, Indonesian, Indian and other people. All for the benefit of the Europeans, but paid for by the slave labor of “The Others”, as well as by the looted resources of “The Others”.

Talk about all of this in Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon or London. The chances are, you will not be understood. Chances are, you will get confronted: thrown out of cab or a pub, insulted, or even physically attacked (it happened to me in London, for instance).

Talk about it in Haifa or Tel Aviv, and the outcome would be similar; a bit milder (in Israel there is greater number of self-critical people than in Europe), but those who may disagree with you could be extremely unpleasant, and sometimes even violent.

And then, when all the other arguments are exhausted, the Holocaust would almost certainly be mentioned.

*****

And Holocaust is one word that is, when pronounced, simply supposed to end all arguments and criticism of Israel. It is like a password, to shut everyone up.

The Holocaust is then connected to the exodus of the Jews from Europe to the Middle East, after the end of the WWII. “Millions of Jews were killed, therefore they had full right to move, or to be moved, to the Middle East”, the argument goes.

It is bizarre, and powerful proof of how intellectually obedient and ‘shy’ the Western, as well as the Israeli public, has become.

Mentioning Holocaust should not be ‘the end’: this is precisely where the discussion should begin!

The Holocaust was committed by the Europeans (Germans, but also by several of its allies) against the Jews, the Roma and Communists. Millions of people died atrocious, unimaginably terrible deaths.

And then?

In a typically cynical and sinister British colonialist way, the perpetrators got rewarded, and then new victims created.

Germany got fully rebuilt, while Palestinians (un-people in the British minds), were singled out as those who were supposed to pay for the European crimes.

Why not award the Jews with the entire Bavaria? That’s where Hitler came from. That’s where his early supporters were living. This is where some terrible killings were perpetrated.

Bavaria, Germany, Central Europe, is where millions of Jews felt at home, before the Nazi madness began. For example, the greatest writer of the 20th Century – Franz Kafka: he often described himself as a Czech, of Jewish origin, who wrote in the German language.

Before they realized the gravity and monstrosity of the situation, most of the Jews in Germany simply felt ‘betrayed’. As far as they were concerned, they were Europeans, not any less than that perverted freak Adolf Hitler, or his beer-guzzling buddies.

So, why not Bavaria, as compensation? Why Palestine?

The unpronounced truth has been: because the UK and US wanted that mighty Middle Eastern outpost, and because they wanted a powerful, industrialized Germany again, precisely where it was before and during the war.

Because the Allies knew: in terrible pain, full of outrage, the European Jews would come to Palestine and almost in unison declare: “Never Again!” “We will fight for our survival right now and right here!”

The sad reality was, however, that it was not Arabs, not Palestinians, who burnt the Jewish people in the concentration camps. The Arabs were actually fellow victims, suffering from different horrors – the horrors of European colonialism.

Instead of uniting the two groups of people, two victims, against European racism, colonialism and imperialism, the Brits and others succeeded in ‘dividing and ruling’ them; a horrid imperialist tactic they have been using all over the world, for the long centuries.

*****

Of course, after the horrors of WWII, many Jews went to the Middle East as Communists, or anarchists. They wanted to build a new world. They wanted to turn deserts into gardens, and to live in harmony with the Palestinians and other Arabs, in a wonderful and tolerant state. This dream never came through. Communism in Israel was defeated, and so was internationalism.

Militarism, nationalism and religious extremism (conservative religious parties in Israel are always a political minority, but no government, it appears, can be formed, without taking them into a coalition).

Then came the tsunami of the anti-Communist Soviet Jews, (and those who claimed to be Jews, but often weren’t). Accepting them was clearly a political decision of the Israeli elites – they moved Israel towards the right, and ‘rejuvenated’ “the Israeli struggle for ‘exclusive Jewish rights’, and against the rights of the Arab population. Cynical; tremendously cynical, but it all worked perfectly well – for the nationalists and the conservatives.

For the Palestinians, it was yet another disaster; the end of all hopes.

Like in Europe and North America, the Israeli political landscape has become fully re-defined: extreme right, right, and center-right. The left – Communists, internationalists and real socialists – can only be found in a few avant-garde theatres and at the ‘margins of society’.

*****

So, back to the Israeli life. Its Human Development Index (HDI) is the 22nd highest in the world, above that of France, South Korea and Italy. Not bad, is it?

The question is again – for whom?

The interesting thing was that whenever I tried to discuss Palestine, Golan Heights, Syria, Iran, I encountered no anger. Do the white, European Israelis really hate Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians? My conclusion is: no, they don’t! They don’t, because these people do not exist. You cannot hate what doesn’t exist, can you?

Israeli tank being moved towards Occupied Golan Heights

The bombing of Syrians, shooting at Palestinians – it all has become like a video game. Nothing personal – something that ‘has to be done’ in order to preserve privileged status of European Jews. The same as building the settlements.

You know, when I was there, Tel Aviv was obsessed with new electric pushbikes. Bicycle lanes were full of them. Who gives a damn about the Palestinians?

Modern Art Museum in Tel Aviv

The museums were packed, people waiting in lines for hours for the latest exhibitions. Concerts everywhere. The best stuff. Syria? Screw Syria! Falafel fusion has reached new heights, in countless cafes. Classical musicians were practicing, in front of the public, on grand pianos, at the new train station in Jerusalem; a station so deep that one could have no doubt – it is a posh, high tech nuclear shelter.

Another, even newer station will soon be called “Donald Trump”, as a big thank you for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Pianist practicing in front of public at new train station in Jerusalem

In Israel, hardly anyone practices religion, yet on Shabbat, the entire country comes to a standstill. And that is just a few hours after those countless pubs, bars and clubs were regurgitating drunkards, until the wee hours.

Iran? Israeli politicians are professionals. They know what the West wants. And they go out of their way to please. Same as the Saudis, great allies of Washington, and secret cohorts of Israel.

After one day, everything began to feel extremely familiar. I couldn’t help it: I felt that I was in Europe. The same cynicism, opportunism, indifference.

“As long as we live well, we will do anything to keep it like that! If millions ‘elsewhere’ have to die for our wellbeing, who cares? Let them die!”

Opera performances, top notch public transportation (German), luxury cars (mostly German), and classical music (big chunk of it, German again). Top European brands at local luxury boutiques. Cute pet dogs in public parks.

Palestinians do not exist. Arabs exist mainly as a nuisance. Non-European Jews are good for cleaning latrines.

Seriously, have you heard about a Moroccan or Yemeni Jew commanding a battalion, giving orders to open fire on Palestinian women and children? Then ask a question: is it really about ‘Jewishness’ or about European colonialist legacy?

An Ethiopean Jewish reservist … whom is she ready to defend, really?

Actually… Really familiar, isn’t it? The only difference between the UK or France and Israel, is that the distance between London, Paris and the devastated neo-colonies can be counted by thousands of kilometers. From Tel Aviv to the ruined lives of the Palestinian people, it is often just a few minutes’ drive.

*****

Before the holocaust in Europe, Germans perpetrated their very first holocaust in their colony – in Southwest Africa, what is now called Namibia. They murdered over 85% of the native people there, including the Herero tribe. Almost no one knows about it. I went there to investigate, wrote and published reports.

German doctors like Mengele, those who tortured and experimented on Jews in the concentration camps during WWII, were trained by the doctors who previously murdered and beastly tortured African people.

‘Holocaust-deniers’ hate this information. It totally contradicts their ‘discoveries’ that ‘the Holocaust did not happen’, or that “humiliated Germany, after the unjust peace after WWI, just went ‘overboard’.” No, Germany had proven that it could easily exterminate almost an entire population. But African people do not matter to the Europeans, do they? Holocaust is only what occurred on the European continent (although Gypsies/Roma somehow do not qualify as victims, either. In Czech Republic, extermination camps for Roma have been converted to pig farms, with no monuments). They – non-European victims – do not matter to most of the Israelis, either.

When the Holocaust in Europe began, most of the Jews could not believe that their good neighbors – Germans – could commit such barbarity. They did not know their own history, obviously. Germany and other European countries have been committing holocausts all over the world; on all continents. For centuries. The victims, however, were not white, and so they did not qualify as fellow victims.

After WWII was over, and after (mainly) the Soviet Union defeated the German Nazis, many Jews who survived, went to Palestine. As we mentioned before, the murderers were never really punished. Those who had to pay for the German slaughterhouses, were the innocent Palestinians.

But who were those Jews who arrived first? Most of them were those who at the beginning of WWII ‘could not believe that Germans were “capable of committing such crimes”. Let’s face it; they were Europeans, maybe more European than the French, Italians, Dutch, Czechs or even the Germans.

Like Kissinger, who ended up in the United States, instead of Israel. His “Jewish blood” is totally irrelevant. What matters is his “culture”. And his culture is that of a European colonialist, imperialist bigot!

The suffering apart, European Jews were earlier, before WWII, educated in Europe. Their cultural references were those of the Europeans. Most of them saw Arabs with the same eyes as the Europeans observed Arabs in the late 1940’s. Should I say more?

*****

And now, 64 years after the fall of the Reichstag, Israel is an inseparable part of the “Western civilization”. Which means; it is obsessed with its complex of superiority. It is fully convinced, fanatically, that the only truth is the European and North American truth. It would not hesitate to sacrifice millions of non-Western/non-Jewish lives, for the advancement of their own cause. Justice exists only for the white Jews, as well as for the Europeans, and North Americans.

Israel is not a ‘fascist country’. But it is an apartheid state, the same as the West, which treats the entire planet in an apartheid-style manner. It is what it is. Apartheid is used in order to guarantee a great life for its own people, and to hell with the rest.

Israel is fully integrated into the horrible imperialist adventures of the West, all over the Middle East, in Africa and Kashmir, in the Philippines and many other parts of the world.

And, like in the West, its people know nothing, want to know nothing, care about nothing except themselves.

Vacation in Australia, Thailand or Mexico? It can be discussed for long hours. That matters. But not the lives of conquered and colonized people.

I did not like what I saw and heard in Israel. As I do not like what I see and hear in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris or Madrid.

The same self-righteousness, hypocrisy, arrogance and brutality:

“You do it our way, or we will break your legs. We can bomb your cities, steal your land, but you shoot back at us, and we will bomb you back to the Stone Age. Why? Because, we simple can, because, we are part of that omnipotent Western world. Because you know what we can do if you start defending yourself! Because you are scared, frightened into submission. And above all: because our people are only ones who matter.”

Yes, this is the way the colonies were controlled, first by the Europeans and then by the United States. Israel learned; it learned quickly. From the victims, people can swiftly convert themselves into victimizers.

The Laws of any country are clear on this: Just because many of your family members and relatives were brutally murdered, does not give you any right to start beating, robbing and killing totally different groups of people.

Just because you were victim of racism, does not justify your colonialist behavior towards others.

Yes, as always, I was impressed by Israel’s infrastructure, but not by whom it serves. South Africa, during apartheid, built some of the greatest highways in the world. For the whites. Others were forced to live in the gutter. Israel does the same.

To make it worse, Israel’s Prime Minister is behaving like a war criminal. And he has been re-elected by his own people as a reward.

I believe in collective guilt. The indifference of people, who tolerate theft and murder committed on their behalf, becomes a terrible crime itself.

For long awful centuries, Jews were tortured, humiliated and killed by the racist fanatic Europeans. Now, instead of joining internationalist, progressive forces, Israeli Jews of European origin, have changed their identity, and firmly joined the ranks of the imperialist oppressors. They joined their former torturers.

Now they are committing crimes against humanity not because they are Jews, but because they are Europeans.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Jerusalem Cable Car Project Passes Over Objections from Many Quarters

East Jerusalem has received new impetus from the rise of the Israeli far right and Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city. But if completed, critics say, the long-running proposal would contribute to erasing the visibility of Palestinians in the city they hope to make their capital.

Planning for the $55 million tourism project continues despite unifying archaeologists, architects, Palestinians, and a tiny community of Jews against it – in a sign of Israel’s ever-growing confidence in making unilateral moves in occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Critics say the cable car will help hide the local Palestinian population from the roughly 3 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year, turning the city into a “Disneyland” focused on promoting Israeli interests.

“The advantage for Israel is that visitors can be prevented from having any dealings with Palestinians,” said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

“The local population will be largely erased from the experience of visiting Jerusalem. Tourists will pass over Palestinian residents, via the cable car, and then pass under them via tunnels.”

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism dismissed the criticism. In a statement to The National, the ministry said the cable car project was “a significant milestone in the promotion of Jerusalem and the strengthening of its status as a world tourism capital”.

Settler-run tours

The cable car, the largest project of its type undertaken by Israel, could be completed as early as in two years, its destination the slopes in occupied East Jerusalem just below the Old City, next to Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some 72 cabins have the capacity to ferry up to 3,000 visitors an hour above mainly Palestinian homes.

Tourists will be channelled from the cable car into a visitor centre run by Jewish settlers in the heart of the crowded Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. They will be led by settler-approved guides underground, through tunnels under Palestinian homes to the foot of the Western Wall.

Blueprints show that visitors will be able to shop in the tunnels, bypassing local Palestinian traders in the Old City market who have long depended on tourism. Israeli officials accelerated the project by bypassing routine planning procedures, even though urban planning specialists warn that it will damage the Jerusalem skyline and archaeological sites revealing the origins of modern civilisation.

Equally important, critics say, the Benjamin Netanyahu government and settler groups view the cable car as helping block any possibility of a Palestinian state emerging with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It should set off alarm bells that a huge state project like this is being intertwined with a private settler organisation, physically forcing visitors to go through its visitor centre, channelling them into its attractions and activities,” Mr Tartasky said.

He said the cable car was one of the ways Israel was connecting disparate settler compounds in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem.

“It will physically strengthen these settler areas, and mean their organisations have an even greater influence on Israeli authorities.”

Encircling Al-Aqsa

The project has been forcefully promoted by the Israeli tourism ministry, headed by Yariv Levin, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, and Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion. Tenders will be issued as soon as the National Planning Council approves the project, which is expected to be a formality.

In violation of international law, Israel has treated East Jerusalem as annexed territory since it occupied the city in 1967. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved there over subsequent decades

Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian planning specialist and former member of the Israeli parliament, said the cable car was illegal because international law allows major changes in occupied territory only out of military necessity or for the benefit of the population under occupation.

“Even in its own planning justifications, the Israeli authorities are clear the cable car is designed only for the benefit of tourists, Israeli developers and the settler groups overseeing it, not the local Palestinian population. In fact, it will serve to actively harm Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Mr Swaid said.

“It will parachute tourists to Jewish sites like the Western Wall, and marginalise Muslim and Christian sites,” he added.

Palestinians are concerned that the cable car will serve to tighten Israel’s control over access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the highly sensitive holy site in the Old City. For decades Israeli authorities have moved to weaken the control of Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf, on Al Aqsa, contributing to repeated clashes at the site.

Jews believe the mosque is built over the ruins of a major Jewish temple. The Western Wall, which supports the mosque compound, was originally a retaining wall of the long-lost temple.

“The cable car looks suspiciously like another means for encircling Al Aqsa, for laying siege to it,” Mr Swaid said.

Tunnels under Palestinians

According to official plans, dozens of cabins will run hourly along a 1.5-kilometre route from West Jerusalem, inside Israel’s recognised borders, to the occupied Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls and in the shadow of Al Aqsa.

Tourists will disembark in Silwan into a large visitor centre, the Kedem compound, to be run by a settler organisation called Elad that has close ties with the Israeli government.

The Kedem centre is the latest venture in the City of David complex, an archaeological site that the settlers of Elad have been using for more than two decades as a base to seize control of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Visitors will be taken on tours to explore Jerusalem, moving through ancient sewage tunnels that run under Palestinian homes and reach to walls of Al Aqsa.

Additional plans will eventually see the cable car alight at other sites in East Jerusalem. Among them are the Mount of Olives, which includes an ancient Jewish cemetery; the Church of Gethsemane, at the reputed site where Judas betrayed Jesus; and the Pool of Siloam, a bathing area referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Yonatan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, a group of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the misuse of archaeology and tourism by Israel, said: “The purpose is to offer tourists a one-dimensional narrative about Jerusalem and its history. They should see all layers of the city’s rich history. Instead they will hear only the parts that relate to Jewish history.”

Mr Mizrahi has been among those leading the criticism of the project. “No other historic city in the world has built a cable car – and for very good reason,” he said.

Jerusalem ‘not Disneyland’

In March about 30 international architects – some of whom have worked on projects in Jerusalem – wrote to Mr Netanyahu urging him not to pursue what they called short-term interests.

“The project is being promoted by powerful interest groups who put tourism and political agendas above responsibility for safeguarding Jerusalem’s cultural treasures,” the letter said.

The letter followed a statement by 70 Israeli archaeologists, architects and public figures against the cable car in November, when the project was speeded up. They said: “Jerusalem is not Disneyland, and its landscape and heritage are not for sale.”

A French firm, Safege, which worked on the initial feasibility study, pulled out in 2015, reportedly under pressure from the French government over concerns that the project violated international law.

In an apparent bid to ensure the project would go through, the previous Netanyahu government changed planning laws to remove the cable car from local and regional oversight. It also ensured the public could not submit objections.

Instead the scheme is being treated as a “national infrastructure” project, similar to a new railway line or gas pipeline. The National Planning Council offered a curtailed period for organisations to lodge reservations that ended on March 31.

Mr Swaid, who is the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, drew up a list of reservations on behalf of the Supreme Religious Council of Muslims in Israel.

Other critical comments were submitted by lawyers for the Silwan neighbourhood, the archaeologists of Emek Shaveh, the planning group Bimkom, a Palestinian merchant association in the Old City, and a tour guides group.

The Karaites, a small Jewish sect whose ancient cemetery lies in the path of the cable car, in the Biblical Hinnom Valley, said the project showed “contemptuous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and the Karaite community in general”.

Benjamin Kedar, a former chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, lodged a protest too.

Loss of all privacy

One of the Silwan homes in the path of the cable car belongs to the Karameh family. The cabins may pass only four metres above the flat roof where toddlers play and the family of 20 hang their washing. Support columns for the cable car may end up being driven into the family’s garden, one of the few green spots in Silwan.

“Nowhere in Israel do cable cars travel over houses, let alone a few metres above,” said Mr Mizrahi. “It seems clear why in this case. Because the houses belong to Palestinians.”

Samer Karameh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, said everyone in Silwan was opposed to the cable car, as it would be helping settler groups like Elad trying to take over their neighbourhood. But he was shocked to learn that it would pass so close to his house.

“We’ll lose all privacy. We won’t be able to open the windows without being seen by thousands of strangers. And it can’t be safe to have these cars travelling just over the heads of our children,” Mr Karameh said.

“We know we won’t be the beneficiaries,” he added. “The authorities won’t give us a permit to build anything here, so all the business will go to the settlers.”

• A version of this article first appeared in The National

Anti-Racist Canada promotes Video by Anti-Palestinian, FOX News Filmmaker

Why would Anti-Racist Canada (ARC) promote a video by a FOX News filmmaker who compares the Left to the KKK and claimed Swedish police refuse to go into immigrant neighbourhoods? Is it because the ARC collective is an example of people who fight racism except if it is anti-Palestinian?

Recently, ARC retweeted long-time anti-Palestinian activist Bernie Farber noting: “If anyone wants to read how anti-Israel invective morphs into antisemitism, then read this frightening piece. This happened this week at Duke.” Farber linked to a Jewish Journal article about a University of North Carolina/Duke University conference on the “Conflict over Gaza: people, politics and opportunities”.

The primary claim leveled against the conference is what rapper Tamer Nafar said at a concert the night before two days of talks by prominent professors, including a number who are Jewish. “This is my anti-Semitic song”, Nafar told the crowd. “Don’t think of Rihanna when you sing this, don’t think of Beyonce — think of Mel Gibson. … Let’s try it together because I need your help. I cannot be anti-Semitic alone.”

Responding to the slander campaign, conference attendee Lara Friedman wrote:His satirical song ‘Mom, I fell in love with a Jew,’ jokingly introduced Tamer Nafar, a well-known rapper and actor (and a Palestinian citizen of Israel), as an ‘anti-Semitic’ song. His statements indeed sounded to many people, including me, politically deaf or even painful. But to put it bluntly: The song is not anti-Semitic and has not even been controversial so far. The video became popular in Israel two years ago when it was released. The Israelis correctly understood the song as a cheeky broadcast of the thorny realities underlying Jewish-Arab relations within Israel.”

In claiming “frightening” antisemitism at the conference about Gaza, Farber/ARC ignored other attendees’ perspectives and the individual at the heart of the controversy. Last month Nafar was featured in a New York Times story titled “Boycott Israel’s Election? A Palestinian Rapper Says No”, which was picked up by the Times of Israel, i24NEWS, Haaretz, etc.

More surprisingly, ARC/Farber ignored that the individual responsible for misrepresenting Nafar’s performance to attack the conference is a prominent anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian activist who regularly appears on FOXNews. Ami Horowitz recently produced a video titled “The Left and the KKK may be separate, but they are equal!” and another that disparaged the Central American migrant caravan. In a 2017 video Horowitz claimed Swedish police refused to enter heavily immigrant areas. “These are areas that cops won’t even enter, because it’s too dangerous for them. This is the policy of the national police authority in Sweden”, Horowitz told an interviewer. Donald Trump repeated this obvious lie, as discussed in a Times of Israel story titled “Meet the gonzo Jewish filmmaker behind Trump’s fake news on Sweden.”

Promoting Horowitz’ distortion is not the first time ARC has regurgitated Farber’s anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim and anti-Left positions. Earlier in April the collective retweeted the former Liberal party candidate’s link to a New York Times story titled “Anti-Semitism Is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes. Why?” The story disparaged Somali Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and long-time antiracist British politician (Palestinians included!) Jeremy Corbyn.

Two months ago, I asked ARC (and some other self-declared antiracist organizations) why they had never criticized the Jewish National Fund, which is the only explicitly racist institution sanctioned by the Canadian state to give tax write-offs. (My commentary on anti-racist organizations’ silence on Independent Jewish Voices’ StopJNFCanada campaign will appear in the upcoming edition of Canadian Dimension.) A politically and financially powerful organization, JNF does not hide its racism. In a 2007 Canadian Jewish News article titled “Human rights complaint accuses JNF of racism” its Executive Vice President Joe Rabinovitch admitted the organization discriminates in the provision of housing in Israel.

In my email exchange with ARC on the JNF I pointed out that they should tread carefully with Farber: “I presume you’re familiar with some of his [Farber] background, which is steeped in vicious anti-Palestinian rhetoric and a great deal of Islamophobia. He has righted some of the wrong he has done on demonizing Muslims, not so much on Palestinians. Here is an overview I did on him.”

ARC’s promotion of Farber’s anti-Palestinian politics is shameful. An anti-racist collective promulgating the anti-Palestinian views of a prominent anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim FOX News filmmaker is an embarrassment.

The Two Narratives of Palestine: The People Are United, the Factions Are Not

The International Conference on Palestine held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ must be defeated and that normalization must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for a one democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – seemed partially irrelevant. For the one state solution to become the overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the true aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified as Hamas and others as Fatah. Their narrative seemed largely free from the disgraced factional language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah fought in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National Conciliation Document, arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of national Palestinian priorities, presented by the most respected and honored sector in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum to either accept or reject the document in full. The spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative was betrayed by Abbas and the warring factions. Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their own tragic war in Gaza the following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our own perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it is true that they all identified as members in one political group or another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace partner‘. Despite the hemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a factional clash and keeping the struggle centered on resistance against Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity the Palestinian people are striving for. Despite heavy losses, thousands of protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas cannot find common ground is simply unjustified. National unity and political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is important that we do not make the mistake of confusing the Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. It was written by the Nelson Mandelas of Palestine, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.