Category Archives: Occupation

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Anonymous British street artist Banksy made headlines in October when his $1.4 million artwork Girl with Balloon self-destructed by passing through a shredder concealed in its frame at a London auction moments after it had been bought.

But in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, a much larger Banksy art project – a hotel boasting “the worst view in the world” – appears to be unexpectedly saving itself from similar, planned destruction.

When it opened in March last year, The Walled Off Hotel – hemmed in by the eight-metre-high concrete wall built by Israel to encage Bethlehem – was supposed to be operational for only a year. But nearly two years on, as I joined those staying in one of its nine Banksy-designed rooms, it was clearly going from strength to strength.

Originally, The Walled Off Hotel was intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, turning the oppressive 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into an improbable tourist attraction. Visitors drawn to Bethlehem by Banksy’s art – both inside the hotel and on the colossal wall outside – are given a brief, but potent, taste of Palestinian life in the shadow of Israel’s military infrastructure of confinement.

It proved, unexpectedly, so successful that it was soon competing as a top tourist attraction with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site, the reputed spot where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity. “The hotel has attracted 140,000 visitors – local Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals – since it opened,” says Wisam Salsa, the hotel’s Palestinian co-founder and manager. “It’s given a massive boost to the Palestinian tourism industry.”

Exception to Banksy’s rule

The Walled Off Hotel was effectively a follow-up to Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, created in the more familiar and safer setting of a British seaside resort. For five weeks, that installation in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, offered holidaymakers a dystopian version of a Disney-style amusement park, featuring a nuclear mushroom-cloud, medical experiments gone wrong, boat people trapped on the high seas and the Cinderella story told as a car crash.

But unlike Girl with Balloon and Dismaland, Banksy appears uncharacteristically reluctant to follow through with the destruction of his Bethlehem creation. Some 21 months later, it seems to have become a permanent feature of this small city’s tourist landscape.

Given that Banksy is notoriously elusive, it is difficult to be sure why he has made an exception for The Walled Off Hotel. But given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, a few reasons suggest themselves. One is that, were he to abandon the hotel, it would delight the Israeli military authorities. They would love to see The Walled Off Hotel disappear – and with it, a major reason to focus on a particularly ugly aspect of Israel’s occupation. In addition, dismantling the hotel might echo rather uncomfortably Israel’s long-standing policy of clearing Palestinians off their land – invariably to free-up space for Jewish settlement.

Israel strenuously claims the wall was built to aid security by keeping out Palestinian “terrorists”. But the wall’s path outside The Walled Off Hotel seals off Bethlehem from one of its major holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, and has allowed Jewish religious extremists to take it over.

A rare success story

In sticking by the hotel, Banksy appears to have been influenced by Palestinian “sumud”, Arabic for steadfastness, a commitment to staying put in the face of Israeli pressure and aggression. But significantly, there is a practical consideration: The Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a rare success story in the occupied territories, boosting the struggling Palestinian economy. That has occurred in spite of Israel’s best efforts to curb tourism to Bethlehem, including by making a trip through the wall and an Israeli checkpoint a time-consuming and discomfiting experience.

Israel’s attitude was highlighted last year when the interior ministry issued a directive to travel agencies warning them not to take groups of pilgrims into Bethlehem to stay overnight. After an outcry, the government ­relented, but the message was clear.

Salsa notes that The Walled Off Hotel has not only attracted a new kind of visitor to Bethlehem, but has also persuaded many to spend time in other parts of the occupied West Bank, too.

Salsa understands the importance of tourism personally. He was an out-of-work guide when mutual friends first introduced him to Banksy in 2005, shortly after the wall cutting off Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem had been completed. The city was economically dead, with tourists too fearful to visit its holy sites as armed uprisings raged across the occupied territories. The Second Intifada from 2000-2005 was the Palestinians’ response after Israel refused to grant them the viable state most observers had assumed was implicit in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Banksy arrived in 2005 to spray-paint on what was then a largely pristine surface, creating a series of striking images. It unleashed a wave of local and foreign copycats. The wall in Bethlehem quickly became a giant canvas for artistic resistance, says Salsa.

Much later, in 2014, Banksy came up with the idea of the hotel. Salsa found a large residential building abandoned for more than a decade because of its proximity to the wall. In secret, The Walled Off was born. “It was a crazy spot for a hotel,” says Salsa. “It felt like divine intervention finding it. It was close to the main road from Jerusalem so no one could miss us.”

Palestinians’ reality

Importantly, the hotel was also in one of the few areas of Bethlehem inside “Area C”, parts of the West Bank classified in the temporary Oslo Accords as under full Israeli control. That meant the army could not bar Israelis from visiting. “Nowadays there are no channels open between Palestinians and Israelis. So The Walled Off Hotel is a rare space where Israelis can visit and taste the reality lived by Palestinians.

“True, Israelis mostly come to see the art. But they can’t help but learn a lot more while they are here.”

Salsa is happy that the Walled Off Hotel provides a good salary to 45 local employees and their families. His hope in setting up the hotel was to “encourage more tourists to stay in Bethlehem and for them to hear our story, our voice”.

But Banksy’s grander vision had been fully vindicated, he says. “The Walled Off Hotel gives tourists an experience of our reality.

“But it also emphasises other, creative ways to struggle and speak up. It offers art as a model of resistance.

“The hotel magnifies the Palestinian’s voice. And it makes the world hear us in a way that doesn’t depend on either us or the Israelis suffering more casualties.”

Global impact

The hotel’s continuing impact was underscored last month when it was featured for the first time at the Palestinian stand at the annual World Travel Market in London, the largest tourism trade show in the world. The event attracts 50,000 travel agents, who conduct more than $4 billion in deals over the course of the show.

Banksy had announced beforehand that he would bring a replica of one of his artworks on the wall just outside the Bethlehem hotel: cherubs trying to prise open two concrete slabs with a crowbar. He also promised a limited-edition poster showing children using one of Israel’s military watchtowers as a fairground ride. A slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine. The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!” As a result, there was a stampede to the Palestinian stand, one of the smallest, that caught the show’s organisers by surprise.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism minister, praised Banksy for changing the image of Palestinian tourism by diverting younger people into the West Bank, often during a visit to Israel. “He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine,” she said.

At the Walled Off Hotel, however, Israel has made it much harder to see the beauty. Most windows provide little more than a view of the wall, which dwarfs in both height and length the Berlin Wall to which it is most often compared. That is all part of the Walled Off “experience” that now attracts not only wealthier visitors keen to stay in one the hotel’s rooms, but a much larger audience of day trippers.

So successful has the Walled Off Hotel proved in such a short space of time that even some locals concede it upstages the Church of the Nativity – at least for a proportion of visitors. A local taxi driver who was guiding two French sisters along the wall outside the hotel said many independent tourists now prioritised it ahead of the church.

Only wanting to be identified as Nasser, he said: “We may not know who Banksy is, but the truth is, he has done us a huge favour with this hotel and his art.”

Sanctuary in a police state

If Dismaland created a dystopian amusement park in the midst of a fun-filled seaside resort, the Walled Off Hotel offers a small sanctuary of serenity – even if a politically charged one – in surroundings that look more like a post-apocalyptic police state.

Along the top of the wall, there are innumerable surveillance cameras, as well as looming watchtowers, where ever-present Israeli soldiers remain out of view behind darkened glass. They can emerge unexpectedly, usually to make raids on the homes of unsuspecting Palestinians.

When I made a trip to the Walled Off in October, I parked outside to find half a dozen armed Israeli soldiers on top of the hotel’s flat roof. When one waved to me, I was left wondering whether I had been caught up in another of Banksy’s famous art stunts. I hadn’t. They were real – there to watch over Jewish extremists celebrating a religious holiday nearby at Rachel’s Tomb.

The hotel’s lobby, though not the rooms, are readily accessible to the public. It is conceived as a puzzling mixture: part cheeky homage to the contrived gentility of British colonial life, part chaotic exhibition space for Banksy’s subversive street art. Visitors can enjoy a British cream tea, served in the finest china, sitting under a number of Israeli surveillance cameras wall-mounted like hunting trophies or alongside a portrait of Jesus with the red dot of a marksman’s laser-beam on his forehead.

A history of resistance

The lobby leads to a museum that is probably the most comprehensive ever to document Israel’s various methods of colonisation and control over Palestinians, and their history of resistance.

At its entrance sits a dummy of Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who 101 years ago initiated Britain’s sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation. He issued the infamous Balfour Declaration promising the Palestinians’ homeland to the Jewish people. Press a button and Balfour jerks into life to furiously sign the declaration on his desk. Upstairs is a large gallery exhibiting some of the best of Palestinian art, and the hotel reception organises twice-daily tours of the wall.

Entry to the rooms is hidden behind a secret door, disguised as a bookcase. Guests need to wave a room key, shaped like a section of the wall, in front of a small statue of Venus that makes her breasts glow red and the door open.

A stairway leads to the second and third floors, where the landings are decorated with more fading colonial splendour and Banksy art. Kitsch paintings of boats, landscapes and vases of flowers are hidden behind tight metal gauze of the kind Israel uses to protect its military Jeeps from stone-throwers.

A permanent “Sorry – out of service” sign hangs from a lift, its half-open doors revealing that it is, in fact, walled up.

No mementos

Although the rooms are designed thematically by Banksy, only a few contain original artworks, most significantly in the Presidential Suite.

Hotels may be used to customers taking shampoos and soaps, even the odd towel, as mementos of their stay. But at the Walled Off, the stakes are a little higher. Guests are issued with an inventory they must sign on departing, declaring that they have not pilfered any art from their room. But it is the wall itself that is the dominant presence, towering over guests as they come and go, trapping them in a narrow space between the hotel entrance and an expanse of solid grey.

A proportion visit the neighbouring graffiti shop, Wall Mart, where they can get help on how to leave their mark on the concrete. Most of the casual graffiti is short-lived, with space regularly cleared so that new visitors can scrawl their messages and use art as a tool of resistance.

Protest pieces

Banksy’s better-known artworks, however, are saved from the spray-paint pandemonium elsewhere.

The crowbar-armed cherubs he brought to London were painted in time for Christmas last year, when he recruited film director Danny Boyle – of Slumdog Millionaire fame – to stage an alternative nativity play for local families in the hotel car park. The “Alternativity”, featuring a real donkey and real snow produced by a machine on the Walled Off’s roof, became a BBC documentary. Banksy had once again found a way to persuade prime-time TV to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive wall.

Another artwork is his “Er sorry”, a leftover from the Walled Off’s “apologetic street party” of November last year, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing. Children from two neighbouring refugee camps were invited to wear Union-Jack crash helmets and wave charred British flags. A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth II unveiled “Er Sorry” stencilled into the wall. It served both as a hesitant apology on behalf of Britain and as a play on the initials of the Queen’s official Latin title, Elizabeth Regina.

The event, however, illustrated that Banksy’s subversive message, directed chiefly at western audiences, does not always translate well to sections of the local Palestinian population. The party was hijacked by local activists who stuck a Palestinian flag into the Union Jack-adorned cake and chanted “Free Palestine”.

Is this ‘war tourism’?

Salsa outright rejects claims from some locals and foreign critics that the hotel is exploiting Palestinian misery and is an example of “war tourism”.

He points out: “The Balfour party got the media interested in a story they probably would not have covered otherwise, because it lacked violence and bloodshed.”

He adds that the area of Bethlehem in which the Walled Off is located would have been killed off by the wall were it not for Banksy investing his own money and time in the project. As well as the staff, it has brought work to tour guides, taxi drivers, neighbouring and cheaper hotels, shops and petrol stations. “That is a very important form of resistance,” he says.

It is also a rare example of Palestinians reclaiming land from the Israeli army. On the other side of the wall there had been a large army camp until the hotel started drawing significant numbers of visitors.

“The army didn’t like lots of tourists taking pictures nearby, so they moved further away, out of sight.”

Eternal memories

Canadian tourist Mike Seleski, 30, visited the hotel to see Banksy’s art before standing in front of the wall. He said he had heard about the Walled Off from an Israeli he befriended in Vietnam during a year of travelling.

This was a detour from his stay in Israel – his only stop in the occupied territories. “I don’t like the usual tourist experiences,” he said. “It is important to hear the other side of the story when you travel.”

In every one of the 32 countries he has visited, he has stood to be photographed before a famous local spot holding a cardboard sign with words to reassure his worried mother: “Mum – I’m OK.”

In Bethlehem, he said it was obvious he’d take the photo in front of Banksy’s art on the wall, rather than the Church of the Nativity. “You see the wall on TV and forget about it. You get on with your life. But when you stand here, you realise Palestinians don’t have a choice. They simply can’t ignore it.”

• First published at The National

Israel: Ethnic Cleansing, Land Theft, Apartheid And Jim Crow

Above: Boycott Racist Israel, protest in South Africa by the Iraq News Service.

In recent weeks, racism against Palestinian people and the expansion of apartheid-Jim Crow policies have escalated. The Israeli lobby and its supporters attacked freedom of speech in the United States, showing how far they will go to prevent the US public from being aware of their behavior.

If more people in the US become aware of the truth about Israel’s genocidal policies, the economic lifeline and political protection of the United States will disappear. Israel could be forced to make significant changes that recognize the human rights and self-determination of Palestinians.

Israel knows that without the support of the United States, it could not continue these crimes against the Palestinian people. The lesson for US activists: keep telling the truth about Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.

“The Israeli army has enough bullets for every Palestinian.”

That is what the Chair of the Defense Committee of the Israeli Parliament, Avi Dichter, threatened last week. He was commenting on the Great March of Return protests that took place along the eastern fence of the Gaza Strip. Saying Israel has enough bullets for every Palestinian is saying Israel could kill every Palestinian, the definition of ethnic cleansing.

Dichter is not a fringe backbencher but a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party. This former director of the Shin Bet internal security service and Minister of Internal Security said that the Israeli army is prepared to use all means to stop Palestinians.

And, the Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan, repeatedly referred to Palestinians killed in Gaza as “Nazis.” Killing Palestinians was acceptable, because  “The number [of peaceful Palestinian protesters] killed does not mean anything because they are just Nazis anyhow.”

Israeli troops shot and killed 180 Palestinians and nearly 6,000 others were shot and injured during the Great March of Return. A staggering 24,000 Palestinians have been injured by Israel during the protests, aided by large corporations.

A video released last week showed Israeli soldiers shot dead a young disabled Palestinian from as far away as 80 meters. The rights group, B’Tselem uploaded the video that debunks Israeli claims that he was killed during violent clashes. The video shows 22-year-old Mohammed Habali, being fatally shot by Israeli soldiers in early December in the West Bank.  It “clearly shows there were no clashes between residents and soldiers in the immediate vicinity of the spot where Habali was shot,” the group said.

Last week a four-year-old Palestinian boy died after being injured by Israeli gunfire at a routine protest near Gaza‘s border. His father, Yasser Abu Abed, did not usually bring his son to the regular protests but the boy insisted. Within two minutes of arriving, snipers began shooting. They were a few hundred meters away from the fence. Yasser said, “We’re simply asking for basic rights…All we ever wanted was to see the blockade on Gaza come to an end.” The 11-year blockade has caused immense suffering and violations of human rights.

These are just two recent examples among many. Mondoweiss reports there are many indiscriminate killings including strikes on children playing football, a police officer’s family, a World Cup beach party, at least six hospitals including a geriatric hospital, multiple UN-run safe houses for civilians, journalists,  survivors looking for family members, ambulances among others.

Apartheid-Land Theft: 700 Israeli Communities Ban Arabs

In 2006, when fmr. President Jimmy Carter wrote, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he was attacked by Israel’s defenders for using the word apartheid. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that Carter’s “use of the loaded word ‘apartheid,’ suggesting an analogy to the hated policies of South Africa, is especially outrageous.”

In her book review, Karen DeYoung explained: Carter acknowledges that “the word ‘apartheid’ refers to the system of legal racial separation once used in South Africa… it is an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to ‘the acquisition of land’ in Palestinian territories through Jewish settlements and Israel’s incorporation of Palestinian land on its side of a separating wall it is erecting.” Carter also criticized Israelis who believe “they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians.”

All pretenses that Israel is not an apartheid state with policies sometimes worse than the Jim Crow south have been removed as Israel gets more overt in its racism. This week the Knesset approved 200 more communities where non-Jewish inhabitants can be banned. Now 700 communities have such Jim Crow-apartheid like laws. Banning Arabs from living in communities wipes away Palestinian history, steals land and makes Palestinians second-class citizens or worse.

The Knesset also rejected a bill to ‘maintain equal rights amongst all its citizens.’  The Basic Law: Equality bill, was clear: “The State of Israel shall maintain equal political rights amongst all its citizens, without any difference between religions, race and sex.” This is a direct quote from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, rejected last week by Israel’s parliament.

Mondoweiss describes how this action unveiled the truth about Israel, writing, “Despite one of the greatest political cons in history – ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East’ – Israeli law never recognized equality between citizens. An attempt to enter an equality clause to the Human Dignity and Freedom Basic Law, back in 1992, failed – mostly due to the opposition of the religious parties.”

Last July the Knesset, amid widespread protest in Israel and in the US, adopted a basic law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” with more rights for Jews than other groups, codifying Israel as an apartheid state. The law made Arabic no longer an official language, “Jewish settlement” a national value, and the right of “national self-determination” “unique” to Jews.

Aida Touma-Sliman, a rare Palestinian member of the Knesset, explained the new nation-state law officially established apartheid as the law in the “land of Israel” from the river to sea. American Jews decried the clause as reminiscent of racist Jim Crow laws against black people in the United States.

Palestinian women cross through the Israeli military checkpoint of Qalandiya, the main crossing point between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israel Working to Undermine Free Speech in the United States

Israel and their US supporters fear people telling the truth about Israel. There have been attacks against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which had victories in 2018 and has transformed the debate on Israel. People are exercising their constitutional rights and political freedom to oppose Israel. There are efforts to ban BDS across the country, but courts have found BDS bans unconstitutional. Sen. Ben Cardin is leading the effort to ban BDS under federal law.

CNN fired Marc Lamont Hill for speaking truthfully about Palestine. Hill spoke at the November 29, 2018, UN  International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People. This is the 70th year since the Nakba when 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by the newly-declared state of Israel and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were emptied and destroyed. Hill called for the human rights of the Palestinian people. Groups moved to remove him from CNN and from Temple University.

A suppressed film by Al Jazeera was finally made public. “The Lobby” showed hidden camera footage of a British Jew who infiltrated AIPAC conferences, programs, and one-on-one meetings. The film showed that the Israeli government spies on US citizens, smears BDS activists as well as others, including Black Lives Matter, and subverts the US democratic process. Read more about the movie and get links to view it here. AIPAC is already working on newly-elected members of Congress.

Last week, the pro-Israel lobby suffered a defeat in its efforts to weaponize support for Palestinian rights when Temple University refused to fire Hill for speaking in solidarity with basic human rights of Palestinians. Their goal is that no criticism of Israel should be allowed in the US.

Unfortunately, Hill was fired as a commentator on CNN. This highlighted the bias of CNN reporting. The network has had a pro-Israel bias for quite some time, as their star news anchor, Wolf Blitzer previously worked for the right wing, Jerusalem Post and the extreme Israeli lobby, AIPAC. Blitzer regularly relies on Israeli military spokesman-turned-CNN-contributor Michael Oren to give his “expert” opinion. Blitzer is among the most overtly biased reporters in the US media. Leaked documents from the archives of the American Zionist Council, the precursor to AIPAC, show that Israeli government representatives secretly – and illegally – financed the planting of propaganda articles and speakers in many major American media outlets. There is a campaign, the Khalas! Blitzer-Oren campaign, demanding CNN end its ties with Blitzer and Oren.

Hill explained what is becoming an obvious fact, that, “Justice will come through a single bi-national democratic state that encompasses Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”  A two-state solution is no longer possible because Israel has seized so much of the land in the West Bank. The Israeli government, including Netanyahu, opposes the existence of an independent State of Palestine.

Even with the discussion of a one-state solution being suppressed in the United States, equal numbers of people in the US support a one-state solution as support a two-state solution and 64 percent support a one-state solution if a two-state solution is not possible. This has Israel, AIPAC and its supporters worried as one nation where everyone has equal rights are inconsistent with Jewish people having greater rights than others in Israel.

MintPress News reported: “Hill is not the first academic to be targeted by pro-Israel pressure groups. They regard university campuses as a battleground to target and attack all individuals and groups who show solidarity with Palestine and its people and criticize Israel, its apartheid policies and its contempt for international laws and conventions.”

Another decline in US support for Israel is young US Jews not signing up for free ten-day birthright tours of Israel. This week it was reported that there was an unprecedented sharp drop in youth, drops range from 20 percent to 50 percent. Other youths have walked off birthright tours because they were so biased.

Israel’s actions are building opposition against them. Debra Shushan, of Americans for Peace Now, said, growing support for a one-state solution is due to “the aggressive, annexationist policies of the current Israeli government and its failure to pursue a two-state solution. This has fostered a growing perception that an independent Palestinian state is moot or impossible, which prompts people to look for alternatives.”

New York, NY — December 07: Moderator Marc Lamont Hill attends BET Presents “An Evening With ‘The Quad’” At The Paley Center on December 7, 2016 in New York City. Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET Networks/AFP

Time For Israel To Be Held Accountable

Israel constitutes “an open challenge to international law and the present concepts of human rights enshrined in it,” as Flisadam Pointer writes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting a pre-investigation of Israel.

On the same day that John Bolton threatened the court with economic sanctions if it investigated the US or Israeli war crimes, the Green Party of the United States completed the process of approving a letter to the ICC requesting a full investigation of Israel. We delivered that letter, and Margaret Flowers and Miko Peled met with a representative of the prosecutor’s office on November 19 in The Hague. Palestinians had previously requested an ICC investigation. Last week the ICC announced it has made progress on the pre-investigation. In October, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “Extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes.”

Holding the leaders of Israel accountable for their human rights violations will be the first step. Progress will continue if we continue to tell the truth, share videos of Israeli abuses, which occur almost daily, and participate in BDS and other movements in support of Palestine.

Is There a Plot to Depopulate Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon?

An eerie video composed of a recorded audio prayer and a photo of one ‘Hajj Jamal Ghalaini’ occasionally pops up on Facebook. The voice is that of an alleged religious sheikh, praying for the well-being of the man in the photo for saving the Palestinian refugee youth of Lebanon, by facilitating their departure to Europe.

The video would have been just another odd social media post, were it not for the fact that Ghalaini is a real person, with his name recurring in the ongoing tragedy of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Many have credited their successful ‘escape’ from Lebanon by citing this person, who, kindly, they say, has made the journey to Europe far cheaper than all other human smugglers.

We know little about Ghalaini, except that he seems to operate brazenly, without much legal repercussions from Lebanese authorities or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is, supposedly, the caretaker of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Something strange is going on.

Immediately after the US Administration of Donald Trump began to promote its ‘Deal of the Century’, Palestinian refugees – a fundamental issue in the Palestinian national struggle which has been relegated years ago – have, once more, taken center-stage.

Although Trump’s plan is yet to be fully revealed, early indications suggest it drives to sideline Jerusalem entirely from any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump’s own assertion that ‘Jerusalem is off the table’ is enough to confirm this assumption.

Another component of Trump’s ‘deal’ is to resolve the issue of refugees without their repatriation and without respecting international law, especially United Nations Resolution 194, which calls for the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were driven out from their homes in historic Palestine in 1948.

Many news reports have been pointing to an elaborate American plot to downgrade the status of refugees, to argue against UN figures indicating their actual numbers and to choke off UNRWA, the UN organization responsible for refugees’ welfare, from badly needed funds.

Lebanon has been a major platform for the ongoing campaign targeting Palestinian refugees, particularly because the refugee population in that country is significant in terms of numbers and their plight most urgent in terms of its need for remedy.

There appears to be an active plan, involving several parties, to deprive Lebanon’s Palestinian population from their refugee status and to circumvent the ‘Right of Return’.

To some, this may seem like wishful thinking, since the ‘Right of Return’ is ‘inalienable’, thus non-negotiable.

Yet, obviously, without refugees collectively demanding such a right, the issue could move from being an urgent, tangible demand into a sentimental one that is impossible to achieve.

This is why the depopulation of Lebanon’s refugee camps, which is happening at an alarming speed, should worry Palestinians more than any other issue at the moment.

I spoke to Samaa Abu Sharar, a Palestinian activist in Lebanon and the director of the Majed Abu Sharar Media Foundation. She narrated that the nature of the conversation among refugees has changed in recent years. In the past, “almost everybody from young to old spoke about their wish of returning to Palestine one day; at present the majority, particularly the youth, only express one wish: to leave for any other country that would receive them.”

It is common knowledge that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are marginalized and mistreated most, when compared to other refugee populations in the Middle East. They are denied most basic human rights enjoyed by Lebanese or foreign groups in Lebanon, or even rights granted to refugees under international conventions. This includes the right to work, as they are denied access to 72 different professions.

Left hopeless, with a life of neglect and utter misery in 12 refugee camps and other ‘gatherings’ across Lebanon, Palestinian refugees have persisted for many years, driven by the hope of going back to their Palestinian homeland one day.

But the refugees and their Right of Return are no longer a priority for the Palestinian leadership. In fact, this has been the case for nearly two decades.

The situation has worsened. With the Syrian war, tens of thousands more refugees flooded the camps, which lacked most basic services. This misery was further accentuated when UNRWA, under intense US pressure, was forced to cancel or downgrade many of its essential services.

A suspiciously timed census, the first of its kind, by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics last December, resolved that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon stands at only 175,000.

The timing is interesting because the survey was conducted at a time that the US Administration has been keen to lower the number of Palestinian refugees, in anticipation of any future agreement between the PA and Israel.

According to UNRWA statistics, there are more than 450,000 Palestinian refugees who are registered with the UN.

There is no denial about an influx of Palestinian refugees wanting to leave Lebanon. Some have done so successfully, only to find themselves contending with the misery of yet a new refugee status in Europe. Expectedly, some have returned.

Clearly there are those who are keen to rid Lebanon of its Palestinian population, thus the disregard for Ghalaini and other such human trafficking networks.

“There is more than one organized network that facilitate the immigration of Palestinians at prices that have recently gone down to make it more accessible to a larger number of people,” Abu Sharar told me. The conclusion that many of these young men and women now draw is that “there is no future for them in Lebanon.”

This is not the happy, triumphant ending that generations of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have hoped and fought for over the years.

Ignoring the misery of Palestinian refugees of Lebanon is now coming at a heavy price. Relegating their plight till ‘the final status negotiations’, a pipe dream that never actualized, is now leading to a two-fold crisis: the worsening suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and the systematic destruction of one of the main pillars of the Palestinian refugees ‘Right of Return.’

Growing US Public Support for One State Shared Equally by Israelis and Palestinians Falls on Deaf Ears

Two years of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu as a Middle East peacemaking team appear to be having a transformative effect – and in ways that will please neither of them.

The American public is now evenly split between those who want a two-state solution and those who prefer a single state, shared by Israelis and Palestinians, according to a survey published last week by the University of Maryland.

And if a Palestinian state is off the table – as a growing number of analysts of the region conclude, given Israel’s intransigence and the endless postponement of Mr Trump’s peace plan – then support for one state rises steeply, to nearly two-thirds of Americans.

But Mr Netanyahu cannot take comfort from the thought that ordinary Americans share his vision of a single state of Greater Israel. Respondents demand a one-state solution guaranteeing Israelis and Palestinians equal rights.

By contrast, only 17 per cent of Americans expressing a view – presumably Christian evangelicals and hardline Jewish advocates for Israel – prefer the approach of Israel’s governing parties: either to continue the occupation or annex Palestinian areas without offering the inhabitants citizenship.

All of this is occurring even though US politicians and the media express no support for a one-state solution. In fact, quite the reverse.

The movement to boycott Israel, known as BDS, is growing on US campuses, but vilified by Washington officials, who claim its goal is to end Israel as a Jewish state by bringing about a single state, in which all inhabitants would be equal. The US Congress is even considering legislation to outlaw boycott activism.

And last month CNN sacked its commentator Marc Lamont Hill for using a speech at the United Nations to advocate a one-state solution – a position endorsed by 35 per cent of the US public.

There is every reason to assume that, over time, these figures will swing even more sharply against Mr Netanyahu’s Greater Israel plans and against Washington’s claims to be an honest broker.

Among younger Americans, support for one state climbs to 42 per cent. That makes it easily the most popular outcome among this age group for a Middle East peace deal.

In another sign of how far removed Washington is from the American public, 40 per cent of respondents want the US to impose sanctions to stop Israel expanding its settlements on Palestinian territory. In short, they support the most severe penalty on the BDS platform.

And who is chiefly to blame for Washington’s unresponsiveness? Some 38 per cent say that Israel has “too much influence” on US politics.

That is a view almost reflexively cited by Israel lobbyists as evidence of anti-semitism. And yet a similar proportion of US Jews share concerns about Israel’s meddling.

In part, the survey’s findings should be understood as a logical reaction to the Oslo peace process. Backed by the US for the past quarter-century, it has failed to produce any benefits for the Palestinians.

But the findings signify more. Oslo’s interminable talks over two states have provided Israel with an alibi to seize more Palestinian land for its illegal settlements.

Under cover of an Oslo “consensus”, Israel has transferred ever-larger numbers of Jews into the occupied territories, thereby making a peaceful resolution of the conflict near impossible. According to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, that is a war crime.

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the court in The Hague, warned this month that she was close to finishing a preliminary inquiry needed before she can decide whether to investigate Israel for war crimes, including the settlements.

The reality, however, is that the ICC has been dragging out the inquiry to avoid arriving at a decision that would inevitably provoke a backlash from the White House. Nonetheless, the facts are staring the court in the face.

Israel’s logic – and proof that it is in gross violation of international law – were fully on display this week. The Israeli army locked down the Ramallah, the effective and supposedly self-governing capital of occupied Palestine, as “punishment” after two Israeli soldiers were shot dead outside the city.

The Netanyahu government also approved yet another splurge of settlement-building, again supposedly in “retaliation” for a recent upsurge in Palestinian attacks.

But Israel and its western allies know only too well that settlements and Palestinian violence are intrinsically linked. One leads to the other.

Palestinians directly experience the settlements’ land grabs as Israeli state-sanctioned violence. Their communities are ever more tightly ghettoised, their movements more narrowly policed to maintain the settlers’ privileges.

If Palestinians resist such restrictions or their own displacement, if they assert their rights and their dignity, clashes with soldiers or settlers are inescapable. Violence is inbuilt into Israel’s settlement project.

Israel has constructed a perfect, self-rationalising system in the occupied territories. It inflicts war crimes on Palestinians, who then weakly lash out, justifying yet more Israeli war crimes as Israel flaunts its victimhood, all to a soundtrack of western consolation.

The hypocrisy is becoming ever harder to hide, and the cognitive dissonance ever harder for western publics to stomach.

In Israel itself, institutionalised racism against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens – a fifth of the population – is being entrenched in full view.

Last week Natalie Portman, an American-Israeli actor, voiced her disgust at what she termed the “racist” Nation-State Basic Law, legislation passed in the summer that formally classifies Israel’s Palestinian population as inferior.

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s grown-up son, voiced a sentiment widely popular in Israel last week when he wrote on Facebook that he wished “All the Muslims [sic] leave the land of Israel”. He was referring to Greater Israel – a territorial area that does not differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories.

In fact, Israel’s Jim Crow-style policies – segregation of the type once inflicted on African-Americans in the US – is becoming ever more overt.

Last month the Jewish city of Afula banned Palestinian citizens from entering its main public park while vowing it wanted to “preserve its Jewish character”. A court case last week showed that a major Israeli construction firm has systematically blocked Palestinian citizens from buying houses near Jews. And the parliament is expanding a law to prevent Palestinian citizens from living on almost all of Israel’s land.

A bill to reverse this trend, committing Israel instead to “equal political rights amongst all its citizens”, was drummed out of the parliament last week by an overwhelming majority of legislators.

Americans, like other westerners, are waking up to this ugly reality. A growing number understand that it is time for a new, single state model, one that ends Israel’s treatment of Jews as separate from and superior to Palestinians, and instead offers freedom and equality for all.

• First published in The National Abu Dhabi

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

The Tide is Turning: Israel Is Losing on Two War Fronts

The November 12 botched Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip is delineating Tel Aviv’s failure to utilize its army as a tool to achieve Palestinian political concessions.

Now that the Palestinian popular resistance has gone global through the exponential rise and growing success of the Boycott Movement, the Israeli government is fighting two desperate wars.

Following the Gaza attack, Palestinians responded by showering the Israeli southern border with rockets and carried out a precise operation targeting an Israeli army bus.

As Palestinians marched in celebration of pushing the Israeli army out of their besieged region, the fragile political order in Israel, long-managed by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was quickly unraveling.

Two days after the Israeli attack on Gaza, Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, quit in protest of Netanyahu’s ‘surrender’ to the Palestinian Resistance.

Israeli leaders are in a precarious situation. Untamed violence comes at a price of international condemnation and a Palestinian response that is bolder and more strategic each time.

However, failing to teach Gaza its proverbial ‘lesson’ is viewed as an act of surrender by opportunistic Israeli politicians.

While Israel is experiencing such limitations on the traditional battlefield, which it once completely dominated, its war against the global Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is surely a lost battle.

Israel has a poor track record in confronting civil society-based mobilization. Despite the vulnerability of Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation, it took the Israeli government and military seven long years to pacify the popular Intifada, the uprising of 1987. Even then, the jury is still out on what truly ended the popular revolt.

It should be accepted that a global Intifada is much more difficult to suppress, or even contain.

Yet, when Israel began sensing the growing danger of BDS – which was officially launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005 – it responded with the same superfluous and predictable pattern: arrests, violence and a torrent of laws that criminalize dissent at home, while unleashing an international campaign of intimidation and smearing of boycott activists and organizations.

That achieved little, aside from garnering BDS more attention and international solidarity.

The war on the Movement took a serious turn last year when Netanyahu’s government dedicated a largesse of about $72 million to defeat the civil society-led campaign.

Utilizing the ever-willing US government to boost its anti-BDS tactics, Tel Aviv feels assured that its counter-BDS efforts in the US is off to a promising start. However, it is only recently that Israel has begun to formulate the wider European component of its global strategy.

In a two-day conference in Brussels earlier this month, Israeli officials and their European supporters unleashed their broader European anti-BDS campaign.

Organized by the European Jewish Association (EJA) and the Europe Israel Public Affairs group (EIPA), the November 6-7 conference was fully supported by the Israeli government, featuring right-wing Israeli Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin.

Under the usual pretext of addressing the danger of anti-Semitism in Europe, attendees deliberately conflated racism and any criticism of Israel, of its military Occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

The EJA Annual Conference has raised Israel’s manipulation of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ to a whole new level, as it drafted a text that will purportedly be presented to prospective members of the European Parliament (MEPs), demanding their signature before running in next May’s elections.

Those who decline to sign – or worse, repudiate the Israeli initiative – are likely to find themselves fending off accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

This was certainly not the first conference of its kind.

The anti-BDS euphoria that has swept Israel in recent years, yielded several crowded and passionate conferences in luxurious hotels, where Israeli officials openly threatened BDS activists, such as Omar Barghouti. Barghouti was warned by a top Israeli official in a 2016 conference in Jerusalem of “civil assassination” for his role in the organization of the Movement.

In March 2017, the Israeli Knesset passed the Anti-BDS Travel Ban, which requires the Interior Minister to deny entry to the country to any foreign national who “knowingly issued a public call to boycott the state of Israel.”

Since the ban went into effect, many BDS supporters have been detained, deported and barred from entering the country.

While Israel has demonstrated its ability to galvanize self-serving US and other European politicians to support its cause, there is no evidence that the BDS Movement is being quelled or is, in any way, weakening.

On the contrary, the Israeli strategy has raised the ire of many activists, civil society and civil rights groups, angered by Israel’s attempt at subverting freedom of speech in western countries.

Only recently, Leeds University in the UK has joined many other campuses around the world in divesting from Israel.

The tide is, indeed, turning.

Decades of Zionist indoctrination also failed, not only in reversing the vastly changing public opinion on the Palestinian struggle for freedom and rights, but even in preserving the once solid pro-Israel sentiment among young Jews, most notably in the US.

For BDS supporters, however, every Israeli strategy presents an opportunity to raise awareness of Palestinian rights and to mobilize civil society around the world against Israeli occupation and racism.

BDS’ success is attributed to the very reason why Israel is failing to counter its efforts: it is a disciplined model of a popular, civil resistance that is based on engagement, open debate and democratic choices, while grounded in international and humanitarian law.

Israel’s ‘war-chest‘ will run dry in the end, for no amount of money could have saved the racist, Apartheid regime in South Africa when it came tumbling down decades ago.

Needless to say, $72 million will not turn the tide in favor of Apartheid Israel, nor will it change the course of history that can only belong to the people who are unrelenting on achieving their long-coveted freedom.

Netanyahu’s Ceasefire is Meant to Keep Gaza Imprisoned

Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.

Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.

Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.

The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.

But as is so often the case, the enclave’s immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel’s warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.

Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish defence minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” in agreeing to the ceasefire.

Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumours were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.

In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza’s public-sector workers.

At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.

The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The air strikes killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.

Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a “political earthquake” with Lieberman’s resignation. But the shock waves may not be so easily confined to Israel.

Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel “restore its deterrence” – a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as “unacceptable” and demanded the vacant defence post.

There was flak, too, from Israel’s so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu “weak”, while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had “surrendered to Hamas under fire”.

Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 per cent of Israelis favour a tougher approach.

Sderot, close to Gaza and targeted by rockets, erupted into angry protests. Placards bearing the slogan “Bibi Go Home” – using Netanyahu’s nickname – were evident for the first time in his party’s heartland.

With this kind of goading, an election in the offing, and corruption indictments hanging over his head, Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist raising the temperature in Gaza once again.

But he also has strong incentives to calm things down and shore up Hamas’s rule.

The suggestion by some commentators that Netanyahu has turned a new leaf as a “man of peace” could not be more misguided. What distinguishes Netanyahu from his cabinet is not his moderation, but that he has a cooler head than his far-right rivals.

He believes there are better ways than lashing out to achieve his core political aim: the undermining of the Palestinian national project. This was what he meant on Wednesday when he attacked critics for missing “the overall picture of Israel’s security”.

On a practical level, Netanyahu has listened to his generals, who warn that, if Israel provokes war with Hamas, it may find itself ill-equipped to cope with the fallout on two other fronts, in Lebanon and Syria.

But Netanyahu has still deeper concerns. As veteran Israeli military analyst Ben Caspit observed: “The only thing more dangerous to Netanyahu than getting tangled up in war is getting tangled up in peace.”

The Israeli army has responded to months of largely non-violent mass protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence by killing more than 170 Palestinian demonstrators and maiming thousands more.

The protests could turn into an uprising. Palestinians storming the fence that imprisons them is an eventuality the Israeli army is entirely unprepared for. Its only response would be to slaughter Palestinians en masse, or reoccupy Gaza directly.

Netanyahu would rather bolster Hamas, so it can keep a lid on the protests than face an international backlash and demands that he negotiate with the Palestinians.

Further, a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza also ensures that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, can be kept out.

That was in part why Netanyahu, against his normal instincts, allowed the transfer of the Qatari money, which had been opposed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not just a fillip for Hamas, it is a slap in the face to Abbas.

A disunited Palestine, divided territorially and ideologically, is in no position to exert pressure on Netanyahu – either through Europe or the United Nations – to begin peace talks or concede Palestinian statehood.

That is all the more pressing, given that the White House insists that President Trump’s long-delayed peace plan will be unveiled within the next two months.

Leaks suggest that the US may propose a separate “entity” in Gaza under Egyptian supervision and financed by Qatar. The ceasefire should be seen as a first step towards creating a pseudo-Palestinian state in Gaza along these lines.

Palestinians there are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Between vengeful hotheads such as Lieberman, who want more carnage in Gaza, and Netanyahu, who prefers to keep the Palestinians quiet and largely forgotten in their tiny prison.

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

In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is escalating his war on the Palestinian people, although for reasons almost entirely related to Israeli politics. He has just given the greenlight to a legislation that would make it easier for Israeli courts to issue death sentences against Palestinians accused of carrying out ‘terrorist’ acts.

Netanyahu’s decision was made on November 4, but the wrangling over the issue has been taking place for some time.

The ‘Death Penalty’ bill has been the rally cry for the Israel Beiteinu party, led by ultra-nationalist Israeli politician and current Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, during its 2015 election campaign.

But when Lieberman attempted to push the bill in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) soon after the forming of the current coalition government in July 2015, the draft was resoundingly defeated by 94 to 6 with Netanyahu himself opposing it.

It has been defeated several times since then. However, the political mood in Israel has shifted in ways that has obliged Netanyahu into conceding to the demands of the even more hawkish politicians within his own government.

As Netanyahu’s coalition grew bolder and more unhinged, the Israeli Prime Minister joined the chorus. It is time “to wipe the smile off the terrorist’s face,” he said in July 2017, while visiting the illegal Jewish settlement of Halamish, following the killing of three settlers. At the time, he called for the death penalty in “severe cases.”

Ultimately, Netanyahu’s position on the issue evolved to become a carbon copy of that of Lieberman. The latter had made the ‘death penalty’ one of his main conditions to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Last January, the Israel Beiteinu’s proposed bill passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset. Months later, on November 4, the first reading of the bill was approved by Israeli legislators, with the support of Netanyahu himself.

Lieberman prevailed.

This reality reflects the competing currents in Israeli politics, where the long-reigning Israeli Prime Minister is increasingly embattled, by accusations from within his coalition and outside of being too weak in his handling of the Gaza Resistance.

Coupled with the tightening ring of police investigation pertaining to corruption by Netanyahu, his family and closest aides, the Israeli leader is pounding on Palestinians with every possible opportunity to display his prowess.

Even the likes of former Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, is attempting to resurrect his failed career as a politician by comparing his past violence against Palestinians with the supposedly weaker Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is “weak”, “afraid” and is unable to take decisive steps to rein in Gaza, “therefore he should go home,” Barak recently said during an interview with Israeli TV Channel 10.

Comparing his supposed heroism with Netanyahu’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance, Barak bragged about killing “more than 300 Hamas members (in) three and a half minutes,” when he was the country’s Defense Minister.

Barak’s sinister statement was made with reference to the killing of hundreds of Gazans, including women, children and newly graduated police cadets in Gaza on December 27, 2008. That was the start of a war that killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians and set the stage for more, equally lethal, wars that followed.

When such ominous comments are made by a person considered in Israel’s political lexicon as a ‘dove’, one can only imagine the vengeful political discourse championed by Netanyahu and his extremist coalition.

In Israel, wars – as well as racist laws that target Palestinians – are often the outcome of Israeli politicking. Unchallenged by a strong party and unfazed by United Nations criticism, Israeli leaders continue to flex their muscles, appeal to their radicalized constituency and define their political turfs at the expense of Palestinians.

The Death Penalty bill is no exception.

The bill, once enshrined in Israeli law, will expectedly be applied to Palestinians only, because in Israel the term ‘terrorism’ almost always applies to Palestinian Arabs, and hardly, if ever, to Israeli Jews.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and one of a few embattled Arab members of the Knesset, like most Palestinians, understands the intentions of the bill.

The law is “intended mainly for the Palestinian people,” she told reporters last January. “It’s not going to be implemented against Jews who commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians, for sure,” as the bill is drafted and championed by the country’s “extreme right.”

Moreover, the Death Penalty bill must be understood in the larger context of the growing racism and chauvinism in Israel, and the undermining of whatever feeble claim to democracy that Israel possessed, until recently.

On July 19 of this year, the Israeli government approved the Jewish ‘Nation-state Law’ which designates Israel as the ‘nation state of the Jewish people’, while openly denigrating the Palestinian Arab citizens of the state, their culture, language and identity.

As many have feared, Israel’s racist self-definition is now inspiring a host of new laws that would further target and marginalize the country’s native Palestinian inhabitants.

The Death Penalty law would be the icing on the cake in this horrific and unchallenged Israeli agenda that transcends party lines and unites most of the country’s Jewish citizens and politicians in an ongoing hate-fest.

Of course, Israel has already executed hundreds of Palestinians in what is known as “targeted assassinations” and “neutralization”, while killing many more in cold blood.

So, in a sense, the Israeli Bill, once it becomes law, will change little in terms of the bloody dynamics that governs Israel’s behavior.

However, executing Palestinians for resisting Israel’s violent Occupation will further highlight the growing extremism in Israeli society, and the increasing vulnerability of Palestinians.

Just like the ‘Nation-state Law’, the Death Penalty bill targeting Palestinians exposes Israel’s racist nature and complete disregard for international law, a painful reality that should be urgently and openly challenged by the international community.

Those who have allowed themselves to ‘stay on the fence’ as Israel brutalizes Palestinians, should immediately break their silence.

No government, not even Israel, should be allowed to embrace racism and violate human rights so brazenly and without a minimum degree of accountability.

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

It Is a New Era, But China’s Balancing Act Will Fail in the Middle East

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are stronger than ever, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. The US’ own political turmoil and the global power realignment – which is on full display in the Middle East – indicate that a new era is, indeed, in the making.

Unsurprisingly, this new era involves China.

China’s Vice President, Wang Qishan, arrived in Israel on October 22 on a four-day visit to head the fourth China-Israel Innovation Committee. He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Israel in nearly two decades.

In April 2000, the former president of China, Jiang Zemin, was the first Chinese leader to ever visit Israel, touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and paying diplomatic dues to his Israeli counterparts. At the time, he spoke of China’s intentions to cement the bond between the two countries.

Wang Qishan’s visit, however, is different. The “bond” between Beijing and Tel Aviv is much stronger now than it was then, as expressed in sheer numbers. Soon after the two countries exchanged diplomatic missions in 1992, trade figures soared. The size of Chinese investments in Israel also grew exponentially, from $50m in the early 1990s to a whopping $16.5bn according to 2016 estimates.

China’s growing investments and strategic ties to Israel are predicated on both countries’ keen interest in technological innovation, as well as on the so-called “Red-Med” Railway, a regional network of sea and rail infrastructure aimed at connecting China with Europe via Asia and the Middle East. Additionally, the railway would also link the two Israeli ports of Eilat and Ashdod.

News of China’s plan to manage the Israeli port of Haifa has already raised the ire of the US and its European allies.

Times have changed, indeed. Whereas in the past, Washington ordered Tel Aviv to immediately cease exchanging American military technology with China, forcing it to cancel the sale of the Phalcon airborne early-warning system, it is now watching as Israeli and Chinese leaders are managing the dawn of a new political era that – for the first time – does not include Washington.

For China, the newfound love for Israel is part of a larger global strategy that can be considered the jewel of China’s revitalized foreign policy.

Qishan’s visit to Israel comes on the heels of accelerated efforts by Beijing to promote its mammoth trillion-dollar economic project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China hopes that its grand plan will help it open massive new opportunities across the world and eventually guarantee its dominance in various regions that rotated, since World War II, within an American sphere of influence. BRI aims to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through a “belt” of overland routes and a maritime “road” of sea lanes.

The China-US competition is heating up. Washington wants to hold on to its global dominance for as long as possible while Beijing is eagerly working to supplant the US’ superpower status, first in Asia, then in Africa and the Middle East. The Chinese strategy in achieving its objectives is quite clear: unlike the US’ disproportionate investments in military power, China is keen on winning its coveted status, at least for the time being, using soft power only.

The Middle East, however, is richer and, thus, more strategic and contested than any other region in the world. Rife with conflicts and distinct political camps, it is likely to derail China’s soft power strategy sooner rather than later. While Chinese foreign policy managed to survive the polarizing war in Syria through engaging all sides and playing second to Russia’s leading role at the UN Security Council, the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is a whole different political challenge.

For years, China has maintained a consistent position in support of the Palestinian people, calling for an end to the Israeli Occupation and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, Beijing’s firm position regarding the rights of Palestinians, seems of little consequence to its relationship with Israel, as joint technological ventures, trade and investments continue to grow unhindered.

China’s foreign policymakers operate with the mistaken assumption that their country can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel at once, criticizing the Occupation, yet sustaining it; calling on Israel to respect international law while at the same time empowering Israel, however unwittingly, in its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

Israeli hasbara has perfected the art of political acrobats, and finding the balance between US-western discourse and a Chinese one should not be too arduous a task.

Indeed, it seems that the oft-repeated cliché of Israel being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, is being slightly adjusted to meet the expectations of a fledgling superpower, which is merely interested in technology, trade and investments. Israeli leaders want China and its investors to think of Israel as the only stable economy in the Middle East.

Expectedly, Palestinian priorities are wholly different.

With the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights capturing international attention through the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, more and more countries are under pressure to articulate a clear stance on the Israeli Occupation and apartheid.

For China to enter the fray with an indecisive and self-serving strategy is not just morally objectionable, but strategically unsustainable as well. The Palestinian and Arab peoples are hardly interested in swapping American military dominance with Chinese economic hegemony that does little to change or, at least challenge, the prevailing status quo.

Sadly, while Beijing and Tel Aviv labor to strike the needed balance between foreign policies and economic interests, China finds itself under no particular obligation to side with a well-defined Arab position on Palestine, simply because the latter does not exist. The political division of Arab countries, the wars in Syria and elsewhere have pushed Palestine down from being a top Arab priority into some strange bargain involving “regional peace” as part of Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century”.

This painful reality has weakened Palestine’s position in China, which, at least for now, values its relationship with Israel at a higher level than its historical bond with Palestine and the Arab people.