Category Archives: Occupation

Expansion and Mass Eviction: Israel “Takes Advantage” of Trump’s Remaining Days in Office  

In a few words, a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, summed up the logic behind the ongoing frenzy to expand illegal Jewish settlements in Israel.

“These days are an irreplaceable opportunity to establish our hold on the Land of Israel, and I’m sure that our friend, President (Donald) Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to take advantage,” Miki Zohar, a member of the Likud Party was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor.

By “these days”, Zohar was referring to the remaining few weeks of Trump’s term in office. The US President was trounced by his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in the presidential elections held on November 3.

Trump’s defeat ignited fears in Tel Aviv, and heated debates in the Israeli Knesset that the new US administration might challenge Israel’s unhindered settlement expansion policies.

Indeed, not only was Israel allowed to expand old settlements and build new ones throughout Trump’s term, but was actually encouraged by US officials to do so with a great sense of urgency.

US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an ardent supporter of rapid expansion and was handpicked for his role, not because of his diplomatic experience – he has none – but to help facilitate US support for Israel’s colonial expansion. In doing so, the US violated international consensus on the issue, and reversed earlier US positions that perceived Israel’s illegal settlements as “obstacles to peace”.

Friedman was entrusted with communicating the ominous new American agenda regarding Israel’s illegal action in the occupied Palestinian territories and also in the Syrian Golan Heights. In June 2019, Friedman, rather clumsily, articulated a new American position on the illegal Jewish settlements when he said in an interview with the New York Times that “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

The green light to Netanyahu was translated, in January 2020, into an announcement by Israel that it intended to formally annex nearly a third of the West Bank within a few months.

The illegal annexation was set to take place on July 1. Just prior to that date, Friedman resurfaced, this time with a less coded message, that Netanyahu’s annexation had the full backing of the US government. He told the Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, that Washington was preparing to acknowledge the Israeli move to apply sovereignty in ‘Judea and Samaria’, using the biblical reference to the West Bank.

Annexation did not materialize as grandly as expected. Instead, the Netanyahu government opted to cement its de facto annexation of Palestinian land by announcing plans to build more settlements, barring Palestinian farmers from reaching their land and accelerating the policy of home demolition.

Months before Biden became the US president-elect, Israel seemed to be preparing for the possibility that the Trump administration might not be re-elected. Certainly, while a Biden presidency is bound to remain unconditionally supportive of Israel, the new administration is likely to return to old policies pertaining to the ‘peace process’ and the two-State solution. Netanyahu has long been averse to such rhetoric as, in his view, such unnecessary delays will cost Israel precious time that could be invested in building yet more settlements. Politically, the mere discussion of a return to negotiations could, potentially, splinter Israel’s powerful, yet fractious, pro-settlement right-wing alliance.

Immediately it was clear that Trump had lost the race, Netanyahu begrudgingly congratulated Biden. Even the Israeli leader’s belated acknowledgement of Trump’s defeat did not spare him the political ambush that awaited him. Many Knesset members attacked Netanyahu for losing Israel’s bipartisan support in Washington by allying himself with the Republican Party and the Trump administration.

Leading the charge was Israel’s opposition leader from Yesh Atid-Telem, Yair Lapid, who had already criticized the Prime Minister’s “Republican First” approach to US politics. His views were shared by many Israelis in the Knesset and media.

Reversing course in Trump’s last weeks in office is not an easy choice, especially as the Trump administration remains committed to help Israel achieve its objectives to the very end.

On November 19, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, became the first top US official to visit an illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. During his visit to a winery in the Psagot settlement, Pompeo gave Netanyahu yet more good news. He announced that products from illegal Jewish settlements could now be labeled “Made in Israel”, and that the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement would be declared ‘anti-Semitic’ by the US State Department.

The latter announcement will give Israel the legal capital required to prosecute and silence any US civil society opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation. Israel is counting on the fact that Biden is unlikely to dare contest or reverse such policies due to the sensitivity of the subject of anti-Semitism – real or alleged – in US politics.

The same rationale applies to the settlement building frenzy throughout occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On November 20, Israeli authorities announced that 80 Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. These homes would, in turn, be handed over to illegal Israeli Jewish settlers.

The news of the mass eviction came only a few days after the government’s announcements that the illegal settlements of Givat Hamatos and Ramat Shlomo, both located in East Jerusalem, are set for major expansion.

The massive development in Givat Hamatos, according to the Israeli group ‘Peace Now’, “will severely hamper the prospect of a two-State solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem” and major urban centers in the West Bank.

The announcements are strategically timed, as they carry an unmistakable political message that Israel does not intend to reverse its settlement policies, regardless of who resides in the White House.

The coming weeks are likely to witness even more coordinated Israeli-US moves, where the Trump administration will seek to fulfill Netanyahu’s political wish list, leaving Biden with little political margin to maneuver, thus denying his government the self-proclaimed, undeserved title of the ‘honest peace broker’.

The post Expansion and Mass Eviction: Israel "Takes Advantage" of Trump’s Remaining Days in Office   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is “antisemitic”

It is tempting to dismiss last week’s statements by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and suggesting the global movement to boycott Israel is driven by hatred of Jews, as the last gasp of a dying administration. But that would be foolhardy.

Pompeo’s decision to label all but the most tepid criticism of Israel as antisemitism is fully in line with the current redrawing of the limits of western political debate about Israel.

To underscore his message, Pompeo issued his statement as he headed to an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank – the first such official visit by a US secretary of state. New guidelines announced that in future the US would mark settlement goods as “Made in Israel”, concealing the fact that they are produced in the occupied Palestinian territories.

For good measure, Pompeo described the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), widely supported by Palestinians, as a “cancer”. “We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as antisemitic,” he added. The state department would identify any individual or group opposed to “doing business in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel” – that is, in the settlements – “and withdraw US government support”.

‘Made in Israel’

The settlement visit was doubtless intended as affirmation by the departing Trump administration of its recognition of Israel’s right to annex swaths of the West Bank seized by settlers. That position was cemented into a so-called “peace plan” earlier in the year.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, warned that Pompeo’s declarations would be hard for the new Democratic administration under Joe Biden to reverse, either rhetorically or substantively, when it takes office in January. “Such malicious measures are intended to corner the incoming US administration with layers of legal and administrative measures that maintain the destructive Trump legacy beyond his disruptive term,” she said.

To change course, Biden will have to declare the settlements illegal and come to the defence of the BDS movement – incurring the wrath of Israel’s lobbyists in Washington and opposition from the overwhelming majority of his own lawmakers in Congress.

It is fanciful to imagine he will do either.

The reality is that Israel’s endless facts on the ground, all ultimately pushing towards annexation, will continue as before, whether Biden or Trump is in charge. More significantly still, however, Pompeo’s statement marks the logical endpoint of a new foreign policy consensus on Israel that has rapidly taken shape in the US and Europe.

By this stage, only concerted action from western states to penalise Israel can alter the cost-benefit calculus that has so far made expanding the settlement enterprise pain-free. But trenchant criticism of Israel – of the kind so urgently necessary – is now increasingly off-limits. Instead western states are actually defaming and outlawing even the most limited forms of grassroots, non-violent action against Israel, like the BDS movement.

Topsy-turvy view

Pompeo’s statement, in fact, marks a complete inversion of the United Nations’ decision in 1975 to declare Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. At the time, supporters of Resolution 3379 made a self-evident case: any state is structurally racist if its founding ideology, as with Zionism, accords superior rights to citizens based on their ethnicity or religion.

An international convention further makes clear that such a political arrangement amounts to apartheid.

While in the 1970s Israel made efforts to obscure its ideological character, it has long since abandoned such pretence. In 2018 Israel passed the Nation-State Law making its apartheid explicit. The law affirmed superior legal rights for Jewish citizens over a large minority of Palestinian citizens.

In late 1991, however, the UN was browbeaten into revoking the “Zionism is racism” resolution after the Soviet Union fell and the US, Israel’s patron, emerged as the sole global superpower. We have now reached the point where, as Pompeo’s statement underscores, it is criticism of Israel and Zionism that is viewed as racism.

In this topsy-turvy worldview, nuclear-armed Israel is the victim, not the Palestinians who have been dispossessed and ethnically cleansed by Israel for decades. This derangement is so entrenched that last year the House of Representatives passed a near-unanimous resolution – pushed by the Israel lobby group AIPAC – denouncing any boycott of Israel as antisemitic.

Some 32 US states have passed legislation uniquely denying First Amendment rights to those who support a boycott of Israel in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians. Other states have similar legislation in the pipeline.

Criminal offence

The absurdity extends beyond the US.

The German parliament passed a resolution last year that declared boycotting Israel – a state occupying Palestinians for more than five decades – comparable to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews”. Bonn has the power to deny public funds to any group that supports, however tangentially, such a boycott.

Last month, Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin became the latest group targeted. Their art school removed their web page and cut funding for a series of workshops critical of Zionism after an outcry from German anti-racism groups and the media.

A similar inversion of reality is taking place in the UK, where the government has ruled that local authorities are not allowed to divest pension funds from Israel. These investments, some in illegal Jewish settlements, are assessed at nearly £3.5bn ($4.7bn), meaning ordinary Britons heavily subsidise Israel’s occupation.

The decision by Boris Johnson’s government was struck down by Britain’s highest court in April, but the government has vowed to bring in new anti-BDS legislation that would nullify that ruling.

In France, meanwhile, support for boycotting Israel has long been treated as a criminal offence under anti-discrimination legislation. A group of 12 Palestinian solidarity activists lost a series of court battles in France after they were convicted a decade ago of calling for a boycott outside a supermarket. The activists received a reprieve in June only after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that their convictions violated Europe’s human rights convention.

Growing chasm

That judgment serves only to highlight the growing chasm between, on one side, the political and legal environments being shaped by lobbyists in individual western states and, on the other, the principles of international law and human rights established in the wake of the Second World War.

Pompeo’s claim that opposition to Zionism – the ideology oppressing Palestinians – is antisemitic has taken widespread root because pro-Israel activists have managed to advance an entirely novel definition of antisemitism. In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a highly contentious and politicised “working definition” of antisemitism – one promoted by Israel. The definition is illustrated with 11 examples, seven of which refer to various criticisms of Israel, including that it is a “racist endeavour”.

A conclusion reached by the UN 45 years ago – that it is racist for a state to promote rights based not on our shared humanity but on ethnic or religious difference – is now defined as antisemitic. Donald Trump used an executive order to incorporate this weaponised definition into the Civil Rights Act last year, thereby chilling speech about Israel, especially on US campuses.

The IHRA definition is now widely accepted in the West, making it all but impossible to mount a defence against the malicious characterisation of support for Palestinian rights as equivalent to hatred of Jews. Pompeo is simply echoing a discourse that has rapidly become entrenched.

This became obvious when the British Labour party found itself plunged into a manufactured controversy in early 2016 that, overnight, it had become uniquely and institutionally antisemitic. The campaign began shortly after the membership elected as leader Jeremy Corbyn, one of a handful of socialist MPs in Labour and a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights.

Fear of backlash

The degree to which Israel has become untouchable – even when criticisms accord with international law – was highlighted when the United Nations compiled a list of businesses colluding with Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Publication of the database was repeatedly delayed for fear of the backlash the UN would receive for offending Israel and its lobbyists. The list finally saw daylight last February.

But the firms identified in the list have not come under any significant pressure to pull out of the settlements. In fact, what pressure they have faced has been for them to stay put, or otherwise face accusations of unfairly discriminating against Israel.

Countervailing pressure on them could come through the actions of popular, grassroots groups calling for a boycott. But western states now characterise the BDS movement that organises such boycotts as antisemitic too.

Quiescence and inaction are the only options allowed, if one wishes to avoid being labelled antisemitic.

Human rights ‘racist’?

Pompeo’s remarks in support of the settlements last week were foreshadowed by reports last month that the State Department is considering a mechanism for labelling the world’s most prominent human rights groups as antisemitic. The US would then urge other states not to deal with organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam.

Pompeo’s approach – ridiculous as it might have seemed a decade ago – does not stray far from the current logic in western capitals. Their officials have ridden roughshod over international law for some time – especially with their “interventions” in Arab states such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.

As the Palestinian cause is progressively sidelined by both western states and Arab states, groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have found themselves solitary critical voices on Israel. They are almost alone in continuing to articulate concerns about Israel’s egregious violations of international law, especially in relation to the settlements.

As a result, Pompeo’s moves to silence them may face much less resistance than many observers might assume.

Might makes right

Sadly, there is a self-fulfilling logic to these moves by the Trump administration. From Corbyn to Amnesty International and the BDS movement, those trying to uphold human rights and international law are being forced on to the defensive.

They have been strong-armed into the dock and must prove to their accusers the impossible: their innocence, measured not in concrete, public positions but in what supposedly lies behind them, in the form of private and unprovable motives.

This is safe ground for right-wing politicians and lobby groups.

Antisemitism is the insidious charge that sticks to anything it touches. The stain is all but impossible to remove. Which is why those standing up for human rights – and against racism and oppression – are going to find themselves ever more aggressively condemned as antisemitic.

This is a path not towards peace and reconciliation but towards greater tribalism, confrontation and violence. It strips out the tools of argument and persuasion, as well as non-violent forms of pressure like boycotts, and ensures a world ruled by “might makes right”.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is "antisemitic" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

As Israel Destroys EU Projects in Palestine, European Foreign Policy Remains Impotent

Belgium is furious. On November 6, the Belgian government condemned Israel’s destruction of Belgian-funded homes in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Understandably, Brussels wants the Israeli government to pay compensation for the unwarranted destruction. The Israeli response was swift: a resounding ‘no’.

The diplomatic row is likely to fizzle out soon; neither will Israel cease its illegal demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures in the West Bank nor will Belgium, or any other EU country, receive a dime from Tel Aviv.

Welcome to the bizarre world of European foreign policy in Palestine and Israel.

The EU still champions a two-state solution and advocates international law regarding the legality of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. To make that possible, the EU has, for nearly four decades, funded Palestinian infrastructure as part of a state-building scheme. It is common knowledge that Israel rejects international law, the two-state solution and any kind of outside ‘pressure’ regarding its military occupation.

To back its position with action, Israel has been actively and systematically destroying EU-funded projects in Palestine. In doing so, it aims to send a message to the Europeans that their role in supporting the Palestinian quest for statehood is vehemently rejected. Indeed, in 2019 alone, 204 Palestinian structures were demolished just in Occupied East Jerusalem, according to the Euro-Med Monitor. Included in this destruction – in addition to similar demolition in the West Bank Area C – are 127 structures that were funded mostly by EU member states.

Yet, despite the fact that Israel has been on a crash course with the EU for years, Europe remains Israel’s number one trade partner. Worse, Europe is one of Israel’s largest weapons suppliers and also main market for Israel’s own weapons – often touted for being ‘combat-proven’, as in successfully used against Palestinians.

The contradiction does not end here.

In November 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU countries must identify on their labels the specific products that are made in illegal Jewish settlements, a decision that was seen as an important first step to hold Israel accountable for its occupation. Yet, bizarrely, European activists who promote the boycott of Israeli products are often tried and indicted in European courts, based on the flimsy claim that such boycotts fall into the category of ‘anti-Semitism’. France, Germany and others have repeatedly utilized their judicial system to criminalize the legitimate boycott of the Israeli occupation.

And here, again, European contradictions and confused policies are evident with total clarity. Indeed, last September, Germany, France, Belgium and other EU members spoke firmly at the United Nations against Israel’s policy of demolition, which largely targeted EU-funded infrastructure. In their statement, the EU countries noted that “the period from March to August 2020 saw the highest average destruction rate in four years.”

Because of the absence of any meaningful European action on the Palestinian front, Israel no longer finds the European position, however rhetorically strong, worrisome. Just consider the defensible Belgian position on the destruction of Palestinian homes that were funded by the Belgian government in the village of Al-Rakeez, near Hebron (Al-Khalil).

“This essential infrastructure was built with Belgian funding, as part of humanitarian aid implemented by the West Bank Protection Consortium. Our country asks Israel for compensation or restitution for these destructions,” the Belgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 6.

Now, marvel at the Israeli response, as communicated in a statement issued by Israel’s foreign ministry. “Donor states should utilize their tax payer’s (sic) money towards the funding of legal constructions and projects in territories that are controlled by Israel, and make sure those are planned and executed in accordance with the law and in coordination with the relevant Israeli authorities.”

But are Europeans violating any law by helping the Palestinians build schools, hospitals and homes in the Occupied Territories? And what ‘law’ is Israel following when it is systematically destroying hundreds of EU-funded Palestinian infrastructures?

Needless to say, the EU support for Palestinians is consistent with international law that recognizes the responsibility of all UN member states in helping an occupied nation achieve its independence. It is, rather, Israel that stands in violation of numerous UN resolutions, which have repeatedly demanded an immediate halt to Israel’s illegal settlement activities, home demolition and military occupation altogether.

Israel, however, has never been held accountable for its obligations under international law. So, when the Israeli foreign ministry speaks of ‘law’, it refers only to the unwarranted decisions made by the Israeli government and Knesset (parliament), such as the decision to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank, a massive swathe of Palestinian land that is located in Area C – this is where most of the destruction is taking place.

Israel considers that, by funding Palestinian projects in Area C, the EU is deliberately attempting to thwart Israel’s annexation plans in this region. The Israeli message to Europe is very clear: cease and desist, or the demolition will go on. Israeli arrogance has reached the point that, according to Euro-Med Monitor, in September 2014, Israel destroyed a Belgian-funded electrification project in the village of Khirbet Al Tawil, even though the project was, in fact, installed in coordination with Israel’s civil administration in the area.

Alas, despite the occasional protest, EU members are getting the message. The total number of internationally-funded projects in Area C for 2019 has shrunk to 12, several folds lower than previous years. Projects for 2020 are likely to be even lower.

The EU may continue to condemn and protest the Israeli destruction. However, angry statements and demands for compensation will fall on deaf Israeli ears if not backed by action.

The EU has much leverage over Israel. Not only is it refusing to leverage its high trade numbers and military hardware, but it is also punishing European civil society organizations for daring to challenge Israel.

The problem, then, is not typical Israeli obstinacy alone but Europe’s own foreign policy miscalculation – if not an all-out failure – as well.

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Escalating the Demographic War: The Strategic Goal of Israeli Racism in Palestine

The discussion on institutional Israeli racism against its own Palestinian Arab population has all but ceased following the final approval of the discriminatory Nation-State Law in July 2018. Indeed, the latest addition to Israel’s Basic Law is a mere start of a new government-espoused agenda that is designed to further marginalize over a fifth of Israel’s population.

On Wednesday, October 28, eighteen members of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) conjured up yet another ploy to target Israeli Arab citizens. They proposed a bill that would revoke Israeli citizenship for any Palestinian Arab prisoner in Israel who, directly or indirectly, receives any financial aid from the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Worthy of mention is that these MKs not only represent right-wing, ultra-right and religious parties, but also the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) ‘centrist’ party. Namely, the proposed bill already has the support of Israel’s parliamentary majority.

But is this really about financial aid for prisoners? Particularly since the PA is nearly bankrupt, and its financial contributions to the families of Palestinian prisoners, even within the Occupied Territories – West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – is symbolic?

Here is an alternative context. On Thursday, October 29, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, revealed that the Israeli government of right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to expand the jurisdiction of the Jewish town of Harish in northern Israel by 50 percent. The aim is to prevent Palestinians from becoming the majority in that area.

The contingency plan was formulated by Israel’s Housing Ministry as a swift response to an internal document, which projects that, by the year 2050, Palestinian Arabs will constitute 51 percent of that region’s population of 700,000 residents.

These are just two examples of recent actions taken within two days, damning evidence that, indeed, the Nation-State law was the mere preface of a long period of institutional racism, which ultimately aims at winning a one-sided demographic war that was launched by Israel against the Palestinian people many years ago.

Since outright ethnic cleansing – which Israel practiced during and after the wars of 1948 and 1967 – is not an option, at least not for now, Israel is finding other ways to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel itself, in Jerusalem, in Area C within the occupied West Bank and, by extension, everywhere else in Palestine.

Israeli dissident historian, Professor Ilan Pappe, refers to this as ‘incremental genocide’. This slow-paced ethnic cleansing includes the expansion of the illegal Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the proposed annexation of nearly a third of the Occupied Territories.

The besieged Gaza Strip is a different story. Winning a demographic war in a densely populated but small region of two million inhabitants living within 365 sq. km, was never feasible. The so-called ‘redeployment’ out of Gaza by late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in 2005 was a strategic decision, which aimed at cutting Israel’s losses in Gaza in favor of expediting the colonization process in the West Bank and the Naqab Desert. Indeed, most of Gaza’s illegal Jewish settlers were eventually relocated to these demographically-contested regions.

But how is Israel to deal with its own Palestinian Arab population, which now constitutes a sizeable demographic minority and an influential, often united, political bloc?

In the Israeli general elections of March 2020, united Arab Palestinian political parties contesting under the umbrella group, The Joint List, achieved their greatest electoral success yet, as they emerged as Israel’s third-largest political party. This success rang alarm bells among Israel’s Jewish ruling elites, leading to the formation of Israel’s current ‘unity government’.  Israel’s two major political parties, Likud and Kahol Lavan, made it clear that no Arab parties would be included in any government coalition.

A strong Arab political constituency represents a nightmare scenario for Israel’s government planners, who are obsessed with demographics and the marginalization of Palestinian Arabs in every possible arena. Hence, the very representatives of the Palestinian Arab community in Israel become a target for political repression.

In a report published in September 2019, the rights group, Amnesty International, revealed that “Palestinian members of the Knesset in Israel are increasingly facing discriminatory attacks.”

“Despite being democratically elected like their Jewish Israeli counterparts, Palestinian MKs are the target of deep-rooted discrimination and undue restrictions that hamstring their ability to speak out in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people,” Amnesty stated.

These revelations were communicated by Amnesty just prior to the September 27 elections. The targeting of Palestinian citizens of Israel is reminiscent of similar harassment and targeting of Palestinian officials and parties in the Occupied Territories, especially prior to local or general elections. Namely, Israel views its own Palestinian Arab population through the same prism that it views its militarily occupied Palestinians.

Since its establishment on the ruins of historic Palestine, and until 1979, Israel governed its Palestinian population through the Defense (Emergency) Regulations. The arbitrary legal system imposed numerous restrictions on those Palestinians who were allowed to remain in Israel following the 1948 Nakba, or ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

In practice, however, the emergency rule was lifted in name only. It was merely redefined, and replaced – according to the Israel-based Adalah rights group – by over 65 laws that directly target the Palestinian Arab minority of Israel. The Nation-State Law, which denies Israel’s Arab minority their legal status, therefore, protection under international law, further accentuates Israel’s relentless war on its Arab minority.

Moreover, “the definition of Israel as ‘the Jewish State’ or ‘the State of the Jewish People’ makes inequality a practical, political and ideological reality for Palestinian citizens of Israel,” according to Adalah.

Israeli racism is not random and cannot be simply classified as yet another human rights violation. It is the core of a sophisticated plan that aims at the political marginalization and economic strangulation of Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority within a constitutional, thus ‘legal’, framework.

Without fully appreciating the end goal of this Israeli strategy, Palestinians and their allies will not have the chance to properly combat it, as they certainly should.

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“They Tried to Freeze Me to Death”: Torture and Resistance in Israeli Prisons

Mohammad Ibrahim Ali al-Deirawi was born on January 30, 1978 in Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. His family is originally from Bir Al-Saba’, an ethnically cleansed Palestinian town located in the southern Naqab desert. Mohammad was arrested by the Israeli army at a military checkpoint in central Gaza on March 1, 2001. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the armed Palestinian resistance, and was freed on October 18, 2011 in a prisoner exchange between the Palestinian resistance and Israel.

Mohammad’s interrogation commenced as soon as he arrived at the Central Asqalan (Ashkelon) Prison in southern Israel, where he experienced physical and psychological torture for nearly two and a half months. He was handed his sentence by an Israeli military court on March 20, 2003.

As soon as he was released from the Nafha Prison, 100 kilometers north of Bir Al-Saba’, he married Ghadeer, the beautiful and only daughter of his prison-mate, Majdi Hammad. Ghadeer and Mohammad have two children.

Majdi Hammad was born on March 20, 1965 in the Jabaliya refugee camp, the most crowded and dilapidated of all of Gaza’s refugee camps, and the birthplace of the First Palestinian Intifada, the popular uprising of 1987. Hammad’s family originated from the ethnically cleansed village of Barbara, in southern Palestine.

Majdi was the youngest of two brothers and one sister, Fathi, Akram and Fayza. Majdi was raised mostly by his mother, Farida, known for her strong religious principles, strong character and leadership in the community.

Majdi was arrested several times, the last and longest of his prison terms being in 1991. Then he was sentenced to 624 years in prison for his leadership role in the armed resistance and, particularly, in the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas organization. When he was arrested and imprisoned, his wife, Nahla, was still pregnant with his daughter, Ghadeer.

Majdi was released alongside Mohammad and hundreds of other prisoners in October 2011, but died soon after, on March 18, 2014, from heart disease that was left untreated for years while in Israeli prisons.

Ghadeer means small stream.

Ghadeer

I have never imagined that Ghadeer could ever be my wife. She was a teenage girl when I first saw her, as she accompanied her mother to the Nafha Prison to visit her father, Majdi Hamad. That was in 2002. Her dad is one the toughest men you will ever meet, solid as a rock against his enemies, but so gentle and kind to his comrades.

I was in solitary confinement when I first met him. I saw him through the small flap door of my cell. He was being dragged into his cell in the underground dungeon of Nafha by a number of armed guards. They were hitting and kicking him everywhere and, despite his shackles, he fought back like the lion he was. His face was covered in blood. I did not know what to think of him at the time.

Majdi looked familiar, although I did not recognize him immediately. In fact, at the time, I thought he could have been in prison for one criminal offense or another, and sentenced to isolation for violent behavior against other criminals. But, later that evening, I heard him make the call for prayer. His voice was shaken and tired, but still confident and warm. “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar”—“God is Great, God is Great” —he announced the evening prayer. I stood up, washed and prayed in my cell. For days after that, I kept hearing his voice reading Quranic verses from memory. It was uplifting to hear a familiar voice, to be reminded that everything happens for a reason, and that, in the end, it will all make sense, since every trial and challenge in this life is the will of God.

Luckily for me, Majdi’s cell was adjacent to mine. A few days after his arrival, I gathered my courage, drew as close as I could to the shared wall and asked him: “What is your name and why are you here?” He replied: “What is yours and why are you here?”

I told him. “I am Mohammed al-Deirawi and I am from Gaza, and I am imprisoned for joining the armed resistance.” He said that he, too, was from Gaza and that he was imprisoned for being a member of the resistance. But it was only when he said his name that I knew that he was no ordinary fighter. Majdi was a legend in Gaza for years, since he had formed the first martyrs’ underground cell in the late 1980s, then become one of the leaders of the Qassam Brigades in the early ‘90s. He was sentenced to hundreds of years in prison, but he never gave up hope that he would, one day, be free. Despite the horrific physical torture he endured, he admitted to nothing. He did not concede a single name or any useful information, thus giving other fighters the chance to take necessary measures to avoid arrest or assassination.

As for myself, I spent nearly 11 years in prison, nine of them in the same section in Nafha with Majdi. Over the years, he grew from being a friend to an older brother, even a father figure to me. I loved him dearly. If it were not for Majdi, I do not know how I would have coped with my life in my underground dungeon.

Before I was brought to Nafha, I endured several long bouts of torture, each extending for 55 hours at a time. They had me stand blindfolded in the same position for 12 hours at a time. They placed me in a refrigerator-like room and kept lowering the temperature until I thought I was going to die from cold. They took shifts beating me. They tied me to an intentionally unstable chair for many hours. They placed a filthy bag on my head for long hours, leaving me gasping for breath, thinking that I would suffocate at any moment.

I was 23 at the time of my arrest. True, I was young, but I was mentally prepared for any eventuality. I had seen enough pain and suffering in my life that would have prepared me for a lot worse. I lost nearly 20 kilograms (approximately 45 pounds) during the initial torture stage, which lasted for 71 days, straight. Not only did they fail to break me; I reached a point where I simply decided not to acknowledge the existence of my interrogators. I told the officers who questioned me under constant duress: “I don’t see you”. They were baffled and kept yelling in my face to answer their questions, but I kept repeating: “I don’t see you”. All of their beating could not make me stop.

My interrogation commenced the day I was detained, on March 1, 2001. After that, I spent two years waiting for the verdict, which was handed down by an Israeli military court on March 20, 2003. I was sentenced to 30 years in prison. After announcing his decision, the judge asked me: “Do you wish to apologize for what you have done?”

“I have nothing to apologize for,” I replied, with my head held high. “I will never apologize for resisting the occupation, defending my people, fighting for my stolen rights. But you need to apologize, and those who demolish homes while their owners are still inside are the ones who must apologize. Those who kill children, occupy land and commit crimes against unarmed, innocent people, are the ones who need to apologize.” He did not like my answer and shouted at me to stop, but I would not.

I spent most of my time in prison in Nafha and much of it in isolation. Most of those who were with me in the same section were from Gaza. There were about 30 of us. As soon as Majdi joined us, he became our leader and protector. He helped organize our efforts, allowing us to speak with one voice. He was funny when he needed to be, and tough when the situation called for it. He was a true leader.

Prisoners from Gaza received their visitations on the same day. It was then that I met Majdi’s family. When Majdi was first detained, his wife was still pregnant with Ghadeer, their firstborn and only child at the time. He watched her grow up slowly from behind thick glass, while handcuffed to a wall, unable to hold or kiss her. He spoke so much about Ghadeer, of the life he wished for her. He said that he would hold on just to be united with her some day. Majdi always wished to have a big family. It reminded him of life in Palestine before the entire Hammad clan was ethnically cleansed from their village, Barbara. Life was good back then, for all of our people, and Majdi was determined to, someday, return to his original village.

In the last few years of his stay at Nafha, Majdi was continually falling ill.  He collapsed more than once while gripping his chest, but the prison administration kept telling him that he suffered from acid reflux. They kept feeding him pills to treat his stomach acid, but his situation worsened with time. It hardly helped that he was severely beaten whenever he stood up for himself or for one of us.

When we learned that we were about to be released as part of a prisoner exchange between the resistance in Gaza and Israel, we were elated. We hugged each other but tried to contain our joy, as we were also deeply saddened for our comrades that we were leaving behind. Majdi had spent more time in prison than I had, nearly 20 years.

When we left prison, we went to Mecca together to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. I wanted to get married and start a family, and he wanted to expand his. But, months later, Majdi realized that his ailment was more serious than previously thought. He was diagnosed with heart disease, a condition that he had endured unknowingly for years in prison. Medical negligence of Palestinian prisoners is all too common in Israeli prisons. By the time doctors in Jordan informed Majdi that he would not survive surgery, and that he should spend the remaining days with his family, he had another child, Mu’tasim, and his wife was pregnant with a third. He had resolved to call him Mohammad.

During that time, a mutual friend suggested that I ask Majdi for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I chuckled. I told him Ghadeer was still a teenager. “A teenager in 2002,” he said. “Ten years have passed since then, Mohammad.”

For us prisoners, time stands still.

It took me a while to imagine that the young teenage girl was all grown up and could possibly be the mother of my children. Later, I sent my mother and sister to ask Majdi and his wife for Ghadeer’s hand. Majdi called me the same day. “I could not ask for someone better than you to marry my daughter,” he said. When I went to their home in the northern town of Beit Lahia, Ghadeer had broken her leg just two days earlier. She was limping, with a large cast on her leg. I told myself: “I better avoid looking at the cast so as not to make her nervous and just keep looking at her face”. She was beautiful and had a kind face. She told me, months after we were married, that, when she first saw my face, she was afraid of me. Maybe it was because of my bushy beard or rough demeanor. But, then, she said, when she saw me conversing with her dad softly, as if I were his younger brother, she immediately decided to accept my proposal.

On the day we agreed to the marriage terms, Majdi hugged me and cried. Then, I cried. I asked him: “What is it about us, Majdi? We cry when we are sad and we cry when we are happy; we cry when we are in prison and when we are free.” Then, we all laughed. Soon after my marriage to Ghadeer, Majdi died. I watched him in his last moments hugging his son and Ghadeer. I kissed his forehead and told him not to worry, that his family was now mine and that I would do my best to carry on with his proud legacy for as long as I live.

Now that Majdi is gone, I love Ghadeer ten times more. I feel a great sense of responsibility towards his family, which is now my family. His son, Mohammad, is now like my own son. I called one of my two boys Majdi, after my best friend. I draw strength from Majdi’s memory. He helped me cope with the harshness of prison life and his legacy helps me cope with life outside.

• The above are excerpts from the story ‘Ghadeer’ in Ramzy Baroud’s latest book: These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons – Clarity Press: 2020. 

The post "They Tried to Freeze Me to Death": Torture and Resistance in Israeli Prisons first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What Does Israel Have against Palestinian Singer, Mohammed Assaf?

Why does Israel hate Palestinian singer, Mohammed Assaf?

On October 16, Avi Dichter, Israeli Member of Parliament from the right-wing Likud Party, announced that Assaf’s special permit to enter the occupied Palestinian West Bank would be revoked.

Assaf, originally from Gaza, now lives with his family in the United Arab Emirates. He achieved stardom in 2013, when he won the ‘Arab Idol’ singing contest. His winning song, “Raise your Keffiyeh”, represented a rare moment of unity among all Palestinian communities everywhere. As the audience, the judges and millions of Arabs danced along when Mohammed took center stage in Beirut, Palestinian culture, once again, proved its significance as a political tool that cannot be disregarded.

Since then, Mohammed has sung about everything Palestinian: from the Nakba — the catastrophic loss of the Palestinian homeland — to the Intifada, to the pain of Gaza to every Palestinian cultural symbol there is.

Assaf was born and raised in the Gaza Strip. Here, he experienced Israel’s military occupation first-hand, several deadly Israeli wars, and, of course, the ongoing siege. Both his parents are refugees, his mother from Beit Daras and his father from Beir Saba’. The young man’s ability to overcome his family’s painful legacy, yet remaining committed to the cultural values of his society, is worthy of much reflection and praise.

Dichter’s announcement that Assaf would be barred from returning to his homeland is not as outrageous as it may appear. Israel’s war on Palestinian culture is as old as Israel itself.

Throughout the last seven decades, Israel has proven its ability to defeat Palestinians and whole Arab armies, as well. Moreover, Israel, with the help of its Western benefactors, succeeded in dividing Palestinians into rival groups, while breaking down whatever semblance there was of Arab unity on Palestine.

Even geographically, Palestinians were divided and isolated into numerous little corners in the hope that each collective would eventually develop a different set of aspirations based on entirely different political priorities. As a result, Palestinians were holed in besieged Gaza, in segregated zones in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, in economically marginalized communities within Israel, and in the ‘shataat’ – diaspora.

Even diasporic Palestinians, some made refugees multiple times, subsisted in political environments, over which they exercise very little control. The Palestinians of Iraq, for example, found themselves on the run at the onset of the American invasion of that country in 2003; the same happened in Lebanon prior; in Syria later on, etc.

Israel’s incessant attempts at destroying Palestine, in all of its representations, moved from the material sphere to the virtual one, pushing to censor Palestinian voices on social media, removing the reference to Palestine from Google Maps and even from airline menus.

None of this was random, of course, as Israeli leaders understood that destroying the tangible, actual Palestine had to be accompanied by the destruction of the Palestinian idea — the set of cultural and political values that give Palestine its cohesiveness and continuity in the mind of all Palestinians, wherever they are.

Since culture is predicated on myriad forms of expression, Israel has dedicated much energy and resources to eliminate Palestinian cultural expressions that allow Palestine to exist despite the political division, Arab disunity and geographic fragmentation.

There are numerous examples that amply demonstrate Israel’s official obsession with defeating Palestinian culture. As if the physical erasure of Palestine in 1948 was not enough, Israeli officials are constantly devising new ways to erase whatever symbols of Palestinian and Arab culture that remain in place.

In 2009, for example, Israel’s right-wing government began the process of changing the names of thousands of road signs from Arabic to Hebrew. In 2018, the openly racist Nation-State Law degraded the status of the Arabic language altogether.

But these examples are hardly the start of the Israeli war aimed at defacing Palestinian culture. Israel’s founders were aware of the danger that Palestinian culture posed in terms of its ability to unify the Palestinian people, soon after the ethnic cleansing of nearly two thirds of the Palestinian population from their historic homeland.

In an official letter sent to Israel’s first Interior Minister, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, the latter was tasked with swapping the names of newly depopulated Palestinian villages and regions with Hebrew alternatives.

“The conventional names should be replaced by new ones … since, in an anticipation of renewing our days as of old and living the life of a healthy people that is rooted in the soil of our country, we must begin in the fundamental Hebraicization of our country’s map,” the letter said in part.

Soon after, a government commission was assembled and entrusted with the task of renaming everything Palestinian Arab.

Another letter written in August 1957 by an Israeli foreign ministry official urged the Israeli Department of Antiquities to speed up the destruction of Palestinian homes conquered during the Nakba. “The ruins from the Arab villages and Arab neighborhoods, or the blocks of buildings that have stood empty since 1948, arouse harsh associations that cause considerable political damage,” he wrote. “They should be cleared away.”

For Israel, erasing Palestine and writing the Palestinian people out of the history of their own homeland has always been a strategic endeavor.

Fast forward to today, the official Israeli machine remains dedicated to the same colonial mission of old. The agreement signed in 2016 between the Israeli government and the social media platform, Facebook, to end Palestinian ‘incitement’ online is part of that same mission: silencing the voice of the Palestinian people at any cost.

Palestinian culture has served the Palestinian people’s struggle so well. Despite Israeli occupation and apartheid, it has given Palestinians a sense of continuity and cohesion, attaching all of them to one collective sense of identity, always revolving around Palestine.

Israel’s announcement to bar a Palestinian singer from returning, thus performing to other Palestinians under occupation is, from an Israeli viewpoint, not outrageous at all. It is another attempt at disrupting the natural flow of Palestinian culture, which, despite the loss of Palestine itself, is as strong and as real as it has always been.

The post What Does Israel Have against Palestinian Singer, Mohammed Assaf? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability.

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump.

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know.

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants.

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer.

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true.

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful.

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally.

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight.

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal.

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly.

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations.

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites.

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism.

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia.

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services.

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda.

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised.

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity.

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute.

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists.

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”.

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed.

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations.

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown.

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank.

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.”

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians.

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”.

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful.

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability.

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump.

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know.

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants.

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer.

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true.

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful.

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally.

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight.

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal.

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly.

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations.

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites.

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism.

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia.

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services.

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda.

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised.

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity.

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute.

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists.

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”.

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed.

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations.

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown.

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank.

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.”

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians.

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”.

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful.

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’

‘International law’ remains one of the most discussed terms in the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is almost always present, whether the discussion pertains to the Israeli wars and siege on Gaza, the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the encroaching apartheid throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite the importance and relevance of the term, however, it rarely translates into anything tangible. The Israeli siege on Gaza, for example, has continued, unabated, for nearly 14 years, without international law serving as a protector of Palestinian civilians against Israeli violations of human rights. More recently, on September 13, the Israeli government approved 1,000 illegal settlement units in the West Bank, in stark violation of international law. It is likely that Israel will go ahead with it, anyway.

With regard to violating international law, Israel is in a unique category of its own, for Israel’s behavior is always governed by its military strength and the backing of its Western allies.

To gain more insight into the relationship between international law, conflict resolution and accountability, I spoke with Professor Richard Falk, one of the world’s leading experts on international law and former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights.

Of particular relevance to our discussion are the current Palestinian efforts at pursuing international action to hold alleged individual Israeli war criminals accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The fact that the Court has agreed to investigate alleged war crimes in occupied Palestine has generated an angry response from Israel and unprecedented sanctions from Washington, targeting ICC judges and staff, including Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

I asked Professor Falk about the ‘limited scope’ of the ICC investigation, as the Court will only be looking into Israeli war crimes, thus, for now, excluding crimes against humanity, among other illegal practices that should be applicable in the case of Israel.

“The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor. Falk said, adding that “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

“I don’t agree with this view  …  but it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure,” Falk told me. Still, the seasoned international law expert described the ICC investigation as a “breakthrough”.

“It’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments  … Israel has denounced the Court as if it is improper to examine any State that claims the matter of geopolitical impunity. So you have a core denial of the rule of law.”

Undeniably, this breakthrough and the advanced position of international institutions regarding the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupation are the outcome of the insistent effort put in by Professor Falk and other champions of international law throughout the years. In fact, the relentless attempts aimed at silencing Falk — and others like him — were carried out so that their criticism of Israel’s violations did not, eventually, lead to such dreaded investigations, like that of the ICC.

“There are very militant Zionist-oriented NGOs, like UN Watch, that engage in defamatory kinds of activities and use all their resources and energy to persuade people, including the UN Secretary-General, to criticize me and urge my dismissal or some type of sanctions,” Falk reflected on the challenges he faced during his term at the UN between 2008-14.

Fortunately, but also tellingly, “in the end, the role of Special Rapporteur was respected  … and there was so much support for my activity, including foreign ministries and also from outside the Islamic world. I felt that it was an important kind of presence to maintain.”

“The Zionist groups were, of course, very frustrated and they didn’t try to respond to my reports on the violations of human rights in the Occupied Territory; instead, they concentrated on defaming and smearing the messenger rather than addressing the message,” Falk said, identifying the very essence of the strategy used by pro-Israel groups, whether at the UN or elsewhere.

I also asked Professor Falk about the term ‘Israeli occupation’ as, in my limited understanding, the term has been devised by the Geneva Conventions — and previous international definitions — to regulate a transitional period during which an Occupying Power is in charge of the welfare and well-being of the civilian population living in an Occupied Territory.

“International law is quite ambiguous about the duration of a military occupation and Israel has made a kind of specious argument that the Geneva Conventions and the normal law governing belligerent occupation doesn’t apply here, because this is disputed sovereignty rather than a case where another country has been occupied,” Falk said.

Coupled with US-western support and vetoes at the Security Council, Israel has historically exploited this ambiguity to entrench — instead of ending — its occupation of Palestine.

Since international law “doesn’t provide an endpoint to the Occupation, the most effective way of challenging it from an international law perspective is that Israel has committed so many fundamental breaches of the obligations of an Occupying Power — the establishment of the settlements, the incremental annexation, the integration of Jerusalem into the sovereign State of Israel..”

“They are all fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and they represent an effort to make the end of Occupation not possible in the sense that it was meant: turning the society back to the civilian population that is occupied,” Falk continued, describing this situation as a “serious flaw, legally and politically.”

“But is there a reason for optimism?” I asked Professor Falk, whose energy and tireless work continue to define this indefatigable warrior of human rights.

“As colonialism and oppression lost their acceptance as forms of legitimate political behavior, the political balance shifted and the perseverance of national struggles turned out to be more formidable than the weaponry at the disposal of the colonial powers,” Falk said.

According to Professor Falk, history is clearly on the side of Palestinians, who are already “winning the legitimacy war”.

The post Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’ first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Are the Children of Gaza: The Poet, the Fashionista and the Footballer 

The inevitable has finally happened, and the coronavirus pandemic is now ravaging the besieged Gaza Strip. On August 24, a total lockdown was imposed by the Gaza authorities following the discovery of several COVID-19 cases outside designated quarantine areas. Since then, over 1,000 cases have been identified and ten people have died. Experts estimate the number to be significantly higher.

Businesses, mosques, schools, cafes and virtually everything else is now under lockdown. The local government, alongside the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, and together with many volunteers, are desperately working to keep Gaza functioning and to limit the spread of the pandemic, despite limited and ever-shrinking resources.

Gaza’s crisis is multifaceted. The Israeli siege, combined with the massive destruction from the previous war, has left Gaza in the throes of a major humanitarian disaster. With electricity outages reaching up to twenty hours per day and with fuel supplies running low, Gaza was barely functioning, to begin with.

COVID-19 has exacerbated an already dire situation.

While, often, the voices of adults — whether officials, international workers, intellectuals, and even ordinary people — get heard, the children’s voices often are neglected. The children of Gaza have been the main victims of the Strip’s many adversities in recent years. Falling victim to the ravages of wars and, being the most vulnerable, to malnutrition and health crises, Gaza’s children are truly suffering. Their cries for help, however, are often muted or unheard.

To give a platform, however limited, to the voices of some of Gaza’s most defenseless, we reached out to several families in Gaza, seeking permission for their children to reflect, in their own way, on the current lockdown, their lives under siege and the seemingly perpetual war. We also asked the children to talk about their hobbies and their hopes and dreams for the future.

This is what they had to say.

Malak Judah, 9 – Gaza City

My name is Malak Judah. I am nine years old. I live in the city of Gaza. I began my hobby of singing and reciting poetry at the age of three. I have many video clips in which I sing and recite poetry. All the poetry that I write and recite speaks of Palestine only, and our longing to go back to our homeland.

I joined the Great March of Return from the very start (March 2018). I used to go there with my family to recite poetry and sing while standing on the main podium, only 700 meters (approx. 2,300 feet) from the fence that separates Gaza and our occupied towns in Palestine. But every time we did this, the Zionist occupation forces would fire live bullets and teargas at us. I inhaled teargas many times and, every time I did, I would almost suffocate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-iYdLQGkvQ

I have tried to sing about other subjects aside from Palestine but I cannot because, since I came to this earth, all that I see and hear is related to the occupation policies and the oppression of our people … They keep cutting off the electricity and our water is unfit for human consumption – and, even then, it is not always available. Every few years, there is a new Zionist aggression on Gaza. This is why my poetry is always about the difficult life that we are living through.

I dream of traveling and participating in international festivals, but because of the closure policies and the hardship of leaving, I have never been outside Gaza. Now the situation is even more critical, especially after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. I miss my school, my teachers and the morning announcements. We have no idea when we will go back to school. It feels as if we are living through another Israeli war on Gaza.

My wish is for Palestine to be liberated so that we can go to our hometown.

Razan Zidan, 9 – Khan Younis

My name is Razan Zidan. I am nine years old. I dream of being a fashion designer so that I can design beautiful clothes for my family and all the children of Palestine to wear.  When I grow up, I want to give them gifts and beautiful toys, to bring happiness to their hearts.

I have many fears. I hate the coronavirus. Because of it, I cannot see my friends. I miss playing with them and I miss my school, too. I am also afraid of wars. They scare me very, very much. I hate the sound made by warplanes and the sound of shelling. I am afraid of watching the news. When there is an electric outage, I go to sleep immediately so I am not very scared of the dark.

But I also love many things. I love to draw and I love colors. I love roses and beautiful clothes and I love to spend time with my family.

I love Palestine very much. It is my homeland. But the occupation is vile. My father keeps saying that “the world will be beautiful when the occupation is gone”. And that is all I want. For the world to be beautiful.

My grandfather has told me that we lived in a beautiful town called Bashsheet. It is our original town and it is located by the sea. I asked him why it was given that strange name. He said because Prophet Sheet was buried there. He said that it is a wonderful and beautiful town and famous for its very delicious oranges. I want to see my town and how beautiful it is. I wish to be able to go back with my family to Bashsheet.

I hope that, one day, my dream — and the dream of all of my friends — comes true, where Palestine exists without Israeli occupation.

Musa Abu Jazar, 12 – Rafah

My name is Musa Salah Abu Jazar. I am twelve years old. I live in the city of Rafah. I am a refugee and my original village is Sarafand Al-Amar. I was born mute — I cannot talk and I cannot hear. When I was little, my mother took sign language courses so she can communicate with me.

I suffer very much because most people in my society do not understand me as they do not know sign language. I call on all people to learn sign language so that they can understand me and understand all mute people, everywhere.

Despite my hearing disability, I always try to overcome all the obstacles I face. At school, I am always the top student in the class and I get the highest grades. I go to school on my bike, several kilometers each way. My hobbies are playing football, riding my bike and photography. I play football with the neighborhood kids. A few months ago, I joined a football academy so that I could improve my skills, but when the coronavirus stopped everything in Gaza and the whole world, it became very difficult for me to practice. I cannot go to my school any more or even ride my bike.

In Gaza, we have two enemies: the coronavirus and the Israeli occupation. The occupation is preventing us from enjoying any of our basic rights and our hobbies. The thing that scares me the most is when electricity is out for many hours. I dream of becoming a famous professional football player. I also want to become a very good photographer. I wish to have a good camera so that I can record my struggle and the suffering of all of the Gaza children, so the whole world may know that we have been deprived of all of our rights.

The post We Are the Children of Gaza: The Poet, the Fashionista and the Footballer  first appeared on Dissident Voice.